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 very the 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, "Aid Mubarek Said!" and everyone got excited and started Aid Mubarek Saiding 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.
To learn more about our passage, check out www.yit.nz/yacht/mersoleil. We don't post daily updates, but unless we're tired or in crisis we get some bit of news up there every couple of days while on passage so our family will understand we still live..
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.
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