Having had a fantastic leaving party at the Hardway Sailing Club on July 23rd 2006, it seemed to become extremely difficult to actually leave Portsmouth Harbour and all our lovely friends behind…..
We had planned to start our big adventure with Roger’s granddaughter, Danielle, on board to sail down to Plymouth to meet up with his daughter, Kate, so that they could both enjoy sailing in the West Country for a week. Unfortunately, we were still awaiting various spares/engine parts when we were due to have left for Devon (this seems to be par for the course). Never mind, Kate joined us in Portsmouth and we sailed down to Weymouth and pottered around the Solent for a few days instead. Once we had dropped them both off in Lymington, it was back to Gosport for our last minute fixes. (Thanks to Steve Jupp for all his help and advice).
Eventually, when we could prolong our departure no longer, despite all the very kind offers of fantastic meals from various friends who seemed to feel sorry for us (especially thanks to Jane & Malc who not only fed us but also let us use their shower whenever we arrived at their home), we left Gosport on August 22nd and made our way down to Falmouth in Cornwall so that we could relax and say “We’ve done it – we are now official Boat Bums”. We enjoyed a lovely few days anchored in the River Fal, we met up with our good friend, Colin, at the RCYC for 1 or 2 beverages (resulting in a slight wobble down the hill on our way back to the Boat), another friend, Alan Thoy, made the 4 hour trip down from Bristol to see us and say ‘bon voyage’ and we finally got our steering cables replaced (many thanks to Mary at SeaFit in Falmouth for completing a speedy job despite the reluctance of the supplier to provide the correct cables first time round !)
After 2 weeks, we left Falmouth on September 8th thinking we had got the weather just right for the 430 mile trip to cross Biscay to La Coruna in Spain. As always, fate plays a hand and the initial Easterly winds (which were playing havoc with both Vicki and Mish’s stomachs) decided to become Southerlies – right on the nose. We went West, we went East and after 3 days zig-zagging in Biscay with the Dolphins we decided to chug the last 100 miles. Sod’s Law, during the night, we managed to get something wrapped around our propeller causing the shaft coupling bolts to shear - Back to zig-zagging!! The wind was still coming from the South and now very light. We managed to cover just 90 miles in the next 48 hours (ie very slowly). In the end, we decided to detour to Ria De Vivero, 50 miles East of La Coruna, as we could sail in and anchor. Typically, we arrived at night with South West gusts at 40 knots and the Ria looked very dark! We hoved to until the morning and then happily tacked our way in to the Ria ensuring that we both undertook more than our daily share of exercise!!
Luckily for us, Roger’s brother Graham lives relatively nearby in Ferrol and speaks Spanish so, not only did he treat us to our first proper meal in 7 days, he was also able to assist us in getting towed into the local marina (which possesses a Boat hoist) and arranging for a Mechanic to look at our Engine bolts. A relatively easy job but - as always in Spain - Manana is the key word. Back to awaiting parts and 5 days later we were still enjoying the Beach Bars ...............
Eventually, after 10 days of waiting, the Mechanic returned with our new Engine "bit" which was duly fitted……. more waiting then required for the Boat to be lifted out so that we could check the Propeller. Luckily for us, Patricia (Graham’s Girlfriend) was on hand to gently (not!!) persuade the Marina Capitaine that we really couldn’t suffer any further delays and he very reluctantly made the arrangements at 7pm!!!! Surprisingly, nothing visible remained on the Prop so we assumed that whatever had caused the damage (possibly a Giant Octopus!!) had floated off whilst we had continued across the bay. Overall, our extended stay in Vivero was very enjoyable and our mechanic extremely helpful even though he couldn’t speak a word of English and there was always much arm waving going on between him and Roger whenever they got together to discuss the intricacies of the Engine!
We finally left Vivero on 27th September to commence our tour of the Spanish Rias initially anchoring in Cedeira for 4 days where we thought it would be a good idea to empty and clean our fuel tanks - we had noticed rather a lot of sludge passing through the filters and didn’t want any further Engine difficulties. Having done this, we dinghied to shore to investigate where we could get Fuel. On the outskirts of the Town, we eventually found a Garage where we purchased 30 Litres. Luckily for us, when we were ready to carry this back the 2 miles or so to the Port, a friendly local offered to drop us back in his car – If we had only known, we would have bought more! An interesting discussion took place en route to the Port when Roger tried to explain in very loud English with a heavy Spanish accent that our "fuel was very dirty" and couldn’t understand what all the resultant giggling was about !
From Cedeira, we left for Coruna and picked a very wet day to make the 25 mile trip. Visibility was so poor that when we were looking at the Port Hand Entrance Marker on arrival we actually thought it was a manic Windsurfer on drugs the way it was moving so erratically. It was only when we were safely tucked into our marina berth that we checked the Pilot Book and realised what we had seen!
Onwards through the Rias, we stopped at Camarinas, Arosa and Pontevedra on our way to Bayona (arriving 09/10/2006) – all very pretty we imagine in the Summer but we seemed to be attracting all the Clouds and wet weather. In Camarinas,we had fun trying to anchor - after 5 failed attempts, we were very pleased to have an Electric Windlass!! We pulled up so much weed and even a pair of knickers from the sea bed whilst trying to get a good holding and eventually when the anchor bit into a nice sand bed, we realised that we had ended up downwind of a Fish Factory - lovely smells for Mish but not quite how we imagined our evening in the pretty anchorage!!! We have now decided that we need to move South quickly and get some sunshine.
Having spent a couple of days in Bayona, we sailed to Viano do Castelo where we spent a couple of days before moving on down to Porto to taste the Port whilst waiting for a good Northerly wind to help us go South ……
We were planning to visit Madeira but our stay in Porto has been extended due to a series of nasty weather fronts which we have been hiding from. Whilst we have wiled away the time being Tourists and sampling the fine Port when trying to keep out of the rain, we now definitely need sunshine !!!!
We are finally leaving Porto today (26th October).... at last after 2 weeks!!!! We are heading for Tenerife (about 850 miles) and skipping Madeira.
Porto, Portugal to Santa Cruz, Tenerife
Whilst the staff at Leixoes Marina were very friendly, as it was next to the main Shipping Port, it was very dirty and this, coupled with the storms and gales, made the whole place a tad gloomy. Furthermore, there is only so much Port you can keep tasting and after nearly 2 weeks of miserable weather we were going stir crazy trying to get away from the Marina and back out to Sea.
Having studied the weather forecasts on an hourly basis, we decided to leave on Thursday 26 October. We restocked our fridge and got ourselves stowed and ready to go. As we were not coast hopping like our neighbours, but aiming to go straight to the Canaries non-stop, we did not leave at the crack of dawn and had a nice lie-in – our last one for a while…. By the time we were up and ready to untie, 5 of the 6 yachts who had left between 6 and 7am had returned to their berths advising us that the sea swells were still huge and the wind still coming from the SW – not good for us as we were heading that way so yet another day passed us by…..
Finally escaped Leixoes Marina after 2 weeks on Friday 27 October and set sail on our 841 mile trip to Tenerife. We were hoping to average 100 miles per day and arrive by 5 November. However, this was not to be. In our first 3 days we managed to get just 223 miles towards our destination but with initial light NW winds shifting to NE and then SE, we thought this wasn’t too bad a start. In the next 24 hours we only managed to reduce our journey by a disappointing 3 miles although it was nice and sunny !!!!! At this rate, we thought we would never get there.
Before leaving Leixoes we had agreed that now we were “Proper Cruisers” we would sail everywhere and only use our Engine for entering/leaving marinas and charging our batteries. However, having been becalmed for 36 hours, now seemed to be a good time to run the engine for a while and try to knock off some miles and find some wind. We managed 71 miles that day having been under engine for 8 hours.
With 545 miles still to go after 5 days, we had another slow day but in the late afternoon the wind perked up and by 10pm we had 38 knots of SW wind over the deck and were caught up in a nasty thunderstorm. An unpleasant night sail and with 2 reefs in the main and mizzen and our staysail hoisted, rather than our genoa, we managed to make little progress to the South. This storm was followed by a Southwesterly breeze. This was great for drying out all our wet gear but the bearing to Tenerife was 206 and the best course that we could manage was 150 (We would mention here that any reference to Jan & Ken Mizzen is entirely coincidental!!!!!). This was frustrating as, whilst we were having a great sail, we only managed to cover 34 miles in the right direction over the next 24 hours. We were beginning to wonder where the Portuguese Northern trade Winds had gone as we had had wind from the Southerly quadrant for 80% of our journey !
After 8 days we finally hit the half way mark and, as if they knew we were celebrating, we were joined by a School of Dolphins who swam along playing next to us for quite some time. Unfortunately Mish slept through this so missed their antics and a meeting face to face which was probably a good thing as he would definitely have been the most scared…….
We had been eating very well all trip with no Sea Sickness and our fresh food was lasting even longer than we had hoped. Luckily, Vicki had catered for a lot longer than a 10 day trip so we knew that we wouldn’t starve and we did also have enough tinned food in reserve to keep us going for some months (in fact, it could probably keep an army going for quite a while….). Funnily enough, the thing we both missed most (and almost craved) was cake – not sure why as we never used to have any at home…..definitely on the shopping list before our Atlantic crossing together with lots of biscuits !!!!
At last, with 248 miles still to go, the wind veered to W/NW (force 2/3) and we were actually able to sail completely in the right direction albeit initially at only 2.5 knots….. Hurrah ! We also saw our first whale which passed us so quickly that we were not able to get any photos – all we could hear was it blowing behind us….
Yet again, Mish missed all the excitement. He seemed to become nocturnal during the trip – sleeping most of the day (sunbathing when he could) and then going for a stroll around the deck once it was dark (which was stressful for all concerned). He was also quite sweet with the night watches and would get up every now and then to check whoever was on duty was ok. Well, we like to think this was the case although he did always get fed on these occasions so maybe he only checked on us when he was hungry !!
On Monday 6 November after 10 days at Sea (by which time we had initially thought we would have safely arrived) the wind veered to a fresh Northeasterly (force 5/6) and we were sailing on the right course at about 6 knots… wonderful. Unfortunately, these easy sails don’t last and as the wind speed rapidly started increasing it was time to put in a reef. Just at this point, the weld on the gooseneck decided to give way. We lashed the boom to the mast and reduced the main by 3 reefs to at least provide some steadiness to our motion as our head sail was now doing all the work. We were still moving in the right direction at 5 knots and managed to cover 93 miles within 24 hours (our best yet on this trip).
For the next 36 hours, we had a great sail lazing in the sunshine with E/NE winds (F 4/5) and we finally saw land in the early hours of Thursday 9 November. We eventually tied up in the Marina Atlantico in Santa Cruz, Tenerife at 1.30pm after 13 days and 3.5 hours having covered a distance far greater than 841 Miles !!!
Once safely tied up, we had a very well deserved bottle of beer, a hot shower and then promptly went to sleep. We will have to discover Santa Cruz another day……….
The Canary Islands
On our first day back on land, we walked out of the City to visit the Beach at San Andres which is a man made beach with sand imported from the Sahara – very relaxing after our time at Sea. We pottered around Santa Cruz for the next few days not really enjoying City life until Jane & Malcolm (Trent) joined us on 14th November. During this time, Ivan (a very friendly Canadian on the steel boat next to us in the Marina) re-welded our gooseneck joint. This sort of luck doesn’t usually happen to us and we were so pleased not to have to go trudging around the City looking for a Welder.
We left Santa Cruz with Jane & Malc to make our way towards La Gomera with the intention of spending a night at anchor by Playa de Las Tejitas. Unfortunately, this “pleasant” anchorage was untenable in the weather so we carried on towards Bahia de Abona - another unsuitable anchorage in the conditions (we were very unimpressed and disappointed with the anchorage facilities on the Island!!) so on to San Miguel on the South Coast of Tenerife where there is a new Marina. We eventually tied up at about 10pm, had a quick beer on board and left early in the morning to sail across to San Sebastian in La Gomera where we stayed for a week enjoying the local hospitality and generally relaxing. Whilst there, Roger dived underneath the Boat and found that we had had another fight with a fishing net which, whilst not damaging our propeller this time, had badly tangled itself around the shaft thus explaining the engine’s strange sluggish behaviour when going astern and also shearing one of our new engine bolts.
He managed to remove the offending item which had an immediate result on improving our engine power although we still needed to replace the damaged bolt. We sailed back to San Miguel where Jane & Malc left us to fly home on 24th November not quite believing how quickly their 10 days had gone.
No sooner had Jane & Malc left us than we were called by our friends Brian & Sue (Yacht - Darramy) from Chester who were cruising in Gran Canaria so we set off for Puerto Rico on the South coast and spent 3 days catching up with them before heading up to Las Palmas where we were due to collect our new shear bolts. Unfortunately, due to the delayed delivery, we were unable to get to Lanzarote to meet up with Jane & Dave (Creasey) who were on holiday there so hope to see them later on in our cruise……..
We tied up in Las Palmas Marina next to a very nice looking 47’ Beneteau called Malarkey which we were pleasantly amazed to see was owned by an old Triangleur – Trevor who we hadn’t seen since the 2004 race when he had told us, to our immense jealousy, that he had “retired” and was cruising the Med in his new boat. A further surprise was to see his old racing buddy, Adrian, on his Jeanneau, Squander, who was tied up opposite us in the Marina… What a small world !
Vicki took this opportunity to fly back to the UK for a few days during which time a few important jobs were (allegedly) completed by Roger! Many thanks to Malarkey (Trevor & Joanne) and Scorpio (Richard & Jan) who kindly fed him in Vicki’s absence.
It was Vicki’s Birthday on the 18th December so we decided to stay in Las Palmas to celebrate on land as we thought an extra day or two wouldn’t really matter and looking at the weather, there wasn’t a lot of wind. We really didn’t want to have to motor for the first few days, just to pick up wind en route unlike some fellow yachts who left on the 19th December – Malarkey, Adonde (heading for Barbados), Chatti, Fantasy 1 (heading for Bequia) etc. We finally left the Marina on 20th December to drop our anchor outside to finish stowing as we realised that, while we were still attached to land, we would keep nipping to the shops as there was always going to be “one last thing” that we really needed. It was a good decision as, on our way out of the berth, we found our steering to be very stiff and we would have needed to stop anyway. Once our anchor had been safely dropped, Roger dived over the side to investigate. Basically, our rudder movement was blocked by barnacles ! He spent a happy hour (well, maybe not so happy) scrabbling under the boat with a knife scraping them all off….. Ideally, we would have hauled out for a scrub but, being so near to Christmas, we would have been delayed for too long due to the holidays.
Las Palmas, Gran Canaria to Prickly Bay, Grenada, West Indies
At 11am GMT on Friday 22nd December, we hauled up our anchor and set sail for our longest leg so far – 2,767 miles to Grenada as the crow flies. We were heading South initially towards the Cape Verde Islands (to 20N, 25W) before heading West to pick up the North Atlantic Trade Winds. The wind that we had been waiting for arrived with a vengeance and we had a lively sail down the coast of Gran Canaria in a NE Force 6 with big seas – not quite the gentle start that we had planned but we were getting used to the “Roger & Vicki” weather predictions by now as every time we left a Port, the winds were much bigger than those forecast !
Strong gusts of up to 40 knots stayed with us for the first 36 hours but, luckily, they had eased off by the time we started cooking our Christmas Lunch. Roger cooked lots of wonderful Roast Potatoes which we ate with Roast Turkey together with all the trimmings. (We ended up finishing off the potatoes for breakfast on Boxing day).
The eating seemed more hazardous than the cooking as the Sea was quite rolly and we had to hold our plates with one hand whilst shovelling food (quite literally) into our mouths with the other before it all ended up on the cockpit floor ! A little different from our last Christmas Dinner which Mandy & Phil Swallow had kindly cooked us before we left Gosport in August just in case we missed out…..
A pod of over 25 dolphins joined us as we were cooking to frolic with our bow waves. They were the only ones we saw during the entire trip and they were everywhere. It was almost as if they had come just to wish us a Happy Christmas and then they carried on along their way – quite fantastic.
It was amazing how quickly we settled into a comfortable routine sailing about 100 miles per day towards Grenada. We didn’t want to push either ourselves or El Vagabond too much and were quite happy to sail along at a leisurely pace. Our rig for most of the trip was 1 reef in the main plus a furled Genoa. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a pole for the Genoa which, with hindsight, would have sped us up considerably. 2 poles are now on our “to buy” list. We are also thinking of buying an additional sail for our wardrobe – a “twizzle” which is basically a double Genoa but with one luff so you can pole out both sides – ideal for downwind sailing and crucial if we are to continue sailing around the world as we will be experiencing a lot downwind. We decided not to use our Cruising Chute whilst on this trip with only the 2 of us on board – more hassle and stress than we wanted !
We had a very peaceful sail and once we had got used to the rolling motion, which only took a couple of days, it was very relaxing – In fact, a much easier sail than when we left Gibraltar when bringing the boat back to the UK in 2005. We didn’t see any other vessels from Boxing Day until 11th January when we saw a couple of Ships and then nothing again until a couple of days out from Grenada. It seemed like we had the whole of the Ocean just to ourselves to play in.
Mish found himself a new sleeping spot on the Generator in the Saloon which seemed to be the only place that stayed horizontal for the whole journey. He got a bit tired from having to sway with the Boat’s motion all the time but ate and drank well and still maintained his daily constitutional around the decks (Roger standing inches behind him whilst Vicki stayed in the Cockpit with a huge Landing Net in her hands having kittens !). The netting that we had put up around the stern guard rails seemed to give him even more confidence and he was very determined to have his daily walkabout. The only thing he didn’t like was getting wet and he was most aggrieved when a rogue wave splashed him in the cockpit. He scuttled below like a startled rabbit (faster than we have seen him move for a long time) and sulked for 2 whole days. He remained very affectionate for the rest of the trip and seemed to enjoy the sail overall. We wonder if, at 16 1/2, he is the oldest cat to cross the Atlantic in a yacht. He was also very useful during our night watches as he would wail on a regular basis when he wanted food regardless of who was awake or asleep which certainly kept us on our toes.
We celebrated the incoming New Year at midnight surfing at 71/2 knots in 32 knots of wind… in the right direction ! Our Genoa looked like a dishcloth but, hey, we were having fun and who could see it ? It was our fastest 24 hour stint - 122 miles.
Each morning we would check to see how many Flying Fish had landed on deck and we think we photographed the smallest one which we named “Little Tiny Bill”. It was strange that each night different noises would emerge and on the night of the 3rd January, Roger was kept awake by the “Hardway Legacy”- a bottle of Joan’s homemade wine tinkling against a Gin bottle in the Booze cupboard intermingled with JB’s big cooking pot doing a shuffle on the downward role ! It made us both think of all our good friends back at HSC.
The days drifted by gently and we managed to read a number of books and sunbathe while we trundled along in the right direction thanks to George (our Monitor Windvane) which was marvellous. On the 18th January, with only 280 miles to go, George seemed to struggle with the helm which had become very stiff – even we both struggled to steer – and we guessed that it was barnacles again. We hoved to and Roger (yet again) got into the water armed with a knife and scraped the worst of them from the rudder. We hasten to add that he was very securely attached to the boat and had a fender to hang on to as well as a loose line.
The wind seemed to die off during the last week of our cruise and our anticipated Friday arrival became a Monday morning one instead as we had slowed down to 3/3.5 knots.
After 31 days and 10 minutes, we finally arrived at Prickly Bay, Grenada on Monday 22nd January 2007 having sailed 3,179 miles since leaving Las Palmas. A total of 5,207 miles covered since we left Gosport in August 2006.
We had had a wonderful trip, we had eaten well (only had to throw away 2 lettuces and 1 courgette), we didn’t break a single item on the boat (a rare achievement apparently so we keep being told on such a crossing) and we had made it – just the two of us (plus Mish, of course). It is an amazing feeling and we are feeling pretty damn chuffed.
If we are totally honest, we actually didn’t want to stop once we got here because we had enjoyed the trip so much and wanted to keep going. But it is nice to be able to eat a meal with a knife and fork again without worrying how much food will end up on the floor and it was also nice to have that first beer after 32 days with no alcohol. It was even nicer to be able to go to sleep in our own big stern cabin rather than “hotbunking” in the saloon…… a bath would be the icing on the cake although at least Vicki has finally washed her hair !
As we have previously said, sailing is a small world and, once we had anchored in Prickly Bay and got over the initial excitement of arrival, we took a look around us and realised that the nearest yacht to us was “Light Blue” (Laurie & Siobhan) who we had berthed next to in San Miguel, Tenerife. They kindly invited us over for Sundowners and pancakes that first evening….. a few Rum Punches were also enjoyed and it was a lovely welcome.
The following day, Chatti and Fantasy 1 arrived and a few drinks were consumed with Chris, Pete, Sandy & Carl in the Prickly Bay Bar followed by a quiz night in which our team managed to come last – we put it down to the 4 Aussies who had been cruising for far too long ! Both Chatti and Fantasy 1 are heading home to Australia this year after 10 years cruising and we look forward to seeing them when we get there in a few years – we have been promised a bath !
Overall, we think we have settled into the Pensioner Cruising mode rather well. We only ever plan to do 1 thing per day – that way, if we get distracted by other people before we have finished (or even started) our chore, it can easily be done the next day ! After 10 days (as at 1st Feb), we have ventured to the shops twice, the restaurants and bars a few times more than twice and done nothing even more than that – what a life !
Kate and Moonshine are flying out to see us in Grenada on 10th February and our plan is to stay in Grenada until they return to the UK when we will head slowly North up the Islands. Prior to their arrival, we have arranged to be hauled out for a bottom scrub which is long overdue…..