Have you noticed?
It's time for me to admit that things are moving so quickly I never seem to find time to post updates to YIT anymore. I haven't finished telling about Greece and have not even mentioned Turkey and how much we enjoyed being there!
In another week we're off on yet another long passage, our longest ever,
Now it's YOUR TURN!
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Greece... different from anyplace we have ever been. I've probably said this before, more than once, but it's true. The diversity in the world is marvelous.
We've already discussed the plethora of chartered sailboats touring the Greek islands under the guidance of ill-equipped and under-informed skippers. They've added an element of danger for us, from boats out of control in close spaces, and served as well or better as a source of amusement at cocktail time while we sit, snug in our cockpit having employed the Mersoleil rule of being at anchor not later than 3PM, watching other sailors plough into the anchorage only seconds before dark and well after the wind has risen enough to add to the challenge of anchoring for the night.
Before flying to Greece last month Mario Lewis read our stories about anchoring nightmares. While he was with us in the Ionian Sea islands, he had ample opportunity to see for himself how we can be amused, entertained and scared witless by the inept operation of nearby yachts. One night Mario even took a shift on anchor watch, ready to call all hands on deck, keeping an especially close eye on two or three suspicious vessels whose captains tried repeatedly to anchor just upwind of Mersoleil, then dragged back toward and past us, having failed to set their hooks. Later that night Robbie and I alternated watching in two-hour shifts until 2:30AM when the winds dropped a little and it appeared that the erratic movement of boats in Vathy Bay finally came to a halt.
We have never understood why any sailor would, instead of completely furling his foresail in a tidy roll, leave a small triangle of sail dangling prettily off the forestay with the sheets running back from the clew toward the cockpit. Most of the yachtsmen who sail in Greece seem to be partial to furling this way, leaving that triangle of sailcloth susceptible to dirt, UV damage and wear from the wind. Mario was the first to notice one evening the sad result of this practice. "What's going on over there? See that yellow boat with its sail flapping?" The three of us watched together (Robbie'd have gone to help, has done so in the past, but there were more than twenty five yachts closer than we were) as that poor little sail worried its lines loose and flapped itself to shreds in the stiff breeze. It was an expensive sail, too, one face shiny mylar. During the two or three breezy evenings that we sat at anchor in Vathy Bay, it being too breezy to sail elsewhere - better to just stay put, we saw another sail lost in the same way. $10,000 worth of sails wasted in the course of only two days. In eight years cruising, we've seen this happen only one other time, that on an unattended docked catamaran in a violent storm near Syndey. In that case, the violent crashing of the sail against itself and the rig awakened us in the middle of the night. Robbie and a couple of others ran to the boat, but by the time they reached it the furling line had jammed itself irretrievably in overrides around the furling drum and nothing could be done in time to save the sail.
Mario became remarkably adept at recognizing the problem boats as they entered the bay too fast, or too close, or with too many sunbathers and too few crew on deck, and his "oh boy, here comes one" quickly became a call to be taken seriously as the day drew to a close.
Mario's visit was such fun for us! He's a great sport, game for any adventure, generous with interesting stories and full of excellent questions about cruising. We enjoyed our time together, catching up on Robbie and Mario's years together in Texas, trying to understand what in general is going on in America, testing Greek beers, trying as many restaurants as we could and lazing together in the sunshine. The weather was really hot in August and little hiking or exploring took place, but we spent an entire week of quality time together and had one fantastic morning under sail in the Ionian Sea. It was a delight to have him aboard Mersoleil.
Robbie made another attempt, on the penultimate day of Mario's stay, to lay chain loops over the rocks on shore and to run long lines from our stern to the rocks. He motored away in The Puppy, draped one chain over the first spot he selected, then began to move to the left searching for a perfect location for the second chain. As I motored Mersoleil back and forth a short distance offshore, Mario and I watched carefully so we'd know the exact locations of the chains and would be able to back directly toward the chosen location. Then... did we miss something?
"Did you see him place the second chain?" I asked Mario.
"No! I saw him put one. I don't think he ever put the other one out!"
"He's coming back! If he put a chain around a rock...." I mused aloud.
Mario finished for me, "If he did, it's way too close to the first one! But I never saw him do it. He's coming back! What is he doing?"
Robbie was motoring furiously toward Mersoleil waving his arms and yelling, though we couldn't hear him, "Come BACK! Don't go away!!" As he reached the stern side of Mersoleil he threw the Puppy's painter at me and yelled, "Quick, tie it off and get me up there! I was yelling... and you were moving away... and the rocks put a big hole in The Puppy... and he's sinking!"
True enough, The Puppy was still making farting sounds and taking on water in his starboard pontoon and Robbie's weight together with the 9.9hp outboard were in danger of sinking the dinghy, ruining the motor and sending His Robbiness for an unplanned swim! After moving away from that rocky shore out into good water we began to take amelioraitve measures. Since I weigh less than either of the boys, I climbed into the gradually sinking dinghy and released the outboard motor. Robbie hauled it up onto the rail using our usual block and tackle hoist, then I scrambled out of the sinking tender. We raised The Puppy up on deck to prevent the intake of more water, tied him down and had a good laugh. And moved to a different spot to anchor for the night. Once more I say, Phooey on that stern-tie business. Now we are fully cured and we have achieved yet another first, first time ever we've had a rip-roaring hole in our tender.
Add 'small crisis' to the list of typical cruising experiences arranged for Mario Lewis' enjoyment on his adventure to the Greek Ionian islands! Mario's last 48 hours in Greece included several transfers by water taxi to and from the charming town of Eufimia, Kefalonia, for ice cream, tavernas and finally, a taxi ride to the Anna Pollatou Airport near Argostoli. Thanks for coming, Mario!
It had been our plan then to sail another twenty miles south to the southernmost Ionian Island of Zakynthos where friends Nicholas and Dimitra (whom we met in 2018 in India) own a seaside property with holiday villas. www.lithalona.com The bay on which their estate is located is heavily protected, as a nesting place of the loggerhead sea turtle, but anchoring is permitted just in front of the Lithalona property and we've been looking forward to a nice visit on Zakynthos. Alas, with a disabled dinghy, we had no way to get to shore to see our friends who live on the island through the summer season and in Athens from October till June. We sent our apologies to Dimitra and Nicholas and turned instead toward Athens where we'd planned to go a week later for antifoul (every 2 years) and a few other small projects.
I was surprised at the scenic beauty as we motored in calm air through the Gulf of Patras toward Athens. What did I expect? Maybe I've seen one too many pictures of Mikonos, but the unexpected steep dry mountains of central Greece reminded me of New Zealand's Hauraki Gulf at the end of the summer. Dry, rocky, mostly brown slopes rising from the sea. Only the hardiest plants still hold onto their green by late August. It was beautiful and amazingly unmarred by signs of population. 3 million people, about a third of Greece's entire population, live in the Athens metropolitan area and despite the country's 3,400 years of recorded history it's not bursting at the seams with people who have nowhere to live, but continues to support a vibrant rural population with small villages existing much the way they have for millennia.
More surprises as we continued into the Gulf of Corinth and on toward Athens. At a narrow point between the Gulf of Patras and the Gulf of Corinth we passed under the stunning Rion-Antirion Bridge, of which I had never heard, but quite a wonder of the world! Completed in 2004, it's the longest cable-span bridge in the world at about 3km and straddles the seismically active expanding Corinth Gulf Rift zone. That's not all, it's beautiful, lighted at night and one of those things that makes me think to myself, "this has been here since 2004 and I didn't even know about it!?" Look at the pictures! Rion Bridge Traffic Control calls all the shots here by VHF radio and Mersoleil was granted permission to transit the bridge, "just keep on coming and pass through the North span, one pillar to the left and three to the right." The morning sun gave me some nice shots of the bridge looking back at it after we passed underneath.
Further on, at Corinth, we transited the Corinth Canal, yet another first for Mersoleil and even more exciting than the bridge. Ancient Greek history is full of tales as early as the 7th century BC of ships being hauled overland across the narrow isthmus at Corinth in order to reach or surprise the enemy, whether Turks on the east or Italians on the west. Digging a canal was discussed for centuries, begun by Roman emporers who were ultimately either discouraged by costs or distracted by goings on in Gaul, but never completed. The canal was finally completed by a French engineering firm late in the 19th century entirely at sea level - no locks. At its narrowest point only 25m wide, the Corinth Canal carries almost no commercial traffic but is of great interest to tourists and an outstanding shortcut for the yachtsman wishing to get from Ionian to Aegean Sea without going the long way around the Peloponese.
Vessels congregate outside the canal until Corinth Canal Traffic Control announces the reversal of traffic and calls vessels one by one to enter the canal, telling any who dawdle in the narrow confines to "move at top speed." The wait for one's turn to pass through can be as long as three hours and unless arrangements have been made with an agent there is a mandatory stop at the control tower to pay the hefty canal fee. EUR 275 for our 14m yacht to travel about 3.5nm. Expensive, but it was thrilling and it saved us days en route to Athens.
I have time to tell you about all this now because we are delayed in departing Halkitis Shipyards to resolve some battery issues that cropped up the first time we fired up the new bow thruster. Always somethin.
NOTE TO YACHTIES: Halkitis Shipyard-Athens. Best shipyard experience we have ever had, bar none, and we've been in some excellent shipyards! Mr. Lekkas (Elefterios Lekkas) will take excellent care of you, arranging the best trades in the Athens area to perform any work not available from Halkitis. The workmanship is superior and the prices, even with Greece's dreaded 24% VAT, are not higher than we have paid elsewhere. +30 210 402 0256 www.halkitis-shipyards.gr 37 57.61N 23 34.39.84E We were allowed to stay onboard during the work and a weekend in a suburban Athens shipyard afforded ample opportunity to hop a cab into the city to visit the Acropolis!
It's late Friday afternoon now and I suspect we'll be here till Monday afternoon. That will give me time to upload photos and to tell you about visiting the Parthenon! I didn't know it was on my bucket list, but WOW! What an experience.
In FIskardho on Tuesday morning, the day after tomorrow, we'll meet Mario Lewis, our guest for the next week or so. In order to be there and settled before he arrives, we motored from Vathi, Ithaka, back over to Kefalonia on Friday morning to scope out Fiskardho.
We found very little room to anchor at Fiskardho, lots of vessels already there by noon, nearly all of them tied stern-to the rocky shore. After four attempts to anchor in about 85' (27m) of water with the anchor pulling loose each time we backed down on it, we decided to overnight elsewhere and have another go at Fiskardho on the next day.
There are a number of small sheltered indentations along the east side of Kephalonia, but we found them all occupied as we shopped our way south in the Ithaka Channel until we reached a small cove four miles away from Fiskardho, Kakongylos Cove. A fish farm operation , the first one we've seen in Greece, dominates the SE portion of the cove and there are two little rocky beaches at the head of the cove separated by a small protruding point. High mountains shelter the cove on N, W and S.
Black goats, white goats and a few tan ones bleat in the afternoon as they browse shrubs on the steep rocky mountainside, and a family lives in a small house right on the water in the second cove, their wooden fishing boats bobbing in the water just front of the house. An idyllic spot, really, one where for the first time in a year or more we felt alone in a quiet tranquil place.
Yesterday morning we returned to Fiskardho determined to experiment with the dreaded technique of going stern-to the rocks. It's a lengthy process, and after we dropped the anchor several boat lengths away from the rocks, Robbie went ashore in the dinghy and draped two loops of chain over his selected rocks while I backed Mersoleil into position perilously close to shore. He returned to the boat to receive the end of a 22mm yellow floating line and then to drag it to the first of the chain loops, hitching it onto the chain with a bowline. A kind Italian guy on the neighboring boat helped, making the knot on one line, while Robbie tied the other. I left Mersoleil straining on her anchor rode in reverse idle while I paid out the huge yellow ropes to Luca on one side and Robbie on the other, then snugged them up on deck to the best of my ability (a joke at best) and cleated them off. Once that was complete, I returned to the bow, snugged up the anchor rode, effectively moving Mersoleil a little further offshore (but not enough, will do better next time) and firming up all the attachment points - 2 yellow lines and a chain.
We sat this way at 2PM when the afternoon NW breeze began to kick up, pushing Mersoleil hard to port and Robbie went ashore without me to pay homage to the Port Polis and to reconnoiter a suitable spot for Tuesday's rendezvous with Mario. I stayed onboard, essentially on anchor watch, ready to drop those yellow lines and motor off the rocky shoreline if I didn't like the conditions.
I did not like the conditions. I had no idea how well set the anchor was and now I wished I'd dropped the hook further from shore. I'd shortened the rode when I pulled Mersoleil forward to a length I would never swing on. There was tremendous strain on the windward stern line and I began to question the rated load of the stainless steel clips I had used to turn 3m of chain into a single loop.
As soon as Robbie returned from town, I dropped the stern lines, raised anchor, and motored off, waiting out in open water while he gathered into the dinghy the chains and floating rope.
....And we returned to our bucolic cove with the bleating goats and the family of fishermen for another night of blissful silence. Breezes that evening topped 20kts and we were very happy not to be stern-to at Fiskardho.
Last night, Saturday night, our hearts were warmed by a family gathering at the house on the beach. The son, wife and three or four kids came to spend the evening, sitting on the porch at waters' edge with mom and pop, laughing and chatting till dark the way I remember my family doing on Sunday evenings at Grandma and Grandpa Clewell's house in Eagle Point Park overlooking the Mississippi River. Somebody gathered a small collection of stuff, rubbish I imagine, and set it alight floating on the water. As it slowly drifted away from the steps the kids picked up small rocks from the beach and pelted the fire with them, or tried to. A couple of well placed shots added by dad, unable to resist a good rock-throwing opportunity, dowsed and sunk the fire as it floated away, amid laughter and general approbation of all the family. True to form in any such family get-together, around 9 o'clock children started crying, darkness fell, headlights went on and one vehicle drove away. Then all was blissfully quiet.
I did the math last night on that stern-to technique, now that I understood it a little better and could identify a few of our mistakes. Other people probably don't do it this way (well, the Germans do, I'll wager) but there's some simple math involved. The length of one's anchor rode plus boat length plus length of shore lines plus an estimate of how far the anchor will drag on the bottom before hooking minus the lengths required for knotting and cleating the floating lines give the exact distance from shore at which the anchor should be dropped. For Mersoleil that's about 120m. After that, everything is a simple matter of adjustment, lengthening line(s) at one end while snugging up at the other and ending with the boat not too close to shore and not too close to the anchor.
None of that matters when the wind rises to 18kts and it's on the beam, pushing your vessel into the one next door or his onto yours, and I just wanted to be out of there! After analyzing the math, I know we can do this better the next time. And it is my great hope that there will not be a next time.
We will make a drive-by pickup when Mario arrives. Robbie will take The Puppy ashore, discard a bag of trash, check out of Fiskardho with the Port Polis, stop at the grocer, and collect our friend while I drift or drive Mersoleil around in circles in a nice safe place.
I'll say it again. Phooey on that stern-to business.
We had another conversation about guns this morning over coffee and agree that America needs to simply outlaw the private ownership of guns, period. I still have concerns, having grown up in the midwest, for the family that hunts in the fall, freezes their annual supply of meat and would not be able to eat so well without it, and also for the farmer or rancher who protects his livestock by culling predators. It does seem that those people have a legitimate reason to own guns.
My latest thought is that private gun ownership might be permissible on a very tiny scale with permission extended ONLY to specific individuals who can demonstrate a viable reason, like those above, to possess a weapon. I'm suggesting an honest-to-God personal interview before a tribunal who would personally issue or deny the permit after thorough investigation. And if we can't get that right, then no guns at all.
All that said, I believe it will simply never happen in the United States of America, where the essence of the country's existence is defined by the people's insistence upon rugged individualism, the "I want to do what I want to do, dammit" way of life. Those on the other side of a political question, any "other side," don't even see that they are in fact insisting upon the very same thing, thinking "I want this entire country to have what I believe is best and it's my right to insist upon that." In our culture, with its inherent egoistic predispositions, consensus will never happen. No one will give up his personal beliefs, opinions, positions. And Americans will continue to die and America, and Americans as individuals, will continue to slide to the depths of disrespect in the opinion of the rest of the world.
What will it take? Love. Nothing else. Not laws. Not protests, Not demonstrations, or referenda, or more senseless tragedy. I observe sadly that altruistic love is far far from the American way of the last century. It's pathetic, and we are sorry to confess that we cannot imagine going back to America to live. The condition of my country brings tears to my eyes.
The day of my last YIT post, the day when I said more wind was predicted for that night... A 2017 57' Oyster pulled in front of us and dropped the hook. We know the couple, professional crew, and were thrilled that they were fending our bow. They're not going to drag and wreck a new Oyster, one of the most expensive semi-custom yachts built.
When it began to get crazy, as the breezes topped 22, boats were returning from their day at sea and trying to anchor, fearing they wouldn't be able to Med moor, but not knowing how to set their anchors either. Most of these boats carry only underweight Bruce or CQR-type ground tackle. So they have insufficient equipment, no skill and there was much yelling and excitement. As one boat dragged backwards past us the guy yelled, "Can we tie to you?" to which we both bellowed a resounding NOOO!
At one point at least six boats were dragging all at the same time, spinning in fast circles (they all drive too fast, think they are in Jeep Cherokees) and trying to maneuver in tight spaces without control. A pair of boats, dangerously close to our stbd side, got their chains crossed and went spinning in the wind past us like a big pinwheel. That inspired Kerr, on the Oyster, to haul his dink up on the davits and start raising his anchor to leave. Without him in front of Mersoleil we certainly weren't going to stay, either, so we did the same.
It was chaos, and there was a lot of yelling. We followed Vida Mia, the Oyster, to a different location a few miles away and went over to their boat for sundowners, well-deserved by all.
Now at Vathy, Ithaka, a charming little town with a large bay and plenty of town quay for stern-to mooring. Still, before dark there are at least 50 yachts at anchor here, too, and the wind comes up as the sun goes down.
Last night's amusing twist was that a young couple in a dinghy were going from boat to boat offering to help people who didn't know how or couldn't decide where to anchor. The remarkable thing about them, we dubbed them The Busybodies, was that THEY didn't seem to know what they were doing either and they put a boat right between us and another anchored charter boat where there wasn't anywhere near enough space. Those two boats nearly bashed stern to stern in a big fat spin, after which The Busybodies slunk off to a different part of the anchorage where their reputations were still untarnished, and offered to help people over there!
This morning we moved 600' further out into deeper water and, conveniently, upwind in the prevailing NWerly. Now we're in 72' of water (22m) and we hope we've made room for everyone else closer to shore.
PHOTOS OF VATHY COMING... maybe tomorrow
Greece is everything we hoped it would be and more, which comes as a delightful surprise after all the complaining we've heard about sailing in the Med, especially in Greece.
Conceded, charter boats operated by idiots are virtually everywhere, the anchorages in the Ionian are crowded every single night and chock-full early in the day, tourism drives the lives of the locals during the summer, it's nearly impossible to develop a meaningful relationship with any of the Greek people who live on these islands, marina prices are outrageous and one pays too much for a mediocre meal in a taverna, But there are other things to enjoy and they cannot be overstated!
First, Robbie and I have concluded that the Greecian Islands are indeed the premier cruising and sailing destination in the world, and for some very good reasons. Location. Scenic beauty. Phenomenal weather. Availability of excellent marine services. History. Culture. Variety. Easy access via international and domestic airports all over Greece. True, splendid isolation such as one can find in Fiji is non-existent. Everyone wants to be here. Who wouldn't? It would be mean to wish away all the tourists and charter yacht folks crowding these lovely islands and their surrounding waters. Who are we, tourists ourselves if truth be told, to demand that the most gorgeous crusing grounds in the world be left to us alone? Indeed everyone wants to be here. We might as well enjoy it and congratulate ourselves on our excellent taste. Along with everybody else.
The Ionian Islands, lying along the west coast of mainland Greece at the bottom of the Adriatic Sea, are green and lush, mountainous, and covered with olive and cypress trees. They're the home of the myths, the legends, much of Greek history and were long influenced by Italy just 50 miles away. Unfortunately a 1953 earthquake destroyed most of the Italianate architecture on these islands - lovely as they are today, how charming these Ionian villagess must have been a hungred years ago. Further south, once past the bulk of the Pelopenese Peninsula, lie the Cyclades, the Dodecanese and more, groups of dry rocky islands with the whitewashed bungalows and blue trim featured in travel brochures, where tourism is rampant and the possibility of losing one's patience with it increases. We'll be moving in that direction in a few weeks but for now, the charm of the wooded mountains embracing protected harbours where the sun rises late and there's a taverna ashore with dolmades and saganaki quite satisfies all our whims.
Complain about the flocks of lobsters if you will, the white-skinned tourists who've come from northern climes for a one-week stay and turn bright red upon exposure to the sun, their comic value as the day draws to a close and they prepare to moor or anchor their rented vessels is a treat not to be missed. The anchoring show is quite a spectator event! Neophytes ourselves once-upon-a-time, we have earned the right to chuckle.
Anchoring 101 for the land lubber: Motor slowly, directly into the wind, bringing the boat to a stop at the place where you'd like to drop the anchor. Lower anchor and chain as rapidly as possible by free-fall, or more sedately by electric push-button deployment, until there's more chain off the bow than the depth of the water (which depth you've carefully noted), substantially more if the water is deep. Then just allow the wind to drift the vessel back or motor slowly in reverse, paying out more chain as the boat moves, until there's at least 4 times as much chain deployed as that starting depth. More chain is even better, 7 times or even 10 times the depth, but in a crowded anchorage one rarely has the luxury of monolopizing a gigantic swing circle. That's it. Done.
More, the experienced sailor will note carefully that beginning depth, will back down under power on the chain and anchor testing their hold in the seabed, will add a rope snubber to the chain to take unnecessary strain off the windlass or anchor winch, will sit in the cockpit for half an hour or more (beer or wine optional) watching how and where the boat settles and its relation to other vessels already at anchor, will record the precise position of the anchor at the place where it set (guaranteed never to be the location where it was initially dropped, see also our thrilling YIT post of May 18 2018), and will move his boat and do it over again if he's not completely satisfied that he achieved the desired effect.
There are lots of further refinements, everybody's procedure slightly different. John Gans' philosophy of anchoring, for example, is, "Get as far as you can away from everybody and drop all the chain you've got!" And, for our part, we don't just back down perfunctorily on our anchor. We back down for a full 2 minutes at 2600rpm. If it holds under that kind of test, it's going to hold in a blow and we sleep well at night.,
Now, some highlights of the anchoring show just before sundown every day in the Greek isles. Some of the common sights we like to enjoy over a glass of wine or a gin & tonic are these.
1) Boat rips into the anchorage at about 6kts (that's too fast) and starts letting out chain without slowing down, then continues to drive forward running over his own chain, anchor lying on the bottom on its back, just following along. He stops the boat with anchor still lying upside down on the bottom, puts on a shirt, jumps in the dinghy and goes to nearest bar for sundowners;
2) Helmsman throws the boat into reverse while it's still moving forward at a fairly brisk clip, then drops the anchor which won't strike the seabed until he's 50m or more away from his chosen spot. He ends up far from his preferred location, can't imagine how that happened, but settles for what he got and hopes it's OK;
3) Vessel in scenario 2 keeps backing up until it's in deep water, deeper than the entire length of his anchor rode (usually all chain, sometimes a chain/rope combination), while the anchor just dangles suspended in the water at the bottom of the chain. In this case, it's typical for the boat to keep backing up, right out of the anchorage area, while two or three people stand at the bow looking down into the water at we know not what;
4) Helmsman wants to be sure his vessel does not end up right between two other boats that are already close together, so he proceeds between the boats to a position well ahead of them, then drops his anchor there, enabling his vessel to fall back eventually and rest precisely between the two boats in the spot he took pains to avoid;
5) Helmsman, usually the husband, instructs bow crew, usually the wife, to drop 15m of chain in 12m of water, then with no weight lying on the seabed and the anchor's pick skipping along the bottom on its toes, at such a steep angle it cannot possible dig in, he backs the boat out of the anchorage until he realizes something has gone wrong and she has made a mistake;
6) And, this is one of our favourites, with eight boats already at anchor, all facing west, all eight bows directly into the wind, a ninth vessel motors into and through the anchorage, turns 180 degrees to face east, drops the hook with the wind at his back, and motors backwards against the wind, thinking he has cleverly eluded all the other boats who've followed the same- but opposite - plan. Then satisfied that he's set his anchor, and is all alone facing the eight other vessels, he shuts off his engine and is dumbfounded to see his boat slowly turning in a circle and going in the opposite direction all by itself. What can he possibly be thinking? 'Everybody else is going that way, so I'll go this other way?'
Residents of Sivota, a tiny hamlet at the bottom end of the island of Levkas, depend for their livelihood upon the yachting community, specifically the charter yachting community, there being negligible numbers of owner-occupied yachts calling here. Right on the waterfront they have opened eight or ten tavernas, a few grocery stores all exaggerratedly named supermarkets, and just a few shops selling Greek food (picture such shops at airports enticing you to load up on gifts for those at home who will feel neglected if you fail to drag back some little memento of your holiday) and tourist junk. Levkas is connected to the Greek mainland by a swing bridge that opens on the hour, crossing the Levkas Channel more than an hour away by car from little Sivota, so these people are really isolated in their tiny beautiful corner of the world.
Employed at Sivota is an interesting twist on the standard marina business model. About six of the families who operate local tavernas have invested in pontoons, floating docks, where yachts can Med moor (tie stern-to the pontoon with a bow anchor dropped at a distance to hold the front end of the yacht). They don't charge for using the pontoons, but users are expected to dine at their host taverna.
Of the 125 yachts in Sivota every night in July and August, more than 100 of them moor stern-to at one of these pontoons or along the town quay. Boats chartered from Sail Ionian, or Sunsail, or Nielsen Sailing seem to make up the majority and their operators seem to have little or no experience at operating sailboats at all, let alone mooring in reverse with an anchor and two stern lines. They drop fenders in abundance to protect their fiberglass sides and then... well, that's when the excitement begins. Some just bash their 5m wide boats into a 4m wide gap, hoping the two vessels on either side can be pushed aside a little further. Most manage to fit into the targeted open spot, but they dropped their anchors in front of them merely as a matter of form, not with any particular effort to ensure that they would actually hold the bow of the boat and prevent it from blowing off sideways in a breeze.
Another half dozen or so of the 125 practice a similar Med mooring technique, dropping their anchors in open water then backing up, not to a quay or a pontoon, but to the rocky or tree-lined shore, where they run two long lines ashore and tie them about some presumably immovable object. We view this as the least secure holding of all and, while we bought an enormous pair of 50m long x 22mm floating lines with which to effect this trick, after watching it in practice, we have vowed never to moor stern-to the shore. Anchors were not designed to hold under sideways pressure, and those ridiculous long ropes are impossible to knot effectively, are not load-rated to hold a 23 metric ton vessel (that would be Mersoleil) and leave a lot of leeway for the wind to blow the vessels so moored into a row of unfortunate dominoes. They're too big to fit in any winch on a vessel of less than 200 tons, thus the procedure for 'snugging them up' is to pull by hand from the deck once the shore end is chained to a rock or tree. It works in perfectly still air. In a breeze, not so much.
We've decided that, even though it's not easy to find swing room for a proper standard anchoring technique, we will make the effort to anchor the old-fashined way or go elsewhere. Both forms of Med mooring, with anchor chains crossing one another, boats pressing hard on the next boat to leeward, and anchors dropped in the water merely for looks are simply not for us! Not to mention the excitement that ensues when one vessel hooks the anchor chain of another then slides along that chain right up the the bow of the previously anchored boat before swinging around and sideswiping its hull. Phooey, we say to all that.
What remains, then, is for us to protect Mersoleil from the yachts that DO drag freely around the anchorage when the wind comes up, and that alone is sufficient challenge for us! One night just this week the wind shifted and rose suddenly to 25kts when we were at anchor near a vessel that began dragging sideways toward us. It took lots of screaming and yelling to get the guy standing in his cockpit to understand that the shore was not moving past him, but that HE was dragging along and about to drag across our chain, thereby preventing us from escaping his drifting vessel. He didn't seem to get the geometry of it at all, and seemed to have no idea where his anchor was, so I finally stood on our bow and screamed at him, "START YOUR ENGINE!" This he did. "Now go THAT WAY! FASTER!" This he did, as well, and we hurriedly pulled our anchor* and escaped out into open water. Nobody left that anchorage except a superyacht and Mersoleil. We can't imagine why.
*You know the expression 'ain't nuthin never easy'? Mersoleil's anchor had not set satisfactorily at that beach and we'd been still sitting on anchor watch in the cockpit trying to decide what to do when that squall came through. If not for that, we might have discovered that the neighboring boat was dragging anchor only when he banged into us broadside. As soon as he motored out of the way, I raised our anchor as fast as I could, letting the windlass take the weight of the boat, pulling us to the anchor (not good practice and something I have never done before) instead of guiding Robbie to drive the boat there. I saw the anchor just break the surface of the water when it stopped and further pressing of the anchor-up foot switch did nothing to bring it the rest of the way up onto the bow roller.
I could see with my torch (of course, it was dark by now according to the rules of any crisis) that the anchor was fouled with a huge snarly knot of rope, ropes actually, ropes of several different kinds and sizes. No wonder the taut chain felt funny under my foot when we were hauling back! Our anchor probably wasn't dug into the seabed at all, but was held instead only by this ratsnest of ropes, at least one of which had caught on the keel preventing the anchor from coming all the way up on deck. I asked Robbie to come look at it, explaining that I'd like to leave the anchor down over the bow roller and head slowly for the safety of open water where we could clear all the ropes instead of re-anchoring upwind of the dragging vessel.
Robbie wisely observed that, even more important than being clear of the other boat, we needed to ensure that the ropes we cut free did not fall into the water and immediately drift back to foul our propeller. There's no way to control a boat in a squall if you don't want to raise sail and both anchor and propeller are tied in knots! We motored cautiously to the middle of an open space 5nm wide, shut down the engine and drifted while Robbie lay down on the bow hacking away the ropes with a knife. Rather than find a new anchorage, already extremely crowded, in the dark, we drifted overnight in that open water taking two-hour shifts on watch in the cockpit. At dawn we came to Sivota, dropped the hook and slept till midafternoon.
High winds, predicted tonight and tomorrow, should bring new excitement. We're in a well-sheltered harbour, but katabatic gusts rush down the steep mountainsides like bullets. Boats that are not well anchored will go on walkabout.
Here are some photos from sweet little Sivota, Levkas, Greece.
At least once before I've awakened in the morning to find Robbie in bed with me and panicked, "What are you DOING here!?" This morning I woke just before 8:00, saw him next to me and remembered instantly that we have arrived in Corfu Greece and just slept twelve hours straight. We're no longer on passage. We can sleep at the same time, together. What a joy, the joy compounded by the sound of raindrops on the deck overhead. Rain. We've seen no rain since October 2018 and the red Sahara sands, sifted onto Mersoleil in the Atlantic Ocean off West Africa, remain on the mast and rig above reach of our hands or hose. First in the task of washing Mersoleil, always covered with salt after a passage, but still adorned with red dust too, will be for me to go aloft with the end of the water hose, once on the forward side, then again on the aft. Even before that, and we're leaving now, we will go pay homage to the Schengen Immigration authorities, Greek Customs and the Port Police. Then, SIM cards, a few groceries, and finally the aforementioned boat bath. I foresee a long sleep tonight, too, after all that.
Nothing quite so exciting as the micro burst has occurred over the past few days. We've luxuriated in warm sunny days, dry nights (for the most part) and low to modest breezes pushing us along around the SE tip of Sicily and past Malta. Now on the last long leg of this passage, our next turn will be at the southern tip of Corfu at noon on Monday if we can manage our speed per the plan.. Dragging our feet tonight in hopes of missing the height of a NNW wind surge that will roar down the Ionian Sea tomorrow afternoon till early Monday, we're sailing with full genoa and reefed main, expecting to have to dowse the genoa and replace it with staysail later this evening. We'll probably arrive at Corfu on Monday afternoon, be too late to clear in and hope we can find a place to drop the hook, then approach Corfu Harbour on Tuesday morning. It's been a wonderful passage. We'll let you know when we touch down.
Pasagemaking is full of surprises. However well prepared one might be, some new and unexpected lesson or experience invaribaly presents itself for our problem solving enjoyment. I'll tell you about two absolutely new things we've experienced on this passage.
First, this when we were at the eastern end of the Alboran Sea, south of the SE corner of Spain.
It was an evolving story, so I'll give it to you in stages. After entering the Strait of Gibralter, we assumed an easterly course at 36 degrees north, taking advantage of the tattered remains of the westerlies that blow much on the time into the STrait from the Atlantic Ocean. Then at about 30nm off the coast, where the north coast of Africa curves northward, we turned NE to follow along the coast at that distance offshore. We had just crossed the Morocco/Algeria border. PART 1. 0400 local POS 36 05N 001 19W This, we thought, was not an emergency yet, but could become one. Briefly, our heading for the past several hours had been about 37 degrees to port of our actual course. The autopilot would hold a course if set to drive the boat at a specific degree of the compass, but became hopelessly confused if locked onto a waypoint and told GO TO. In that case it grew a gradually increasing crosstrack error. We suspected, and didn't know if this is even possible, that the rudder may be turned on its post, meaning it must be loose. The only reasonable thing to do was to head to Spain for assessment and repair. Best choice would be Palma, Mallorca, where we understand there are superior marine services, but Palma was 285nm away, too far to go in a yacht in even the slightest danger of losing its rudder. Next best choice, and only about 50nm away would be someplace along the Spanish coast.
PART 2. 0800 local This was sooo weird.... We turned on a northerly course assuming we'd head either to the Spanish peninsula or to the Balearics, and things promptly began to resolve themselves. The autopilot cooperatively locked on a waypoint and held the waypoint, keeping crosstrack error to zero. The heading reported by our nav systems was now only about 10 degrees off our course over ground, believable in the SE setting current that had drifted us earlier at 2.5kts while we stopped for a pow wow.
If we hadn't recently seen our own radar jammed by vessels hiding from pirates, visited 2 countries who jammed our satphone, and heard on the news that Isreal accuses Russia of buggering GPS systems at Ben Gurion Airport, I wouldn't even THINK this, but now I began to wonder if the nearest North African country has disabled nav systems along their coastline. What a crazy world.
Our tentative thought at that moment was to proceed in a generally NE direction and watch our systems closely for the next several hours, with the intent to head either to the Balearics for a troubleshooting session or to Greece where we'll do the same later (and at a lower cost).
PART 3. 0930 local This is soooo weird, we thought again. We came to the tentative conclusion that our navigation problems were related to being in the coastal waters of that nearby North African country. Since turning more northerly and building some distance off the coast, most of the anomalies disappeared, although our heading still appeared to be slightly miscalculated, now off by only about 5 degrees whereas at the point where I felt things had gone seriously amiss it was off by 35 degrees.
Since the Balearics were ahead and still east of our current location, we tentatively decided to continue on toward Greece, knowing the stop at Mallorca would continue to be an option for the next 200nm, giving us more than 24 hours to reconsider. We determined to remain away from the coast, out with the big guys again, hanging onto the right edge of the general flow of traffic. At 38 18N 001 07W we still observed a small distortion in our heading, as was obvious when a nearby ship crossed our heading vector on the chartplotter while he was clearly actually off to the left ahead of us. The heading error seemed to be improving, though, with the nearest coastline about 40nm away.
It's unlike us to place our confidence in preposterous possibilities, unlike Robbie in particular, but it's a strange world we live in these days and I guess that might be more apparent in North Africa than it might be in, say, Sweden or New Zealand. Looks like somebody may have buggered GPS satellite reception in their coastal waters.
So, on to Greece, we decided, with a potential diversion toward Balearics kept in our back pocket just in case. 40nm offshore seemed to be the magic number, at least it put us out in the midst of the shipping traffic and nobody seemed to be going in circles out there.
Over the next few days we watched the situation and have confirmed that if we stay 40nm offshore everything works properly. Our rudder is probably as firmly attached as ever it was and when we tack closer to shore, a very unattractive option but if you're going to tack, you've got to go somewhere, we ignore the bad data and sail the old fashioned way, using magnetic compass and the boat's wind instrument, and ignoring all the data involving satellite output. We're still in the area of buggered satcomms and have grown accustomed to working with less data and more common sense. It's a funny world. And we learned about sailing from this.
Oh my! We learned about sailing from another experience, too, on Saturday evening just as it was growing dark.
In keeping with the "All the Exciting Stuff Happens on Bev's Watch" principle, the light easterly wind shifted VERY suddenly, blasted me with hot air, at least a 15F warmer, rose instantly to 30kts from the NW, spun Mersoleil around 160deg and laid her over to such a degree that it threw His Off-Watch Robbiness out of bed. That was exciting indeed, as can be seen from the bow-tie shaped knot in the track laid down on our chartplotter at 17 02N 002 38E. Knowing I couldn't trust anything at the helm except the magnetic compass and wind speed made recovering and controlling the boat an interesting challenge. After that the wind alternated for a couple of hours between brief periods of NW 4-7kts and NW 13-15, these higher winds including more blasts of hot air. Once things were back under control I checked radar. There had been nothing on radar except vessels and land before the wind shift and after there was only a small patch of scattered rain about 7nm away to the SE and that was gone moments later. I felt a couple of drops of rain during the wind event, but not enough to even call it a sprinkle. This was completely new to me. I've experienced something similar with the passage of a cold front, but this air was hot. I asked Bruce Buckley, our meteorologist, "What the heck was that?" I quote some of Bruce's very interesting reply. "What you experienced is what is called a micro-burst. There was a high based shower from the middle level cloud with a bit more oomph than normal. Almost all the rain evaporated before it reached the ground but the winds accelerate with the cooling of the winds. The perfect micro-burst evaporates the last drop of rain right at ground level as this maximises the evaporational cooling. The rain originated from the desert (the winds above the surface were from the SW. The micro burst passed to your NW - but it still contained the desert air - hence the sudden warming as the air came from the Saharan desert). You really need to have Doppler radar to see them at all - with a narrow beam width.
"This is the very same weather effect that hit the US Air Force 1 as it landed at Andrews Air Force base around 3 decades ago and produced a gust near 100 knots. President Ronald Reagan was on board at the time - the event literally scared the Cr@@#$# out of him - and so he funded the nation-wide US NexRad radar program - which lead to something like 100 high quality S-Band Doppler radar being installed across the USA. These high quality radar are the only thing that can warn of these events as they last a very short period of time and the computer models to date still can't predict them. Luckily your micro-burst was a small one." A small one! It was big enough for me!!!! We've been sailing almost all the time for the past 48 hours. Two days ago we feared we'd have to make a stop in Tunisia for fuel, hugely inconvenient to clear into a country just to stay for an hour or so. But now that nice sailing has returned, we're, as Robbie would say, cautiously optimistic that a stop will be unnecessary. The seas have been calm and flat, delightfully blue under clear skies, and we're eating well on this passage. I made time in Rabat to stock the freezer with individual servings of chile con carne, turkey osso bucco with parsley gremolata (lots of recipes online and definitely worth a try), red beans and rice, and other things we can easily scrape together if we tire of the other choices.
All is well. The rudder is fine. The micro burst didn't wreck Mersoleil. We know our nav data will be miraculously cured in another day or two. And we're having fun, even without beer or wine which we'd have purchased in Rabat if we could have found any!
Regular readers of these pages will recognize it, but we had never even heard the cruisers' cliche before we proved its validity in 2011 - cruisers' plans are indeed written in sand at low tide. It was our plan that year, as we prepared Mersoleil and ourselves to sail the world, to head down the West Coast of America to Mexico, then Panama, before transiting the Panama Canal and crossing the Atlantic to the Mediterranean Sea. Later, after spending a year or two in the Med, we would pass back through the Canal and circumnavigate in a Westerly direction. That was the plan until June of 2011, when we looked back over the first half of the year and asked ourselves what on earth we were thinking! Greece and Spain were both on the brink of insolvency, looking to the EU to save them from financial ruin. The Arab Spring had incited new levels of terrorism across Northern Africa. An acquaintance of mine was one of four American sailors killed in March of that year by Somali pirates during an attack gone very wrong in the Indian Ocean. Why, we asked ourselves, would we want to spend time in the most expensive cruising grounds in the world when the entire south coast of the Med was off limits to us and several countries on the European side were angry and preoccupied with failing economies? Two months before we left Seattle, Robbie and I scratched plan A, wadded up the paper, and threw it in the fire. We sailed down to Mexico and turned right instead of left, bound for French Polynesia and the South Pacific! We have never looked back on that decision.
Now fast forward to July 2019 and imagine how we felt yesterday sailing into the Mediterranean Sea in bright sunshine and light westerlies through the Strait of Gibralter. We are thrilled to be here! We're completely different people from the couple who left Seattle eight years ago, but we're just as excited to be in the Med, finally, as we would have been in our first season cruising. Several of our friends have completed their circumnavigations in the last month or two, one couple writing to share their excitement and noting that they had sailed more than 40,000nm in their quest to reach the starting point again. Our goal has never been to complete an official circumnavigation, but we've already sailed more than 50,000nm and we both felt yesterday, passing through the Pillars of Hercules and gazing at the Rock of Gibralter, that we had reached the same kind of milestone. We got here, by golly! The long way.
Mersoleil is in the Mediterranean Sea!
Morocco. We're still pinching ourselves! It's every bit as charming and as magic as we hoped it would be and, with that, our every preconception has been dashed and we found ourselves thoroughly charmed by unexpected joys and magic. The loving friends we've made here, in particular. But also the deeply spiritual focus of the population - I saw a woman this afternoon spread her prayer mat on the dock and drop to her knees as the call to prayer rang through the marina from four or five nearby minarets. And the ancient arts in the old imperial cities and medinas.
Mersoleil arrived in Morocco on a new moon, on the last day of Ramadan, in fact, and will leave tomorrow morning on the next new moon! By the time we reach Corfu that moon will be full again and, as usual, we are elated at the prospect of another passage to someplace new.
Neither of us has ever been to Greece. Not yet.
But wait! What about Casablanca?
More famous from the movie than for its contributions to Moroccan life and culture, Casablanca IS Morocco's largest city and the hub of business and commercial activities. But, as such, Casablanca is not much different from other big cities. The fact that this surprised us is yet further evidence of our misconceptions about the world, another one debunked by reality. On the way back to Rabat we DID make a stop in Casablanca though, to visit the beautiful Hassan II Mosque, the largest mosque in Africa, 5th largest in the world, that can accommodate 25,000 worshipers inside at prayer and another 80,000 outside on the plaza.
The minaret here IS the highest in the world, soaring sixty stories into the sky at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. At night a laser shines across the sky pointing directly toward Mecca. The Hassan II mosque complex, completed in 1993, is majestic and beautiful. Have a look!
Marrakesh Continued June 16-17 2019
Cuisines of the various countries we visit fascinate us both. I love to cook, Robbie and I both favour piquant and exciting flavours and we're game for trying most new and different foods, hence my recipe subdirectories entitled 'Kangaroo,' 'Octopus,' Tapas,' 'Indian' and 'Tagines.' Some of my tagine recipes date back as far as 1978. When stopping in a culture whose cuisine we particularly enjoy, I participate in the best cooking class I can find. I'd already explained to Alecia that I didn't care to spend half the class touring the vegetable souks, or watching suburban housewives learn how to use a knife, or contribute nothing but 7 cups of finely chopped onion to a complicated meal that I wouldn't understand after dedicating 2/3 of the class to chopping onions, and she directed me to a wonderful cooking class in a state-of-the-art purpose-built kitchen at Riad La Maison Arabe.
Twenty participants wasn't too many for this class, a very unusual thing. Each had his own complete prep station in the class kitchen, sharing a sink, waste bin and large display monitor with the person next door. Most of the ingredients were already measured and in place, and we got right down to the business of preparing a classic Moroccan dish, chicken tagine with preserved lemon and olives, and two Morrocan salads, which we'd call side dishes in the US. They were not heaps of lettuce, in fact no lettuce was involved. At the head of the kitchen on a raised dais with strategically-placed overhead camera, the Dada Chef, a traditional Moroccan chef, (usually a woman, and a woman in this case) prepared the same dishes, demonstrating technique, touring the kitchen now and then with tips and encouragement, accompanied throughout by the detailed narration of an English-speaking translator. To see what she was doing close-up, we needed only to look at the monitors in front of each workstation, a la French Chef.
In less than two hours we'd all prepared a wonderful complete meal, slapped our name tags on our own tagine lids and adjourned to the charming dining room to feast, to the accompaniment of live Moroccan guitar music and song, on the meals just prepared. Those sides, by the way, were a Taktuka Salad of grilled chopped green pepper, chopped fresh tomato and onion, lots of garlic Moroccan spices and olive oil, and Zaalouk, a combination of garlic, spices, aubergine and tomato cooked to a rough paste and scooped up with chunks of fresh bread. (Chef made the bread while we were busy with other things - she's quick.) I've taken lots of cooking classes. This was the very best, even if it did conform to the ridiculous First Commandment of Cooking Schools, 'Thou shalt not use a sharp knife for thy cooking class.' I'll never understand that. You can kill yourself with a dull knife.
The people were a nice group, too, and luncheon was a delightful affair served amid lively conversation with wine for those who wanted it.
Alecia left the afternoon free with the subtle suggestion that a visit to the riad hammam would be a nice relaxing experience. I wanted to do that, but overwhelmed with guilt for having so much fun while Robbie and his flu had demurred to attendance at a cooking class, we enjoyed the remainder of the afternoon together relaxing in the garden and our room.
Three Days in Marrakesh - June 15-17
Does it get any more exotic? Not for us! On our last night in Fes, Tahar said, "What do you want to do tomorrow? We can leave early and drive through the Middle Atlas Mountains, the long way, nine and a half hours. Or we can leave later and take the highway." Robbie and I begged for the longer, scenic route and we pried ourselves away from charming Riad Amor after an early breakfast, followed the desk clerk to Tahar's Toyota which we would never have found on our own, and buckled our seatbelts for the long ride to Marrakesh.
Still wrestling with the flu bug, a long leisurely sit seemed just the ticket anyway for people a bit low on energy, so we tucked into the back seat and watched the Moroccan countryside pass by, again on excellent, if secondary, roads. We never think of these vehicle transfers as just another long drive. Instead, we use them as exciting opportunities to explore the countryside, to see people going about their daily tasks, to inquire about the agriculture, the animals, the wildlife, the power grid, the climate... At what time do most people eat their meals? (7AM, big meal at 2ish, tea at 6, small supper at 10:30 or 11) When do they go to bed? (midnight) What is the source of the water supply? (the mountains, then tall cylindrical water towers) Why isn't that child in school at this time of day? (exams just finished last week) What's growing under those nets? (Peaches, apricots). I asked Tahar if most tour guests choose the scenic route. "No," he said, "most just want to get to Marrakesh and we go on the highway." Shame, I thought.
Olives grow virtually everywhere, in long tidy rows of healthy trees. As we rode along we could smell the distinct scent of olives on the breeze, something I've never smelled before in places where olives are grown. I don't know why it surprised me that they smell just like, well, ...olives. They won't be picked, and hand picked at that, until October, but they smell now exactly like the fragrance that wafts out of the jar of olives in our fridge when one removes the lid.
Another thing that left a deep impression on me was the charming town of Ifrane. I had no business nursing preconceptions of what might be found in Morocco, but this cozy little Alpine village surprised me with its cedar forests and steeply pitched roofs, the better to shed winter snowfalls. Ifrane is perched at 5,500 feet above sea level, (1,670m) and is a popular holiday location for overseas tourists and for Moroccans who want winter fun or cool breezes in the summer. While the population changes daily with people coming and going from resorts and second homes, the census believes there to be nearly 75,000 people enjoying the clean air and gentle pace of Ifrane.
Fruit orchards and olive groves abound along the drive to Marrakesh, the fruit gradually giving way to arid rolling plains as we move south into warmer air. We passed a Moroccan army convoy, plenty of petrol stations, many farm implements - it's hay cutting/baling season - making their way down the road, and some dogs, finally. Cats in the cities. Dogs in the countryside, I guess.
Entering the city of Marrakesh, we listened to Tahar's litany of how easy it would be for us to walk to this square or that hotel or the other historical site from our hotel, until after the next ten turns and a few more kilometers Robbie and I looked at each other with "I am NEVER going to remember that" in our eyes. Marrakesh including its medina is several hundred years younger than Fes, as is apparent in wider streets and larger public spaces, and it has a completely different vibe. We went directly to our hotel that evening, Riad de les Jardins de Medina, and were warmly welcomed with cold damp towels with which to refresh our faces and complimentary drinks in the delightful courtyard garden. It would have been nice to find ourselves amoung Moroccan guests, but what, really can one expect from a hotel? The Moroccans tend to live in their own homes while in Morocco, and we contented ourselves in the elegant colonial-style riad amoung other American, French and Spanish guests. The availability of a full bar came as quite a treat in this land of alcohol-free living and I sipped two Aperol Spritzes, my latest favourite summer drink, while Robbie tried an Absolut Martini on his rumbling tummy, olives on the side. Alecia had selected another wonderful accommodation for us. We found our room to be delightful and took some pictures of decorative details we'll want to remember for the future.
Exploration of Marrakesh began in earnest on the next morning with a stop at the renowned Majorelle Gardens, Jacques Majorelle a French ex-pat painter of small note outside Morocco, but son of celebrated Art Nouveau furniture designer, Louis Majorelle. Mr. Morelle the younger met a sad end shortly after a 1962 automobile crash at which time Yves Saint Laurent, a designer of whom we have all heard, purchased the property and the gardens, refurbished all retaining the Majorelle Blue accents and opened the gardens to the public. A great lover of gardens, I was enormously amused to discover the Majorelle Gardens filled with all the desert plants I know well from Phoenix, El Paso and Northern Mexico! It was like bumping into old friends halfway around the world. Igave them all virtual hugs but did not take pictures.
Adjacent to the gardens the Yves Saint Laurent Museum, complete with research library, bookshop and cafe, displays a permanent exhibition of the great fashion designer's sketches, notes and at least a hundred finished fashions ranging from the basic black he favoured early in his career to the vibrant colours of Marrakesh which inspired his later creations. Sadly, photos were not allowed. This museum is definitely worth a visit!
Even better, and not far away, is the Berber museum honoring the people and traditions of the Berbers, Morocco's earliest known inhabitants, who were driven up into the mountains in the 7th century by Islamic invaders. Beautifully presented examples of tools, jewelry and traditional clothing, both men and women's, highlight the vast differences in culture and tradition between the Arabic, Moorish and Jewish populous of Morocco and the native Berbers. One feels here like one has climbed into the pages of grandmother's copy of National Geographic. No cameras allowed here, either, to my great disappointment.
We completed the day with a brief visit to Koutoubia Mosque and Gardens, the largest and grandest in Marrakesh and a tour of the Bahia Palace built at the turn of the 20th century and featuring carved and painted cedar ceilings, a different design in each of its 164 rooms. One needs to exercise some creative imagination to see tapestries on the walls, carpets and furniture on the floors, but the celings are indeed remarkable. Typical in Moroccan architecture, the rooms are wide and shallow, each facing onto an open courtyard for the best exposure to cooling breezes and the plash of water in the fountains.
A late lunch, late for us anyway, at 2:30 or 3:00 completed our first tour of Marrakesh and we returned to the oasis of Les Jardin des Medina (I think that's right), for a preprandial nap and cocktail, then dinner by the pool. We felt very pampered and slipped between the sheets by nine in order to be ready for another day on our feet. We do sometimes notice that we are no longer thirty-five, closer to twice that.
Greetings from Fes, Morocco. June 12th-14th.
As near as we have been able to gather Fez is the district in which the city of Fes is located. One of them is also a hat and remember, these letters have nothing to do with Arabic words, so I think you might use either spelling with impunity.
Fes is rich in culture and history, having the oldest vibrant medina in the world - in addition to royal palaces, monumental gates, the oldest Jewish Mellah in Morocco (neighborhood, ghetto) and an abundance of age honored crafts. Three days in Fes inspires one to plan a next visit. It's cool, by the way, in June in Morocco. We have not gone so far south as the Sahara where it must be very hot, but in Rabat we're sleeping under a duvet at night and often pile a heavy fleece blanket on top. We found both Fes and Marrakesh (further south) perfectly comfortable in the shade and quite warm in direct sun. Arid but not bitterly dry, we were comfortable throughout our tour, finding only the late afternoon sunshine something to be avoided.
Every single picture you see here was taken inside the medina, except for the one or two that say "Overlooking the Medina." It's a lively vibrant community with the market streets bustling and jam-packed with people and products. The residential streets, like the one on which you see Robbie standing at a doorway chatting with our guide are narrow, quiet and labyrinthine. There's more to Fes, the Ville Nouveau, for instance, built and populated in 1912 by the French when they colonized Morocco, and shopping malls, office buildings and whatnot else one might expect in a big city. But it's the medina that holds the charm and the mystery, and to those who enjoy living according to the old traditions, the medina is home. Property values soar in the medina.
Below, photos of the Fes medina stalls, markets and artisan cooperatives speak for themselves. It escapes me why I failed to take a picture of the camel meat sellers, two in the medina, who butcher a camel and hang its sorry head above the stall to show that there's fresh camel meat today. Camel meat, more expensive than beef, is a delicacy and I did not have an opportunity to taste it, but would have gladly done so. In addition to prowling the fascinating market streets, crowded, lively and mostly covered lattice roofs to keep them cool, we visited the gates near the royal palace, Bab Boujloud, blue on one side and green on the other; the 17th century Ibn Danan Synagogue in the Mellah, nestled against the wall of the royal palace for the protection of the Jewish inhabitants; Bou Inania Madrasa, one of the oldest Koranic schools in Fes, opened in 1355 and acknowleded as one of the finest examples of Marinid architecture; and the University of Kairouine (or al-Qarawiyyin, also written Al Quaraouiyine or Al-Karaouine) an important center of Islamic learning since 859 and the oldest continuously operating university in the world, so say UNESCO and Guiness World Records. There is much to see and do in Fes.
Robbie took a day off from touring to nurse a persistent case of the flu (that I gave him) while I joined local tour guide Miriam for a Fes Food Tour wherein we tasted olives, dates, wild honey, bissara (a fava bean soup served at breakfast) and Moroccan mint tea. We visited a 400-year-old furan, a wood-fired community oven that not only bakes the bread kneaded at home and delivered on trays from each household, the colorful towel over the dough to identify whose bread is whose, but also heats the water used at the neighborhood hammam, the traditional Moroccan bath.
Moroccans consider the hammam an essential luxury, time to relax, and for women an opportunity to socialize with their friends. Two kinds of Hammams are common, the steam bath, patterned after Roman tradition, and the hot water bath. Both are usually accompanied by an exfoliating scrub and/or massage with local oils and spices. There are some 250 hammans in Fes. No, I didn't.
It would be impossible for us to find our way around the medina in Fes, or the still larger medina in Marrakesh. Fortunately, help is available everywhere. A man came from Riad Amor to meet us at Tahar's car upon arrival. He carried our single bag and led us directly to our room, several blocks away through twisting and turning 'streets', far too narrow for any vehicle except a motorcycle. We'd have NEVER found it on our own.
It's hard to believe we squeezed more into the first day of our Morocco tour, but Moroccan highways are excellent and it's only 95 miles from Rabat to Meknes. Charming local guide, Atimade, an accomplished painter herself when she's not showing visitors around her hometown, took us to see artisans and their crafts, available only in Meknes. Geometric embroidery on cotton and linen is handsome and popular and the exquisite silver Damascene in the picture below is created only in Meknes.
Meknes, another Moroccan Imperial City, boasts ruins from the times of the Romans, including the Royal Stables, built to accommodate 12,000 royal horses and massive graneries large enough to supply both horses and the population.
Atimade was the highlight of our visit to Meknes. We hope one of her beautiful paintings will grace the wall of our next home! She says she'll deliver it in person, a great excuse for a visit! Our stop in Meknes was much too short, but we carried on another 40 miles to Fes and a lovely suite at Riad Amor in the heart of the Fes medina.
If we've learned anything in Morocco, it's that there is much to see, to experience, to absorb, and this cannot be accomplished in seven days. But we did what we could in a long week, taking advantage of the truly excellent services of Travel-Exploration.com. Alecia Cohen planned our delightful tour, arranging a congenial driver, knowledgeable English-speaking guides, a fascinating itinerary and lodgings in traditional Moroccan luxury, while accommodating our preferences and interests. Great job, Alecia! Thank you!
Tahar, a warm, friendly Berber from Agadir, further south on the Atlantic coast, picked us up this morning in his Toyota Land Cruiser at the Bouregreg Marina. Most tours begin in Casablanca, but since we were here, why not visit Rabat before moving on?
When I shot a picture of the Oudaia Kasbah from the sea as we entered the Bouregreg River (BOO ruh greg) I failed to appreciate the vibrant blue and white residential neighborhood visible just behind the anocient walls. Since the kasbah was originally built in the late 17th century it has been renovated, conquered, destroyed and rebuilt numerous times and now consists of the original citadel with its impressive Bab Oudaia (bab=gate), sought-after traditional homes, Chellah ruins including even some Roman ones, the King's Palace and more. Highlights for me included the intoxicating fragrances of blooming plants (do visit in late spring if you can!) and the storks nesting atop minarets, towers and parapets, especially in the oldest ruins. Baby storks were standing on every nest, flapping their wings, trying to get the hang of how they might work, anticipating a successful fledging any day now!
Nearby stands the impressive, but never completed, Hassan II tower commissioned in 1195 by Caliph Abu Yusuf Yaqub al-Mansur and planned to be the largest mosque with the highest minaret in the world. When the Caliph died in 1199 construction was stopped, the minaret only half its intended height.
Sharing the espanande with the Hassan II Tower, at its opposite end and featured in the photos below that show new construction, is the mausoleum of King Mohammed V and his two sons, the late King Hassan II and Prince Abdallah. The building is considered a masterpiece of modern Alaouite dynasty architecture, with its white silhouette, topped by a typical green tiled roof, green being the colour of Islam. A reader of the Koran is often present, having his assigned seat. Its construction was completed in 1971 for the internment of Mohammed V who had died ten years earlier, and King Hassan II was buried there following his death in 1999. Handsome young Moroccan military guards, happy to have their photos captured by visitors, stand throughout the mausoleum and guard the gates astride horses.
All this in half a day, then we were off to see the Imperial City of Meknes (mc NESS). (I give you pronunciations sometimes because Robbie and I have been getting them wrong until we finally reach a place and are surprised to hear the locals speak!)
Peter Streit left Las Canarias a few weeks before we did, stopped in Rabat, and gave us the skinny on Bouregreg Marina before we arrived here. "I met this great guy named Noureddine," he informed us, "and I've given him your whatsapp. You will like Nouredinne, you must meet him. He will contact you."
And so Day 3 in Morocco began with Nouredinne who arrived an hour late for our 10AM get together. Or so we thought. In fact, we hadn't considered what time zone might be observed in Rabat, though I vaguely remembered something about Ramadan time reverting to GMT. That can't possibly happen everywhere, I thought... Mecca isn't even on GMT. But I don't have to understand these things. We were sitting on a bench at the end of Dakhla Pontoon, Nouredinne was late, and we waited over an hour until his punctual arrival at 10AM, we being completely ignorant of the correct time. We got that straightened out with Nouredinne's help, then he drove us to the Marjane Supermarket.
Marjane supermarkets are enormous and carry everything from auto supplies to beach towels to lamps plus a complete line of groceries and fresh foods. They are much like large Carrefour stores sans the adult beverages and helpfully provide multilingual labelling - in Arabic and French, neither much help to me. Fortunately Nouredinne was there to translate further and the provisioning trip was hugely successful. My favourite department is always the produce department, where I need little linguistic assistance except for root vegetables, and since I tend to avoid those altogether beyond carrots and beets, I was happy on my own while Robbie and Nouredinne sought Diet Coke, yogurt and other things whose labels required deciphering.
Never before, anywhere in the world, have I found more beautiful fruit than at the Marjane in Rabat! The peaches smelled like peaches, ripe and juicy. Golden apricots were eat-today ripe, as well, unblemished and piled high in tempting mounds. I bought more fruit than ever before in a single go and immediately upon returning to Mersoleil bit into a sweet, blushing, succulent peach whose juices ran down my chin despite my efforts to be tidy! The best fruit in the world!
The boys dutifully delivered our provisions to the boat, then, while I stowed (and ate peaches) they took themselves off to the coffee cafe, a time-honored Moroccan tradition where men spend leisurely days, absent the company of their wives, in conference amoung themselves about things of little moment.
Farid chatted with us the other night at the Orange shop, saying he's originally from Rabat, now lives in Pennsylvania, and he comes here to visit his parents every year at the end of Ramadan. His son would be flying in for a short visit as well, and he is always happy to spend time with his family. What's that, he asked? You live on a boat? What do you mean? He could hardly imagine.
Thus, later in the afternoon Robbie returned from the coffee cafe to receive guests Farid; son, Youssef; and brother Chakir, all of whom found the very idea of sailing around the world on a yacht like this thrilling and original. We had a warm and happy visit for a couple of hours, exchanged contact info and agreed to keep in touch. I served Moroccan coffee, which was dreadful, but hey! It was my first try and I forgot to watch how long it brewed so it was weak and watery. It's supposed to be strong. Not mud, like Turkish coffee, but at least dark and rich. Next time I'll do better.
We are deeply touched by the warmth, the hospitality and the generosity of the Moroccan people.
OK. I fixed my phone. I didn't even KNOW I could change the aspect ratio on the camera. From now on it will be 16:9. Sorry.
Ramadan Breakfast in Rabat, the breaking of the fast
First on the agenda after checking in to a new country is to lay our hands on some local currency and SIM cards, necessary more for data than for telephone calls in a place where, presumably, we know no one. I spent Day 2 washing the boat (LOVE the new power washer!) while Robbie walked to the Sale medina (SAH lay) in search of ATM and Orange cellular shop. He found both while I cleaned evidence of a salty passage off the boat and by midafternoon we settled inside curious to see how hot it would get in Rabat. Not bad, it turned out. The weather during June in seaside Rabat is absolutely lovely. Cool at night, comfortable during the day.
"Oh," mentioned Robbie as he sat at his laptop, "We have been invited to a celebration tonight at the home of the lady at the Orange store. Won't that be fun?" I demurred, tired from five hours of work on deck, but at 7PM my phone rang.
"You must come to see how we celebrate the end of Ramadan. This is a very special meal and we do not do this every day."
We walked to the Orange store, Loubna closed up the shop, then she and her two daughtes led us through the labyrinthine medina to their beautiful traditional Moroccan home and we settled to an incredible meal, as you can see. Everything was delicious and I know the name of only one dish. The lentil soup, traditionally served to break the fast, is harira, as I learned from my reading the following day.
The beginning and end of Ramadan are based entirely upon the moon, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It begins the morning after the crescent moon is first visible to the naked eye, but the end of Ramadan officially occurs at the very moment the first horn of the crescent new moon next rises. This is a very local event and it's impossible for people nestled in the ancient multi-storied homes of the medina to see that tiny lunar ascencion. So they watch television throughout the Ramadan Breakfast which began at sundown! We thought it odd that there was a TV blaring in the same room where we feasted, but suddenly the announcement was broadcast, "Eid Mubarek Seid!" and everyone got excited and started Eid Mubarek Seiding one another, and Loubna grabbed her cell phone and began to call distant family and close friends to congratulate everyone on the completion of a month of prayer and fasting.
Day 2 in remarkable Morocco and we already have family in Rabat. "Our home is your home," said Loubna. "Anything at all you need, you come to us. Are you coming here for lunch tomorrow?"
Conditions were just about perfect for the 500nm passage from Arrecife to Rabat. Trade winds normally blow strong and constant from the NE at this time of year and NE is, of course, exactly the direction in which we traveled. But periodically the winds soften, and every now and then they swing N or NNW, and we made an easy passage under these more favourable conditions, motorsailing most of the way to increase our speed and make landfall in Morocco before the winds turned again and strengthened.
Dawdling offshore overnight, we called Bouregreg Marina at about 9AM and they sent out a pilot in a small boat to guide us across the bar, often rough and sometimes closed. The low low tide occurred at 0904 and we were skeptical about entering a shallow bar at lowest astronomical tide, but the Capitaine encouraged us saying, "no problem!" We followed precisely in the wake of the piot boat... and had at least five inches of water below the keel at the shallowest point. Not surprising, really. It was the last day of Ramadan, whose date is determined each year by the lunar cycle, so we knew a new moon was only hours away.
Clearing into the country of Morocco was a simple matter completed in under an hour at the police dock in the marina. The police, port, immigration and customs officers all came aboard, we filled in a couple of forms in Arabic/French (that was interesting) and a no-nonsense black German shepherd strolled around on deck sniffing for contraban and was disappointed. Since the police dock doubles as fuel dock, we replenished our diesel supply then moved to a berth on the end of Dakhla pontoon. On the wall in the Capitaine's office, typical in all marinas, there's a whiteboard showing the marina layout together with the names of all the vessels berthed there. Next to each name on this whiteboard, and not so typical, is a small graphic of the vessel's national flag. Nine foreign flags appear there, the stars and stripes displayed only next to Mersoleil. We're probably the largest vessel here, too, most of the boats being small power boats or little daysailers, and each afternoon we hear lots of happy locals chatting as they visit their boats or go out for a short ride, the kids venting their energy by running up and down the docks.
Lunch at one of the several marina restaurants was fair at best,but we were tired, didn't care, and ended the day with an early bedtime.
Greetings from Arrecife, Lanzarote, Las Canarias, Spain
We don't exactly understand why we like Lanzarote so much better than Gran Canaria. Others, we understand, feel the opposite. But we've been warmly welcomed here; the marina is beautiful; everything in town is within walking distance, including several nice restaurants; and, well, maybe Arrecife just has a happier vibration.
Sailing 'the long way' from Las Palmas to Arrecife, we passed south of the island of Fuerteventura which protected us from strong N winds, and we arrived on April 26th. What have we done in the 4 weeks since then? It's hard to say! I know I spent six days servicing all the winches in the cockpit. They were due for servicing anyway, and had become so full of desert dirt from the Harmattan winds that I dared not wait any longer. Here we're safely north of those gritty winds and now that the winches are clean and greased, I dearly hope we'll have no more sandy winds in Morocco!
My procedure for servicing winches is to disassemble them right down to the fiberglass, or down, at least, to the base plate that's bedded onto the deck. As I remove each piece, bearings and gears, pawls and springs, clips, bolts, collars, axles, top hats and posts, I clean it with diesel fuel, toothbrush, Q-tip, toothpick and Scotchbrite and lay it carefully in the exact sequence in which it was removed. This not being sufficient to help me remember from whence every single piece came (there are as many as eight or nine gear wheels and 5 sets of bearings in each winch) I take pictures at nearly every step along the way to help me remember how to reassemble! When I do this frequently I have no trouble remembering how each one is assembled, but I learned several years ago that cleaning them every six months was more often than necessary.... and my memory doesn't seem to work beyond six months! After disassembling and cleaning, I apply white lithium grease as I put the whole thing back together. I have almost no pictures of nice clean newly greased parts - there's no need to record reassembly and it's a huge hassle to stop and clean my hands before picking up my phone for a photo. Dismantling a unit with about 100 small parts has a way of motivating me to wipe my hands for pictures!
Robbie busied himself all week polishing stainless and completing other tasks on our now short list of TTDs. It's been a very productive stop in Arrecife!
Maybe it was the diesel fumes and the fact that my hands were immersed in it for six days, but I've spent most of the last week in bed with headaches and a complete lack of energy. Diesel poisoning or perhaps a little flu bug. In any event, the two winches on the mast still await my attention. These are the two I really dread cleaning. They're installed horizontally and I work on them in constant fear that I'm going to drop a part and hear it bounce click, click, ploop into the water.
Volcanic activity - within geologic memory - created this island. Pockmarked with craters, hot and dry, it's barren of plants and I could never live here, though fields of rough red boulders as far as the eye can see make for a fascinating, if surreal, landscape. The old town is quaint and charming, the streets filled with small cafes and people strolling on weekends, and on Saturday mornings there's a superb produce market in the plaza at the door of the church. The sea is just a block or two away on one side and on another the lagoons that harbour small fishing boats are surrounded by charming promenades, these, too, filled with one's choice of cafes, bars and restaurants.
Electric scooters have become such a craze on continental Europe that they have been restricted or banned in places like Paris where careless riders have mowed down one too many old ladies. They're still popular and unrestricted here, though, and you can pick one up anywhere in town, scan the QR code on the scooter, then your credit card, and have fun for pennies per minute. See wind.co and the pictures below.
Oh, I went up the mast one day, too, to inspect the rig and, I'll be honest, to have a good look around. So there are a few pics below from above, as well. I can't seem to keep my foot out of those pictures... I think it must be essential to remaining vertical or something. I don't believe I've ever taken a photo of Mersoleil from the top of the mast that does not feature my footwear. Sorry. BTW, those are Crocs! I love them.
Late this week we will sail to Morocco, stopping at Rabat, the capital. It's close to the Strait of Gibralter and offers a secure marina where Mersoleil can have some time to herself while we take a tour inland to Fes and Marrakesh. Ramadan continues through the first week of June so we've delayed our arrival there until everyone is back in the usual swing of things.
Las Palmas, Las Canarias
Las Palmas is a funny place. Our Swedish friends, Peter and Eva on Tina Princess, (more re Tina Princess later) love it here. They left Mindelo two days after we did en route to the Canaries where they plan to sell Tina Princess and buy a home after 23 years of living aboard and cruising the world. Their enthusiasm for Las Palmas tempted us to consider it for the FRP in lieu of Madeira just 400 miles away. Robbie, in particular, was tempted because his Spanish is a lot better than his Portuguese. I've been studying Portuguese sporadically for 2 years now (I'm on the 8th CD, don't you know) so I'm a bit ahead of him and I can at least make a dinner reservation over the phone, ask the price of something and announce that I need or I want something, although I may not be able to say exactly what it is that I must have. Anyway, suffice it to say that Las Palmas, based on Peter and Eva's enthusiasm, was tempting until we got here.
Marina Las Palmas, with 1500 Med mooring berths, is huge, even bigger than Shilshole Bay Marina where we lived in Seattle (1400). It's run by the Spanish government and is the most affordable marina in Las Canarias, always packed to capacity, and the biggest problem encountered by marina staff is how to accommodate new arrivals, especially foreign yachts passing through. There's no room for them.
Under these constantly overcrowded conditions, the staff adopts the unfortunate attitude that arrivals are an inconvenience, not to be trusted, and to be evicted at the earliest opportunity to make room for the next unwelcome visitor. Peter and Eva, we thought, must have based their love of Las Palmas on some other relationship! First we were told that we could stay - on the reception dock - only overnight then we must move on, they didn't care where. Nice, huh? But our usual charming and compliant behaviour (you never know exactly how to appeal to the local culture when making first landfall in a country, so sweet and humble are important attributes to display) was noticed by the marinero who assisted us at the reception dock.
He came to us a few minutes later with, "Did you see that boat just leaving as you pulled in? I called the lady and they will be gone for a week. What luck! You may have their berth for six days, no more." Of course, we took it! We wanted to experience Las Palmas!
There were a few fires to put out, as is true after nearly every passage, and this had been a fairly long one, 1000nm to windward. Plus, with Santa Semana, Holy Week, eating up several upcoming workdays, (not to mention checking into the country, which was a joke but consumed an entire day) we were unable to get Mersoleil ready for departure in less than six days. (Apparently marina staff, on top of the rest, is totally insensitive to the fact that we arrived sleep deprived and lost ten hours immediately after arrival to correcting that condition.)
Robbie had trespassed upon the office to check us in upon arrival, at which time the ladies behind the desk bit his head off so ferociously that he declined to return there to beg an extension. "You do it. They already hate me."
I went to the marina office with my sweetest, most apologetic demeanor and had no trouble obtaining an extension until April 26. "You're sure you can finish your work in two weeks?" Of course not, but, "Yes."
This is skipping ahead, but it will finish the subject of 'Las Palmas marina staff will not win Ambassador of the Year.' When I came back four days before the named departure date to say high winds would prevent us from departing on the 26th, but we could leave two days later, I was met with, "You pah RAH missed you would leave on the 26th!" Nice, don't you think?
Aside from that, we had a very nice time in Las Palmas, found some fantastic restaurants - and we have been starved for years for good Mediterranean food, especially olives - made a wonderful new friend in Peter Streit on Vela Tonka, and enjoyed wandering the quaint old town around Santa Ana Cathedral. On Good Friday we attended the Procession of the Mantillas in which girls and women of the parish, wearing white lace shawls over their heads, accompany holy objects through the streets. If I was still in Thailand I might have said "effigies of the crucified Christ and the blessed virgin she dressed in her perennial blue gown," and watching the procession pass I realized how similar religious processions are around the world and how their meaning is minimalized or lost altogether on the uninitiated. The Cathedral is lovely inside. It's not one of the great cathedrals of the world, but bears its age with dignity. Just days after the fire at Notre Dame, the presence of heavily armed police scanning the crowd made us poignantly aware of the disorder in which the world exists today.
We attended Easter Mass at the Cathedral, too, surprised at how few people participated in the 1:00 Mass. It reminded me of my parish in Chicago in the '70s. Just the old ladies and my family.
Dining is outstanding in Las Palmas, particularly in the picturesque restaurants of the old town, their tables spilling out into the streets. My foie pate with apple/cinnamon chutney at Los 5 Sentidos was terrific. And there exist at least half a dozen other wonderful eateries just a few minutes stroll from Mersoleil, berthed stern-to on T-pontoon.
Do you wonder what has happened to my spelling? I do too sometimes and I frequently think of this as I write to you. I've been exposed to so many versions of the English language over the past eight years that I can't remember how to spell anything anymore and I know my spelling vacillates back and forth, between, for instance, color and colour, depending upon where I've been most recently. We've even taken to calling the lightweight metal aluminium, convinced by others that America made the mistake of misspelling the name of their own discovery. Whatever.
Las Palmas is a huge city. We were surprised to learn it's the fifth biggest city in Spain. With 500,000 people and little green space, it's definitely not our cup of tea. Funchal has all the charm and quaint homeliness (look it up, it's a funny word) we seek in our next home. Las Palmas does not, but we'll be happy to visit Peter and Eva once we're all settled on our respective islands!
Note the replacement of Doggie1 in Las Palmas with Doggie2, much smaller, a PVC Highfield 260 nicknamed 'the Puppy.' We had so hoped Doggie would make it another year or two, but alas twas not to be. If I say more I'll burst into tears.
We will depart Las Palmas as promised (rev 2) on Monday morning, April 29. We dare not stay.
Continually amazed by the great opportunities placed before us for safe and easy passagemaking, we DID tack to the NW after the first, easy, four days of this passage and were surprised to find the seas remained comfortable even in 20-22kts winds, permitting Mersoleil to sail to the NW close-hauled and stable for a couple of days. Unfortunately, one doesn't make great speed toward one's destination that way, especially with a reefed main and staysail (expecting trade wind squalls to pop up at any moment, although only one actually presented itself at our location). Making as little as 2 or 3kts over the ground, one begins to think that a destination more than 300nm away, and perpendicular to our course, is unattainable in this lifetime.
But wait, there's more! Yesterday morning early, the winds dropped below 10kts and the sea, which had never been higher than 2m, dropped to nearly flat again. Cured of proving that we can sail, we celebrated the possibility that we'd reached a predicted area of light fitful breezes in the far distant lea of Gran Canaria and cranked up the engine to motor sail straight toward the island, still 300nm away. This light-winds-in-the-lea-of-the-island condition was confirmed by Bruce Buckley in his early morning weather update yesterday (in daily response to our earlier morning position report). He congratulated Mersoleil upon getting far enough North to reach the next region of moderating trade winds, suggesting that if we could keep within that and the lea of Gran Canaria, we had a good chance of running this way right up to the Canaries, hiding behind the high volcanic islands and pushing directly toward our destination. Hurray! Today, the 9th, at noon local, we're still motoring and making progress at 5-6kts instead of 3. At this pace we'll arrive at Las Palmas tomorrow late in the day, far preferable to tacking for another 5 days! It's on passages like this that our minds eventually turn to musing, obsessing sometimes, over odd things. For Robbie at the moment, it's either the care and feeding of lithium iron phosphate batteries or calculating exactly how much fuel we consume under differing conditions between the auxilliary engine and our 6kW generator, thus CAN we sail all the way to _____? For me, today, it's the throbbing in the fingertips of my right hand.
When is the last time you slammed your fingers in a door? I haven't done it in years, I can't even remember the last time, but this morning as I climbed down the companionway ladder at the end of my 6AM watch, I reached over my head to slide the heavy hatch cover closed just as Mersoleil dived nose-first into the trough between two waves. She slammed the companionway cover open instead, using my fingertips to cushion the heavy bang of the glass and steel 'door' as it smashed into the forward frame at the front of the companionway. Oh, my. I stood on the ladder for a number of moments in stunned paralysis, aware of nothing but three painful fingertips, the throbbing beginning almost immediately. Gee! Wow! Yikes. Are you with me? Don't try this at home.
One nail will probably turn that pretty black color. It's already purple on the pad side and 3 or 4 degrees warmer than its colleagues. Ew. I wish I could have that moment back. Another subject of current deliberation, for both Robbie and me (I don't imagine he's obsessing over my finger, but his sympathy is noted with approbation), is the FRP. We're already committed enough to buying a home in Portugal that we've hired a lawyer, obtained tax ID numbers, opened a bank account and looked at real estate on Madeira. But friends give the Canaries such rave reviews that we cannot but be tempted to look there as well. We shall see how it strikes us over the next month or so. After all, is it not true that cruisers' plans are written in sand at low tide? Besides nosotros, los dos, hablamos ya espanol (we both already speak Spanish), and it would be convenient not to need to master a new language, a prospect Robbie in particular doesn't fancy. Either way, I'll have to find the keyboards on my phone and laptop that contain accent marks. Surely the Spanish and the Portuguese don't have to bring up their symbol libraries every few seconds.... but that research can wait..
Life is good. We're happy, pretty excited that this passage is drawing to a close, having fun, and sending you our love.
Amazing! We've sailed nearly halfway from the Republic of Cabo Verde to the Canaries, sailed mind you, direct to the NE in the trade wind belt! The trade winds went into hiding for a few days thanks to a low pressure system near Madeira and we've taken great advantage of the lull they left behind, sailing close hauled in 8-15kts of N and NW breeze, so far without a single tack! Along with the nice conditions, the northerly winds carry fresh clear air and Mersoleil has been spared additional polishing by the Harmattan sands from the Sahara Desert. It has truly been a delightful four days so far.
Late this afternoon, the winds are expected to clock to the NNE, then NE, forcing us onto an easterly course or even, God forbid, a southeasterly one. At that point, we'll reduce sail in prep for 20-25kt winds, tack to the NW, and begin beating in earnest toward Gran Canaria and Las Palmas, our first destination in the Canary Islands.
Another fantastic passage. We love passages. How lucky, given the distance we're covering this year, already 4,500nm since early February. We must be crazy. But in a good way.
Yes, we really did arrive in Mindelo, Sao Vincente, Republic of Cabo Verde, as promised, on Friday, March 15th. It doesn't seem like we've been here two weeks, but my calendar declares this true and we're off in the morning for the Canary Islands, 825nm away if you're a crow, more like 1200 for us. We'll be sailing directly into the NE trades, which average 20-25kts at this time of year, and we'll be adding miles by tacking back and forth as we work our way north and east.
This is not the popular route to the Mediterranean, most yachties favouring Brazil and the Caribbean, then looping around with the Gulf Stream to Europe, but that adds at least 2,000 miles to the trip and we have no desire to go to the US or the Caribbean this year. So, like many Europeans heading home after their circumnavigations, we'll beat our way up to the Med from here.
We've not given Cabo Verde the attention she may deserve, but we're in get-there mode and the Sahara dust blown here on the Harmattan winds ruins visibility and makes the eyes burn and the boat filthy; the street kids lurking in dark corners each evening hoping to grab your wallet, handbag or more take the fun out of evening outings; and the general absence of 'wonders of the world' has made our stay in Mindelo a casual one, full of boat projects and beers at the Marina Floating Bar passing time with friends old and new, but doing little sightseeing and no island-hopping whatsoever.
This visit is exciting, though, for the amazing accomplishment not of Mersoleil, but of Sisu, a brand new Leopard 45 catamaran sailed by South African novice sailors, Frik and Petro. We met in Cape Town in December when they took delivery of their new vessel and learned to sail on the little monohull berthed next to Mersoleil at V & A Marina. After a couple of stops along the South African coast, SIsu departed Walvisbaai, Namibia on February 21st and sailed more than 3,900nm on their FIRST BLUEWATER PASSAGE EVER, arriving at Marina Mindelo on March 26, where we awaited them with champagne, caviar and free hands to catch docklines!!! That was more exciting than making landfall on our own first passage and we have enormous respect for their wits, their chutzpah, and their rapidly growing boating skills! We've never made a passage that long!
Mindelo is known as the music capital of Cabo Verde where morna, a local music form unique to the Cabo Verdes, thrives. Evora Cesaria, now deceased, brought morna to the world and lives on as the home town hero, featured in the local museum where photos, memorabilia from her world tours and her entire performance wardrobe are on display. Morna is a bit like the fado of Lisboa, but more energetic and lively and we purchased a couple of Evora's CDs at the gift shop so we can enjoy the morna after we leave Mindelo.
Our first stop in the Canaries will be at Las Palmas on Gran Canaria where we'll hole up for ten days at the Las Palmas Marina. We'll stay in the Canaries only thirty days, spending our Schengen Area days carefully, before moving on to Morocco.
Will send an occasional update along the bumpy road to Las Palmas!
We've decided to give Praia a pass, the capital of Cape Verdes on the island to our left on the image, and to go directly to Mindelo a further 100nm to the NW. We'll have to get to Praia eventually to pick up packages or, she says hopefully, figure out some other way to have them transferred to us elsewhere. Praia's crime rate does not appeal and to stop there, clear in AND wrestle our parcels from Customs might take a couple of days, whereas we think a stop of two or three hours in daylight is about right for a harbour known for thefts and robberies.
By midday tomorrow we expect to be tucked in at Marina Mindelo where friends on Wakanui await us, they having arrived yesterday, also from St. Helena.
This has been a remarkable passage, one of the very best we've ever made! It's the second longest, for one thing. We haven't done 2,650nm in a single go since 2012, Mexico to French Polynesia. Even more incredible, our friends Frik and Petro on Sisu are 3 days behind us, also headed to Mindelo, but from Walvis Bay, Namibia, not from St. Helena. Their passage will cover and astounding 3,500nm without a stop. Even more remarkable than the length of Sisu's passage is the fact that it's their very FIRST ocean passage on a new catamaran they bought in December, their first boat!!! What gumption, eh!? Go Sisu!! Since leaving sweet little St. Helena on 25 February, we've caught half a dozen mahi mahis (a real treat), crossed the Atlantic ITCZ/doldrums without suffering a single squall or T-storm (unheard of), sailed in stealth mode off the pirate infested West African Coast (no lights, no VHF traffic, no AIS for Mersoleil; no AIS, no VHF and high tech radar jamming equipment on the big ships), re-entered the Northern Hemisphere crossing the EQ for the 4th time, barreled along at up to 9kts over the ground in the NE trade winds, and have been showered with a fine red dust from the harmattan of the Sahara Desert more then 500 miles away! It's been quite a ride.
Believe it or not, Mersoleil has just passed through the Atlantic Ocean ITCZ, the doldrums, without encountering a single squall or thunderstorm! Incredible. We're grinning ear to ear in disbelief! We're about 175nm off the shore of Liberia on the West Coast of Africa. All systems on board are working fine and we still have fresh vegetables, although they're getting pretty close to their consume-by dates, their sell-by dates passing into history long ago.
Sensitive to the current danger of piracy along the West African Coast, although they favour tankers and cargo ships over little prizes like us, we've implemented silent running at night, lights out and AIS off, to avoid attracting unwanted attention, and have honed our watchkeeping standards accordingly. It would be a shame to run into the one ship we might pass at night just because we're hiding out here! This passage will be the longest we've made since we sailed from Mexico to French Polynesia in 2012, a trip of 2,800nm. This one will be around 2,200. It looks like Mersoleil will wash up on the shores of the Cape Verde Islands on about March 12 or 13. In the headlights we see the Cape Verdes, the Canaries, Madeira, Morocco, the Balearics (Spain's Mallorca, Minorca, et al), Greece, Turkey and possibly Cyprus, but the order in which we visit them will be ruled to a great degree by Schengen Area limitations, all yet to be worked out, and will take place over either one year or two years. At this moment, after such a delightful run through the ITCZ, we're thinking, "Why not two?!"
Six days into this long passage we can only report that we're having a ball! Mersoleil departed St. Helena as promised on Saturday, Feb 25, and we've enjoyed fine weather, plenty of fish, and a one-size-fits-all sail plan.
We'll not win any races but in all other respects each day has been ideal! Our average so far is only 113nm per day, well below our normal 150nm average, but the winds are dead behind us and Mersoleil prefers almost any other point of sail! We turned over the engine in James Bay at 0730, shut it off at 0930 that morning, and have not heard its noisy drone again except to escape the Net Marks, see below. At 1030 on that first day a loud snap on the starboard deck indicated weight on the fishing handline there. (We let out a line attached to a deck cleat by rubber snubber - to take the shock - and raise the plastic reel up to the rail with a couple of twists on a covered copper wire. When a fish takes the lure we're alerted by the sound of the reel pulling out of the loosely twisted wire and smacking down on the deck.) Another smack immediately after the first indicated a second guest on the port lure! The watch stander, either one of us but this time it was me, yells, "Fish!" From that point, we specialize in our jobs. I reel them in by hand, Robbie provides landing net services and dispatches the fish to the astral world as rapidly as possible. While he did this on starboard. I went over to port, gathered in the next one and we repeated the process, then lowered the fish cutting board, which is more than a meter long and is stowed under the cushion at the helm, down into the galley and I thanked heaven that I'd sent all our knifes out for professional sharpening in Cape Town.
I relate this in detail but once. In fact, the entire ritual right down to cleaning up the blood spattered all over the deck and much of me was repeated at 1430 and we now have the fillets of FOUR beautiful mahi mahi in the freezer! Two more brave but wee volunteers were landed a day or two later, but we lectured them on playing in traffic and threw them back, giving them time to grow up.
It was sunny, and dry, and quiet all day that first day as the poled out genoa drew us along at a leisurely 5kts over the ground. Idyllic. We have never changed the sails, not even once! It looks now as if we'll keep the pole out till the winds ease below 9kts tomorrow afternoon. At that time we'll be entering the shifty breezes that precede the doldrums. We'll fly a conventional sail plan with main and genoa until the squalls or the lack of wind force us to reduce sail and turn on the engine.
Fish in the Atlantic Ocean seem to be generally more ambitious than their Pacific Ocean cousins. Using the same lures (I build my own) that attracted 20kg mahi mahi and mackerel in the Pacific, 6" squid, yesterday one black and purple, one Mexican flag colors, we're landing 3kg fish here. Almost all of the passage thus far has been same same. A twelve hour period of excitement on Friday brought all hands on deck with our watch skills on high alert as Mersoleil threaded through a huge commercial fishing field with no less than 57 AIS Net Marks - and those are just the ones that lit up our instruments! We only see the close ones! After much deliberation, we finally furled the genoa and motored due west for three hours just to get out of them! As far as we could tell, the area cluttered with nets is bounded by 10-11S and 10-11W. If you're sailing there in the near future, BEWARE! Last night I spent an amusing watch battling with some pelagic birds for possession of the boom, they with wings and tenacity, me with a retractable steel tape measure and tenacity. It was fun for a while and ultimately I won. Or maybe the contest was called for daylight and will resume tonight with extra innings.
Today as we pass by Ascension Island to our west we've had better wind - in 12-16kts of breeze we're doing around 7kts over the ground. Remember, we have very little sail out, but it's been working so well we can think of no reason to change! Not yet anyway. At this pace, we'll reach Praia, Cabos Verdes later than planned (as if that mattered), probably on the 15th.
All is well and the water is getting warmer every day!
St. Helena has a quaint charm that is completely unique to anyplace else we have been. It's only been 14 months since their airport was completed and opened. Can you believe it!? Until the beginning of 2018 if you wanted to visit this place, you'd have had to book an 8-day passage on a ship from merry olde England. Now THAT is splendid isolation like we've seen it nowhere else! Today planes arrive from Johannesburg, one on Tuesday and one on Saturday, bringing tourists, nearly all of them Saints, for so the locals call themselves, who have relocated elsewhere and are coming home for a visit. Besides returning Saints, the only visitors to St. Helena seem to be a few brave and hardy British expats and visiting yachties who come to St. Helena at the rate of about 280 yachts each year. Most of those, the yachts, visit during the months of January, February and March. We are number 86 for 2019 and have been here for the past ten days in the company of about 8 other vessels, including Explorer, Wakanui, XE, Egalite, Capensis, Peristera, and since yesterday, Farr Flyer and Balakcil.
Not one of us has dropped a dinghy in the water, the preferred, indeed the only, way to reach shore being via the St. Helena Ferry Service. Since taking the ferry is a highlight of one's stopover, I'll add pictures when I can of the ferry, the landing steps with manropes dangling above as from a gallows, and the rollers that wash the steps sending the little ferry boat first up above the landing then crashing down a meter or two below it. Each ferry passenger chooses his favoured moment as the boat rises and falls, crashes into the concrete steps then washes away, for a death defying leap of a meter or more from ferry to shore or the reverse. Parcels and backppacks are handed across to anyone who'll have them while each passenger times his leap, then all the belongings are sorted after the people have arrived safely on the landing or on the ferry, eggs receiving particular attention in hopes they'll arrive unbroken on the moored yacht to which they belong. "This one has eggs!" "Eggs, got it!" I've taken lots of pictures. When we reach acceptable Internet (that will NOT be at St. Helena) I'll post some of those pictures here.
James Hearn and his family left St. Helena in 2012 in their own sailboat, Bavaria 38 Carpe Diem, and circumnavigated until their December 2017 return. Now James operates St. Helena Yacht Services during the week, assiting arriving boats with moorning lines and answering all the typical questions. Where do we go to clear in? What about trash? Where is the bank, the grocery store, the nearest beer? James is a font of helpful information. A cruiser himself he understands all our needs, and his contact with sailors like us keeps him connected to the cruising lifestyle that he, Hannah and their 3 kids enjoyed so much. (St. Helena Yacht Services, VHF 16, except on weekends.) Freight services are better here than at, for isntances, Hiva Oa, in the Marquesas. The Aranui III arrived at Hiva Oa once every three months in 2012 when we were there, whereas the St. Helena makes a run to and from Cape Town once every three weeks. (More anon about Aranui III and Hiva Oa, believe it or not!) When Mersoleil pulled in to James Bay on Valentines Day, the Captain of the departing island freighter, St. Helena, bid a fond VHF farewell to Port Control, offered his thanks for the Saints' hospitality, and announced, "I guess I'll see you again in June." We thought St. Helena must receive only three freighters per year, but further inquiry revealed that the Captain on board must be going on leave, probably three months on/three months off, and HIS next visit will be in June. The St. Helena, however, will be back in three weeks time with additional onions, carrots, toilet paper, batteries and more. As we strolled from the landing steps into town on the afternoon of our arrival, big burly blue-shirted Allen bemoaned the absence of potatoes, "That's two in a row with no potatoes, we have yellow onlions, red onions, pickling onions, but no potatoes. Again!" St. Helena is almost entirely rock, rising some 423m to Diana's Peak, one of several high points on this steep and mountainous island. Many steep, narrow valleys run down to the sea, too, and one of them on the leeward northwest coast has grown into the bustling village of Jamestown, crowded into the narrowing upper reaches of the valley as it climbs up from the sea. There are many shops, at least half a dozen selling groceries, an abundance of tea rooms, some small hotels, the tourism office, and other amenities one might find in any small town. At the bootom of the town is the sea, the local fresh water swimming pool, the wharf facilities, and Jacob's Ladder, an unbelievably steeply inclined stairway of 700 concrete steps that connects the residential community of Ladder Hill with Jamestown. More photos coming, I promise.
No we did not. Are you kidding!? It made me dizzy just looking down from the top! Neither of us has recovered from the sealegs with which we arrived. For an open roadstead anchorage, the James Bay mooring field is really quite comfortable, but we experience enough rolling and movement on the boat to keep us hopelessly wobbly every single time we go ashore. Climb 700 stairs? Not a chance.
Unlike many of the isolated islands we have called upon, St. Helena appears to have no poverty, though life is simple. All the roads are paved and the British government ensures that things move along smoothly here, posting her officials in a warm sunny climate and keeping many of the Saints employed productively.
Everyone in St. Helena is friendly and welcoming, something we often gauge by observing how many locals greet us before we speak to them. St. Helena scores very high on the 'Initiates Greetings' scale, and what little interaction we've had with locals apart from James was warm and pleasant. Virtually everyone is British or of British extraction some number of generations back. The Brits found this island uninhabited, so colonizing it was a simple matter of adding people and gun emplacements, which they did beginning in the 1500 or 1600s. There is little of historical note here except the existence of a couple of houses where Napoleon was stored, far enough from Europe to keep him out of further trouble. We did not pay ten pounds to enter either house. An old house is an old house and we know he's gone now.
On the wall in the tea room (formerly the bar and we're sorry it's evolved into tea room) of the Consulate Hotel is a huge collection of likenesses of the former General Bonaparte, on his rearing horse, standing with hand in vest, in bust or profile. His uniformed statue presides outdoors on the balcony above the street beckoning guests inside. Elderly British proprietress, Hazel, offers wifi service there, three pounds thirty for half an hour, during which one can just manage to log in and open email before the time expires, and she sells excellent tea and coffee along with a mouth-watering selection of delicious cakes under glass domes. It's impossible to go into the Consulate and indulge only in the Internet. Also fixtures at the Consulate Hotel are Nigil, Sheila and Geoffrey, three friends of many years who spend their leisurely afternoons at the bar with white wine, ice and conversation. Nigel and Geoffrey, both Saints, grew up together on the island. Sheila, Nigil's wife, is British. They spend six months on St. Helena and six months at home 45 minutes outside London. The three became Robbie's local political commentators and interpreters and he spent two or three happy afternoons in their company analyzing the ongoing Supreme Court case in which a local was accused of attempted rape and found guilty despite his Sainthood.
Robbie and I have completed all the TTDs on our St. Helena list, a simple litany, really, of refuel, tighten screws, replace consumable parts here and there and change the oil. NOTHING compared to the list with which we pulled into Cape Town reflecting the lack of autopilot, radar and sails! We're ready to leave and will do so early on Monday morning, destined for the Cabos Verdes Islands, about 2,200nm away. We'll begin by heading NW toward Ascension Island, though we'll not stop there, then will turn more directly N and motor across the doldrums. Sailing at average speeds and motoring about 140nm per day when there's no wind, we'll probably arrive in Praia on about March 13th. There's no hurry and we anticipate an easy trip in the general company of Wakanui, who left here four hours ago and are now about 25nm away (we're doing VHF radio tests to find ut how far our radio range will reach), and Sisu who left Walvis Bay, Namibia, the day before yesterday bound directly for Praia, their first ever blue water passage at the end of which we have offered to provide the champagne. 3,200nm on a first passage! Go Sisu!!! We've made plans to dine this evening with Jerry and Carmel, Farr Flyer, at the new Mantis Hotel dining room, and will burden the Ferry Service, who normally ends the day with a six o'clock run, with a late return to Mersoleil. (They'll charge more than the usual one pound per passenger each way.) Tomorrow we'll laze around doing nothing, or nearly that, and in the wee hours of Monday we'll slip the lines and put charming St. Helena in the rearview mirror.
Oh! I almost forgot. From the small world department, the 'more anon' I promised above.... When we arrived in the Republic of Seychelles last April, there was an interesting white ship anchored in the Victoria outer harbour with a helicopter perched on the stern platform. We thought it might be a reasearch ship. We don't often look up the ships we pass, but we Googled this one, the MRII, online and discovered it to be the refitted Aranui III! Que milagro! We hadn't noticed it looked familiar, just wondered what it was! This is the very ship that nearly ran us down in the dawn's early light on a May morning in 2012 while we were at anchor in Hiva Oa! In another blast from that same past, the couple on SY XE mentioned to us on the ferry the morning after they arrived at St. Helena, "Mersoleil! We crossed the Pacific Ocean in 2012 with a boat named Mersoleil!" Of course, it was us and we had a good laugh at that, too!
Robbie just yelled "LAND HO!" from the cockpit at the exact moment I sat down to write this note and advise you that, well, land is ho! We've spoken to the nice gentleman on St. Helena Radio and informed him that we expect to arrive in Jamestown Bay at 1600 hours this afternoon.
It's St. Huh LEE nuh, by the way, not the St. HELL uh nuh we've always assumed. Locals always rule in regard to name pronunciations we reckon.
This has been quite a jolly passage, growing warmer each day, always plenty of wind to sail - until just now when the breezes have eased to under 10kts and we will motor to make the anchorage in bright daylight. The sweet little mahi mahi was delicious and our only catch of the trip, but I'm grateful not to have had to stare another grumpy barracouda in the face and sacrifice an animal that we would not eat. (It's very difficult to throw a barracouda back alive, they're so hard to handle without inviting a deep puncture wound.) I can't remember how much I admitted to you of the challenges we faced in the Indian Ocean and Mozambique Channel, but suffice it to comment here that the autopilot works like a charm; we have ample fuel for the passage, having motored only a few hours since departing Cape Town on 2nd February; the very fancy iCOM M605 VHF radio and remote mic that Robbie and I installed in Cape Town produced 5x5 comms with a ship 30nm away; our new Ullman Sails have no tears in them; the radar works; not a single jerry can has burst its restraints and run about on deck in the midde of the night; not a drop of water has found its way into the cabin, not even off dripping clothes, because no clothes ever dripped; and nothing has even flown across the cabin of its own volition, a commonplace on most passages. We have rolled left and right, left and right, much more than we like, for it interferes with sweet dreams, but on a 100% dead downwind passage, that's to be expected unless one nearly doubles the distance by gybing repeatedly to take the swell at a more comfortable angle. We did that for a while, then experimentd with alternative sail configurations, finally landing upon one with a poled-out genoa and furled main that enabled us to minimize the roll and make better progress. Either that or we just got used to the rolling! It does leave one more exhausted than one might expect.
So we'll spend a little time at St. HelEEna, visit the place where General Bonaparte was imprisoned for six years, socialize with Wakanui friends, Nadine, Rowen, Melia and Harvey (Rowen recovering in hospital from boat repair injuries sustained more a week ago) and await the arrival of SY Sisu, bringing Frik and Petro to the conclusion of their first ever offshore passage. We're as excited as they are and will have the bubbly ready to pop when Sisu sails into the anchorage.
Gosh! I feel like we're completing our OWN inaugural passage! It IS our first passage in the Atlantic Ocean, it's been easy and uneventful and we're ready to celebrate! Thank you for following our adventures and joining the fun! Happy Valentines Day!
What a delightful passage from Cape Town to St. Helena! We're about 270nm from Jamestown Harbour and are beginning to watch our speed closely, monitoring the likelihood of the required arrival by daylight. We don't arrive in unknown places in the dark, will stand off till daylight if necessary,and at the end of a long passage we'd REALLY rather not postpone dropping the hook! Generously sacrificing her life for our dinner, the smallest mahi mahi I have even seen chomped down on our lure last night. She'll provide two generous portions, but I've got the tackle back in the water today hoping to attract some of her older relatives. Yesterday's discussion over coffee was about learning to sail. Why does it seem as if we breezed across the South Pacific under constantly azure skies, with no crises, no equipment breakages, and no question more complex than whether to use the spinnaker or the genoa? Did we know more then than we know today so answers were ready for whatever situation might arise (whereas today they are not)? Our conclusion was that, no, we did not know more then. In fact, we knew so very little about what we were doing that we didn't even recognize the challenges when they presented and, neophytes that we were, we just blundered along with a healthy dose of God's protection, some good luck and a well-built vessel that was only 2 years old. Good grief, how much we have learned! And how fortunate we were to come unscathed through some idiotic sailing.
We no longer take the chances we used to take, for example, and we don't put Mersoleil through the torture that she used to endure, and probably still could, but now we know better! We don't sail into questionable weather, we reduce sail long before the winds put excessive stress on our rig, and we're long past beaching our dinghy in pounding surf - heck, we stay on board instead and figure we'll visit that little beachfront bar tomorrow! All this reflection was occasioned yesterday while we extended the whisker pole to the third click, it's longest extension, to fly the genny as big and flat as possible ahead of us while we ran downwind at an angle of 170 degrees. We never tried this before and, to be truthful, have rarely used our pole effectively. Yesterday we tweaked the foreguie, after guie, topping lift and the inboard end of the pole a hundred times before we were satisfied that it could take the strain of the wind in the sail without snapping in half at the middle. Like a flying buttress directs the weight of the roof of the cathedral safely to the ground so the walls will not collapse under its weight, the whisker pole delivers all the weight of the filled sail and the heaving lines straight back to the mast and down to the keel of the boat. Have we ever done this right before? Darned if I know. Probably not! So.... what have we learned in nearly eight years at sea? We're beginning to realize how very little we know, how very much there IS to know about this sport, and how lucky we have been to be protected time and time again from our own idiotic mistakes! Quite humbling! Yesterday, too, we crossed the Prime Meridian for the very first time! More exciting even than an equatorial crossing, something we've accomplished numerous times, we have just entered the Western Hemisphere again at the front door having left through the back on our last trip to Fiji in 2015! Now that is indeed something to celebrate!
OK! It's day six of our passage from Cape Town to St. Helena and we have survived the icky bit, the first days when one wants nothing more than to sleep and can't do it even when time is available. Ew! Now we're in the breezing along stage! Mersoleil left Cape Town in the late afternoon last Saturday, moving right into a cold damp night with near shore fog, prompting us to learn how to use our new VHF radio to operate the fog horn. For the first few days we had nice brisk winds, 15-25kts mostly, and lots of gybing practice, so while distance made good is nothing to brag about, we covered a fair amount of water and got pretty accomplished at bringing the boom across with full sail and no drama.
The wind will dust our stern for nearly this entire passage, and when the breeze dropped this morning to less than 9kts we set the pole and are now, one can hardly say running, poking along might be more to the point, wing and wing, with the main to port and the genoa to starboard. We always hope a w/w sail plan will stop the rolling in dead downwind conditions. Note to self - It does not. But it's amusing to look up at our lovely new sails spread out against the sky and there's little one can do to tweak the rigging once it's all set up, so we're settled in for a leisurely afternoon, or day, or few days, or possibly a week.
St. Helena is less than 1000nm away, we've gobbled up almost half the distance and are having a grand time.
Nights grow warmer as each day passes. So far, I've worn the same clothes every day, (there's a prize at the end of the passage for having the least laundry) but last night I never felt chilled and tonight I'll have to scale down by one layer. Here at 26 degrees S it's too warm in the sun for any of the long and fleecy garments we've been wearing so a new wardrobe plan is evolving.
We send our love and beg for news from your end. We've plenty of time to read!
On Saturday afternoon, the 2nd of February, we pried ourselves away from Cape Town, the lovely V&A Marina and five kind friends waving goodbye at the dock. Our visit to South AFrica was another highlight of Mersoleil's cruising career and we have much to share with you about South Africa when time allows. About the dear people we met and with whom we shared our time, about her version of the English language, about her cuisine, about the differences among "now." "now now," and "just now," the superior marine services we received and, too, about her struggle to recover from a long sad tradition of hateful relations among her own people, one that seems struggling to survive. It will be at least another week before we reach St. Helena, and we're already well on our way on one of the easiest passages we've enjoyed in years. The trade winds do not disappoint, as usual, though I do wonder how they can manage to be always directly at our back or on the nose. We're making huge gybes avery hundred miles or so swinging about 80 degrees to keep the wind on one quarter or the other. If .we did the obvious thing, sailed straight on with the wind directly behind, we'd be wallowing like a piggy in the mud and everything inside would fly about causing an awful mess.
It was not time to leave South Africa, and we depart sad to go, but it is time to begin making our way to the Mediterranean if we want to enjoy summertime there! Life is very very good and we are grateful.
Christmas in South Africa
Until this year we knew Kevin Butcher and Suzanne Hedley only as other yachties, fun, enjoyable folks who live on the water like we do, visiting the islands and the peoples who live at sea level around the world. But they have a secret life, as some cruisers do, we do not, on land at their South African home outside Cape Town and their riverside getaway, Tides River Lodge, some twenty miles up the Breede River from the south coast.
Robbie and I spent Christmas 2018 with Suzanne and Butch, their family and friends, some 22 in all, at the river, enjoying delightful South African holiday traditions and cuisine.
Six hours' drive from Cape Town we descended 2000 feet from the rich farmlands of the Cape Fold Mountain valleys to the arid coastal plateau and eventually nearly to sea level where the Breede River rises and falls with the tides while the sea lies a further 30km down river. There was some doubt as we bumped and skidded along 47km of dirt road between the N2 and the lodge whether our little RentaCheapie Toyota, barely a few inches off the ground, would be up to the task of returning us to higher ground at the end of our stay and we resolved to be among the earliest vehicles to depart in case assistance was needed in pushing our little buggy up some of the steeper inclines.
Walking, swimming, eating, drinking, reading, socializing with new friends, bird watching and afternoon-napping filled several happy days at the lodge where our group filled all bedrooms in the four cozy homes on the property. The rustic locale did not prevent us laying out an elaborate candlelight Christmas feast as you can see below and we'll not soon forget Christmas 2018.
Gee, it's hard to believe we've been in Cape Town more than a month already! The weather is lovely and here, as in the other South African places we've visited, people are interesting, helpful and friendly.
We arrived in Cape Town with a long list of TTDs (things to do), and worked through them industriously for several weeks with the admirable but impossible goal of having all the boat projects behind us by December first and nothing to do after that but play!
We accomplished a great deal before the end of November, but today, as all the trades shut down for their Christmas holidays, we still wonder what the heck is wrong with the auto pilot. The course control computer has been pronounced fully operational, the rudder reference knows what the rudder is doing and faithfully reports such to the Raymarine network, the steering linkage is all in order. Suspicions now focus on the itty bitty electric motor that runs the Lewmar Mamba drive, and 2 replacements are on their way here from the UK. A project with which to begin the New Year.
The other holdover until 2019 will be completion of the 'what happened to the radar' project. This bothered us so little between Madagascar and Cape Town that I haven't even mentioned it, but we have no intention of departing Cape Town and sailing to the Med without radar. It's essential for squall avoidance in the tropics, for locating small fishing boats when we're cruising along the coast and for determining whether we're actually safe from hard things (rocks, reefs, coast, other boats) while anchoring. We've been plowing along through the radar troubleshooting flowchart, too, but have not quite reached the end of it. Robbie hauled down the heavy and bulky Raydome recently and lugged it to Hylton and Francois at MDM Services for bench testing, where they pronounced it fit and operable. A hundred different continuity checks have satisfied us that connectivity from the bottom of the mast to the Raymarine High Speed Switch works like a charm. On a second or third trip up the mast Robbie noticed that the connection up there into the back of the radar unit is looking pretty dodgy, so that's the new prime suspect, the cable that goes down inside the mast. Today I carried the business end of a new, borrowed, cable up the mast and hooked it up while Robbie passed the bottom end in a window and screwed it onto the back of the HS Switch, et voile! Radar again! That's the good news. We will have to add to our New Years resolutions the patience and stamina to find a way to fish the new 15m radar cable up the mast when it arrives, and this is a challenge about which we are not yet enthused. The holidays offer a welcome respite from the dreaded task and by the time that cable arrives we'll have clever ideas for accomplishing the seemingly impossible. I hope.
But! Our fire extinguishers are all recharged, even the automatic one that now waits to be reinstalled in the engine room. We have two new sails, a main and a genoa, and both are installed and ready to go. New furling lines, genoa sheets, staysail sheets, even a new mainsheet have been purchased, spliced, served and installed. We've sent all our VHF radio equipment out for bench testing and replaced those parts that didn't pass muster. Our PFDs are recharged with new CO2 cartridges and we've added small automatic lights that will turn on in the water and light up the entire life vest, making the person overboard, not that we've ever had one, easier to locate at night. Robbie repaired the power cord on our old faithful Garmin anchor watch GPS. We've applied to extend our South African visas and behaved admirably, I thought, at the interview appointment. Robbie even has new improved hearing aids to replace the ones that didn't manage to remain in his ears when he jumped into the sea, twice.
In addition to the boat stuff (what will we ever do with our time when we move back on land at the FRP?!) we've made a delightful new friend in Urmila Jithoo, a South African lady with a fascinating life story who has shared intimately with us her experiences as a well-educated colored woman before, during and after Apartheid. Mila and her family fled to New York in the 1970s, receiving asylum there, and returning to South Africa after nineteen years.
Yesterday Mila and I strolled the stunning Kirstenbosch Gardens together. I will have to go back at least once more, those Old World plants won my heart ages ago. And she gave us a grand tour two weeks ago, of the Stellenbosch wine region where we found vineyards, wineries, restaurants and cellar doors tucked in among soaring mountains and rolling valleys to be even more charming than those in California, France, New Zealand and Australia. On New Years Eve Urmila will move onto Mersoleil for the night so we can enjoy the festivities of the V & A Waterfront together and ring in the New Year watching the fireworks from the comfort of our own cockpit.
Knowing we'd return to Knysna, (NIGH znuh) a popular seaside town on the south coast, we sailed right past on the way to Cape Town. In our tiny Rentacheapie car we drove to Knysna early this month to spend ten days with Miki and Rowland Stanton, who have a beautiful hilltop home there with a striking view of the Knysna Lagoon and the famous Knysna Heads. Perfect hosts that they are, Rowland and Miki drove us on a day tour through the nearby ancient Knysna forest with its stands of indigenous trees and lush ferns, escorted us on hikes to their favourite spots, spread a picnic lunch of charcuterie and rustic breads under a shady tree and took us through the most recently burned areas where wisps of smoke and the smell of campfires still lingered. It has been extremely dry in South Africa this year and seasonal fires are more common than usual.
Robbie and Rowland bumped into our American cruising friends, David and Angela (Harmony) in downtown Knysna one morning and from this quick introduction sprang a dinner party for six where Rowland produced an impressive braai (Afrikaans for BBQ) of chicken, pork and braaibroodjies (small sandwiches of melted cheese, onion and tomato), showing us how it's really supposed to be done! We Americans are pikers compared to South Africans at the braai!
We've learned a few words of Afrikaans (difficult because we are not trained to make those phlegmy sounds at the back of the throat) and a little Xhosa (even more challenging - just try to speak a word that begins with K and produce a click sound with your tongue at the same time!)
One simply cannot leave South Africa without visiting a game park and we did this in style with Rowland at the wheel, driving for two days through Addo Elephant National Park. We were lucky enough to come upon a pride of lions feasting on a recent kill - stay in the car, keep the windows rolled up, but stop and watch as long as you like!) in addition to countless wonderful close-up sightings of zebra, elephants, warthogs, buffalo, kudu, tsessebes (large antelopes) and even a dung beetle that Rowland spotted crossing the road ahead of us. At dusk, still inside the park, we checked into side-by-side private lodges at Matyholweni Camp, deftly arranged by Miki (why did she ever become a lawyer when she's such an incredible travel planner) where we were greeted promptly upon arrival by an enterprising pair of vervet monkeys who scampered up to our wide open french doors in great (but fruitless) hopes of entering before we could stop them. Meals we'd planned and packed at home before the 6 hour drive to the park, dinner at Stanton's on the first day and breakfast the next morning at chez Collins. It was really a great way to see the African bush. No crowds of noisy tourists, no bumpy dusty rides in an open bus, just the four of us, nature and a few other cars that we began to recognize when we happened to stop on the road to exchange tips. "Did you see the big herd of elephants at the next water hole?"
Did you know a group of zebras is called a dazzle. I needed that info for a word game the other day.
There's still one more field trip in store before the year ends. Tomorrow morning we'll drive our little white rentacheapie to a friend's lodge on the Breede River to spend the Christmas week with an intimate group of twenty. Suzanne and Butcher, whom we met in New Zealand six years ago, tell us the 47km dirt road can be a bit difficult for the last 200m and if our puny little car can't make it, to call them on the phone and they'll carry us the rest of the way in their SUV. Advice is, further, to bring swimming costumes, a mosquito repellent wall outlet thingie, whatever adult beverages we like for the week and a good sense of humor for the traditional limericks and charades. I'm making lasagne for 22 on Boxing Day and we're looking forward to a laid back, resort-style Christmas this year at Tides River Lodge.
2018 has been a thrilling year for Robbie and me from Thailand to India, to the Cape of Good Hope, to the V & A Waterfront. We're still healthy and fit, fit enough anyway to keep sailing for a while, and we have loving new friends, outstanding new memories, and still an ample list of TTDs!
We wish you a Merry Christmas, health, harmony and prosperity in the New Year and an abundance of all the blessings in life that make you happy. Thank you for being with us in spirit!
Mersoleil has arrived in Cape Town! Believe me, excitement is ours!
We stopped en route from Madagascar only at Richards Bay and Port Elizabeth reaching Cape Town early on the morning Friday, 16 November, at the end of what can only be described at a DREAM passage! It cannot possibly always be this easy and we are truly grateful!
Our genius of a weather router suggested that, if we were willing to leave Port Elizabeth near the end of a southwesterly change, beating into 20kts winds from the west for the first day, then ahead there was a really nice window that would enable us to round both capes, Cape Agulhas and the Cape of Good Hope, under favourable conditions. If willing to brave the beat for a day, he recommended that we go, so depart we did, dropping all bazillion docklines with the help of three friends (!) at 0500 on Tuesday morning, the 13th. Thanks Jeff, Dale and Dave. After we were out of the port and in open water Mersoleil spent 12 hours in a ride-through, brushless carwash - just the ticket after two nights in grimy PE. Once through the carwash, conditions were absolutely perfect for Mersoleil in her handicapped state, no main, no auto pilot. We hand steered to Cape Town in quiet seas with little to no wind.which didn't matter at all - we weren't sailing.
Our little staysail flew all the way to Cape Town, adding stability to the ride, but we motored in flat calm water nearly the entire way. Dolphins came to entertain us, as many as 100 for a while on Robbie's watch, he up in the cockpit whooping and hollering and encouraging them in their acrobatic show. Funny little seals were everywhere, too, floating on their backs with all four gigantic flippers stuck up in the air.
The famous Agulhas Current that sweeps warm water from the tropical Indian Ocean down the east coast of Africa, finally drops away to the south at about the longitude of Cape Agulhas, 20E. Gradually the current fell to 1.0kts, but instead of falling further or going contrary, it actually increased as we made the turn and commenced our journey northward in the South Atlantic Ocean. All the way to Cape Town! 1.2 - 2.8kts of assisting current carried us northward so rapidly that we couldn't slow down enough to pace Mersoleil for the intended daylight arrival at Table Bay Harbour.
To waste the time until daylight, we stopped about 20nm from V & A Waterfront Marina at 0100 local and drifted for 3 hours to the tune of our foghorn before entering the traffic separation scheme. I had ample time to take some nice photos of the sunrise over Cape Town. See below. At about 0400, keeping our speed down to 4.5kts, we began making our way up into Table Bay Harbour, through the bridges, to arrive at the marina not before 9.
Another first. The sky was blue and sunny as we approached the Port, but arriving in tiny Victoria Basin just in front of the swing bridge, Mersoleil was enshrouded in fog so thick we couldn't see ANYthing, not even the concrete walls only a few hundred feet away on 3 sides. Robbie refused to proceed despite the bridge operator's coaxing, "Just keep coming I will open for you!", and we returned to open water and dropped the hook to await disipation of the fog. This took only a few minutes, then we entered the harbour again, passed through the swing bridge, took the center lane through the blue bascule bridge into V & A Waterfont Marina and here we are, the newest residents of Cape Town, South Africa! And, I might add, happy, happy, happy!
Opportunities to round the Cape of Good Hope under such favourable conditions are rare, we understand, and we feel incredibly lucky to have had ideal winds and calm seas. The horror stories are undoubtedly true, but we saw nothing worse than the carwash outside Port Elizabeth!
What a wonderful passage!!! And Mersoleil has dipped her keel in the Atlantic Ocean for the very first time!
We arrived in Port Elizabeth after dark on Saturday evening, the 10th, and, having no local knowledge, spent the night in General Anchorage No. 1 with the big ships. If it was lumpy out there we didn't notice - fell asleep the moment our heads hit the pillows and slept soundly all night.
The Algoa Bay Yacht Club has been closed, but its small marina is operated separately and still functions with a few berths available for visiting yachts. Sadly, the marina is constantly dusted with particulates from the manganese bulk carrier loading activities carried on very nearby, and is assaulted by the most phenomenal surge we've ever experienced in a marina. When we leave for Cape Town at o-dark-thirty in the morning we'll need to remove some eighteen docklines in order to free Mersoleil from her berth. Four lines have already performed this action - they snapped in the surge during the day today - we went out and bought four more, bigger, thicker, longer than those now deceased. Good heavens! We've been running chafe and breakage inspections every fifteen to thirty minutes all day!
So, departing tomorrow for Cape Town, at least that's the plan at the moment, as the winds from today's southwesterly change die down and the seas flatten out a bit.
Rounding Cape Agulhas and the Cape of Good Hope, both are featured on this next passage, cannot fail to be exciting and we hope we're are ready for the challenging conditions that we'll surely encounter. Stay tuned!
Oh what fun it has been to ride the Agulhas Current! We still have another nice day of moving water ahead of us and we're having a great time.
Winds have been slightly lighter than forecast, but the current and motorsailing have more than made up for that! We, and a bunch of friends -we are within 12nm of one another, have all found it necessary to motor in addition to the little velocity we can develop from our sails because the wind is dead astern. Mersoleil is difficult to move when the wind is directly on the butt. It's the hardest point of sail ('cept I suppose for wind straight on the nose when she'll actually go backward in full rebellion). Is it backward or backwards? I always wonder.... the nuns did not teach me this, toward or towards, backward or backwards.... Or if they did, I have forgotten.
So! The really good fun began yesterday at 18:30 local (31 54S 029 39E) when we sailed into currents approaching 4kts and our speed over the ground reached 10kts, something we almost never see. Yippee! Then it only got better and better! Top so far, and this record may endure as now the current has slowed somewhat, occurred during my 0200 - 0600 watch just completed when we screamed comfortably along at 11.7 over the ground in current running 5.5kts. Pretty exciting - and very manageable seas with the wind and current nearly aligned. Swells have been no higher than 2m, big and broad and rounded and going with us, so we barely notice them. Can we come here again sometime for another ride? There's a standing joke onboard Mersoleil that all the thrilling events happen on my watch. Don't know why, but we've observed this time and time again. Last night's moment to remember came a mere 10 minutes into my 2AM watch when, shining my torch up into the rigging for a quick ''s everything OK' scan, I saw a five foot vertical tear in the mainsail. No idea how that happened. Perhaps it's testament to all the horror stories about rounding the Cape of Storms. Robbie and I both make sail changes singlehanded, but in any crisis, we like to have all hands on deck, so he came up again after only 5 minutes of repose and we furled yet another reef in the main, leaving us now with a teeny ridiculous little bit of sail. We'll have this repaired in Cape Town (thank God we are in a land of resources) and will probably have a new main built there for immediate use. This sail will go into stowage as a backup. How we wish we could have Carol Hasse build our new sail. Alas, her lead time is a year and VAT/duty in South Africa are outrageous. We'll order a sail in Cape Town from somebody there.
When the sun greeted me this morning, 0355 UTC, 0555 local...
POS 33 15S 028 09E WIND NE 16- 0kts SOG 10.0kts COG 226T Set/Drift 223T/4.9kts Sea state very tolerable. Rolling a little due to the deeeeep wind angle, but huge flat-topped swell of not more than 2.5m and long period.
We've been downloading PredictWind current charts and are setting waypoints to keep us in the best the Agulhas Current has to offer. What a nice ride! But as far as boat records go, I doubt that we'll ever equal the 16.9kt SOG Mersoleil did in the NE Pacific in 2010 in a late March storm packing 49kt winds. Life is good on SY Mersoleil! We are in Africa!
We have thoroughly enjoyed our 4 week stay at Zululand Yacht Club, Richards Bay, South Africa. This morning we press on toward Cape Town, hoping to reach Port Elizabeth before SW winds make us duck for cover again. Several yachts are leaving RB on this window. We'll be in good company! Thank you ZYC!
Mersoleil crossed the Mozambique Channel from Morombe, Madagascar, to Richards Bay, South Africa, in 5 days 6 hours. It was a great passage, even though we sailed upwind most of the way and had some exciting moments when breaking waves punched out the port side window of our windscreen, and split quite in two the plank to which we tie four jerry cans, extra diesel, to the rail on the same side of the boat. No major damage. There's always a new plank at the lumber yard and the window can be re-stitched onto the canvas cover which was unhurt. The jerry cans wandered about on deck for a while, reminding us why we are cautious about loose cannons, but Robbie wrestled them into the cockpit where they remained for the last 3 days of the passage. We felt like birds in a nest with too many eggs.
After initially planning to head south beyond some east-flowing current, then ride the southeasterlies, which never materialized, direct to Richards Bay, we agreed upon a new plan, sailed directly west toward the African coast and then enjoyed a downwind sprint pushed ahead by E, NE, NNE and finally N , mostly 15-25kts. It was quite a ride! By the most direct route, we'd have sailed 767nm. In the end we covered 825nm at an average pace of better than 6.5kts over the ground, pretty good for an upwind run.
Approaching Richards Bay at 3AM local and knowing we didn't want to arrive before dawn, I tried to think of a way to slow down as we barreled along at 9.5kts. The edge of the south-flowing Agulhas Current, 25-30kts of N breeze (highest we saw was 35kts), and the tiny flag of mainsail, raised for stability and prevented out to port, would simply not permit us to reduce speed, so we did the ridiculous - turned around and furled the main, then motored in order to achieve a more sedate pace! Seemed silly to us, but it worked.
Clearing in to South Africa was an amusing experience, filled with confusion and misinformation, as happens upon arrival in many countries, but by noon Mersoleil was berthed at Zululand Yacht Club where four or five club members raced to catch dock lines and to welcome us to their home port.
Lunch at the ZYC dining room was wonderful, just the ticket to the 13 hour nap that followed beginning at 3PM!
Members and staff at ZYC are friendly and welcoming, not at all timid about approaching us and making friends - we're already sorry we'll be here only for a week or two.
South Africa! Hard to believe! We're learning to speak English all over again, 100%! And having a wonderful time.
We've thoroughly enjoyed our short stay in Madagascar, but we're leaving tonight at midnight, actually 11:.50PM) for Richards Bay, South Africa. Now in Morombe, the intended jumping off point, we had such a lovely day here yesterday, despite being exhausted from the overnight sail, that we wish we could stay, but new lands and the change of seasons urge us forward and hence we go.
Noteworthy, we thought, was crossing Banc de Coelacanths on the way to shore at Morombe. This is the place - from East London, SA , in the south to the Cormoros in the north - where the ugly extinct fish you read about in school was first rediscovered in 1938. Coelacanths, imagine! In the 1990s several specimens were caught off the SW coast of Madagascar, apparently right here at Morombe.
Please enjoy these photographic memories of Madagascar.... the last one is a beautiful lobster that I bought this morning from a fisherman and his wife. We end up leaving every country with a little unspent local currency, often useful only in a place we'll never visit again. Having made up my mind to give the next fisherman all our remaining Ariary, I carefully negotiated a price with him for the langoustine, (to be truthful, I don't know how much it was as I speak no French and little Malagasy) then gave him all the money we had. He was delighted, thanked me, and then emboldened by the fact that he thought he had one on the line, asked for clothing for his wife who, he said, is cold, although she was sitting behind him in the canoe beaded with perspiration. Gotta give the guy credit for being enterprising! I dispatched the langoustine to the astral world with a chef's knife, divided him into legs, tail and carapace and put him in the freezer for the victory celebration in Richards Bay about a week from now.
The passage to Richards Bay is about 775nm across the boisterous Mozambique Channel. We'll try to keep you posted.
Ta ta Madagascar! Thanks for a great visit.
It doesn't seem fair that we've told you so little about Madagascar, one of the nicest cruising grounds we've seen since the South Pacific, but the news today is that we're leaving! (Internet speed is not Madagascar's strong suit.)
In an hour or two Mersoleil will begin a 400nm passage to Morombe on the SW coast and when a good weather window appears in early October we'll jump across the Mozambique Channel to South Africa.
Africa! Still can't believe it, but here we go!
August 11 2018 Sailing back from Nosy Mitsio to Sakatia
This has been the most fantastic sailing we have EVER enjoyed on Mersoleil! We've run nearly all the 40nm south to Sakatia with a SW 10-12kt wind just 25-30 degress off the starboard bow. Our speed through very flat water has been around 5-6kts, dropping as low as 2.5kts when the wind pinched to less than 25 degrees, then picking up again when it clocked back toward 30 degrees. In such calm constant conditions it feels as if we were at anchor, Mersoleil cutting alnog quiet as a whisper through the surface. We've never seen her do this before and it's a joy to experience such an idyllic sail!
Now, read on only if you're having trouble falling asleep....
The idle musings of a person on watch who hasn't enough to do, written early on this sail, before the wind increased to 10kts. It's a beautiful day with perfectly clear blue sky, calm sea, and only 5-6kts of breeze gently urging Mersoleil southward from Nosy Mitsio back toward Hellville, Madagascar. We'll stop at Sakatia tonight, if we ever get there going only 2.5 over the ground.
After procrastinating on a repair for three full months since receiving new brown dacron thread in April, I've finally started the dreaded task of re-stitching the leather cover on our grab rail. Dedicating three hours to project commencement yesterday I managed only to remove the leather, pick off most of the old double-sticky tape from the back side, pull out all the old ripped stitches, re-stretch the needle holes with a very sharp awl from my sail repair kit (thank you, Hasse) and reattach the leather temporarily to the rail with a billion little black zip ties. This commentary is about the zip ties, sort of. Idle minds, as I said.
Just before we lost my camera (dang) I shot a photo of the grab rail with the leather held temporarily in place with zip ties every few inches, looking like the Statue of Liberty. Or like the third floor of Chicago City Hall, where pigeons like to roost awaiting the arrival of the lady in two hats and three raincoats who comes with a shopping bag to Daley Plaza every day around eleven and sits under the Picasso doling out stale bread crumbs to the well-behaved birds, the ones she knows and likes best. If/when the camera turns up I'll post that photo....
Of course, all the zip ties will be nipped off one by one and discarded as I stitch across the leather, the third set of twenty zip ties that have been dedicated to this rail, for I've performed this work twice before. We purchase zip ties by the hundred and use them nearly every day on SY Mersoleil, usually for the obvious wire management applications, but also for odd and nutty purposes like this one. We simply could not get along without zip ties. Fortunately, they're available in electrical supply stores everywhere we've travelled, so while they're crucial to Mersoleil day to day operations, I'm not overly neurotic about zip ties.
Comedian Jeff Foxworthy was noted in the 1980s for his series of redneck jokes all beginning, 'You know you're a redneck if...' and including a large number that I find so amusing I've memorized them and could give you without rehearsal a thirty minute standup routine consisting of nothing but this low humor. One of my particular favourites is 'You know you're a redneck if you view duct tape as a capital improvement.' (Duct tape, not further addressed in this musing, is banned onboard Mersoleil. We do possess a roll of the stuff, but any yachtie will tell you blue tape is infinitely better for almost all uses and it doesn't leave that dreadful permanent gummy residue on everything it touches.) But we DO value our zip ties as capital improvements, or at the very least essential equipment so important that they must be inventoried. Over the past month, with Robbie's recent Maestro Electricidad miracles, and now the grab rail repair, we've used so many of the little things, yet another brilliant invention that I wish I'd thought of first, that I reorganized our remaining supply, sorting them by size into two containers and retiring a couple of Ziploc bags that were once full of zip ties but are now available for a new use.
Ziploc bags another inconceivably precious commodity. What would we do without zippered plastic food storage bags!? American zippered freezer bags are definitely on the list of capital assets around here and if you are lucky enough to be living in that land of plenty where you can buy Hefty and Glad products any time you want them, I suggest you drop immediately to your knees and utter a prayer of gratitude. Nowhere in the world, at least nowhere I've been yet, has a product to compare to the small high quality storage bags one can buy at every supermarket in America. One of the bags retired yesterday from zip tie duty still says on its little white patch 'GREEN BEANS W/BCN AUG 9 2012' having served multiple rounds of important uses, being repeatedly washed, checked for leaks, dried and put to use again. We reuse and recycle plastic bags until they are truly too weary to continue and then, with grave misgiving, place them respectfully in the trash bin.
I've shopped for plastic bags in every single country we've visited. The generally available substitute for the American zippered plastic bag does not have a zipper, is made of such thin plastic that one can smell the contents right through the bag, and has a press-together seal that never actually closes or stays closed. It's remarkable the number of disappointing bag products one can find (I've tried dozens of imposters), and a great testament to the quality of Glad, Hefty and Ziploc was Heather Stembridge's remark, 'Oh you ordered more American zippered bags! I wish I had known. I want some American bags!' You'd think high quality food storage bags would be available in New Zealand, but sadly for Hearther, they are not. Neither in Australia, except at the Costco where they sell pinch zipped Glad bags, deprived of the tabs.
So we treasure and reuse zippered bags many many times, gradually downgrading them from 'food quality,' to 'no longer holds liquid,' to 'use for fasteners or spare parts,' to 'mini garbage bag,' at which point they finally go into the rubbish containing fish skin or chicken drippings or stinky cheese trash that we wish to segregate from the fresh air in the galley.
There's a repurposed bag circulating right now that I've seen several times in the past month, a gallon size Hefty refrigerator bag, that says 'yoga pants.' Even clothing lives in plastic bags, my silk scarves that would slide all over the place and onto the floor if I open a locker while Mersoleil is heeled over; sweaters, fleece pullovers, wool socks and whatever else I'll need again when we reach Cape Town's higher latitudes; the dozens of colorful bangles that I bought in India to wear with saris. If it seems superfluous to write 'yoga pants' on the clear plastic bag containing guess what, consider this. The extra large bag we gather around a full canister of smelly saltwater in order to ferry it for cleaning from watermaker to the sink without spilling seawater on the rug looks exactly like the bag in which I keep fresh bakery items. After lunch when the croissants are all gone both these bags could easily be sitting on the counter next to the galley sink and I do not care to get them mixed up! We label bags not so one can tell what is ALREADY inside, something easily discerned without written clues, but so we know immediately what to return to each bag when they're sitting around EMPTY and it's time to put things away! I have purchased zippered bags online and had them shipped to us on other continents - you can buy them by the hundreds at a nice discount from Walmart; begged my sister, Gretchen, to bring them to me when she visits (thanks, Gret); and thus far have resisted the urge to write a whinging email to Target who offers a fine selection that is 'not available for online purchase.' Obviously Target just does not understand how we live. And like Microsoft, who fails to grasp that not everyone has all-you-can-eat Internet all the time, Target apparently can't conceive of anyone living more than fifteen minutes from their nearest retail outlet.
Does this bore you' Does it seem ridiculous' I suppose maybe not if you're still reading, but I wonder if I have conveyed my point, that since leaving shore we have grown to sincerely appreciate small and surprising conveniences that seemed trivial to us in the past, things that (unless you're another cruiser reading this and nodding in agreement) you possess in abundance in your own home and for which it has never even occurred to you to be deeply thankful. Cruising the world has changed us in many ways we did not expect.
Velcro. Yep, Velcro, accept no substitutes and continue using your little Velcro straps until they disintegrate in the sun or simply die of old age. Light in weight, tiny and easy to find at one's neighborhood Home Depot, brand name Velcro is another essential, conveniently schlepped to us by visiting friends. Can't live without it and we have proven sufficiently to ourselves that the Chinese hook-and-loop wannabees are so inferior to the real thing that they're not worth buying at any price. The boat hook and landing net hang outside, strapped to our rails by two Velcro straps each, and there they remain tolerant of frequent use, long passages, high seas and the blazing sun. Velcro maintains order among Mersoleil's shore power cords, coiled and stowed when we're not in a marina; holds down long narrow flaps over the zippers on our dodger windscreen, keeping many of the big waves from filling the cockpit; fastens the little protective vinyl cover around a glossy teak table that's folded down flat when not in use. We could not get along without Velcro, definitely another prized capital asset.
The neck-straining back-breaking fun of re-stitching the grab rail leather will begin as soon as we anchor. It's difficult, time consuming and quite as unforgiving as knitting, in that if I make a mistake I won't see it until several stitches later and I'll have to rip back to the error and resume more carefully from there. It will take about 16 hours and extravagant amounts of self-discipline to keep me on task until it's completed and all those zip ties go in the rubbish with the bag of chicken skin. The things that occupy my mind while I'm on watch. Honestly. One night I made a list on the back of the active sailing log page, the ragedy sheets we keep on a clipboard for recording position and sea conditions while sailing. I listed all the words I know ending in -ment, ornament, supplement, compliment, establishment, impediment, basement and some hundred and twenty more. Then I made a list of words ending in -mental to see how many of my -ment words could accept the further suffix 'al ornamental, sacramental, experimental. The 'mental list was shorted. I was amused. Words are fascinating.
August 9th, Nosy Mitsio
Madagascar's west coast is characterized in winter by a reliable wind pattern of very light land breezes from early morning until noon followed by more robust sea breezes rushing back onto the land for the next twelve to fourteen hours as the earth heats up and draws cooler air off the sea. When we sail down the coast in early October to the point where we'll cross the Mozambique Channel to South Africa, we'll depend upon these alternating breezes to carry us south preserving fuel for the more difficult runs toward Cape Town. Deciding to practice this balance of tack-west-in-the-morning-and-east-in-the-afternoon, we departed Sakatia at dawn yesterday and have come north about 45nm to Nosy Mitsio from where we'll begin our experiment a few days from now. Nosy Mitsio reminds us both of the lightly inhabited islands of Fiji, Vanuatu and French Polynesia. The air is dry, the sky and water both turquoise blue, and during the night a young goat somewhere on shore bemoaned with repeated mournful baa-aaa-aa-a-a-as the fact that he'd misplace his mother. We saw him this morning grazing on the hillside of dry, but still green, grass and feel confident he'll find mom one of these days soon and not go hungry in the interim. There are cattle on this island, too, as we discovered by ear last evening and confirmed visually today over coffee.
Rumor has it there are manta rays too, but it's a large bay and we're not sure where they hang out, so an exploratory dinghy survey is planned for this afternoon. I dropped in a fishing line on the way up here, but the afternoon's effort went three for the fish, naught for me. First, we landed a nice big fish, but he was a barracuda, not esteemed as a food fish and commonly known to be ciguatoxic. I held him up by the line while Robbie rolled out the hook with a pair of pliers and he went back into the drink. The next two hits were wahoos that we never even saw, but they both took signature wahoo snaps at the lure, a black and silver squid, biting off the skirt at an angle first short, then shorter. I did not lose the lure, though, and will keep fishing with it since they seem to like it so well. I've been using a six inch piece of no. 12 electrical wire, twisted first around the lower side rail then around the line, to hold my hand reel up above the deck. I suspend the reel by passing the handline between the ends of the wire, then twisting them once or twice, just tightly enough to retain the line loosely up near the rail. When a fish strikes he snaps the reel out of the twisted wire and it bangs on the deck alerting the helmsman that dinner is at the end of the line. As the Aussies would say, it works a treat!
Every now and then at the market I buy something that I don't especially favour just for the sake of variety and to expand my culinary expertise (read play with it). I haven't yet got as far as okra, which they call lady fingers in SE Asia, and don't aspire to, but a large oval eggplant came home with me the other day so I made an Andalusian eggplant frittata for dinner last night. It seemed odd slicing the eggplant thin and boiling it for half an hour, seasoning the frittata mixture with the unfamiliar combination of cinnamon and coriander seeds, but I must say the result was pronounced a big success by both Mr. and Mrs. Collins and I will write VVG next to the recipe in my Mediterranean cookbook. It was the sauce, really, that got us excited. A mixture even stranger than the frittata itself, with olive oil, honey, a raw garlic clove, vinegar, black pepper and uncooked ap flour, the sauce is blended smooth and drizzled over the frittata. We could have eaten it with a spoon it was so lucious!
I'll happily send you the recipe if you ask, but beware that delicious sauce, making sure everyone you will see tomorrow partakes. When I woke up this morning, I thought the little lost billy goat had died overnight in my mouth. It took a strong cup of coffee and a pastry from the bakery in Hellville to set me right. Robbie and I agreed the sauce would be better than the usual olive oil with balsamic vinegar for dipping french bread before dinner. Or drizzled over steamed green beans. Or on a salad with citrus, radishes and onions. Oooh! So many choices.
Immediately after our arrival yesterday afternoon, as commonly happens at remote island anchorages, a couple of guys in dugout outrigger canoes paddled up to Mersoleil and began calling for our attention. We were tired though, after departing Sakatia in the wee hours, and did not feel like playing the game of bartering for bananas we really didn't need, so we remained inside until they finally went away disappointed at sunset. We've had lots of experience with locals approaching our boat, sometimes even banging right into it with their rustic local craft, and we much prefer to meet local people on shore or in their villages. Approaching us the minute we have arrived is just a touch too assertive for our taste, and often the individuals who have enough chutzpah to do this have come with a list of demands for rope, milk, fishing equipment and other items, even money, they think we might be persuaded to hand over. We do carry gifts, especially toys for the kids, sewing kits, fishing line, laundry soap, inexpensive sunglasses, that we enjoy sharing with others, but, having seen a few aggressive and even nutty characters closely scrutinizing Mersoleil, we prefer to entertain islanders at our boat only after we have become acquainted and invited them there ourselves.
I wish we still had reading glasses from the Lions Club to share with the people here. We became so proficient at setting up and operating our little optical dispensary in South Pacific island villages that we could refract 45 people and fit them all with reading glasses in about two and a half hours. It gave us a marvelous chance to interact with locals, to do something really valuable for them, and our 'clients' were thrilled to find after years of poor near vision that they could suddenly see to read their Bibles, or tie lines onto fish hooks, or sew again. Mizzy mentioned yesterday doing this in French Polynesia if she can connect with the Lions Club in Hawai'i. Do it, Mizzy! It's fun for everybody and a lasting contribution to the village. Even young people in their twenties came to us wanting readers - probably not needing them at all but not wanting to be left out. To these, we gave the 1.00 and 1.25 lenses*, telling them to get them out in the future when they become necessary. To those who found 2.00, 2.25 and 2.50 lenses helpful, we suggested that they would eventually want stronger corrections and could give these old glasses to somebody five years younger. To those who said, 'my sixty-eight year old mother can't see, but she is not well and couldn't come,' we promptly handed over two pair, 3.25s and 3.50s, knowing that the most elderly locals would not be able to come to us and that they'd benefit from the strongest lenses we had, sharing the extra pair with an elderly friend. No one who actually needed those strong corrections ever came directly to us, being homebound with poor health or having already learned from experience that it's safer to remain close to home when you can no longer see where you're walking. While we don't respond very well to the begging of the boys in canoes, we clearly recognize that such possessions as the drugstore reading glasses we take for granted in developed societies are rare and precious gifts in poor, remote communities.
*We observed over and over again that neither does anyone who actually needs a correction as slight as 1.00 or 1.25 come to be fitted for readers. And concluded that either they haven't yet figured out that their near vision is beginning to deteriorate or that the old ego has still not given in to the admission that glasses are necessary. People are funny, aren't we'
August 7, Sakatia Island, Madagascar
The islands off NW Madagascar are lovely. It's dry, but not quite arid, and the waters are generally friendly and calm. We've stopped here for a couple of days while I recovered from a brief bout of not feeling well and Robbie made the social rounds at sundown, then hiked across the island (to another bay that looks exactly like this one) with Phil anf Karel (Tehani-Li) and Phil and Lesley (Pacifique). After I came out of hiding we dined in a group of ten at a beachfront... um.... Well... Restaurant is decidedley too grand a word for the facility, but the meal was fantastic. Have you seen the steeply tilted benches that some cities install at bus stops? They offer a place to lean your derriere so long as your feet are firmly planted on terra firma below and you'll never find one of these occupied by a snoozing homeless person because they're impossible to lie upon without rolling off. Wooden tabletops perch upon wood posts planted firmly in the sand and one or two narrow rough planks, tilted a la bus stop benches, make up the seating furniture. Larger posts support a loosely thatched gabled roof and the proprietors had thrown a lace cloth over the best of their four or five banquet tables. We arrived in the dark and I never figured out whence was produced the food but it was delivered in delicious abundance, a crispy salad of tomatoes, cucumber, grated carrots; two outdoor grilled whole fish, crunchy and flavourful; marinated and grilled chicken that was tasty and piquant; tender octopus in a savory sauce; generous quantities of hot rice; a sweet dessert that Robbie says was some kind of pastry; and plenty of THB, the local Malagasy lager, placed on the table in icy cold bottles. Another wonderful evening among friends and great food and drink, one of the important rituals of cruising life.
Not far from our anchor, but far enough to go by dinghy, we snorkelled the next day with sea turtles. Two hours in the water is a long time for us, but it's mesmerizing, watching these big animals lazily munching their way through the sea grass in just 3 meters of water, swimming to the surface for a gulp of air every fifteen or twenty minutes. They're quite accustomed to humans swimming along and one didn't hesitate to surface just inches away from my face, eyeing me with mild curiosity as he approached, took a big breath and returned to the seaweed. Finally, sufficiently chilled and shivering, Robbie and I returned to Doggie, anchored nearby, for the sometimes humbling experience of hauling our wet, heavy, flippered selves up out of the water and heaving our butts over the pontoon into the boat. This is accomplished, usually on the first try, by clutching the pontoon with both hands, plunging down deep into the water, then with a great kick of both fins, propelling oneself up and high enough to flop onto the boat like a fish that's made a grave mistake. I usually end up with my hips on the pontoon, weight evenly divided between the top of the boat and 'fall-back-in,' and by rolling onto one side, I can change the balance enough to gain victory and swing my legs over the side into the dink. Always humbling, even when successful.
One night while at Sakatia I created shrimp po' boys for us for dinner with fresh shrimp I'd discovered at the Hellville outdoor market. The nice little red plastic shrimp thing my mother gave me years ago does not seem to have made the cut, or I couldn't locate it anyway, but I found a hashi, a Japanese chopstick, proved a pretty good substitute for my slick shrimp sheller/deveiner and I had a billion small shrip peeled in ten or fifteen minutes. Fresh baguettes, shredded lettuce, sliced local tomatoes, homemade remoulade and a quick marinade and dusting with flour produced po' boys substantially equivalent to those I've had in New Orleans and they were a tasty treat for dinner that evening. I keep a list of "substitutes" in my recipe folder (how to make Bisquick when you don't have any, how to sour cream in a minute, etc.) but there was no entry for buttermilk, not too surprising I suppose since I never use buttermilk. I squeezed a half lemon into a cup of milk, it curdled right up, I called it buttermilk, threw in the spices then the shrimp, waited half an hour et voile. Po' Boys! We'll do that again! They were fantastic. All the shrimp shells and heads are now in the freezer waiting to flavour the cream in our next fish chowder. We eat well when near a good local market, and for ten days thereafter. Then it gets a little iffy and, well, I don't tell you about those meals.
August 6 in Hellville, Nosy Be, Madagascar No idea who or why they call it Hellvile, the Malagasy name of the main town on Nosy Be is actually Andoany, Robbie and I spent five or six days resting up after the short bumpy trip from Mayotte and exploring the joys of the town, well suited to the needs of cruising sailors. That's not to suggest that there are any marine services of any kind, but we no longer expect the impossible and content ourselves with a selection of nice cafes, a sufficient supermarket, an excellent local produce market (large and bustling) and, praise the lord in this land of 3m tidal range, a floating dinghy dock connected by passarelle to the concrete wharf.
A local man named Jimmy, who speaks excellent English, works full time during cruising season (May to October), self-appointed concierge to all visiting yachties. He and his assistant, Kool, are down at the town wharf from 7 or 8 each morning until the last dinghy has gone home in the evening to its respective yacht. For a modest daily fee Jimmy greets new arrivals, takes each captain on the obligatory tour of Police (Immigration), Port Captain and ATM, pointing out along the way where one might stop for a coffee, teaching a few phrases of Malagasy and answering any specific questions of immediate interest. And he stables your dinghy while you're ashore, protecting it and keeping it from inconveniencing the many other boats constantly coming and going from the small wharf. One, usually Kool, remains at the busy wharf all day long, jockeying around as many as half a dozen inflatable boats, moving them on and off the dock as water taxis and larger ferries come and go, sometimes dangling several of our floating charges from the end of a ferry while the ferry disgorges passengers, locals coming in to town or tourists dragging all their rolling luggage, and loads the next group departing Nosy Be, before herding his all the little tenders back to the wharf. This service for the rough equivalent of a US dollar a day, a great value, hugely appreciated.
We left one of our two aluminium LPG tanks with Jimmy last week, along with a cash reward for finding any way he could to have our American tanks with American fittings filled with gas. A couple of days later when we and eight others returned from the Scicilian pizza place (pretty good) our filled LPG tank awaited us in the dinghy and I was grateful Robbie didn't have to schlep the heavy thing around town as he has done in other countries, buying little fittings and new regulators that break upon initial use and trying to gravity fill the tank himself. I delivered our second tank, nearly empty, on the following morning and told Jimmy we'd be gone for a week or so, asking him to attend to tank #2 at his convenience and return it to us next time we pull up in Hellville. Almost every country now offers the chain-link fenced LPG station with dozens of cooking fuel tanks available for easy swapping - drop off your empty tank and walk away with a different tank just for the price of the fuel, but that's not an option for us. Our solid aluminium tanks are very valuable, to begin with, and we have no desire to part with them in exchange for a rusty steel tank with a coat of new blue spray paint. Ours are fitted exactly to the locker in which they live, concealed below deck by a hinged lid near the galley, and they don't rust. We have resorted once or twice in desperation to the purchase of a local steel tank when fittings compatible with ours are completely unavailable and we have the rust rings in the bottom of our LPG locker to prove it. Would you like to buy a small grey 4.9l LPG tank that has a rusty bottom and says "Seychelles Gas SEYPEC"' Speak up soon or I'll give it to Jimmy next time we stop in Nosy Be. He'll find a good use for it and now that our own tanks are filled, I'm over it.
Three times on various errands in Hellville we walked past the Cote (caret over the o) Jardin restaurant before finally stopping there one day for lunch. Wooden tables and chairs, all painted distressed white, line the front of the building, and we'd noticed people there before at breakfast time. But the hostess who greeted us at 1PM invited us inside suggesting "you'd like to sit in the garden'" I'm not sure distressed white paint conveys quite the accurate image of Cote Jardin, and I was delighted to see snowy white linens on perfectly set tables as we walked through the indoor dining room, then was surprisingly and profoundly pleased with the garden, picturesque and tranquil with umbrellas to shade each wrought iron table, a separate outdoor building where wood-fired pizzas are prepared, tropical and old world flowers lovingly tended in beds around the few gnarled old trees that shelter the garden. My seafood salad was the most delicious composed salad I've seen since Seattle bearing a creamy honest-to-goodness French dressing, sweet baby shrimp and tender still-warm rings of squid that were perfectly cooked. Fine French dining, I want to try everything on the menu except the zebu. Already I have expressed an interest in celebrating my birthday there next month. I hope he remembers. Maybe Lisa will remind him - Lisa always reads this while His Robbiness does not.
Speaking of Lisa, she said to me the other night at the Scicilian pizza shindig, "There are PHOTOS with your postings!' I had no idea! I've always just read the text I get in the emails that tell me you've added something new!" If you've been making the same mistake, go look at the actual YIT page rather than reading the text-only messages subscribers receive when we post each entry. Those text posts are included for the benefit of cruisers, hampered by lack of Internet at sea, who receive our position reports via satellite email or SSB. If you're online, just click on the link that says www.yit.nz/yacht/mersoleil where you'll see exactly where we are and where we've been on a Google Earth image, and you'll be able to look at the pictures I've uploaded for various postings. The YIT page is prettier and much more interesting! I can only add photographs when I have Internet access, so they usually come a bit AFTER the text is published. Scroll down to review everything posted in 2018. Select a different tab to review our adventures for previous years.
We sailed from Mayotte on July 25, arriving in the early morning of our wedding anniversary, the 27th. Another unexpectedly difficult passage with even Predictwind off by more than 10kts, so we plowed into 25-30kt headwinds and used more motor than sail after the first 50nm took us too far north. Alas, clouds obscured the once in a century long lunar eclipse, but we marveled at the blood red setting moon on the morning of the 27th.
We like the vibe of Madagascar which reminds us more of the South Pacific than anyplace we've been since New Caledonia three years ago.
We'll stay here puttering around the pretty anchorages of NW Madagascar until late September when it will be time to take on the challenging trip to Cape Town.
July 6, 2018
Yesterday when Mersoleil reached hull speed, 9.6kts, Robbie decided it was time for some more serious reefing. Now the genoa is furled away and we're sailing fast on only a double-reefed main and the staysail. Have had some good soaking rains, but after the rains we took some saltwater drenching in the cockpit and the rains have not returned to wash things down. Very lumpy out here and I'm going below at the end of this watch to shower off the salt before I can let me sit down.
A Short Visit to the French insular department of Mayotte, not a country, not a territory, too complicated for me. But French, si vous plait.
After a couple of days at anchor off Dzaoudzi we've moved to the 'marina' at Mamoudzou on the Ile Gran Terre. Ferries come and go every twenty minutes during waking hours bouncing Mersoleil and Tehani-Li exhuberantly, but constant wind keeps us off the dock so nothing dreadful happens. Climbing on and off the yacht when it's held a meter and a half away from the dock is a challenge, though. My patented technique involves standing with one foot on the shortest dock line until my weight presses the line down toward the water and draws the boat close enough for me to reach the toe rail with the other foot (or to leap onto the dock). Then, if boarding, I haul myself quickly aboard before she drifts away. The trick is the same as boarding from a bouncing dinghy, really - invest all your weight on one point. Standing with weight evenly divided between left foot and right foot when the boat springs away from the pontoon is a recipe for a dangerous fall into the water between the boat and a hard place. So far so good.
All the reports were correct. I can't say Mayotte offers much for the cruising sailor beyond French wines and delicious cheeses. Happy to stock up on some lovely cheeses and an excellent well-priced merlot. We haven't seen good cheese since New Caledonia three years ago and, before that, French Polynesia in 2012! (F. P., I just learned is neither department nor territory, but a collectivity. Leave it to the French to cook up such funny names for their colonies.)
Another wonderful thing here is the people watching! The ladies of Mayotte fear neither color nor gigantic patterns. They parade billowy garments wrapped round and round their queen-sized bodies, something like a sari, but I'm told they consist of a great wide tube of fabric sewn together at the ends, draped according to the wearer's preference. (Whereas a sari must be installed according to strict rules that vary only slightly by region all across India.) A second piece of material, also colorful but not necessarily matching the gown, and as large as a tablecloth for ten or twelve, is wound fashionably over and about head and shoulders.
Mayotte is a Muslim country where the ladies generally cover fairly modestly, but they follow the rules loosely, preferring to create a strong fashion statement with a casual nod to the normally conservative Muslim practices. No berkas here. In addition to the gowns, splashed riotously with conventionalized sketches of foot-high pineapples or vibrant zigzags in blue, white and orange, a facial masque of yellow mud is conspicuous on dark brown skins. We haven't quite figured that out and it's hard to find an opportunity to inquire. We speak no French and the locals no English.
Our stay in Mayotte has become the stereotypical cruising opportunity to repair one's boat in exotic places. Robbie (with some commiseration from Phil Tenney - thanks Phil) has spent an entire week trying to understand and repair the electrical systems of the watermaker and the navigation instruments, both critical for passages of any length. As soon as the systems are fit for travel, and we can find a suitable weather window, we'll be off for Madagascar, making landfall at Andoany (aka Hellville) about 200nm away on the east side of the Mozambique Channel.
Hard to believe we are in Africa. Africa. Who'd'a thunk?
July 10 2018 on the final run to the lagoon pass, Passe Mtsamboro, Mayotte
We've turned on the iron genny hoping we might anchor inside the lagoon at Mayotte before dark today. We could have pressed forward with tacking, but when the winds dropped below 10kts it wasn't much fun anymore. Closed hauled we can only get 2 or 3 kts over the ground out of an 8kt wind. In addition, we have a new problem with the instruments which makes dallying unattractive. Always something, you know.
Having an additional month to play with before crossing to South Africa, we have decided to add Madagascar to our itinerary, the area from the N tip down the west coast as far as our jumping off point for crossing the Mozambique Channel. We'll probably not remain in Mayotte more than a week or two, then will hop over to Madagascar and have a play there. We're hearing better reviews of Madagascar than of Mayotte.
This morning, Tuesday, 10th July, we are powering along direct toward the lagoon entrance. All is well on board except for the buggered instruments which cause concern. We suspect rebooting the Raymarine system might correct everything. Or that it will not come up at all after shutting down.... so we're living with limited data which seems a lot better than none at all!
Another great passage - this one for challenging sailing on the breezy side!
July 9 2018
Last evening as we rounded Aldabra, a few miles off, NW of the atoll, the winds and sea both calmed down. It was such a pleasure! We continued on a course of about 235T, then 225T as the winds backed gradually toward the E, and are now seeing the winds die off and move more southerly again.
Robbie has just gone up to make sense of the sails, then we'll probably begin a series of tacks down toward Mayotte. Right now we have stays'l and genoa flying, and almost nothing of a main. I have a headache and selfishly decided to curl up in the cockpit and wait for reinforcements rather than free up winches by myself.
That was QUITE a ride from Mahe to Aldabra! I need a nap.
Greetings from Rocket Ride Mersoleil, July 8, 2018
More of the same... that's all we have to report. Winds generally in the 23/28 range, but once in a while they pop up over 30 just to make sure we're paying attention. We haven't seen anything above 35kts. And, of course, it's a pretty boisterous ride so little sleep is happening between watches.
Mersoleil handles the pummeling from waves well. She's a tough boat. Her owners are a wee bit more fragile. We won't need to buy table salt for months. We can simply scrape it off our clothing and faces.
No rain showers in the past 18 hours, at least not fresh water ones. And we have closed within 100nm of our Aldabra waypoint. The wind is often aft of the beam now, but we can't even begin to turn south till we clear the island. Just as well, I'd like to see the winds drop, too, before we bring the it onto the beam.
Please send pizza. Galley is a mess and it's really too hard to accomplish a meal.
Going the long way to Mayotte to avoid high winds
Our weather expert reports that the plume of enhanced winds bending around Madagascar has grown, reaching further north than usual, and he has recommended that we divert to the north to avoid gales. We'll pass north of Aldabra Island, one of the most important islands of the Republic of Seychelles. Aldabra is the largest coral atoll in the world. Seychelles takes great pride in husbanding her, proudly announcing a month or two ago that they had finally ridded the island of the 300 feral goats that used to tend it.
The extra few COG degrees to the north has removed all excitement from the boarding waves we took at 235T and either the seas have subsided by a full meter or we're taking the swell at a much more friendly angle. Mersoleil here, just mushing along at a respectable speed despite the tiny sail plan.
July 5 2018
As we departed Mahe the wind was decidedly SW, which we attributed to its bending around the island. But even 20nm away and further, we're getting no easterly component at all and now have wind from due S fluctuating only 10-15 degrees either way. Wind speeds have been constant 10-12, but no higher. Robbie said, "I'm only going 4.3, but I'm happy with that. I sailed from India!" (See earlier postings about drifting on glassy seas from Kochi all the way to Seychelles!)
A COG of 235T was completely impossible, so we muddled along at 5kts on a course of about 250, losing even more southing to leeway. We MUST pass south of 06 18S 52 12E to avoid some seriously baaaad water at Les Amirantes, so at 3AM local I tacked and we are now on the disappointing heading of 129T, locked on a waypoint so we'll not suffer any more leeway, but very pinched and making only 3.8-4.8 over the ground. Still, NOT headed for reefs, so pleased about that! Wind down a touch to 8-10kts.
Departing Seychelles for Mayotte on July 4 2018
Originally planning to remain in Seychelles until August, we've decided to move on a little earlier. Mersoleil was burglarized in early June during the night while we were asleep. Even though we lost only our phones before we awakened and scared off the intruders, this, together with the fact that we know of at least half a dozen other similar events occurring in the past month, has significantly dampened our enthusiasm for staying longer. Our visitor permits will expire on the 9th of this month. While the first 90-days was free, extending our stay will cost US$750.00 (not to mention the expense of replacing the cell phones). Besides, we both have admitted to not sleeping very well, constantly wondering 'what's that' at each little sound during the night. Moreover we'll be sailing toward Africa through well-developed trade winds, too, which are generally stronger during August than July. The coming passage will be easier now than next month.
Seychelles has some wonderful places and people and except as noted above we've really enjoyed our stay here. Spending time on La Digue with warm and friendly local, Marie Therese Julienne, visiting the Jai Alai purse seine vessel at dock in Port Victoria, petting and feeding giant land tortoises on Curieuse Island, basking in the sunny turquoise waters of Anse Lazio, Baie de Georgette and Baie Beau Vallon were wonderful experiences that we'll carry away with us. Still we are quite ready to go.
We completed the exit clearance process in a day and a half, made a quick grocery run and a last minute stop at the Taylor Smith Shipyard fuel dock, then motored across Victoria Harbour, beginning our passage in earnest at 5PM today when we turned to the southwest toward the Mozambique Channel 700nm away. It's always exciting to begin a new adventure, heading for a country we can't even picture in our minds and about which we know almost nothing - except that its inhabitants speak French and we do not.
A day aboard the Jai Alai, a Spanish deep-freezing tuna purse seiner.......
It's difficult to decide which to tell you, that we never give one another gifts anymore, there being nowhere to stow additional items on our boat, or that today was a verrry exciting day! Both, I guess, as they go together anyway and both are true.
Our younger son, Chris, is a fisheries scientist working on fishing boats in Alaska as a contract observer for the United States government. We don't really understand what he does. But we do see fishing boats of all kinds and sizes as we sail the high seas. The waters of the Republic of Seychelles are popular fishing grounds for the really big operations and half a dozen to ten huge purse seiners are at dock in Victoria Harbour or waiting at anchor for a berth at any one time. I thought it would be fun to see if we could arrange to visit one of these ships in celebration of Robbie's birthday. He'd understand better what Chris is doing out there, we'd have a much greater appreciation for what we're looking at when we pass these ships at sea, and there would be nothing to store but pictures and memories. The perfect gift!
Samantha Marie and Vincent, at the Port of Victoria, generously helped me arrange Robbie's birthday surprise and at 10:30 this morning Vincent escorted us aboard the two year old Spanish deep-freezing tuna vessel, Jai Alai. The Jai Alai is about 270 feet (89m) long and is equipped with state of the art flash freezing systems that immediately freeze the catch at -60C. (Yes, really. Celsius!) https://echebastar.com/en/deep-freezing-system/
Ander Bustinza, an English-speaking student at a Spanish marine college, now engaged in a summer internship on Jai Alai, joined Patron, Jose Ramon Cardoso, to give us a fascinating and detailed tour of the ship, describing life on board and introducing us to all the other officers. Coincidentally, both Ander and Robbie will celebrate their birthdays on June 27th, one turning twenty and the other I won't say who turning seventy three.
The entire crew of about forty hails from the picturesque seaside town of Bermeo, Spain, spending four months at sea in Seychelles then four months at home. Framed photos of Bermeo decorate the ship. It really does look lovely and we've placed Bermeo on our Mediterranean sailing agenda for 2019.
Chef, Manuel Fernandez, and his busy galley crew were delighted to to show off their outstanding kitchen filled with tempting aromas of today's meals and at the end of the tour we were invited to stay for luncheon in the officers' dining room. This provided ample opportunity to practice our Spanish during a lively conversation over white beans, sauteed pork chops, fried potatoes, roasted red peppers and fresh bread, accompanied by a salty peppery lime pickle that they like well enough to have it delivered to Seychelles from Madagascar. I discovered that I've ruined my Spanish studying Portuguese for the last year but we got by.
Not satisfied with sharing only their time and knowledge with us, Chef Fernandez presented Robbie with two enormous fish for his birthday, a yellowfin tuna and a wahoo, both rock hard at -60C and tied up after viewing in one of the white bags used to package the best of the catch. We are as thrilled as if we'd caught them ourselves! The fish were too heavy for us to carry more than a few steps, so while His Robbiness walked back to Seychelles Yacht Club to fetch our dinghy, I commandeered a fork lift whose operator conveyed our lovely fish to the edge of the wharf. Together, back at Mersoleil, Robbie and I heaved the bag up on deck, and it lies now in our own galley, taking up the entire length of the countertop, wrapped in many layers of plastic and fabric, looking a lot like a dead body, which I suppose it is. It will thaw gradually overnight, I'll butcher it in the morning, give some to everyone we know, and enjoy the rest ourselves over the next several weeks.
What an exciting day! Thank you, Port of Victoria. Thank you, Hartswater Ltd. Thank you, officers and crew of Jai Alai! What a day! Pictures, memories... and two enormous fish! Happy Birthday, Ander! Happy Birthday, Robbie!
With the arrival of every issue of Flying Magazine, to which he subscribed when he started flying small planes, Robbie turned directly to "I Learned About Flying from This" and read with interest the stories of survivors: survivors of equipment failures; survivors of their own mistakes; survivors of freak accidents; survivors of extreme conditions. Here's our version.
WE LEARNED ABOUT SAILING FROM THIS.
Pulling into the anchorage at Anse Lazio, Praslin Island, Seychelles, we congratulated ourselves on selecting good shelter from the SE trades that are beginning to develop, bringing constant breezes from the southeast at 10-15 knots along with welcome relief from the oppressive tropical heat that's typical until early May. Scattered showers of short duration were coming and going around noon under mostly overcast skies. The sky was very dark downwind, to the west, and we were grateful not to be over there!
I dropped the anchor in about 10 meters of water, let out 55 meters of chain and tied on our 3-strand rope snubber which lengthens the chain by another 5 meters and takes strain off the windlass, the anchor winch. We prefer to use even longer anchor rodes, 7:1 rather than 5:1, but there were already 5 other boats anchored nearby with more arrivals anticipated before the end of the day. Nearly all the other sailing yachts in the Seychelles are rental catamarans and catamaran sailors are notorious for anchoring very close to shore on short chains (sorry, friends, but it's true.) They motor directly in to shore in very shallow water, right in front of Mersoleil, let out insufficient chain, and once we're surrounded by cats on short rodes our swing room is severely limited. So I settled for 5:1 scope.
Less than an hour after we settled in, it became obvious that the black sky was getting darker and, despite the winds still from the SE, the storm appeared to be moving east toward our location, not away. Not an hour after that, we were shocked by a sudden 15F degree drop in temperature accompanied by a powerful blast of 20kt winds from the west that spun us 180 degrees putting Mersoleil and all the other yachts close to the classic, dreaded, lee shore. The storm was already fully formed, and brought with it wind waves that rose rapidly to 2 meters, then 3, and higher. Winds rose to 35kts and remained there. This was a big storm, not a tropical squall, reporting a diameter on our radar of 20nm, and we were right in the middle of it! I sincerely wished we HAD set out more chain, and also that the snubber was longer because as the bow rose 3 or 4 meters with each rising wave then slammed back down into the following trough, our snubber was taking enormous shock loads.
One sailor, on a cat very close to us, thought he could better manage the storm by motoring into the wind and waves, thereby keeping his yacht from turning broadside to the danger and possibly broaching. Captains on the other cats did not try this technique and it was clear that the better choice was to hang without auxiliary power on the anchor rode. The driving yacht was all over the place, quite out of control, and sideways to the wind more than any other vessel in the bay. We worried that he might crash into Mersoleil, tried to hail him on the VHF, in fact we called to "any vessel at Anse Lazio," and received not a single reply. We were obviously the only vessel with a radio on.
In skies as dark as dusk, every yacht in the anchorage turned on its navigation lights.
All the vessels that had anchored close to the reef were now within striking distance of the rocks and because they were in such shallow water, where the huge waves were breaking, they bounced violently, both side to side and forward to aft. One by one the captains of these vessels realized they had to run from the lee shore out into the storm or to find themselves on the reef. At least two vessels dragged their anchors, sliding perilously close to rocky reefs before they made the decision to abandon the anchorage. A third dragged past an unused mooring buoy, fouling his anchor chain on the buoy's mooring chain and several people on that boat huddled at the bow for half an hour in outrageously dangerous conditions debating how to untangle from the mooring. We watched with binoculars - the storm was powerful, even though it had not reached it's height yet - and saw not a single person on any other boat wearing a life vest or tether, but many running around on deck unsure what to do. We could feel their panic. Remember, most of these people are not experienced sailors. They're nice German couples and South African families who've flown here for a one week sailing holiday on a crewed sailing cat. Most of the captains are locals, and we don't know how much sailing experience they have, but we do know from our own observations that they do not all anchor as cautiously and conservatively as we do.
Mersoleil remained solidly anchored, maintaining her position despite the incredible forces on her chain, snubber and hull. Doggie was tied behind the boat, about 15 meters away on a towing bridle that we had assembled before we left Seattle in 2011. See the photos below. I thought for certain that Doggie would break free and that we might have to drag him off the beach with a water-filled outboard when all the shouting was over, or lose him altogether, but remarkably he held his own out there, rising high on each wave and plummeting down to the bottom of each trough, getting jerked by his towing line first left, then right, then spinning 360 and snapping to a halt again with his bow toward Mersoleil's stern. I saw his entire underside more than once flying above the crest of a wave and was amazed he didn't capsize. We donned our life vests and tethered ourselves to padeyes installed in the cockpit, something we do as a rule on passage, but very rarely at anchor.
We had been seeing another monohull throughout the week, a smaller yacht, full of guys speaking French, laughing together late into the evening and having a grand time. Their boat was much too close to both beach and granite boulders and it was bucking wildly with, apparently, no one on board. They must have gone to the restaurant on shore for lunch. At one point, looking toward land through his binoculars, Robbie said, "There's something going on at the beach. I think there's a person in the water!" And then a few minutes later, "There are about six people now standing around on the beach." We didn't understand what was going on there, but we had our own fish to fry and returned our attention to Mersoleil.
The storm continued to intensify, showing, according to radar, no inclination to move or dissipate, and we decided to run the engine in case it was suddenly needed. Waves started coming over the bow, big green torrents rushing down the deck and shooting up over the dodger, our windscreen. We were both drenched, first by the torrential rains, now by saltwater, too. About this time, I put away my phone and camera. The pictures I took of the storm were all taken early in the event. As conditions worsened, it was necessary to give our complete attention to what was going on around us and to consider our options should action become necessary.
Someone was on the small monohull now, the French guys' boat, just one person though, not the entire gang. Dark curly hair and dark skin told us it was probably the local captain. He had started the engine and was trying to motor forward into the waves - without even raising his anchor! The boat lurched forward, then moved slowly until it was fairly close, dangerously so we thought, to Mersoleil at which point we saw him run to the bow (sans pfd and tether), struggle with the anchor, and run back to the helm to regain control of the vessel. After two or three of these excursions, we understood that he was alone on the boat, had no electric windlass with which to raise his anchor, and that he hoped to drag vessel and anchor far enough from shore to buy time to go forward alone and lift the anchor by hand. To our surprise and delight the tactic worked for him and we gave cheers and a big thumbs-up as he motored past and out of the bay. He was a great hero, we thought, but a hero who had swum to his boat from shore in extremely hazardous conditions. He was, we realized, the person in the water earlier. He had gone alone to climb aboard a tossing boat and save it from smashing to pieces on the rocks. Foolish to risk his life as he did, but greatly heroic in saving the sailboat. We're trying to find him now so we can buy him a beer!
Mersoleil was the only yacht left in the anchorage. We discussed again whether to run or to hold tight - it's a tough call under such conditions. Our anchor alarms indicated that Mersoleil hadn't budged an inch and the storm was still enormous and all around. There wasn't anywhere to run and surely this couldn't continue much longer, could it?
After two or three hours of intensifying winds, waves and downpouring rains something changed dramatically. One particularly high wave, it had to be 5 meters, rushed toward the bow. I was on watch tethered in the cockpit and saw it coming, thinking ,"oh, man, this is a big one," as it swamped Mersoleil's bow with several feet of green water that flew down the deck, up over the dodger, into the cockpit and over the top of the bimini above the helm. With all the bucking and tossing I was concerned about the chain and snubber and whether they were in position over the bow roller or lying in a mess on the deck, something we saw once before while beating in high seas. Holding tightly to the dodger grab rail, I stepped up on a seat in the cockpit in order to get a better look at the bow and I saw a rope, it could only be the snubber, draped loosely across the top of the primary bow roller in a completely unnatural position. Maybe the bow had dipped into the water and picked it up. In that case, now the fiberglass of the bow, instead of the steel backed snubber fitting, was going to sustain the huge forces of a twenty-three ton yacht being hurled in the air by high waves. That wasn't a good thing.
Robbie and I agreed that one of us must go forward to inspect the cause of this condition, and perhaps, the damage. Both willing to go, we decided it should be me because I have a smaller surface area, less weight, and I would be slightly less likely to be washed into the sea. Pound for pound I'm probably about as strong has he is, but as a smaller target, we thought I might have a better chance of staying on deck.
We have an excellent system of safety jacklines - specially purchased, cut and installed ropes that run from bow to stern along the centerline of the yacht. We clip multiple tethers onto these lines, allowing us to move the length of the boat, never for a single moment untethered; click one on, move forward, clip on the next before unclipping to first, move forward again to the next change point. It's a little cumbersome, but ensures that nobody falls of the boat when we have to go forward in exciting situations. But, you know, we have never NEEDed the safety jacklines at anchor before! They were carefully stowed in their mesh bag out of the UV and ready for our next sail or passage. So instead I clipped two tethers to the front of my pdf, securing the other end of one to the dodger grab rail, then inched forward to the point where I could clip the second onto the middle shroud, returning to retrieve tether number one so I could advance it to a padeye on the cabintop, retrieving number two and crawling forward to the next secure holding point. When I finally reached the bow a few minutes and several warm salty baths later, it was obvious that the snubber had parted. Its frayed end was dangling in the water like a bushy pony tail and all the weight of Mersoleil was now on the chain and the windlass. Not only that, but the chain had hopped completely out of the guides on the bow roller - this was a first! - and was straining over the port side of the bow eating up the protective Starboard pad that we had installed there to protect the bow from the anchor shank and taking big bites out of the fiberglass as well.
I returned tether-over-tether to the cockpit and explained to Robbie. "We're still hooked," I told him, "but now all the strain is on the chain." The yanking on the chain, now hanging over the side, was ferocious. It didn't look like the storm was going to end any time soon and our track on the anchor alarm began to extend into new territory further from the anchor where there had been no track before. When we lost the snubber the chain effectively became about ten feet longer as slack in the chain stretched out. But it was also possible that the weight and jerking of the boat was beginning to drag the anchor through the seabed. We couldn't tell which was the case, so we decided to abandon the anchorage immediately.
There being virtually no way to lift the anchor chain back into its proper path through the groove and over the bow roller, the only solution was to release the entire 100 meters of chain and the anchor and depart without them. This we did. It was our great good fortune to have pulled out from the anchor locker the bitter end of Mersoleil's anchor chain just two or three days earlier and to have removed the twists that build up in the chain over time. Chain links stack up next to one another in a tightly twisted chain, creating a mass too large to feed through the hawsepipe. In order to avoid this problem, which would render us completely unable to ditch the chain in an emergency, we check the last fifty feet or so of chain every so often to make sure it's untwisted and will run freely in a crisis. This was a crisis and mercifully our chain had no twists in its full length. I untied the small red rope inside the anchor locker that holds the bitter end of the chain to a U-bolt, wrenched loose the nut on top of the windlass and the last 40 meters of heavy chain shot off the bow into the sea in a matter of seconds - until it reached the very end! We had installed a swivel on the bitter end of our chain in the stupid hope that it would allow those twists to rectify themselves, working their way off the end of the chain down in the chain locker. The swivel never accomplished that, but it did catch on something on deck and stop the last two inches of the chain from flying off into the water. With Robbie's help from the helm, ... too noisy to yell to him, so tether over tether I crept back toward the cockpit to ask him to give the windass a nudge up... "What!? RAISE the anchor?"... "Yes, just DO it! I'll explain later!" His tap on the windlass button at the helm was just enough to release the swivel from the fitting against which it was jammed and suddenly the rattle of chains was completely gone along with all our primary ground tackle.
Departing the bay was easy, if uncomfortably bumpy, and we motored to the very spot about three miles away that we had departed on Friday morning. There, of course, we had to deploy the secondary anchor which has been ready and waiting for nearly ten years, but never been used. Well, actually, that's not true. We unintentionally used it once, more like a fender, in New Caledonia to spring off a wharf in a 30kt blow, and ever since then our Delta anchor sits on the bow bent and deformed, testament to the fact that it flicked along half a dozen pilings before we could back off that wharf. The Delta had never been on the bottom before, but it was there and ready and down it went at a calmer safer location with 15 meters of chain and 50 of rope rode and eventually we slept well Friday night.
During the night the winds returned to their benign southeasterly direction, and we rose Saturday morning to return to Anse Lazio to retrieve our Rocna and chain. Before departing the quiet anchorage, we checked on Doggie to see how waterlogged he was and found him completely dry inside! We were flabbergasted! It's a great testament to Walker Bay that their Genesis 310 RIB can sustain seas like that without shipping water. Look at him in the pictures!
A point in our favor, to our credit I might say, is that because we follow a very strict anchoring and record keeping protocol we knew the precise location of the primary anchor. Robbie found the end of the anchor chain on his very first dive, he tied a round white fender to one end of a long line and connected the other end to the (wretched) swivel at the bitter end of the chain. He returned to Mersoleil, we raised the temporary anchor, and I motored over to the float which he picked up with a boat hook exactly as if it were just any moorng pendant. It was a fairly simple matter then to wrap the rope around the windlass and haul it up carefully until there was chain on deck again. I snubbed off the chain to relieve the strain while we discarded the swivel, fed the last few meters of chain and its little security line back down the hawsepipe into the chain locker, re-tied the security line to its U-bolt, and begin to raise the anchor in the usual way.
We stopped raising chain with about 60 meters still in the water, knowing the Rocna was stuck well-enough to sustain a 35kt blow, and here we remain a day later telling you all about it! We need a new snubber, which I can prepare in the next few days, but other than that, some relatively minor fiberglass repairs and a few boat bites, all is very well indeed on sailing yacht Mersoleil.
We feel like we spent 24 hours anchoring!!!! And WE LEARNED ABOUT SAILING FROM THAT!!!
Things we did well:
1. Carried the Dog, our faithful dinghy, on a bridle, not on a single rope. Doggie's bridle was never intended to take a punishing like this, but it survived and protected both dinghy and motor. If we were towing him on a simple painter, he'd surely have been lost. The bridle was an excellent investment in planning and labour. It far exceeded our expectations. See photos.
2. We actively, assertively, firmly set the anchor in the seabed. Robbie hates to hear me say this, but we have never dragged anchor, not yet anyway. Inspection of the anchor on the bottom today confirms that it did not move during the storm. Our slightly enlarged track was apparently due entirely to the release of the slack chain that had been restrained by the snubber until the snubber parted.
3. We had accurate records of our anchor location. Our anchoring procedure has protected us in many situations in which others have fared poorly. We back down on our anchor at 2600 rpm for two minutes every single time we anchor and we record carefully the location of the anchor after it is set, not where it was dropped. Baie Chevalier is huge and has a featureless sand bottom. Robbie would have never found our equipment at all, let alone in five minutes, without accurate coordinates.
4 We maintained a constant anchor watch. We'd wanted to go ashore for lunch, but it is our habit to remain on board for as long as necessary to ensure the safety of the yacht. When we saw the storm growing closer, not farther away, we abandoned the idea of going to Bonbon Plume. In fact, there was no lunch on Friday. No dinner either if I recall.
5. When it became necessary, we made the right decision to dump the ground tackle and depart the bay and exceuted our escape in just a few minutes. Once the windlass assumed all the strain remaining at anchor was out of the question.
6. We know our knots and when we needed a rolling hitch, we produced one instantly without going to a book or a knot app.
Things we could have done better:
1. For the first time in months we failed to check the weather. There's no excuse for our not knowing that storm was moving from west to east. We could have been elsewhere! In some locations, the Indian Ocean being one of them, we have found it difficult to obtain synoptic weather charts and forecasts and we have allowed ourselves to become dependent on windy.com and PredictWind for local weather. They are excellent tools, but they are not meteorological forecasts.
2. We probably should have replaced our snubber before now. This snubber has been in use about 3 years and was beginning look a little weary. That said, there's a good chance a new snubber of the same rating would have chafed through, too, in those conditions. It broke at the rolling hitch, not at the thimble, not mid-line.
3. We did not have experience using the secondary anchor. It would have been a little easier if we had ever practiced with the Delta.
4. I allowed myself to be influenced by what other people do. If not surrounded by the less experienced sailors, I'd have let out more chain in the first place. Knowing the anchorage would become more crowded, I limited the scope of our chain as a matter of convenience. And if I had understood that the storm was headed toward us, not away, I would have lengthened the snubber, too. A longer 3-strand nylon rope will stretch more and may not have failed at all. Actually, if we'd known the direction the storm was traveling (and shame on us for not using MARPA radar tools to find out) we would have been elsewhere altogether.
Now (actually Monday 21st) we're helping the owners of a South African catamaran recover their anchor and chain. Their friends' yacht, just purchased a few months ago in Langkawi and on its voyage home to South Africa, lies stranded on the nearby reef nearly high and dry. Tides are minimal here and we're more than a week away from the next full moon that might bring hopes of lifting her off the rocks.
Yep, we learned about sailing from this.
This is so typical of our visit to Rajasthan. I didn't even intend to write about this visit to a Thar Desert village homestay, but going to my February photos at random it was the first thing I saw and I couldn't resist!
February 23-24, 2018
Salawas Village, Kumharon-ki-Dhani, nr. Gosala, Jodhpur District, Rajasthan, India
(Block the line above and put it in Google Earth to see exact location.)
We stopped at Chhotaram Prajapat's Homestay for just one night on February 23rd, wishing as soon as we'd arrived that we could stay much longer. Robbie and I were welcomed with a colorful blessing daubed on our foreheads, guided to the tradition round desert hut that was our home for the night, introduced so rapidly to at least a dozen family members that we cannot remember anyone's names, and informed that we'd all dine together in the courtyard at around eight.
Chhotaram 's family belongs to the weavers caste, having created stunning hand woven dhurrie rugs for many centuries. but they realize that the market for handcrafted rugs like theirs is dwindling and new sources of income are essential to supporting their extended family. They've organized and operate a cooperative for the rug makers in Salawas village and maintain and sell from an inventory that includes their own hand-loomed rugs as well as those of their friends and neighbors.
In addition to the rug cooperative, the family has opened their home to tourists, building seven traditional round huts about twelve feet in diameter, each a bedroom with its own bath and a western toilet. The homestay business now provides sufficiently for the family's needs and everyone plays his or her role as a welcoming host. Guests range from touring travelers like us to the British writer who came for solitude and spent three months finishing his latest novel. Everyone cuddles the baby, this winter a twelve month old little girl, helps the little boys with their homework, carries limestone blocks for the new hand-paved driveway under construction, and moves the strap-woven beds under roof as the evening grows late and people feel sleepy. Before dinner younger brother, Om, treated us to a jeep tour of the village where we visited the local potter, who expertly spins his low concrete wheel with a wooden stick and crouches before it while throwing pots, met an older gentleman who engages in and demonstrated ancient unmentionable local rituals, and spotted wildlife in the bush as Om drove through the dust at speeds only a 17-year-old would think were fun until I told him bluntly to cut it out.
Yes, we bought a rug, how could we not? Someday perhaps we'll have a home in which to put it!
I've thought long and hard about this posting, about what to say about our experiences in India. As you know, I'm not wont to post photos with such captions as 'here we are standing in front of the blah-de-blah.' Really, who cares about a bad picture of us, tiny in the distance, that doubles as a lousy image of the blah-de-blah, obscured by tourists? You'll never catch me doing that. I want YOU to experience India, to feel amazed when you realize sculptural arts you thought long extinct continue to be produced in 2018, to laugh in surprise with us at the cold shock we felt as an elephant hosed us with a 10-liter trunkful of pond water. I want you to sit down to dinner tonight, leaving all the flatware in the drawer, and eat with the fingers of only your right hand, and imagine eating this way every day for two months like I did. I want you to be moved right now to price that ticket to Jaipur and to ask Soni, www.indiaworldwidetravel.com, to plan a tour for YOU something like the one he arranged for us in February and March of 2018. It will change you. And you will be glad.
Blow-by-blow travelogues being as deadly dull as I believe them to be, I've chosen a few perceptions, experiences, observations and impressive moments to share with you. They are uniquely India, at least they are for me. We sailed away from the coast of Kerala on March 24th and, yes, we have arrived in the Seychelles, which surprised me by being in Africa, (what did I think?) Six weeks later India still monopolizes my thoughts.
In classic cruising fashion, this little missive to you was momentarily interrupted by a minor crisis when Robbie returned from a long hot morning at the boatyard. Tropical heat completely exhausts him and as I climbed sympathetically up to offer a cheery greeting in the cockpit, he stepped out of Doggie, threw a leg over the side rail, then turned around to see Doggie drifting away off leash. He looked at me with a weary "I can't do this" expression, asked, "do you mind?" and I stripped off my sarong, dove off the stern, swam out to our departing dinghy and hauled it back to Mersoleil, practicing for the first time in eons the lifesaving sidestroke I learned in Red Cross Water Safety Instructor classes, then rinsed off at the stern shower. I hope the two men installing floating docks nearby enjoyed the show. Honestly, there is never a dull moment around here. (Charlene, I guess it was my turn this time; Heather, you get it next time!)
These little India vignettes will be posted separately, each with its own supporting photographs. Here's the first one....
Robbie ran across a moving story on the Internet told by a young Asian man who remembered well a lesson he learned from his grandfather. This little story has completely changed how we negotiate and purchase in local markets.
The young man recalled, when he was a child, shopping in the wet markets with his grandfather, who, in the boy's opinion, always paid too much for his cabbage, or bananas, or tools, or boots. Other people, he knew, bargained for lower prices and routinely paid considerably less than originally asked. "Grandfather," the boy asked, "why do you pay two hundred rupees for the watermelon? You know it is only worth one hundred fifty."
The reply was simple. "This is dignified charity, son."
Dignified charity. How many times have I enjoyed an outrageously expensive meal, paying far more than the meal was actually worth and then left an additional fifteen or twenty percent gratuity - thinking nothing of it!? Yet, I go to the local wet market and haggle with the woman who rose before dawn to harvest her produce, has carried 20kg of it to the market balanced on a tray on her head in hopes of making enough money to buy her child a school book. And congratulated myself for paying only one hundred forty rupees instead of the two hundred she wanted.
There is so much - of great value - that one does not learn in first world cultures. This is what we came here for.
There's much to report today, not the least of which is that Mersoleil is on passage and has been for nearly two weeks. The most unusual passage we've ever experienced, this one, with virtually no wind for days on end.
We're sailing from India, having reluctantly departed when our visas expired at midnight on 24 March, to the Seychelles, a distance we would normally cover in ten easy days. This season, characterized, Bruce Buckley tells us, by worldwide weather anomalies that have left the central Indian Ocean bereft of breezes, making the run from Kochi to Victoria is going to take about twice as long! Early on we resorted to running the engine when winds dipped below 7-8kts, our usual procedure. But realizing we'd covered a mere third of the distance and expended more than half our fuel, a come-to-Jesus meeting held in the cockpit resulted in the determination that rigorous fuel conservation tactics were required to avoid the two most dreaded outcomes of running out of fuel on this particular passage in low winds: drifting helplessly ashore in Somalia, volunteer participants in the local sailor for ransom program; and running aground on the reefy outer banks of the Seychelles.
It's been an incredible experience to learn what Mersoleil can do with 2-4 measely knots of wind and we've had ample opportunity to test the spinnaker and all combinations of main, genoa and whisker pole. Amazingly enough, this wonderful yacht rewards us with 4kts over the ground in only 5 of breeze when given a chance! Since the winds haven't often given us even 4kts to work with, our progress is slow, but leisurely and comfortable. We haven't even closed the windows yet!
India is now in the rearview mirror with its astounding palaces, temples and havelis, delicious cuisines, bustling bazaars, beautiful ladies in colorful sarees, and its warm, kind, charming people. Alas. When I wrote recently that my favourite country is the next one I intend to visit, I had not yet been to India. I promise to back date and post a smattering of photos and descriptions from our three week tour of Rajasthan, but both Robbie and I have come away totally gob-smacked in his words. Countless times I heard uttered from my own lips, "I have never seen ANYthing like this before," "I am aMAZed!" and the overused all-purpose, "Wow." I've always thought Europe held the architectural gems of the world, save for the pyramids and the Taj Mahal, but I was completely mistaken. India has artistic, architectural and sculptural masterpieces at every turn and each time I thought, 'another fort, gee, maybe I'll skip this one,' then climbed out of the car to tour it anyway, I was humbled again for my condescension and thrilled to yet another magical display of artstry and craftsmanship unlike anything else in the world. Visiting India was the most brilliant travel decision we have ever made. (I understand people take decisions these days. Being an old-fashioned grammarian, I still make them.) I will tell you more about India in future postings, after we reach the Seychelles, assuming we do, when I can post images for you.
Onward to the Seychelles, gently, slowly. Send beer and soft drinks. It's very hot and we're a little bit weary of water. Is it true they're decided to rename the Indian Ocean Lake Placid?
Kochi International Marina, Bolgatty Island, Kerala, India
Our charming and competent driver, Jeni, is now a treasured friend. He dropped us back at Kochi Marina at four this afternoon after a delightful week of fun, exploration and laughter. Thank you, Jeni. And thank you to Mr. Bhagwan Das Soni of India World Wide Travel who conceived and organized our wonderful week in Kerala.
Lakes and Lagoons, Allepey, Keral, India
See all those long rectangular shapes stacked along the edge of the canals? Each one is a traditional Kerala houseboat converted for use as a luxury touring boat with one or two or more bedrooms, and it plys the miles of Allepey backwaters at a leisurely pace while the lucky occupants sip tea and watch and listen to the village life of southern India, the slap slap slap of laundry on a stone, the laughter of kids on bicycles, the casual conversation of two fisherment on a long canoe or four guys standing on the bridge. We were ferried to our private one-bedroom houseboat at noon by water taxi, introduced to the crew of three: Arun, the helmsman; Sattish, the chef; and Manu, helper and asistant helmsman, then served a wonderful luncheon of local river fish, Kerala rice, curry, sambal and hot salty lime pickles. I ate with my right hand as I have done at each meal since we arrived in India. I'm getting pretty good at transporting food to my mouth without mishap. It takes practice, especially for a lefty like me.
Robbie spent the afternoon alternating between his current read, War and Peace, and exploring the passing world with his camera while I napped again in hopes of conquering a cold which has been plaguing me all week. When I appeared for a glass of wine before dinner he announced that this is definitely the life for him! Peaceful, leisurely to the point of decadence, and completely captivating. We never left the boat, stopping only to tie up for lunch and again at dusk for the night. Our houseboat was truly luxurious and we felt pampered and fortunate, watching the sunrise from bed as the world slipped slowly past our leaded glass windows.
Alas, this was only a one night tour. They seem to offer only half-day and full-day tours. We could have stayed a week! I think when it comes to relaxing we may have achieved a higher level of performance than most of the tourist population.
Pamba Hertigae Villa, Nedumudy, Kerala, India
It was entirely my fault that we were four hours late for the home cooked lunch Rajeev Thomas' mother had lovingly prepared for us at Pamba Heritage Villa. After waiting for my 4 new cholis, we didn't even hit the road till lunchtime in Thekkady and it was a long, but scenic, drive back down to sea level. The Allepey area, south of Kochi, is the rice growing center of southern India and is riddled with backwaters, lakes and man-made canals as you can see on this GE image. We had only one night in Rajeev's gorgeous guest room with cozy balcony overlooking the canal, and we gazed eagerly from the balcony at each traditional houseboat passing by.
Tomorrow night we'll be on one of those! Rajeev conveyed our deepest apologies to his mom, he and Robbie solved all the political problems of the world while I took a nap, and we were sorry to depart after such a short stay. I'm just not one of those "if-it's-Tuesday-this-must-be-Belgium" travelers. Give me several nights in a row at my lodgings, please.
Kumily, Thekkady, Keraly, India
Three days seemed too short for our visit to Ferndale Home Stay where hostess, Debby Fernandez, introduced us to the all conveniences of local life. Finally, my questions were answered about the proper use of all the faucets and the ubiquitous plastic bucket and pitcher in the typical India bathroom! The showerheads installed on the walls in tourist accommodations do not exist in a real Indian bathroom. There's just a tub spout a few feet above the floor - not associated with any bathtub - a drain in the corner and the plastic bucket/pitcher combination. One mixes hot and cold water in the large bucket, scoops it up in the plastic pitcher and pours it over the soapy parts to wet the skin or get a good rinse. Perfectly effective, conserves water, why doesn't everyone do it this way? There's also the hand shower near the toilet, a fixture to which we neither of us has warmed, that everyone seems to use to drench the entire room, but most especially the toilet seat, before leaving.
I've written about toilet tissue before. In India, if you're partial to the use of TP, bring your own.
One night while in Thekkady we attended a double-feature cultural show, first an hour of martial arts demonstrations, then an hour of ancient Kerala Kathakali Traditional Dance. And followed it with another delicious dinner at a local hotel where we continued to plead for "spicy spicy spicy, INdian spicy" curries and were served moderately spicy, but wonderful food. They simply can't believe that we know what we're talking about.
I've heard that the cuisine of Kerala is perhaps not as highly spiced as that up in Rajasthan. We shall see.
Debby and her sister, Cheryl, were so complimentary of my Indian clothes, that I asked them to take me shopping for sarees. We three girls piled into Jeni's car and instructed him to deposit us at Debby's favourite saree shop, Mickey, as in the mouse, Tex. Shopping for sarees is not like buying a dress in size 10. One simply eyes a bolt of fabric on the shelves piled high with bright colors, the shop keeper pulls out the one he thinks you're pointing at from six feet away in front of the counter - or the one he wants you to buy - and it is unfurled luxuriously on the counter for inspection. Each saree is several meters long with the last meter or so being the portion intended to be cut off and sewn into a choli, the short sleeved short waisted blouse always worn with a saree. There is no fitting room required. You either like the fabric, the pattern, the price, or you don't. I selected four sarees and we rushed off to Debby and Cheryl's tailor to beg for overnight service.
I love my sarees, indeed all my Indian clothing, but it's going to take some doing to make me comfortable hanging my flabby white midriff out there for the world to appreciate. Nonethesless, when in Rome... so here are some pictures. My sarees are totally authentic, the real deal, donned in the traditional way with an underskirt and, thank God, two safety pins for security. Any time you see a woman wearing a saree who is NOT constantly fiddling with the pallu to keep it up on her shoulder, she is grateful for her safety pin. Those who fiddle are the rigid purists. Maybe I'll get there someday but not yet.
Munnar, Kerala, India
Tata Beverage Corporation operates tea plantations in India in addition to its other business enterprises around the world. They make a dandy tuk tuk, too, and I might like riding in a tuk tuk better if I could ever get a lift in a Tata vehicle! The company provides a complete village to accommodate the tea workers and subsudizes rents, provisions, education and other necessities. In addition, Tata has implemented programs to educate and rehabilitate the differently-abled resident of the village, those whose bodies and minds reflect the results of a narrowly restricted gene pool.
Robbie and I toured the factory where they produce stunning handmade paper products (no trees sacrificed, all from recycled materials), vibrant natural dyes and sumptuous fabrics and garments. We bought a few items in the shop to support the efforts of the good people who labour there. No photos are permitted inside the factory, out of respect for the workers, but their website and these pictures tell the wonderful story.
Tea Plantations, Munnar, Kerala, India
It takes an entire day to enjoy the tea plantations perched along the slopes of the Munnar Mountains and visit the Kanan Devan Hills Tea Museum.
Tea grows best on steep slopes of 35 to 70 degrees, allowing winter's occasional frosty air to move along down into the valleys at a good pace in early morning, sparing the tender plants damage that might result from a freeze. Of course, those slopes make hand picking a challenge for the ladies from the tea plantation village who walk amoung the bushes every ten days pinching or shearing off the top two leaf sets. Actually, the tea pickers walk amoung the bushes every day, returning to pick again when the new growth is ten days old. After visitng a tea factory and learning the entire arduous and heretofore unknown tea making process, Jeni drove us for hours through the beautiful hillside where we demanded photo stops by the dozen. Watching people picking tea is as addictive as watching Cleveland Demolition tear down a fifteen storey building. You just stand and stare, listening to the hypnotic music of the shears as they clip clip clip clip clip the young stems. Now I see why all those gaps exist amoung the bushes wherever tea is grown. They are pathways for tea workers, and for the odd passing elephant.
Munnar, Kerala, India
Mersoleil securely tied to a dock in Kochi, we've decided to tour Kerala State for a few days. First stop, a three-day visit to Munnar, 125km from Kochi, with its mountainous tea plantations, lush forest and cooler temperatures. Warm and gracious hosts of Flower Valley Home Stay, Ancy and Joy, made us feel like long lost family amid their peaceful countryside gardens, bird song and home-cooked meals. Stunning scenery, a luxurious room with our own private veranda, flowers, birds, morning mists and Ancy's home cooking. Can it possibly get any better than this?
Julian has just asked an excellent question.
Boat stamp, what is a boat stamp?
We found it hard to believe such a silly thing could be useful, but long before we left America I worked up this rubber stamp with a local stationer. Being able to smack a faint impression of this thing on clearance documents has established our incontrovertible legitimacy with the officials of many countries. They love rubber stamps, carbon paper and duplicates duplicates duplicates. If your ink pad is drying up, like ours is, and the impressions created by the stamp are very faint, so much the better! No one ever reads them anyway.
Mersoleil has arrived at Cochin, India
Spirit of Africa arriving in Cochin about ten days ahead of us, Miki Stanton had thoughtfully emailed general info on checking in to India, including ‘call Port Authority on VHF when approaching the channel.’ While Mersoleil was still 10nm away Port Authority called us, offered permission to anchor at Malabar Hotel and said they would send someone to us for temporary clearance. Should we call them upon arrival, I asked. Oh, no, we’ll be watching you. They will come. And indeed, five or six guys on a little flat boat that looked like a floating refrigerator with a big black fender (see photo) pulled up before we had even finished anchoring. Two of the men stepped aboard. After brief, pleasant formalities, they invited us to come to their offices by dinghy, tie up at their jetty ‘around the corner,’ which proved nearly impossible to find, and go to Immigration then Customs, all easy to find, big signs, to complete the clearance procedures.
Not easy to find at all, but everyone was kind and helpful, offering loads of erroneous information as we wandered about. Finally we found Immigration, completed our business with them including the aborted use of yet another new clever computer system that would not work (this one for taking biometrics), “all it does is take much more time,” they said. It took an hour to locate the correct Customs office among the many choices in a single building, nobody knew where we were to go, someone finally walked us through a long rabbit warren of hallways, courtyards, even through a construction site, to the department of Import and Bond.
Import and Bond sent us back out to Mersoleil with tall skinny uniformed Mr. Kumar where he had Robbie complete many pages of forms with carbon papers, stamp all over them with the boat stamp, stuck the Iridium Go! in the liquor cabinet then sealed it shut with a signed and rubber stamped paper to be removed when we exit the country. He accompanied us back to the Import and Bond Dept. (I left crumbs this time so we could find it again) and defended us against three men on the street who disapproved of our parking Doggie1 at their jetty, ‘where is your permission.’ They were from the Marine Department (Port Authority) and delayed us another half hour while they made many phone calls and insisted that we had to put Doggie somewhere else. Where??? Do you have a registration for this speedboat? That generated a burst of indignation from me and I informed them this was NOT a SPEEDboat, it was a BABYboat! Finally, we wandered away and they found something else to do. Back at Import and Bond, the manager was not satisfied with the way Robbie had completed the forms and he made him sign a new set all over again. Where is your stamp? I didn’t bring it. It’s on the boat. We can’t finish this. Bring it tomorrow.
The next morning we departed Mersoleil in time for RC to present himself at the Marine Department at 10AM. I dropped him off at the prohibited jetty and returned to Mersoleil and busied myself until time to go pick him up at 12:30 as agreed (for the lunch we missed yesterday). I left Doggie at the hotel in an effort to avoid another confrontation with the port police, walked at 12:15 to the prohibited pilot boat jetty and waited there until well past 4:00. No Robbie.
The curious details of this day would fill a small book. Suffice it to say that I think we are now officially admitted to India, we’ll plan plenty of time for the checking out procedure, Robbie will probably never go anywhere again without the boat stamp, and I received a gift from one of the Mooring Crew guys, a monkeys fist used on his heaving line. I’d explained to Francis that I used an American baseball to weight my heaving line, upon which disclosure he jabbed me with an elbow and told me, “I make mine with a cricket ball.” (see photos)
I started writing this with the intent to record my first impressions of India. They are these….
Ferries run all directions in the harbor, old long flat, slightly decrepit boats that look exactly like the ones in movies about India….
No one hurries, it’s hot here, taking things easy is the norm. Not to imply that people are lazy, they just move at a languid pace out of practical necessity….
Offices in the old public buildings have high ceilings furnished abundantly with long-bladed ceiling fans. Every so often a paper is lifted from some surface, wafts gently through the air and settles at some other location, transferred there by the whim of the fan and there it remains.
The filing system in one department where we spent quite a long while was a classic example of colonial bureaucracy. They don’t use letter size paper here, nor A4, but something I’ve never seen before and it must measure something more like 10” x 18”. Piles of these large sheets are tucked into loose folios and stacked in lopsided heaps all about the room, some three or four feet high, on chairs, tables, desk and the floor, one side higher than the other and looking as if they could slide down at any moment like a deck of fanned playing cards on the casino table….
Everywhere are the marks of British imperialism. Gracious colonial architecture is prominent in all directions. High tea is served at the hotel every afternoon. Elderly couples who have never missed a meal in their lives stroll into the lobby bar, select their favoured nest from the many cozy seating arrangements for two or four or six placed about the space, then the matrons order gin and tonics and the men beers. The interiors of the hotel are clubby and elegant, very British, with warm deep wood finishes, pillows on every chair and sofa, arrangements of fresh flowers on all the tables…. (photos)
Government officials delight in completing their tasks as slowly as humanly possible while making the work appear arduous and far more important that it could possibly be. They actually discussed Robbie’s carbon papered documents for fifteen minutes, three Customs officials in a huddle speaking their local tongue, before asking him to complete a new set and then took additional time concluding that they’d better give him pages without carbon paper and make three copies of the finished documents with a copying machine presumably located somewhere in the building….
Things move slowly here, decidedly so, and one cannot but enjoy the contrast between the life we came from and what we observed yesterday and today. The difference is so outrageously dramatic it’s quaint, charming, amusing. Woeful disappointment is bound to accrue to the northern European or the American who expects or demands the bustling efficiency he remembers from home….
Charter tour boats and ferries ply the habour area all day long, many of them filled with exuberant young people shouting, squealing, cheering together in some unknown-to-us group activity and singing along to the same kind of music one hears from the boom boxes on sidewalks outside the shops of Little India. But, I remembered with delight, this is not Little India. This is BIG India!
Mersoleil is leaving Southeast Asia behind and is headed for India! On passages I have time to think, too much time to think, perhaps, and I've been thinking about all the remarkable places Robbie and I have been. What is the most wonderful place in the world, I asked myself, and I was surprised by the answer. The most wonderful place is the place we are about to visit!!! A place we haven't been to yet. Not everyone will agree, I suppose. But for me, the unknown is so full of possibilities, so very exciting, that nothing I've ever seen or done before can quite compare to an opportunity that is still completely hidden from me. Today, in my book, India is the most wonderful place in the world. The possibilities are endless. And I simply cannot wait to discover what is real, so I can add India to my colorful mental collection of experiences that I know, and remember, and love. Robbie and I were talking recently about what an amazing life we have. This experience of living in one unfamiliar culture after another for years on end never ceases to amaze and humble us. We cannot imagine living in any other way and, if our dotage were not catching up with us, we'd continue this vagabond life indefinitely as indeed some people have. We are truly having the time of our lives and are continuously amazed at how fortunate we are. Now, I must take a moment to boast about my brilliant husband, another subject to which I have recently given thorough consideration.
You know, Robbie and I have very different personalities. We probably see one another more objectivbely than either of us is able to see ourselves and, spending all day together every day, we have ample opportunity to observe the other's personality. Among his many admirable qualities, I marvel at Robbie's tenacity. His ability to stick to a task until he conquers it, or understands it, or repairs it, or completes it, far exceeds mine. Thank heaven somebody on this boat doesn't give up on frustrating puzzles! Here's an example.
Last month we replaced Mersoleil's battery banks with lithium batteries. Most sailors are reluctant to substitute their lead acid or absorbed gel mat batteries with lithium, still of the opinion that it's bleeding edge technology or simply too expensive. Lithium batteries are more expensive than AGMs, but the price is coming down and it seemed like the right choice for us when our eleven month old AGMs died in November (so carefully installed by Robbie, Kevin Butcher and Brian Butcher on Christmas Eve 2016), we decided it was time to switch. Lithium batteries are supposed to have a long life span and are quite happy to be deeply cycled hundreds of times (listen to me!), so in the long run their slightly higher cost generates substantial savings. They weigh a great deal less than conventional batteries. They offer more useable amps per cell than conventional batteries, they occupy much less space than a comparable set of conventional batteries. They are much less inclined to start fires than they were a few years ago. The day of the lithium battery has probably arrived. Well, it has on sailing yacht Mersoleil, anyway.
Alas, there are so many ways in which a new lithium battery installation can go south that it's frightening to ponder! This, I think, is probably the reason so many of our cruising colleagues continue to resist them. The charging regimen is completely different for lithium batteries than for the older types, and the shunts and monitors that are needed to gauge and report their performance, their condition, their state of charge are generally different from anything already familiar. Making the leap to lithium is a daunting prospect. But not for His Robbiness.
He must have developed his excellent research practices in his legal career. Robbie doesn't read the'junk' on new techology, the forum article, for instance, in which one guy asks, "I just bought a new 4JH4TE and its doohicky leaks. Does anybody have experience with leaking doohickies?" And three or four other guys respond, "I don't have a 4JH4TE. I have a 772MRRP. And mine doesn't have any dookickies, but here's what I would do...." Nope. Robbie doesn't read those articles.
He finds the most authoritative technical research on the subject and reads it over and over and over. Eventually what was gibberish on readings one thruogh five begins to make sense to him and eventually he actually understands it. I know this because he uses me as his straight man. He explains it to me until we both understand. (If you really want to learn something, teach it.) Then he finally runs across an expert he knows of and respects, Stan Honey, for example, and he reads everything Stan Hoeny has written about lithium battery systems. "You know," he said to me last week, "Stan Honey refers constantly to two other resources, a guy named Rod Collins and a company called Nordkyne Design, (Go to Sea, Stay at Sea, Live at Sea.) I've already read both of those sources and I thought they were really good. It's reassuring that Stan Honey (who invented the on-field video graphics we see on televised football games, the video lay lines on America's Cup Races and other sporting events) uses them as his gurus." Robbie reads and he studies, I hesitate to use the word obsessively, but... well, enough to eventually gather a glimmering comprehension of yet another thing they did not teach him in law school. By the time he's managed to teach a rudimentary version of this to me, he's really got it mastered.
For three weeksd after our new batteries were installed, he obsessed. He read constantly. He asked me to consider impossible questions to which I said, "Let's call the installer" and to which he replied in the resounding negative. No! He has to figure all this out for himself! (I, on the other hand, think that's what experts are FOR, and I am happy to call for consultation at the drop of a hat.) Robbie must have memorized the entire Balmar 614 auxiliary alternator manual by now. I've seen it next to his coffee cup in the morning, at his desk when he's sitting there, next to his pillow at night, even in the smallest room on the boat! Know what? He's actually got it now! He feels confident that he understands our complicated expensive new battery system, and he has drawn a schematic of a number of small changes he wants to make so the State of Charge will read the same on all three monitors and the amps consumerd since last full charge will all jive, and so a number of other picayune details will meet with his rigorous standards. And it's not just a superficial understanding. I can tell the difference. Robbie really understands this amazing new technology, can tell from a moment's conversation with another litium owner whether the other person uderstand his system or just owns one, and has begun again to sleep soundly at night. Even I, having been only the sounding board, have a fairly comprehensive understanding of our lithum batteries, how they're connected, and their basic care and feeding. And I sleep better, too, knowing that we're not in jeopardy of killing the whole costly system with a single ignorant mistake.
Robbie's tanacity is absolutely amazing to me. It's a quality I completely lack, I can barely fathom it, and I don't even aspire to develop it in myself. But it's indispensible on this boat. And here's another reason I think he's brilliant. He fixed the depth sounder last week after three days of anchoring in waters of unknown depth, a very unnerving experience. We have a tendancy to name things that we consider irreplaceable, things for which we are so deeply appreciative that they're like members of the family. We had never named our depth sounder, though, and after approaching land a few times without one, we understood that not to have named the depth sounder was a matter of grevous oversight. He needed a month or more to master litium battery technology, but Robbie solved this one in a matter of seconds. Meet Johnny Deppth.
We're only 2 days out of Phuket, Thailand, about to sail through the Nicobar Islands. The winds are light, we're not in a hurry, the batteries are happy and we're beside ourselves with excitement about going to India! Life is good.
Where is Mersoleil?
We're in Thailand, about to depart for a ten-day passage to India. Very excited about India! And, yes, we'll tell you all about it here. (I've been on strike since June, when we were dumped off the ferry on the banks of the Mekong River, waiting to hear from you. Please write!)
2017 was a wonderful year for Robbie and me, and for Mersoleil, too! Highlights, large and small, include:
Picking fresh green peppercorns right off the vines in Cambodia
Spending time in beautiful Funchal with my sister, Gretchen, and her friend, Charley
Selecting gorgeous silk scarves in the shops of Hanoi
Robbies brilliant step-down transformer -- air conditioning on 230A shore power!...
Exploring Chiang Mai with our son, Chris Collins
Late night Farkle with Charley and rolling six sixes
Making water kefir and pampering my little colonies
Converting Mersoleil to lithium batteries
Living in bustling, colorful Penang for nearly a year and surviving the heat of SE Asia
Getting over the flu, two or three times apiece
Time with Jody Streepy, who came to Mersoleil from Japan while we were in Europe
Homemade garlic salt, the search is over forever
Finally learning to bloom our coffee... it's all about the bloom
Land travels with friends, Rowland and Miki
Angor Wat, wow
New Years Eve is a fantastic holiday everywhere we go. Last week we bobbed at anchor in Patong Bay with Kevin and Mimi, watching the fireworks on shore and the sky lanterns rising and drifting overhead carrying away everyone's troubles . Next New Years Eve? Cape Town.
And you? (Please excuse the funky punctuation. I don't have a text editor dumb enough to insert an apostrophe. Alas.)
Arrived at Ao Chalong Harbour close to Phuket Town, Thailand on 29 October amidst a blistering, sunny day leaden with humidity. The very heavy humidity should have been our first clue of things to come, but we weren't paying attention as we secured Mersoleil to her anchor in 7 meters on a mud and sand bottom. An hour later the sky to the northeast turned a foul, menacing grayish-black followed shortly by wind rising abruptly to 30 knots and, as they say in Iowa, "there come a gully washer". Torrential rain blotted out all visibility including the location of an unoccupied catamaran anchored about 400 meters away. We stretched out our full length of chain, but held securely and marveled at the enormous lightening display, cascades of rainwater and buffeting winds for about an hour. Then as quickly as it came it left. All good.
We cleared in to Thailand this morning and are now setting off for the Boat Lagoon in Phang Nha Bay where we'll stay for several weeks having some teak work done. Then we're off to explore the west side of Thailand.
Perhaps you thought the person on board Mersoleil with the responsibility of insuring that our two marine toilets are always open and ready to receive and dispose of whatever comes their way could not possibly fall any lower on the organizational chart of dreadful boat chores. You might have thought that, but you?d be wrong. Perhaps you?ve already sensed the whiff of a change afoot from the overly wordy introductory sentence, the use of an irritatingly ambiguous style marked by indirection and the complete absence of facts and details. Perhaps you?ve noted that Bev, lo these many years the sole author of the much-loved series ?Where is Mersoleil? has, in the literary sense, gone missing and not been heard from for months. It is perhaps dawning upon you now that the worst of all possible outcomes has occurre Over the next several weeks I?ll try and fill you in on ?the missing months?, particularly our land travels to Cambodia and Viet Nam.
For the moment I?ll stop here and simply report that we have left Malaysia, if not in the rearview mirror, then at least astern. We are presently under weigh having crossed over into Thailand waters last night and now motor-sailing in light air and sudden rains punctuated by searing sun and enervating humidity which robs one of any, and I repeat ANY, ambition more complicated than labored breathing. Our next anchorage is a lovely marine park called Koh Rok Nok still 30 nautical miles north where we will spend the night and then move on to Phuket, Thailand. And, because inquiring minds want to know, Phuket is pronounced Poo-ket, not Foo-ket.
June 25, Monsoon Bassac Hotel, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Disappointed to realize it was Sunday and that there was no possibility of pleading for corrected visas at the Vietnamese embassy, we were even more sorry to learn it was in fact Saturday and nothing could be done about getting to HCMC until at least Monday morning. We checked back into the hotel, showered and went out for a fantastic dinner at a nearby French bistro.
Now perhaps you understand why I have time to post these entries describing our adventures of the past two weeks. Read on for how we have ended up Cambodian refugees?.
June 24th, at the end of a very short boat ride, in the middle of nowhere.
We left Cambodia today by boat down the Mekong River bound for Ho Chi Minh City. Only thirty minutes into our journey, in one of those amusing twists of fate that make the simplest thing into an adventure and typify the cruising life, Robbie and I were put off the boat at a muddy river bank near a tiny village and handed our bags as we stood on the shore.
Our visas were among the first eVisas issued online by the government of Vietnam and the boat company didn't like the fact that they bore no rubber stamp or wet signature. We'd finally convinced the guy that they were indeed issued by the Vietnamese government, that we had paid money for them and that in an email the nice government people had instructed us to print two copies, one for entry to Vietnam and another for departure and to fold them up and carry them in our passports.
Unfortunately, among many other details we'd had to declare our points of entry to Vietnam, Port of Ho Chi Minh City, and departure, Hanoi Airport, at the time of application and we learned just yesterday of a small logistical error in our trip plan. The Mekong River boat ride does not go to Ho Chi Minh City, it goes only as far as the border at Chau Doc, about 5 hours by fast boat from Phnom Penh. Boat guy called the Vietnamese border police at Chau Doc who begrudgingly agreed that they'd had wind of some sort of online visa, but they were going to deny the Collinses entry to Vietnam based upon the declaration on the visa of the wrong point of entry.
We were offered the choice of getting off the boat here and now, in the middle of nowhere, but not terribly far from Phnom Penh, or being denied entry to Vietnam in the dark five hours from now, also in the middle of nowhere, but a long way from Phnom Penh, and having to figure out a way back to Phnom Penh from there by dark of night. We chose the here-and-now daylight option and were unceremoniously dumped off the bow as the little ferry motored slowly into the muddy river bank and our luggage was handed down to us as the boat backed away with Miki and Rowland still on board, proceeding merrily on the way to Vietnam.
It's a good damn thing we know how to jump off a boat, I thought.
The local villagers who had gathered around to enjoy the unusual sight of a ferry boat landing at their shore now turned their fascinated gaze upon these two elderly white people arriving with rolling bags and hauling them up toward the dirt road. They're probably still talking about it today.
We managed to negotiate a ride with a (the only) local tuk tuk driver who probably rarely sees the capital, stopped at his house so he could pick up his helmet (prudent on his part, but somewhat less than reassuring from our vantage point) and away we went, turning a few moments later onto the highway to Phnom Penh and learning, as we had suspected, that everyone in Cambodian honks their horns at slow tuk tuks on the highways as they shoot past, blasting the tuk tuk, its driver and its passengers with clouds of dirt and diesel exhaust.
If you are ever in this situation (don't laugh, you never know), do remember that it's wise to start out sitting on the narrow seat at the front of the tuk tuk with your back to the direction of travel, and your baggage on the larger softer seat opposite. That way, you won't have to rise and trade places with your luggage, as the tuk tuk bounces over ruts and bumps, when you finally realize why the driver's helmet has a full face guard, that you have none at all, and that you'll have an abundance of dirty grit in your teeth and your eyes long before you reach Phnom Penh. It helps to keep your feet up on the bags, too, reducing the likelihood that they will bounce out onto the highway.
OK, so that was fun. We couldn't help but laugh at this completely unexpected experience, and we arrived back at the Monsoon Bessac Hotel to the (unnecessary) chants of staff, "What are you doing here - you just left!" So that's how our day ended. The Stantons were supposed to arrive at the Vietnamese border station, without visas, around four hours after we were made to walk the plank. South Africans can apparently just present themselves at the border and beg admittance, not so Americans. They'll presumably find a hotel in that border town and make their way to Ho Chi Minh City tomorrow to the accommodations there that are lying empty tonight wondering where we all are.
June 22nd, Prasat Beng Mealea, Svay Leu, Siem Reap Province, Cambodia.
Kamsan arrived quite early this morning, insisting that departure at 07:00 was important, as it would enable us to enjoy his favorite temple before the arrival of the first tour buses full of noisy groups. Prasat Beng Mealea and Koh Ker temple, despite their location some 85km from the Angkor Wat complex, are popular with visitors, breathtaking despite the fact that they are completely unrestored. The only way to see these temples, Beng Mealea, in particular, is to clamber over the toppled stones covered with moss and gripped relentlessly by roots of the strangler figs holding the walls and towers together today. One day the jungle will toss these last walls and towers onto the piles of rubble, but for now Indiana Jones' Temple of Doom stands as you remember it from the movie, filmed not here but on a set built from photos of the real thing.
Awed by the morning stillness, the luxuriant green of mossy stones whose carved surfaces hide behind cloaks of root and lichen, and the rich earthy fragrance of the jungle, we followed Kamsan through the labyrinth of Beng Mealea, taking his hand for assistance over the difficult or slippery bits, feeling what the first European explorers must have experienced when they came upon these temples in the 1860s. There are no plans to restore most of the Angkorian temples in Cambodia. They won't be here for us forever. To experience them now, deep in the jungle, is to glimpse the past and to feel somehow a part of it. It is deeply moving, every bit as moving as standing alongside the mass grave of "166 victims without heads". How can our human race produce both, such beauty, such horror?
June 21, Angkor Wat, Siem Reap Province, Cambodia.
After an eventful six hour drive through the Cambodian countryside in a Lexus SUV swarming with famished mosquitoes, ("I'm so sorry," said the driver, "I took it to the farm last night.") we arrived last evening in Siem Reap, tourism base camp for visitors to the nearby temple complex of Angkor Wat.
Siem Reap resident, Kamsan Sreng, collected us early this morning, indoctrinating us as we drove along (in his own mossie-free vehicle), to the history of the Khmer people, the empire and its kings, four in particular, who built more than 2,000 wats, temples, here between the 6th snd 12th centuries. Our tour began at Angkor Wat itself, the largest temple in the world.
Ankor Wat is surrounded by a moat as wide as most rivers. Originally there was only one causeway leading to the walled temple city from the west. A second causeway now exists on the east side of Angkor Wat, courtesy of the Japanese occupation during WWII, and Kamsan thoughtfully approached from the East, the better to take photos of Angkor Wat with the morning sun over our shoulders. The temple is so huge it's measured in kilometers, not meters or feet (1.5km x 1.3km), and the religious history of the Khmer people is imprinted throughout together with intricate bas relief carvings of the stories of Hindu gods, superimposed with smiling faces of the Buddha, which were later defaced in a resurgence of Hinduism.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Angkor Wat has been lost for millennia at a time, rediscovered, then lost again and recently wrestled back from the tropically jungle and substantially restored. Almost all the temples in this area are carved from sandstone, easy to sculpt, but susceptible to the elements. There's little to no earthquake activity here, but the invasive roots of trees like the banyan tree, Ficus watkinsiana, have forced the stones apart and toppled most of the temple structures. These photos show what "fully restored" looks like. Even so, millions of blocks and carvings still lie strewn about on the ground with handwritten identification numbers indicating where they're fully described in the archaeological catalogs, the tools of all the kings horses and all the kings men, who are still putting Angkor Wat together again.
The religious structures here reflect the priorities of the various kings who commanded their construction. Suryavarman II in the 12th century sought grandeur, constructing Hindu temples of the greatest magnitude including Angkor Wat. Built during the reign of King Rajendravarman in the 10th century, the fine and intricate detail of tiny Banteay Srei has earned it the reputation of Jewel of Angkor Wat. King Jayavarman II, a fervent Buddhist, embarked on an ambitious but slapdash construction program in the late 12th century, hurriedly adding more than 200 structures throughout the area, in a last major wave of Angkorian expansion.
June 19th, Preah Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Along the Phnom Penh riverside, at the Tonle Sap River just before it joins the Mekong, there's a bustling neighborhood of restaurants, bars, shops and tourist attractions lining the water's edge promenade. We took a sunset walk up Preah Sisowath Quay, pausing to watch a happy group of locals engaged in their Sunday evening zumba class, stopped for a cold beer, then resumed our stroll in search of amusement and the Punjabi restaurant where we planned to dine.
A couple of curious little boys at the landscaped edge of the promenade were engaged in serious scrutiny of an irrigation sprinkler head, when one of them made the mistake of pulling the head off its PVC pipe. He leapt back and squealed in guilty amazement as a geyser suddenly shot twenty feet in the air, looked around to see that most of the fifty bystanders had noticed his sin, made a quick instinctive move to run for it, then realized that wasn't going to work, and concluded he really needed to try to put the thing back together. At about the same time, the culprit's mom instructed him to reinsert the sprinkler head, which proved more difficult than expected, he got totally drenched, she made him strip off his little britches (not sure why, they were already soaked), she came reluctantly to his aid and got drenched as well, and between them they were having a dickens of a time getting the city water supply back under control. We laughed till tears nearly filled our eyes, so did everybody around, as the poor little kid tried earnestly, repeatedly, but in vain, to remedy his mistake. After a dozen photos and a good long laugh we turned and continued our walk, unsure to this day if the valiant repair efforts ever met with success.
June 18th, Royal Palace and Silver Temple, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Today Miki, Rowland, Robbie and I strolled the boulevards of Phnom Penh enjoying the happier sights of this bustling city. Signs all over town celebrate the 83rd birthday of the Queen Mum, who waves gaily from billboard sized portraits. For a small fee one can tour the walled grounds of the Royal Palace in the company of a knowledgeable guide explaining which buildings house the government offices, where the royal elephants were stabled and how high one must climb to achieve the saddle for a parade through the city, where the king actually lives, the waving blue flag indicating that he is in residence today, and whose royal cremains are interred in which royal stupa.
Unforgettable, for me, was a comment made by 'Rith, the nice gentleman who guided us through the grounds of the Royal Palace this morning. He was seven years old at the time of the Khmer Rouge and, forced to work in the rice fields, nearly died of starvation before a transfer to labor in the potato fields saved his life. There he could steal yams to eat. I had asked 'Rith if his home was still standing in 1979 when he and other surviving members of his family returned to Phnom Penh.
"Oh," he said, "I don?t know. We could live anywhere, pick any house we wanted. The city was empty. Everyone was dead." Today 'Rith proudly ushers tourists through the Royal Palace grounds and its stunning Silver Temple, where his king worships before a golden Buddha, one of hundreds of artistic masterpieces enshrined there. This life sized gold Maitreya Buddha is decorated with more than 9,000 diamonds, with one at the center of Buddha's crown weighing in at greater than 25 carats.
'Rith loves his country, says things are better now, though the government is still corrupt if no longer murderous, and is grateful that the Khmer Rouge did not destroy the Royal Palace compound. They preserved it for diplomatic purposes, even the temples, to demonstrate to the world their benign stewardship of the country, while secretly, at the killing fields, they "smashed" her people by the hundreds every day for four years.
After fleeing Cambodia in 1979, Pol Pot and his small band of Communists continued in exile to rule Cambodia for nearly twenty years, officially recognized by the West, even belonging to the UN, until the late 90s. It is beyond my comprehension how the United States, so quick to intrude in the affairs of other countries, could have turned a blind eye to the atrocious crimes of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia.
June 17th, The Killing Fields, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Mersoleil is tucked safely into Straits Quay Marina while we visit Cambodia and Vietnam. Well, while we visit Cambodia, anyway, but more anon on that subject.
Four nights in Phnom Penh have given us a remarkable opportunity to appreciate the gentle resiliency of the Cambodian people. I'd heard about the Khmer Rouge, (they say "k'mai ROO") and I knew that atrocities had been committed in Cambodia during the days of the Vietnam War, but the scale and the horror of these events had completely escaped my grasp, as had the fact that they had nothing at all to do with the war. In fact, they were inflicted by Cambodians upon their fellow countrymen in the name of creating a national utopia.
During the latter half of the 1970s, at least 2 million Cambodians were imprisoned, tortured, then systematically murdered by a gang of Communist thugs who had the idea that only laborers and farmers should be allowed to live in the perfect Cambodian society - and everyone else should be eliminated. Educated people, those who lived in cities, the affluent, intellectuals, people who wore eyeglasses, dressed stylishly, or had soft hands, children, and those of any celebrity at all were forced into prisons across the country, trucked to the "killing fields" that we've all heard about, then beaten, stabbed or hacked to death with any tool at hand, bullets being too expensive, at the very edges of mass graves where they could conveniently topple in. By the millions.
The Killing Fields near Phnom Penh (just one of more than 80 sites around the country) and the associated Choeung Ek Genocidal Center museum provide sobering testament to the horrors committed in this country from 1975 to 1979, and our visit, afterwards, to just one of the prisons, S-21, a former Phnom Penh high school, was unbearably moving.
Exhibits at S-21 were so dreadfully explicit that I could not even bring myself to view them. I completely avoided the interrogation rooms where torture equipment remains in place, accompanied by instructive descriptions and photos of innocent, emaciated, dead Cambodians.
May 6 Limbongan Batu Maung Sdn. Bhd., Penang, Malaysia
With apologies for delayed reports of our adventures, and all the typos and volunteer characters that magically litter some postings, today we're giving you a summary of our activities all the way back to early February.
Since arriving in Penang on January 27th, we've been as busy as ever. What happened to the idea of cruising as a leisurely retirement? I think, as Humphrey Bogart said in Casablance, "I was mishinformed."
Four days ago we delivered Mersoleil to LBM Shipyard for bottom paint, repairs of several little gelcoat imperfections, repacking of the rudder post, refinishing of teak window frames that have taken about as much UV as they can tolerate and a few other odds and ends of skilled labour that they didn't teach Robbie in law school. The initial plan to live aboard the boat while on the hard fell victim to a sudden realization that we couldn't run the air conditioning while out of the water. We were game for the other inconveniences that go along with hauling a yacht for three or four weeks, not running water between 8AM and 5 PM, climbing up and down a twelve foot ladder, living with the inevitable dirt and chaos of projects underway, but no air conditioning, in this bloody hot climate, was a deal breaker. We've rented a nice little condo in Georgetown, and a small car, and I'm spending every day at the shipyard making decisions, answering questions and being a nudge while Robbie drives all over the island running the errands that have been piling up because they're so difficult to complete without a vehicle.
Clapping guy and the beagle are on their own for a few weeks. (See earlier postings.)
With a little luck, we'll be back in the water on May 18th, return Mersleil to Straits Quay, then return ourselves to our cool and spacious Georgetown digs for ten days of sightseeing and local exploring. Today, though, and six days per week until the work is finished, we're rising at 5:30, out the door by 7:00 and I'm sitting all day in a yacht that feels like a steam room, studying my Portuguese, approving gelcoat colour matches and writing to you.
Are we all right? We couldn't possibly be better! Life is good.
April 23 Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
On Saturday afternoons I volunteer with the local branch of a worldwide NGO at their Georgetown office and activity center. As the only native speaker assisting with their children's English Reading Group, it's hard for me to keep my mouth shut and not to apply my own cultural biases to the way the children are being taught. After Navire , for example, sounds out every word to me in a monotone, following her index finger across and down page 24, word by word, I ask her, "Now! Tell me, Navire. What story did you just read to yourself?"
In response, Navire raises her sweet brown black eyes to me in a totally blank stare. And she can 'read' fairly well, if with a bit of a sing song, rattling off the words about Peter and Jane and their dog, Pat, and Daddy and the tree house as if she actually knows what information those words impart. But she does not comprehend the words and it hasn't even occurred to her that there is meaning behind them. Malaysian schools teach strictly by rote. If the child can successfully utter the words printed on the page, the faster the better, the task has been completed successfully. Comprehension? Education? Nah, just a performance!
When it's up to me to create a game, or teach a song, or organize an activity, I try to make English fun for the kids, no mean feat since they range in age from 5 to 13 and have a diverse range of English skills. I've taught them to play My Father Owns a Grocery Store, which they loved, except the father had to own a wet market instead of a grocery store. I had trouble guessing what he sold there. The two-word vegetable beginning with L, for instance, turned out to be lady fingers, which I'd have never guessed. I thought that was okra, and it begins with O.
On the Saturday before Labor Day when our topics were Labor Day and Occupations, I played the alphabet game with them, inviting them to help fill in a blank line on the white board for each letter of the alphabet. "Who can think of an occupation that begins with the letter K?" Somebody shouted out a suggestion, but I declined to accept "killer," insisting that we could find a better K profession than that and another child helpfully suggested "king." Much better. King lead us nicely to an occupation for the dreaded Q and we were off! The game evolved into the stretching up and enthusiastic waving of arms amid cries of "Oooh! Teacher! I have one!" O was problematic so I acted out an O profession for them to guess, or I tried to. My wailing vibrato failed to elicit the occupation of opera singer, but they got a huge kick out of my wandering high note. I have no talent for song, but I am convinced that if you're willing to make an ass of yourself in front of kids, they'll love it and will respond by growing more comfortable and more interested in the lesson.
By the time we'd listed 26 occupations on the board, we had a nice collection of literary careers - writer, author, journalist, poet - and some medical ones as well - doctor, nurse, x-ray technician and radiologist. I admit that radiologist was my contribution after I'd had to reject "rabbit" three times. At least one child did not seem to get the drift of this occupation business.
Having become accustomed through my own travels to a wide variety of English accents, so many that I actually rarely notice them anymore, except for the harsh American "err" in mother, brother, other. We haven't been seeing many Americans lately, and we're now aware of how much the American accent grates on the ears of many other English speakers. I can accept a lot of different English pronunciations, for the letter R, for example. But I hear the kids mimicking strange and new pronunciations exactly as vocalized by their well-intentioned SE Asian teachers and wonder how far they're going to get, with such strong accents, in conversation with a fluent English speaker. I suppose my Spanish is mangled in the very same way, my high school Spanish teacher having been an American man.
I'm studying Portuguese right now using the Michel Thomas CDs, in which a British woman instructs two presumably-British students, and a man from Lisboa, his the unimpeachable example of correct Portuguese diction and inflection, repeats each response after the student. On visits to Portugal in the past Robbie and I found that we could read the newspapers but, to our great surprise, we could understand not a single word of spoken Portuguese, not one! Now I understand. And I'm trying hard to listen carefully and get my 'oo's and 'uush's right so the Portuguese will understand me.
April 7 Straits Quay, Penang, Malaysia
We continue to revel in the people-watching at Straits Quay. Eastern & Oriental Corporation wisely, thoughtfully, constructed a 3km waterfront promenade passing through the marina and along the rest of their Penang development at Tanjung Tokong, still in process after some twenty years of continued development. The lovely walk attracts joggers, early morning walking enthusiasts, lovers, teens taking selfies and families with children learning to ride their bicycles or scooters, skates or Segways.
Slugs that we are, Robbie and I sit in the cockpit early in the morning staring, as others burn off calories on their daily constitutionals. There's the exercise guy who makes a daily stop in front of Mersoleil to perform twenty each of dozens of creative moves. He kicks back into the air behind his butt, shadow boxes, swings his arms in many different directions, marches in place, and more, and we remark upon what great ideas he has, we'd have never thought of that one, as we continue to sit unmoving but for chinning our coffee mugs.
There's the cute beagle whose passage by Mersoleil inspires Robbie to announce daily that he wants a dog, a beagle. He, the beagle, is always quiet and adorable early in the morning, but this does not fool me. (Well, so is Robbie, and neither does that.) I know he's just not awake yet. And every Wednesday we hear the approaching drone of a far off gas-powered fogging machine that pollutes the air with pesticide, protects us from malaria and Dengue fever, and instantly induces in me childhood memories of my dad fogging the yard with our lawn mower before we held outdoor parties.
We flee indoors early on Wednesdays as his fog begins to roll across the marina.
"Clapping guy" was initially the only person who clapped his hands as he walked along, swinging both arms in time to his brisk step, first before him, clap, then behind, clap, then forward again. This clapping business must have been featured on the good-for-your-health spot on the morning news or something, because in our brief tenure at berth S7 we have observed not only clapping guy, a white-haired Chinese gentleman, tall and lanky for his race, but also a young dark-haired clapping guy who has elected to clap only in front, and a few clapping ladies whose aerobic behavior is less devoted. They only clap sporadically when they are not busy chatting with their friends. Unmoved be their exuberance, we only sit and sip, sit and sip, and revisit each morning the question of whether to sail next year through the Red Sea or around the Cape of Good Hope.
March 20 Straits Quay, Penang, Malaysia (Pulau Pinang to the locals, Beetle nut island.)
Chickens seem to provide us a source of endless amusement. Years ago we wondered why thighs and legs were available everywhere in Tonga, huge bags of them, frozen and fresh, but whole chickens were hard to come by and chicken breasts nowhere to be found. We'd observed the same in French Polynesia, and Fiji and Vanuatu. Despite supposing that the breasts were sold at higher profit to first world countries like New Zealand, that being the only plausible explanation we could imagine, we joked that there must be a lot of breastless chickens running around the South Pacific.
Soraya, my favourite taxi driver in Phuket, drives me from Phuket Yacht Haven to the Tesco supermarket where, rather than waiting for me in the car park or grabbing another fare while I shop, she comes into the store with me, helps me find the items on my list, interprets labels that I cannot read and asks dumb questions on my behalf in fluent Thai, thus improving my chances of obtaining an answer.
Standing next to me as I stared one afternoon at an industrial-sized bin of pink and yellow chicken feet on ice, Soraya said to me, "You know, sometimes they sell the heads and feet together. We call those walkie talkies."
Every once in a while I ask Robbie if he wants walkie talkies for dinner. So far, no orders.
Not to be outdone by the Thai walkie talkies, I've noticed that my preferred market in Malaysia sells Bishop's noses. Bishop's noses. These were altogether new to me. I took a picture of them with my phone and, per subsequent Internet research, learned that they are that thing that I feared they might be, the thing that I always throw away, that hangs down.... Well, your research will provide you, too, with more than you need to know.
Bishop's noses, or Pope's noses as they are sometimes known in higher ecclesiastical circles, are not going on the menu any time soon, certainly not before walkie talkies, anyway.
March 13, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Founded in 1296 as the ruling center of the Lanna Kingdom, Chiang Mai, grew to become the religious and artistic capital of Thailand's Northern mountains, enjoying a deep sense of its unique 700 year old identity. Still isolated today by its distance from Bangkok, Chiang Mai proudly maintains her rich cultural heritage and, at 1,000 feet above sea level, the town offers a refreshing escape from the tropical heat of the coasts and the central plains. We flew there with Chris Collins for several days, leaving Mersoleil at Phuket.
Thanks to the efforts of 90,000 13th century labourers, Chiang Mai's old town is still enclosed today by thick sepia brown brick walls with imposing city gates. Inside one finds shops, restaurants, temples, museums, homes, parks and all, much of it very very old.
We were lucky enough to reserve a week's stay at an AirBnB just a stone's throw from the North Gate, from whence we could explore the City and its dozens of carved wood temples, museums, government buildings, markets and hawker stalls with ease. Lucky not only because the house was comfortable and well-located, but because the owners are amoung the most charming people we've ever met, they have become dear friends and we're looking forward to visiting them again at their 'real home' before we leave SE Asia next year.
"Apple" and "Jack" prepared meals for us, arranged private tours to visit the gardens of the Northern Thai Royal Palace and steep mountainside villages of the hill tribes, and reserved a private Thai cooking class for me at an organic rice farm some thirty minutes by train outside of Chiang Mai. They feted us at their own favourite local restaurant, introduced us to the best street food in town, told me about - nay delivered me to a market stall where the luscious silk shawls I wanted were available in twice the colours at half the price I'd seen elsewhere, and they most genially invited us to call them Apple and Jack rather than Patcharaporn Yawong and Suranjith Ariyapperuma, names which I still cannot utter fluently. Our expectations were so far exceeded on this delightful field trip inland that we can't imagine how the next excursion could possibly measure up to our March visit to Chiang Mai.
February 27 Phuket, Thailand We sailed back up to Thailand in late February to meet son, Chris Collins, who came from America with his friend Nick to see Thailand and, we like to think, to visit us. We took a quick tour of scenic Phang Nga Bay's most stunning karst islands, and after two islands, Chris confided that he wanted to see Thailand, "after all I've come all this way to see Thailand, I really ought to see Thailand." Of course, what he meant was, "take me to the touristy places where I can meet girls from all over the world." We complied, resisting the urge to say, "but this IS Thailand!" How much we change in the years between thirty and seventy....
It was a pleasure to spend time with Chris. He's fun and interesting, things you often fail to notice in your kid until he grows up and you have finally accepted him as an adult, and he's involved in a really fascinating profession. As a marine biologist, Chris accompanies Alaskan fishing boats for months at a time, doing research on their catch and logging statistical data on fishing practices and fish populations. Great stories.
Robbie and I send our very best Happy Birthday wishes to our precious friends, Koji Nakao in the United States, Derek Stembridge in New Zealand, and Kevin Pool in Thailand!
Yesterday, in celebration of your birthdays, we visited the Kek Lok Si Hokkien Chinese Buddhist Temple nestled at the base of Penang Hill in Air Itam, a close-in suburb of Georgetown. Neither of us actually thought we'd make it to the top, but we managed to climb the 500 stairs and were rewarded by a fantastic temple complex decorated in all its Chinese New Year regalia and featuring not hundreds or thousands, but millions of figures and images of the Buddha. Construction continues today, one hundred and twenty five years after the completion of the first temple hall.
Filling the next ten months with boat projects, land travel to other parts of SE Asia and devouring the delights of Penang and its colonial heart, Georgetown, we've taken a berth at Straits Quay Marina and expect to remain here most of the time until November.
With so much to see and do in Penang, fantastic dining, shopping, and cultural opportunities such as we haven't seen in years, this seems like the perfect spot to relax for a while.
Robbie won a great victory shortly after our arrival with the huge, heavy, black, scary looking step-down transformer he had ordered from America. Not even certain that it would work, he has magically assembled new cords and plugs and connected it in such a way that the 230A/50Hz power at the dock comes out of Mersoleil's electrical outlets at 110A/60Hz. We have air conditioning now without running the generator, we can wash and dry a load of clothes, and run the water heater, perhaps not all at the same time, but, hey, one needn't have everything.
Delighted to be in Penang, enjoying the fireworks every night (Chinese New Year goes on well into its first month!) we have found the place to feather our nest for the next several months and we love it here.
Koh Phi Phi Don is the most popular tourist hotspot in the entire Phuket area, so we went there just to find out why none of our friends like it. Now we understand.
If we were 22 years old, carrying everything we own on our backs, wanted to dine on $4 per day and preferred loud music and late hours to bird calls and a good night's snooze.... why, then Phi Phi Don would be just the ticket! One night there was sufficient, we loitered for two, and then, rather than stopping at nearby Maya Bay under grey skies, we began to make our way south back to Malaysia. Maya Bay will still be there next time we sail up to Thailand.
We'll collect a package waiting for us at the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club and have lunch with Kevin Pool, then we'll make straight for Penang and Chinese New Year on the 27th.
With an eye toward our preparations for the jump to Sri Lanka next northern winter, we're interviewing marinas in Thailand. We've stopped at Krabi Boat Lagoon on the Thai mainland for provisions and to check out the area. It's a beautiful marina with a spacious concrete paved hardstand, two excellent restaurants, pool, Thai massage service, potable water and rental cars available, a good thing since the nearest Tesco supermarket is 30 minutes away. The manager, Ben Macrory, will do anything to make his customers happy. The water on the east side of Phang Nga Bay is cleaner, clearer, bluer than that on the west side, but really, it's not crystal clear and this alone is not enough to get us to spend two months there toward the end of the year. We have a reservation at Phuket Yacht Haven and watch this space eight months from now. We'll probably choose to prepare for the Indian Ocean passages over at Phuket.
Several years ago an Indie Film Festival was staged inside the hong at Koh Kudu Yai. They constructed floating platforms right on the water and projected the movies on a screen with the cliffs as backdrops. We're not sure they're doing this anymore, the construction and removal of the structure being such an elaborate venture, but we had to come have a look. We're considering being back up here in mid-March, the time they'll hold the festival, if at all, and thought we'd scope out the location.
Honestly, this is the last time we're taking Mersoleil across water that's only seven or eight feet deep. It's simply too hard on the nerves! But now, having crossed the shallowest parts of the navigable Bay, and I use that term loosely, we'll be able to ride deeper channels back south over the next several days. Most cruisers never come up here, so high into the Bay, but we took the challenge and, whew, we made it!
A highlight of visiting the Kudu Yai anchorage was that we happened to stop to greet the crews of the other two cruising yachts anchored there, something that's always fun, though we don't always make the effort. The first boat was a rental catamaran occupied by seven young Americans who travel together once each year, always to someplace interesting. They were interesting, themselves, two young women working in Kenya for a waste management company, a long-haired guy in sunnies who looks more like a rock musician than a man who's just completed his PhD in robotics and is celebrating his accomplishment, and a captain (the only one on board who knew how to sail) whose curly black hair was very recently spruced up with a wide bright red mohawk plus a couple of patches in yellow and electric blue. And they thought what WE are doing is unusual! The second yacht contained Aussie cruisers Chris and Phil, good friends with Peter and Cheryl Ainsworth, whom we met in 2012 in French Polynesia while they were still cruising their Hylas 49, Stolen Kiss.
Only a short run from the village of Pan Yi, Koh Deang Yai provides another scenic overnight stop. The distance is short, but it's an unnerving route crossing such shallow waters that we probably dredged a little furrow with the keel as we passed by James Bond Island, named for the filming there of The Man with the Golden Gun.
An afternoon dinghy exploration gave us some remarkable close-up views of the island and further demonstrated how shallow are the northern waters of Phang Nga Bay. Doggie's outboard only draws about 18" and we got stuck on the sandbar numerous times trying to enjoy the island from all sides. Still, it's a beautiful spot and we had it all to ourselves.
At the head of Phang Nga Bay the waters shallow very gradually to muddy flats and mangrove forests surrounding the karst sea mountains that jut impressively into the sky. One of these sea mountains, named Koh Pan Yi, has virtually no level ground, nothing even remotley useable, but a thriving fishing village of 1.500 has grown up there anyway. The community of Pan Yi is populated by Sunni Muslim fishermen and their families and they've overcome the absence of terrain by building their entire village on stilts above the water. Pan Yi has its own school, a health clinis, a floating football pitch, a mosque, a few restaurants and lots of souvenir kiosks, tourism having surpassed fishing as the major income source for the village. We arrived on the morning high tide, anchored east of the village, lunched at one of the restaurants and wandered for two or three hours exchanging warm greetings with the friendly peopleand declining over and over again to buy pearls and elephant pants. Sitting in the cockpit at sundown, mesmerized by the erie sound of the call to prayer echoing once, twice, thrice against the mountain before it wafted out across the water, Robbie and I agreed Pan Yi is indeed unique and remarkable. We've never seen anything like it. Glad we came. Bev
Only a couple of miles from last night's anchorage, Koh Hong has such a spectacular enclosed room (the hong) that the island is named for it. In mid-afternoon, despite the fact that tour boats were still dropping people off by the score, we paddled Doggie into the hong through a cave opening into a lagoon on one side and out into the open Bay on the other. Inside the cave is a pool about 35 meters in diameter whose ceiling opens through a natural chimney to the sky. Stalactites cling to the ceiling of the cave and we had to dodge them as we paddled Doggie through the caves and into the hong on a low, but rising, tide. We're both pitiful at paddling Doggie. It's an inflatible dinghy with a rigid bottom and has oars, such as they are, and even oarlocks. Actually we should be rowing, but in a place as small as the hong, there's no room for error and going backwards would have just created a game of bumper cars with the kayaks. Instead, we both took an oar and used them like canoe paddles to propel Doggie forward, punting when necessary in the shallowest spots, and both facing forward so we could enjoy the amazing scene. No bats in these caves, we noted with disappointment.
The anchorage we selected was tucked into the curve of a high sheer rock face, sheltered on the other side by another towering sea mountain. We took a vote and have declared this spot the most beautiful place we have ever seen, knocking the Moorea Belvidere and the view from our home in West Seattle to numbers 2 and 3. Between us Robbie and I must have uttered the word "wow" at least twenty times today. It's so incredible that we've decided to stay two nights just to soak in the beauty.
This place inspired me to get out the instructions for my new camera again and figure out how to download photos so I can show it to you. If you're a Mersoleil subscriber reading these postings in the email sent to you by the YIT system, next time you must click on the link and go directly to the Mersoleil page where you can see the photos and the satellite image of our position.
This is our first anchorage in Phang Nga Bay and we're nestled up to the west side of Koh Phanak near the hong (Chinese for room), busy with tourists paddling in and out on kayaks. As we prepared to lower Doggie into the water the rains returned in full measure and we bailed on the idea of exploring. There will be other koh and other hongs for us.
We've decided to do something we usually avoid, visit several different spots around the Bay, spending only a single night in each. Some cruisers do this habitually. For us it's exhausting and denies us the opportunity to grow familiar with a place, to meet the people, to know if that bird sings every night, to learn the rhythm of the tides and currents. But in this case, we're interviewing Thailand, trying to gauge how much time to save for our return visits here later in the year. That and it's so unbelievably beautiful here that we can't resist running from one spot to another cooing and exclaiming, "Ooh! Look at that!"
Koh Lipe (I resist the temptation to add the word island, since Koh already says that) exceeded our hopes and there we remained for three nights, checking into the country at the beachfront Customs and Immigration office and finding beach landings with Doggie1 not too onerous if one plans for the tides and doesnt end up with 400 lbs. of small boat and outboard motor high and dry a long haul from waters edge.
Waiting till late afternoon diminished the heat of the sun, we went ashore yesterday, strolling down the walking street, its blue and white painted pavement friendly to bare feet and scattered with powdery sand tracked up from the beach by the hundreds of visitors enjoying the island this week. Packed with shops, restaurants, bars, tourist information kiosks, money changers and travel agents, the walking street was an event unto itself, barely a mile long, but crowded with people from all over the world and filled with just about anything they might wish to eat, drink, smear on their sunburn or take home to family. Even with all this retail splendor, the businesses named above were all outshone in number and probably in sales as well, by the Thai Massage shops, each strategically located within 20 meters of the next, so that the call of a womans voice, often two or even three at once, hawking mah saaaahhj? seemed to set the beat for the music of the island.
Robbie and I wandered up and down enjoying the people watching as much as the menus and colorful stores till we paused at a place where the call massage? was heard at the same time from both sides of the street and he said to me, You should have a foot massage. What a great idea, I thought! Where? And he guided me to the shop on our right open to the street, decorated with a small garden, the relaxing sounds of water dribbling over stones and where two knock-off Eames lounge chairs with ottomans sat on a platform facing the street. One chair was occupied by a lady having a pedicure and, in my opinion, wasting her time on the Internet with her hand phone, and I was invited after washing the beach sand off my feet to take the other. I discovered happily that the chair reclined and as I pressed it back, the proprietor placed a sarong over me, covering me from neck to knee. To keep me warm, I wondered? Lord knows I didnt need that. But I accepted the courtesy, figured there must be some reason for it, and just allowed things to go along as they may.
After only a few minutes massaging my right foot, the therapist, a tiny skinny brown woman with the strongest hands in the universe, moved to my left and I thought with some disappointment,