Tin Tin's Sailing Calendar

Friday, 20 April 2018

Keeping an eye on progress

My trip home was exciting enough to make me almost forget my intense disappointment to have left Tin Tin.  But here I am in the UK, and my efficient insurance company had arranged an immediate appointment with an ophthalmology consultant, who gave me a good going over and then (since I had come SO far) referred me to retinal specialist.  After a very intense examination, he concluded that my retina is still attached, and I heaved a huge sigh of relief! I had heard that if they needed to spot-weld the retina back on, then the gas bubble inserted to hold it in place would stop me from flying for two to three months. Thank goodness I can get back to Tin Tin for the last leg.

However Tin Tin was making very slow progress across the South Atlantic, with reports from Mark and Justin of very little wind.   My main anxiety was about the steady failure of etc batteries and the possibility that the autopilot would stop working which would force Mark and Justin than steer the whole way.  It's tiring anyway standing 4 hour watches, and over that distance I was worried thatchy might get exhausted.  I spent time trying to find battery solutions, and to get advice from people in etc industry and was reassured to find that we can probably get replacements in French Guyana.  

Meanwhile it was wonderful to get swept up in family life again as all my daughters and my six grand-children came to stay.  Was kept busy with the many jobs that needed doing around the house and took great pleasure in doing things such as re-roofing a shed.  Our central heating had broken down so the cold weather of April kept me busy feeding the log fire, or staying close to the Aga.  It was also lovely to spend a couple of days with my parents and generally catch up with friends on the 'phone.   It's almost as though the voyage has already ended, even though Ive got another month of exploration ahead.

Now the summer weather has come, with the hottest April days for 70-odd years, and on Monday 23rd April I am flying to French Guiana to meet Mark and Justin.   Their progress has speeded up a lot now that the wind has finally settled in and it will be interesting to see who gets there first.  Justin will be looking for a flight home to get to a wedding, and Mark and I will be joined by Richard and his friend who are coming to explore Papillon's Devils Island, poke our noses up some steamy jungle rivers, and then explore along to Dutch Suriname and the ex-British country of Guyana.

Here's Tin Tin's position approaching the mouth of the Amazon which, I heard on the news, has a newly discovered and rather unique coral reef which is now at risk from oil drilling.

Below is the map showing historical hurricane tracks, with the few that have passed near Trinidad highlighted.  We are aiming to store Tin Tin in Trinidad which is at the southernmost reach of hurricanes.   If Cayenne in French Guiana had better facilities I'd probably park there as it has never been affected.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Marooned on Ascension!

On route to Ascension Island on 26th March I started to see white flashing lights in my right eye. Once we arrived on the 30th I tried to see a doctor at the hospital but, being the Easter weekend it wasn't until Monday 2nd April that I was seen.  Dr Bill Hardy had a retinal camera, and we were soon emailing images off to be looked at in the UK.  No obvious damage could be seen, but the symptoms suggested a real, but low, risk that retinal damage could ensue. I contacted Pantaenius insurance, and they said that they would find a way to get me to see an ophthalmologist somewhere.  Might be Brazil, South Africa, the Canaries, or UK. The problem is that there are only monthly civilian flights off Ascension because of the damaged runway, and the military flights won't usually accept civilian passengers.

I decided that Tin Tin should set off without me, so that Justin had a chance of getting to a wedding that he was committed to, and I organised to stay in the island's only B&B until a flight could be arranged.  In fact I didn't have to wait long after Tin Tin left before my amazing insurers had managed to get me onto the fortnightly RAF flight to the UK. 

Once Tin Tin had sailed over the horizon, my feelings of despair and loss were soon subsumed by the enjoyable company of Juergen and Claudia from La Belle Époque, who had just sailed in from the Falklands via St Helena.  Luckily I was able to hire a car from my hostess, Syrena, at her JAMS B&B. A nice new room, all freshly kitted out, greeted me and I was shown the kitchen supplied with all the supplies needed for a good breakfast.

We drove to English Beach, empty of people because of the swimming ban caused bt the shark attacks, and then up Green Mountain.   We found a delightful walk along a path cut into the volcanic cliff overhung with all sorts of exotic tropical plants, with glimpses to the blue sea far below, and the occasional golden beach white fringed with surf.

I had another day there waiting for my delayed RAF flight, and we took advantage of the cool green of the heights again, and walked Elliot's Pass round the mountain for a couple of hours.  

Later I was collected by The Administrator, Justine, in her Black Discovery with its flag discreetly sheathed, but proudly displaying the number plate AA1, and taken to Wideawake Airfield to board the huge grey RAF A400 transport plane.  It landed with a great puff of blue smoke from the array of tyres just showing beneath the hull, disappearing from sight amongst the red volcanic cones along the runway.  I was told that this airfield was designed to be able to receive the Space Shuttle when America still had one.  I met the Base Commander and it turned out that we had both been watching for the re-entry of the Chinese Space Station that could easily have splashed down near Ascension.

The sun set on the rusty coloured scoria (volcanic vents) and it was a dark star-lit evening when we walked out to the massive hull of the plane with its four 8-bladed turbo props.  I climbed the fold-down ladder and found myself in a cavernous interior that must have been about 25 feet high, and long enough to have carried 50foot long Tin Tin and her 60 foot mast.  There were two small pallets of luggage on the load bed, but otherwise there was a creditable badminton court sized space, lined with 25 black hammock-like seats each side.  The seat itself turned out to be a hard board, with nothing much in the way of padding, as my bottom soon began to appreciate.  My neighbour then informed me that  on reaching Cape Verde we would not be transferring to a passenger flight but could look forward to taking the same plane for the 8 hours to Brize Norton. What a privilege!

We were all issued with earplugs, and the load deck commander in his green jumpsuit ran us through emergency exits, which include ladders dropping from the ceiling  so that we can climb out of this tunnel if we ditch at sea.  He also pointed out a pile of cardboard boxes containing our inflight sandwiches and, surprisingly stale, packet of crisps.   Without windows, the take-off was a novel experience and sitting sideways accentuated the amazingly short take-off at a steep angle.  The air conditioning vent above me delivered a torrent of icy water that would have passed as a luxury shower in drought-stricken Cape Town!   

Later I picked up one of the only two snack boxes marked V for Veggie, but it wasn't until I had eaten one of the plain cheese sandwiches that I noticed the outgoing Ascension Island Government Administrator, Nick, and his wife Polly looking disconsolately at the contents of a single Veggie box. Through the noise of the plane I managed to convey by hand signals that I had  inadvertently nicked their pre-booked supper box, and made my way across the empty hold to hand it back, albeit minus one cheese sandwich!

We arrived in Cape Verde late at night, and whilst the military went one way I was whisked off in a taxi to the town of Santa Maria on the island of Sal. It was nice that it was only a few yards along the beach from the apartment that Anne Becky and family stayed in when they visited Tin Tin here in December 2016.

I had a troubled night for some reason, but woke to enjoy a relaxed sunny day and a delicious hotel buffet breakfast.

My beach holiday passed all too quickly and that evening we were off again for the longer haul to the UK.  Luckily I managed to buy an inflatable neck cushion from duty free, and with that in my soft laptop case I had a much less painful bottom!   I was also lucky to be allowed into the cockpit which had an awe-inspiring array of green lit knobs and instruments, apparently bring the same as the Airbus A380.  

My journey ended with a comfortable taxi ride which delivered me home at 4 a.m. and a very welcome bed.

Friday, 6 April 2018


Today I have to wave goodbye to Tin Tin from the dock in Ascension Island, as Mark and Justin set sail for French Guyana 2500 miles away.

Unfortunately I have to be flown out because of a possible detached retina, which has sufficiently serious potential to warrant the insurers flying me home. However this is the most difficult place to do it from. I may be allowed onto the RAF flight to Cape Verde and then shipped back by commercial flight to the UK.

It may still take quite a while to get home, while I dream of being on board Tin Tin, kicking my heels in the NAAFI canteen!

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Ascension Island

 It has been very peaceful here over the quiet Easter weekend. Communications have been tricky as one buys an hour of Wi-fi from The Saints Club for £5 which runs out awfully quickly with slow connections! I should have paid £70 for a week perhaps.

Without transport we have been a bit confined to Georgetown, exploring the Museum and Fort, the old Exiles Club (closed) with its deepset verandahs to maintain a cool interior. The clock tower above it stands eternally at 11:47 and was erected to avoid having to fire the cannon every hour!  It is said that time hangs so heavy on those stationed here that when the new clock struck every quarter hour, it is said to have elicited groans of “Oh Gawd!” from the Exiles Club Members..

We walked a hot road up to the US Army base, where we found hot dogs and pizzas, and a lively bar with cheap beers. On an island riven with the stress of infrequent supplies of fresh vegetables, the Volcano Club is currently the only place we could get a salad.  The British and US military bases independently stock produce, but don’t seem to share it, much to the annoyance of islanders. A hydroponic farm produces some fresh vegetables, but we met its manager who is struggling with a blight that has swept through the tomatoes and other produce, and getting irate customers desperate for their vegetables.

Ascension really is one of the most remote places on earth.  There’s a monthly air service from South Africa via St Helena, due on the 14th April. Military flights arrive from Florida or Brize Norton every two weeks but no longer carry any civilian passengers. A ship comes every month, but the last one had technical problems, and the cargo of fresh vegetables was on the verge of being sold off in St Helena when a cruise ship was commandeered to deliver it next week. So the island’s few shops are very low on stock.  There are two places to eat out on the two bases, but each offer only burgers or pizza (although I did get fish n chips at the US Volcano Club).

Finally on Easter Monday we made contact with Serena, who runs a little shop and B&B up at Two Boats village, and managed to rent a car.  As always it’s a great liberation to be able to set off to explore by road and we were soon grinding  in first gear up the steep single track hairpins of Green Mountain. Suddenly the cooler air was refreshed with scents of eucalyptus, and the smell of moist earth and ferns. Lush rainforest vegetation has been established since the 19th century initiative of Sir Joseph Hooker and Charles Darwin which planted the mountain to change its microclimate to a wetter one.  We passed the Residency of the Island Admiistrator, and then up to The Red Lion, an abandoned social club with a fine clock tower perched high above the island.  I found a shady bench at a deserted cottage called Cronks, overlooking the amazing view down to the harbour and settled down Tom try a bit of sketching while Mark and Justin headed off for a couple of hours of adventure on Elliot’s Trail round the mountain through various tunnels.

That evening we met the Nature Comservancy team just before 9pm and, after an excellent video about the wildlife of Ascension, we walked through the brightest moonlight to the silver sands where huge turtles were hauling themselves slowly out of the surf, digging huge pits and then laboriously laying hundreds of eggs.  We watched one 200kg female finish laying her brood, then carefully covering the hole with sand using her back flippers, before disguising the whole site with her powerful front flippers.  The little hatchlings will emerge in 60 days and struggle to the sea, from which perhaps one in a thousand will survive to adulthood to return to the place of their birth.   They aren’t mature until about 20 years old, and until that time circulate on the currents of te Atlantic, finally returning the 1200 miles from Brazil when they are ready to mate at the full moon.  No one as yet understands how they navigate, although like many animals they do detect magnetic lines of force.

Sunday, 1 April 2018


This the view over Georgetown and the bay. Giant turtles drag themselves up the beaches every night to lay their eggs. Behind rear the red volcanic cones devoid of plants. Inland there is Green Mountain which we would love to climb. On Darwin's suggestion it was planted with trees and has transformed the microclimate resulting in much more rain, which in turn has now washed away the airport runway so that the island is steadily losing its connections to the world.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Off to Ascension Island

Mark's birthday was celebrated in style, before we left St. Helena, as we invited all the other yacht crews aboard for drinks. At the Centennial Hotel, I bought slices of cake and the owner, Hazel, very kindly lent me a plastic cake box to get them safely out to Tin Tin. She was amazing, casually lending us her car to drive our load of shopping down to the quayside. She had come from Botswana ten years before hoping to buy a home but, finding nothing on the market, bought the hotel. It has a wonderful atmosphere with its main room cool and dark after the bright sun outside, and hung with masses of old paintings of Napoleon, ships and scenes of St Helena. The long counter presents a row of glass covered cake stands,from which I made my selection for the party. Hazel also gave me party hats and blowers to add to the occasion. However the promised flood of 30,000 tourists a year has not been realised because of the shortcomings of the new airport, and The Centennial has strong competition from the Government subsidised Hotel across the street. But thanks to her farming friend Peter, Hazel's hotel is the only place that one can get eggs and fresh lettuce, some of which she kindly gave us.

We must have had 20 people on board, new friends and old, Claudia and Juergen from "La Belle Epoque" brought a cake she had baked, Matthieu, Anne-Laure and three children from "Saba Deux" presented a T-shirt which we all signed and Mark got a couple more hats for his collection. I produced chilli con carne with rice and then Emma, fresh in from her single handed voyage from Tristan da Cunha in "Caprice", played my ukulele and we sang French drinking songs. It was a rare occasion.

The following morning the anchorage seemed quiet as we set off, but the crew of Saba Deux came out to wave goodbye. The wind was good and we set our twin headsails and set off on the 700miles to Ascension Island. Later that day Saba Deux could be seen far behind, her white sails against the dark slab of St Helena as she set sail for Brazil.

A day later and the wind died, and the forecasts show a big wind hole to get through. Now at midnight on the 27th of March we have been motoring steadily for 2days and hope to arrive on Saturday 30th.

The sea is an unbroken circle of blue, reflecting the endless blue of the sky punctuated by little white clouds at regular spaces. We trail two fishing lines, but every bite seems to result in the wire being snapped and we lose the lure. There must be some monsters out here.

Inevitably there's a lot of reading, and I have resumed Jack London, discovering that he was an ardent socialist, writing novels about the overthrow of capitalism in America. Surprisingly he also went to London and disguised himself as a poor American sailor to live in poverty in the East End. His account of life in London in 1902 is absolutely shocking, and he denounces the Government and wealthy aristocrats of Britain for mismanaging the economy so badly. The awful thing is that I suspect that his description of the poverty of that time now applies to the poverty of the majority in South Africa, from the little that I heard from my talks with Sibusiso in Cape Town.

Friday, 23 March 2018

The Delights of St. Helena

We timed our arrival at dawn, and found the forbidding cliffs of a barren volcano rising steeply from the sea under dark clouds and rain. As we rounded the island towards the sheltered side we saw no vegetation whatsoever but then Jamestown came into view in a narrow cleft In the rocks where a stream had carved out a valley. There were suddenly green trees, a gleaming copper church spire, and a shaft of sunlight picked out the Union Jack on a white flagpole. A mess of boats surged to and fro on a tangle of moorings, but Port Control directed us to the mooring field of neatly laid out lines of 22 substantial yellow and red mooring buoys where about a dozen boats were at rest.

James, from Yacht Services, came over to greet us from his boat Carpe Diem, registered in Gosport. A Saint, working with Oyster in Southampton, he bought her in Mylor and sailed her home to St. Helena before circumnavigating with his young family, finally getting back in December. He then decided to set up his yacht support service and is amazing at arranging anything one needs, whilst continuing to live on board.

Getting ashore is a challenge in the swell, and we always took the ferry service which comes round the yachts. At £4 return it's not cheap, but it's very congenial to meet other people. We found friends Mathieu, Anne Laure and children and Aude from Saba Deux, Dirk and Gretchen on Peregrine (who ran the radio net across the Pacific) and new acquaintances of Wavy on Hayward Davies (550,000 miles and 39 Atlantic crossings!), Whistler, and Emma, a new arrival single handing up from Tristan da Cunha, in 32 foot Caprice.

Ashore we arrived on a dock stacked with containers, and a line of white sheds with blue doors built under the overhang of the cliff. Two big cranes on caterpillar tracks are regularly lifting boats out for repair. Further along there are black cannon poking out of the sea defence wall, but a cheerful blue swimming pool has been located in the moat. Across the drawbridge and through the town gates we found a charming little town, with church, castle, a main street reminiscent of the West Country in style of buildings with a couple of old hotels. On the left there is a green and shady public garden by the long white painted building that houses the Police station, Courthouse and Library. Here we found a plaque commemorating the 1895 visit of Joshua Slocum, on the first solo circumnavigation. Overlooking the garden there is a long verandah overhung with flowering creepers, which is Anne's Place. Here we were able to get lunch, beer and and advance of £60 in cash on tick until the banks opened the next day. Everyone here is so welcoming and relaxed.

Jacobs Ladder climbs 700 steps straight up the cliffs at about 45degrees or more to reach the garrison at the top. We climbed it of course, discovering that it was wise to look at the view every 50 steps! It feels very vertiginous. However the two handrails help one up, and boys used to slide down at great speed to get home from school, or to get a football kicked over from the playing field above. When there was a garrison here the soldiers would pay a boy to run up to get their lunch. The boy would be back in about 8 minutes sliding down with the soup tureen balanced on his tummy, shoulders and arms on one rail and feet on the other! I don't know how long it took me to climb up, but it took me at least 8 minutes to come down the 700 steps as fast as I dared.

Whilst here we have taken our ailing batteries out and had them recharged ashore. Two turn out to be effectively dead, which is shocking after only a month of service. However the remaining ones seem to behave better now, so if they hold out I trust we will be able to function for the rest of the trip.

We hired a car through the tourist office from Brendan Motors at £15/day and enjoyed exploring for two days. Once up the narrow single track road hugging the cliffs, one emerges on top to find more residential areas and vegetation which gets much greener in the rainforest interior. So surprising to drive along little winding tarmac lanes often sunken in the West Country style, with road signs and white finger-signposts, and other hints of Britishness. Great trees, dense stands of ginger plants, or sisal leaves lap the banks. Often there are steep green meadows grazed by red and brown cattle. Reaching the windward side, the trees are all windswept into an aerodynamic shield up the cliff face, and it's here that most of the rain falls ask the air is forced upwards and cools. The temperature is delightfully warm, with cool breezes, and not much humidity.

We visited the places that Napoleon was incarcerated, first at the charming Briars, where he stayed with a family for 7 weeks before moving to Longwood House. Both properties are now owned by France. We had excellent tours of both with Trevor Magellan as our personal guide at the Briars, and very good audio guides at Longwood. He did his best to maintain his Imperial standards here, despite his isolation. On his death he left a considerable fortune (£50million in 2016 value) to his faithful retainers and generals who had stayed with him. Then we also strolled down the leafy green lane to Napoleons's Tomb, in a wonderfully peaceful spot by a spring surrounded by flowering plants.

The other exciting thing we did was to go on a whale shark watching trip. The sharks, up to 60 feet long, come to circle a reef that rises steeply and brings nutrients and krill to the surface. Our skipper Johnny found the sharks circling a fishing boat and we had to stand off until they came over to us. Then we were all allowed to jump in and swim with these placid giant fish. I found one circling up towards me from the deep and flippered hard to get out of its way, only to find another one right behind me so that I was in a whale shark sandwich! Here are some pictures from my video of the encounter on my Go Pro.

Yesterday we drove out to see the Governors residence at Plantation House, which is a delightful mansion painted Pale blue with white trimmings, set on grand lawns in a wooded valley looking down to the sea far below. The grass is kept cropped by Jonathan the 200 year old tortoise and his friend. Beyond the green railings is the Tortoise Viewing Corridor, which we were allowed through, and below that were laid out impeccable vegetable gardens. We went on into the woods beyond, which immediately felt tropical with giant trees and massive stands of bamboo. Here lie the Butcher's Graves, headstones from 1777 for two slaves, one still legible to the wife of the butcher. Beyond that the path rose steadily to Big Rock, with a great view over the valley. Here the fluttering white Fairy Terns came and hovered round Mark as he stood near the edge.

We could easily have stayed longer here as it is a great island for walking, with the Post Box trails which take one through spectacular scenery with the objective of getting a stamp on one's card at each Post Box.

Tomorrow it is Mark's birthday and we will set sail for the 700 miles to Ascension Island, where we will be over Easter.

I have re planned our next legs with provisional dates as follows, deciding to miss out Recife and Natal.

29 March-1 April. Ascension
11-13 April . Fernando Do Noronha, Brazil. Steve arrives?
17-20 April. Fortaleza, Brazil. Justin flies home. Meet Marli and Hur Ben!
27 April - 1 May. Belem, Amazonia, Brazil. Richard et al arrive.
8 - 14 May Cayenne, French Guyana. Anne arrives. Richard et al depart.
16-19 May Paramirabo, Surinam
24-28 May Tobago
2-6 June Bonaire
8-11 June Curaçao
14- 21 June Aruba - laying up Tin Tin until December.