Tin Tin's Sailing Calendar

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Homeward Bound


Mark and I are finally aboard a flight home, and I have time to reflect on the last few days. 


Saturday was still hectic as we stowed equipment, cleaned and polished, and in the end didn't finish until sunset.   However I did manage to rent a car from EconoCars, and very ramshackle it was for £15/day. Bald tyres, doors about to fall off, and a limp drivers mirror.  However the boot opened OK, and enabled me to load my two heavy bags in, but then refused to ever open again!  We had to take the back seat off and just managed to squeeze the bags out through a hole.


So Sunday was our one day off, and we drove along the North Coast with steep cliffs and deeply indented bays to Maracas Beach, and then onwards through little communities until we came to an incongruously large road sign and junction, where we turned right to climb over the mountains towards Acarina.  The road was really only single track, winding up through gorgeous dense tropical forest.   However it was tarred, although some sections were badly in need of patching.    We stopped under one tree which had carpeted the forest floor with vivid pink from fallen flowers. 


An hour later we arrived at the Asa Wright Conservation Centre, established high in the mountains with a large area of forest under protection.  The rather grand 110 year old colonial style buildings welcomed us to grand high ceilings dining and sitting rooms, and a long verandah overlooking the steeply sloping forest below.  The centre is famous for its bird life, and there are 17 species of humming bird to be seen.   There are humming bird feeders hanging just outside the verandah, and we spent a long time watching many different humming birds darting up within a foot or two of us to hover absolutely stationary whilst they dipped beaks into the sugar syrup.     Later we joined a guided walk in the forest, being introduced to extraordinary birds such as the white bearded manikin, which perched on a slender stick above his "lek" where he tries to attract a mate by proudly displaying his nicely cleared circle of forest floor.  Of course he chucks leaves and twigs into his neighbour's lek, and has to spend lots of time clearing all the stuff they chuck back.  We also saw a yellow headed manikin, a black bird with bright yellow crest, which does his display in a shaft of sunshine up in a favoured lek high In the trees.   Then there's an astonishingly loud wattled bird, which produces deafening calls up in the canopy.  Deeper into the forest are caves where the Oil Birds live. Apparently they only fly at night and, like bats, live in caves and use echo location to find their prey.  Locals used to collect the fat chicks from the nest, to extract the oil used for lamps and cooking. They are now a protected species and we weren't allowed to see them unless we stayed for 3 nights at the Centre.


Monday dawned and we got all the laundry done. Mark rigged an awning across the cockpit, and we raised the dinghy and tied it down on deck.  There was a final flurry of contractors to chase, dealing with spray hood repairs, windlass servicing, sails and Outboards.   Before leaving the boat I had to get special letters produced by the boat yard and authorised by Customs and Immigration, and I was also pleased to find a Pharmacy which took charge of a big bag of out of date drugs.   Then with everything at last in good order we closed up at 6pm had a couple of beers andd a light supper and off to bed for a few hours before rising at 0300 to drive to the airport.

So much stuff to sort out!


Friday evening is here much quicker than expected, and it doesn't feel as though we are anywhere near getting everything done.  


We got all the sails off on Thursday, before we lifted out, and also pickled the water-maker.   Then once ashore we were parked in one of the long tanks of boats, with a catamaran astern, with a French couple living there while they pack up.  It certainly makes for an easy living space, and they even had a dinner party last night!  


Then today we have had Jonathan Outboards collecting ours for service, Winch Works de along with the anchor windlass, Dynamite coming to sort out the "heads", Greg and Dave from the yard looking at the paintwork, Ken from Ullman Sails collecting all our canvas, and then taking us to the sail loft to inspect each sail in detail to agree the repair programme.   It's salutary to see how the threads rot in sunlight and need restitching, and where the mainsail rolled in the boom has discoloured because the boom has got hot in the tropical sun.   In the end I had to replace the protective coloured strips on the staysail and Genoa, and do a lot of restitching on the main. The Parasailor is in good condition, apart from one string that has snapped, though badly needing an airing having sat on the foredeck for a long time in sun and spray.


No shows today were Curtis the Hydraulics man, who said that he would try to service the seals on our steering system before we leave on Tuesday. Neither did we get a repeat visit from Shaun of Superb Sails & Canvas who is going to repair our Bimini, which suffered some damage when "George" failed due to the hydraulic problems and we had an involuntary gybe.


However two dehumidifiers appeared today; one for rent from "Blues" the big yard foreman with the gold tooth, and the other for sale on behalf of a departed yachts-woman by Mark from Dynamite. I chose to buy secondhand.


This morning I finally got Steve the Taxi man to take me to an ATM in town to get some cash, which is long overdue..... normally the first thing I do, but somehow here it felt more difficult to fit in between all the contractors visiting.   He offered to take us on a tour, but like several other locals was anxious about our safety. Trinidad has a high crime rate, which must have totally stopped the tourist industry.  It's all driven by the big money coming from oil, corrupt politicians, a huge gap between wealth and poverty, a lot of drug running through Venezuela, and lots of illegal guns.


Steve suggested that I could hire a car through Stuart at Peake's Yard, but when he arrived he was very unwilling to hire me a vehicle to tour the island, but only if we wanted to run to the supermarket and back!  


Peter Peake of Peake Yachts has been most welcoming and attentive. We mentioned that Tin Tin had suddenly dropped down an inch this morning, and he immediately had the yard team putting in more blocks and props.  It seems he is a man of many talents as we see the Peake logo on air-conditioners and dehumidifiers too.



Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Laying up in Trinidad

The Peake Yachts yard in Chaguaramas has been a welcoming place.  It's one of several yards along the south edge of Trinidad in an almost landlocked bay.  Ashore there's a restaurant on a terrace overlooking the bay serving the kind of big portions of fried food one experts in America.  This is very different from the French Caribbean. There's a small dock with 5 good sized yachts and Tin Tin moored stern-to facing out into the bay.  

We've been having trouble with getting from our stern onto the dock, despite Tin Tin's special gangplank (a lovingly engraved and varnished scaffolding plank from Travis Perkins).  The problem is that one has to pass under the stern arch which carries the solar panels, wind generator and assorted aerials, in a sort of crouching limbo dance and to then teeter up to the dock with everything going up and down.  Returning is worse, because initially the boat was too far away from the dock to be able to grab anything so  one had to set off without any hand hold along a narrow seesawing plank with a long way to the water below.  This was because when we had reversed into the slot between other yachts, our bow rope attached to the mooring buoy was only just long enough. I had to motor at full throttle backwards to get our stern lines to the dock, and then there we sat with all lines thrumming unable to get any closer.  Obviously we fixed it eventually by attaching more rope at the front and sliding back a few feet, but this was only after we had welcomed some brave boat contractors on board!  It gives me a slightly anxious moment to think about times ahead in the Mediterranean where this is the norm.........

En route from Barbados I had already written out a list of 35 items from our maintenance log that needed attention, and my first challenge on Monday was to try to identify, meet and interview the appropriate contractors to deal with the things that we couldn't handle.   Our first day passed with little sense of progress but then, on Tuesday, people started turning up and filling our cockpit as I ran through the list.  

Gary the yard manager to look at paint repairs, Jessie from Caribbean Marine Electrical to tackle wiring issues, Mark from inspiringly named Dynamite Services to replace blocked toilet hoses, and Jason from  Liferaft Servicing. 

Rainer for electronics wasn't interested to come, ditto Calypso Canvas, but I managed to find Curtis for the hydraulics who will come tomorrow, and I got Sean from Superb Canvas as wel to deal with repairs to the bimini, plus Ken from Ullman sails on Friday, and maybe Bates the watermaker man too. That leaves me to get hold of the speedy maintenance man, Dwayne Schuffler to agree monthly boat checks, and Jonathan to service the Outboards.

It has been particularly difficult to find a dehumidifier to combat the mildew problem in this humid climate.  Lots of stuff is going green onboard, and we need to have a system to prevent that.  Many boats have an air conditioner fitted to a hatch to keep things cool and dry.  Others have dehumidifiers.  But I cannot find a single chandlery (there are about 5) which stocks them, nor any hardware store.  The chandlery here had sold out of its stock of 50, so I think we are a bit late, as the yacht parking lot is already very full.  Luckily, today I spotted a fading advert put up by a departing yacht offering a 4 month old dehumidifier for sale.    It turned out that the yacht was long gone, but the unit was still available and being stored by a boat service company - Dynamite in fact!

I also went through all our extensive drug supplies and took out all the out-of-date items,  plus all those due to expire before we return.  I hope to dispose of these through a doctor somewhere here. Going through the list I was pleased to see that I had signed out very few medicines to treat maladies during the trip - mostly antibiotics.

Then Mark has been dealing with sails, drying out our spinnaker, which has been on the foredeck getting wet, and we have also removed folded and bagged the Genoa and staysail. The main will be next, and they will go for valeting and storage. Ropes are removed, labelled and washed in fresh water to get rid of thickly ingrained salt.

It's annoying that there's no ATM near here, and we will have to take a taxi into town. We asked our waitress about how to do this and she advised us only to get a taxi from the yard to take us, wait and bring us back.  Yachties who had hailed a cab had been beaten and robbed apparently.  However the Maxis, yellow minivans are apparently OK provided they are full of people.    We will have to adjust our perceptions of risk again, and I wonder whether it's safe to hire a car and explore on our own........ but then again, that's what people said in South Africa, and we were fine.  

So here we are after two days, and there's a lot more to fit in before lift out on Thursday morning.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Barbados to Trinidad



We had an enjoyable few days in Barbados, finding the people welcoming and friendly. We rented a car and explored the east coast, surprised at how extensive the areas of housing are, but then I read that it is the most densely  populated island in the Caribbean.  We found a lighthouse under renovation at Rugged Point, and were allowed to climb the 114 steps to the light where, balanced on scaffolding, we could see the jagged cliffs below being pounded by the sea.  Long streamers of the golden sargassum weed were driving into the coves and later, at Long Beach, we found a dense mat of seaweed covering beach and bay, undulating in the incoming swell like a huge golden shag pile carpet, and stifling the breakers.  This is apparently an unusual occurrence and must be depositing thousands of tonnes of weed on the east coast beaches. 

We stopped for lunch at Bathsheba Bay where a restaurant, painted a lovely lurid purple and green, stood in a seafront park amidst coconut palms.   I took time to sketch and paint here after our meal, with a view  strange coral formations, undercut by the sea to leave jagged islands balanced on a narrow base.

Barbados was under uninterrupted British rule for 300 years, and still has the Queen as Head of State (although not evident on the currency).  So there are red ERII letterboxes to be seen, tea time is observed, The Anglican Church is established in all ten parishes, and cars drive on the left. All very civilised.   Yet the buildings have an exuberant style and thrilling colours, interspersed with rum shops painted bright red and adorned with huge painted signs advertising "Banks, The Beer Of Barbados!"  It felt safe and happy, with few people in obvious poverty on the streets and, apart from the enthusiastic taxi drivers touting for business, there was little sense of being hustled.

Over on the west coast the beaches are sparkling white coral sand, clear of any weed, and with a gentle sea in stunning aquamarine colours make a most attractive sight.  We stopped in Speightstown, and enjoyed strolling the colourful streets, lunch in a beach side cafe, and exploring St Peters Church.  It would be a good place to rent a room for a peaceful holiday.  

At the northern tip of Barbados I ventured into Animal Flowers Cave, descending steps into a wave cut  grotto looking out to the surging sea.  The limestone formations allowed one to imagine a shark, a hand and a map of Barbados, and then one could swim in the saltwater pool that extended out to the cave mouth, where an occasional wave sloshed foaming water into the pool.  Naturally I was in there straightaway!

The Barbados Yacht Club deserved a visit in Bridgetown, and we found an established elegant club, with members using the tennis facilities, dinghies being launched down the beach, and a shady beach bar with a gnarled tree on the sand, where I spent a happy morning painting and reading.

Then for our last night we drove out to the Fish Fry st Oistins which turned out to be a huge event, with large numbers of tables set out between competing kitchens, all serving meals of freshly grilled dolphin (dorado), marlin or swordfish, with Bajan specialties such as the unlikely sounding Macaroni Pie, all to the throbbing pulse of a big sound stage pumping out reggae competing with a steel band. On a table next to us old men were animatedly playing dominos, slamming down the tiles with determination.  Next to them a small boy begged us to play dominos with him, and then proceeded to slam his tiles down just like his elders.

We upped anchor on Saturday morning, but not before we had taken the dinghy to the beach to return the hire car keys at The Pirate Cove car park.  I swam the couple of hundred yards back out to Tin Tin.

Out at sea, some 40 miles south of  Barbados we heard a distress call on the VHF from a fishing boat. We were the only vessel to respond, and the fisherman was very relieved to hear us. He'd been drifting since Thursday, and despite calling regularly we were the first response he'd had. It seemed that his batteries were flat or the starter motor wouldn't work.  I made attempts to get hold of the Barbados Coast Guard, but we were too far away, so as he was only 8 miles away we headed in his direction.   Luckily my attempts to raise the coastguard alerted another fishing vessel, and we heard the whoops of exuberant relief in the Bajan dialect when he heard his friend was on the way.  By the time we got close the Missy D had been taken in tow and was plugging upwind the 40 miles to home.

Later we ran over a fishing net, and had a struggle to disentangle it. Eventually the fishermen told us to cut the line, but we then rejoined the ends so they lost nothing.

We raised Trinidad through torrential rain storms at midday and were sailing through the narrow channel to Chaguaramas between high cliffs by 1700.

We tied at the arrivals dock, only to find that as it was Sunday there were hundreds of Trinidad dollars to pay Immigration and Customs for overtime.  With no ATM available, no credit cards or US $ taken, and being not allowed to leave until we had cleared in we were stuck in Catch 22!  The immigration lady suggested that we came back after 0800 on Monday when no fees would be payable.  We asked the hotel whether we could stay on the arrivals dock overnight, but they wanted US$100, so we found a spare mooring and drank a celebratory Piña Colada and cooked supper whilst being blasted by intense music from a big party boat.   

We have arrived in Trinidad!

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Barbados

We arrived in a strong wind and breaking seas, thinking that there would be little shelter from the swell in Carlisle Bay. Customs required us to moor at the cruise ship terminal, which was tricky alongside the big fender pads which keep the cruise ships off the dock. There was no way we could have moored unaided, but luckily someone was there to help. We then climbed precariously up to the dock, and completed formalities in the cruise terminal, welcomed to Barbados by a big poster.
Back in Carlisle Bay it was sur Pringle sheltered from the waves, and we joined two other yachts at anchor about a hundred yards off a gleaming white sand beach fringed with beach clubs and their sun umbrellas. We too, the dinghy ashore into The Carenage harbour which is reminiscent of Weybridge as the narrow channel curves into the town with boats moored along the quays. A lifting bridge lets boats into an inner harbour right in town, and we were surprised to see many moorings available.
Walking around we were constantly hailed by hopeful taxi drivers, or hotel at by minibuses touting for trade. There is a grand stone church flying the Barbadian flag with Neptune's trident prominent on the yellow and green ground. We found a bank ATM, but Lloyd's bank was being cautious and refused to let me draw any cash. Luckily Mark got some.
Next stop was one of the beach bars called Pirates Cove, where we relaxed with a Banks Beer and took in the view of Tin Tin through palm trees, white sands and clear blue water.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Where next?

Tuesday 8th May 2018
It may have been a mistake to clear out of Surinam at the same time we cleared in, even though at the time it seemed to save so much hassle. That meant we had no slow time to discover any more of the country and had to leave on Saturday morning. Quite what else we could have done is unclear, but there are always encounters that unfold in unplanned ways. So, as we set sail down the Commewijne, watching the early river taxis zig zagging from one landing stage to another, I felt rather sad that I had rushed it, having acted in concert with the pace of life that we encounter when visitors join us from the "normal" world with tight schedules, planes to catch and places to be.

Having reviewed Guyana as our next destination, I decided against, as the authorities insist that yachts head 50 miles upriver to clear into the country, and for safety deter them from lingering at Georgetown on the coast. So now we had a week in hand before our planned lift-out in Trinidad.

As the strong breeze and tide took us rapidly out to sea in muddy water only 4 metres deep, Mark suggested an interesting idea; with spare time, and Guyana not seeming so attractive, why not sail north to Barbados, before we head to Trinidad?

So here we are three days later about 12miles short of Barbados which is hidden in a rain storm ahead as I eat my muesli at 7am.

In truth it has been a trying voyage as neither of us has got our sealegs, and are both struggling all the time with feeling so queasy that we are having trouble eating. Most unusual and it's made this leg a mini-trial rather than the relaxed enjoyable sail that we'd expected. The wind and current gave us a fast ride, and the sea has been very lumpy as we buck and smash along at 9 knots, making 195 miles from anchor in the first 24 hours.

Mark heroically made spaghetti and tomato sauce on night one, but we couldn't look at it, and ate rice pudding instead. I managed to reheat Marks spaghetti on night two, but although he ate his, most of mine fed the fishes. And last night Mark did a spaghetti in cheese sauce with crispy bacon, but although I enjoyed mine he couldn't look his in the eye and it sits there under clingfilm waiting for happier times.

However we have both made soda bread for lunch, and yesterday Mark produced drop scones for tea. Some still sit forlornly hoping to tempt us!

We've had problems with the hydraulic steering, which is worrying. It gets very stiff and "George" the autopilot struggles to steer the course. By hand it feels all wrong as though the rudders are sticking on something. We will have to investigate and get it repaired. It's fortunate that it hasn't been a major problem yet.

There have been more birds around; white tailed tropic birds with their long white tail feathers and yellow beaks, a booby or maybe it's a gannet in the Atlantic, diving repeatedly into shoals of fish near us, storm petrels fluttering like little black bats close to the surface, too fast to make out their defining tail shapes and give them their full name. Yesterday I saw a skua fly past, Arctic I think, and again later an immature one bullying a tropic bird to get his fish in a wild aerobatic fight. The sea has been stranded with long lines of golden ochre sea holly, somehow channelled into long lines trailing downwind, giving a curious sensation as they writhe and undulate with the passing waves. The waves breaking over Tin Tin have festooned the guard rail netting with holly in a rather festive way.

So now for a few days exploring Barbados, and then a 24 hour sail to Trinidad to deal with repairs and laying up. As I look up from writing I am rewarded with the unmistakable grey outline of land ahead, with a shaft of sunshine picking out one white building in the gloom.

Monday, 7 May 2018

The Commewijne River

Friday 4th May dawned, and we motored down the Surinam River with the tide, and after three hours turned right at Nieuw Amsterdam and up the Commewijne River. We were heading for the restored plantation house at Frederiksdorp, and also looking for the best way to get Richard to the airport that evening. We had prearranged to meet the taxi driver Ram, at the fort on Nieuw Amsterdam point at 4pm, and motored close in looking for suitable places to get ashore. There were several water taxi landing stages which might do.

The River was flowing fast against us now so despite motoring at 7 knots we were struggling to make headway. The name of the river is thought to derive from the local language meaning Tapir Water. There are River dolphins here, and tourists come on trips in the long river taxis to watch them. We spotted a few dark shapes curving out of the brown water in the distance.

We found a good landing dock at Frederiksdorp Plantation, but with the river running so fast it took three attempts to get the anchor to hold reliably. Then getting ashore in the dinghy was fun, as we barely made headway, ferry gliding across to the bank and then hugging the mangrove roots to stay in slower water.

The Plantation was a pleasant surprise with a grand balconies house in white with a red tin roof, matched in style by the doctors house, and other buildings from the original establishment. These were augmented by tasteful additions to provide accommodation for visitors. We had a good wander round, and then enjoyed lunch on a shady terrace surrounded by Dutch tourists. The hotel were able to arrange Richards airport trip via water taxi and car, so we cancelled the previous plan.

After lunch, Richard organised a guide to take us for a walk into the wilderness, and we were delighted to see macaques leaping from tree to tree, the big footprints of capybara, bubbles and a sudden swirl as a cayman submerged in the swamp, brightly coloured jacana lily trotters flying by and lots of iridescent red and green dragonflies. There were also black and yellow Weaver birds which had made long pendulous nests. Later research showed that these are not Old World weaver birds from Africa and Asia, but a New World bird that has independently developed similar coloration and nesting behaviour.

Our guide showed us a map of the region, marking the dense grid of plantations that had once lined the river, each with an identical 500metre frontage and extending back for 5km. They had once grown sugar or coffee, until that was wiped out by the coffee borer insect plague, and most had been abandoned. Each had a system of drainage canals which provided a transport infrastructure to move crops to the river.

Finally we waved goodbye to Richard, as the river taxi set off the mile across the river to the waiting taxi, sorry that he couldn't spend longer with us to explore further afield, but very glad to have shared the only bits of South America that Tin Tin has reached on this voyage.

That night the moon was very bright on the wide waters of the Commewijne River, and it seemed very peaceful anchored out near the middle, but for the first time we locked the hatchways down and locked ourselves in. This was because the staff at the plantation had been worried about us in the wake of the dreadful piracy attacks that had taken place on fishermen just off shore Commewijne district. Four boats had been attacked and twenty fishermen forced to walk the plank, some with batteries tied to their feet. A second attack had occurred the previous day, and so far only five survivors had managed to get ashore and make their through the muddy mangrove swamps to safety. Whilst I was reasonably confident that this was gang warfare between fishermen, it seemed best to take precautions.

I'm glad to say that we had an undisturbed night!

Friday, 4 May 2018

Surinam

Our 24 hour sail from Devils Island had great wind and a 2-3knot current for most of the sail, bringing us to the fairway buoy off the mouth of the Surinam River at about midday as planned. We followed the green channel markers towards the distant smudge of grey coast for almost 10 miles in water that was often between only 2 to 3 metres deep, and rich cappuccino colour with all the sediment.

Finally we could begin to distinguish form and colour, with bright white shell beaches to the east at Bramspunt, and vibrant green where the occasional ray of sunshine cut through the overcast gloom to light up the verdant forest shore.

We had passed many fishing boats in the night, wary of their fishing technique which involves anchoring one end of the net with flags and flashing lights, and then reeling out their nets from the bows as the fishing boat drifts down wind and current. We had a close call with one as we made up the channel, only just spotting the tiny net floats before we ran through them.

The wind picked up to 32knots as we creamed up the chocolate river close hauled under full Genoa to the point where the Commewijne River joins the Surinam River 15 miles from the start of the channel. Then we bore away to star aboard to follow the Surinam river up past Nieuw Amsterdam to port and Paramaribo to starboard, passing row upon row of moored fishing vessels. Just before passing under the 40m high bridge spanning the river we encountered a big wrecked cargo vessel split in two mid river. It was another 15 miles before we reached our destination at Domburg at 1830, but the heavens opened and instead of mooring there we followed Richard's suggestion that we carry on up river to the Waterworld Marina Resort. It turned out to be a magical six miles, as all sign of human influence disappeared and we were gliding along within a few metres of virgin jungle in deep smooth water. The marina proved to be of high quality, and although the resort restaurant couldn't offer food or drink, they opened up a guest house so that we could enjoy hot showers.

We took a taxi back to Domburg to find somewhere to eat, having to slowly navigate a deeply potholed flooded jungle track until we got to a main road. Even then the vicious Drempels (sleeping policemen) lay across the road and slowed us to a crawl. Domburg proved disappointing initially as every restaurant was shut, but eventually, having deterred our driver Denis (a low loader driver by day) from driving us an hour and a half into Paramaribo, we found the riverside Yacht Club restaurant and bar that we had passed earlier. They provided a nice welcome, good food and lots of Paribo beer which was all most enjoyable.

Next morning at 0800 we took a taxi into Paramaribo to complete clearance formalities. It was a long hour or more through heavy traffic until we reached our first stop; the Marine Authority of Surinam offices. We were all, as advised, wearing collared shirts, long trousers and shoes to meet officialdom and the necessity of this was borne out by the notices on many doors banning sun glasses, hats, tank tops, T-shirts, shorts and flip flops. The MAS official was efficient and spoke English well in an orderly air conditioned office. He handed me a great sheaf of papers to fill in, mostly aimed at cargo vessels, and all asking essentially for the same set of information about the boat and crew. Then passports, yellow fever certificates, crew lists, boat registration papers, and insurance policy had to be photocopied.
Second stop; Consulate visa section. Again a well appointed air conditioned place with comfortable sofas, and magazines. More form filling.
Third Stop; we all had to walk a few blocks to the water front and turn right to the Central Bank to pay €35 each for a single entry visa.
Fourth stop; we walk back to the consulate with our receipt to get visa stamps.
Fifth stop; the Military Police HQ where our details were inscribed again in detailed long hand.
Sixth stop: Along a corridor to Immigration. A handwritten sign on the door requires me to knock before entering, which I do, only to be brusquely told to get out as there is an applicant in there already. Eventually we get in, and the stern black official eventually softens and starts joking about Liverpool in the final of the football ~ something Mark can talk about in detail for hours, and so I keep quiet. Various people come in and are treated very differently. A young corporal gets high handed treatment, despite his exemplary stamping of polished boots and snappy salute. Various ladies get flirtatious remarks, and we get detailed football discussion! Eventually our passports are stamped and because I know that I have to go through it all again on Monday, I request outward clearance for the next day on Friday. To my amazement the official feels empowered to grant this request, and so we are stamped out for Friday evening.

Clearance completed, and with the happy thought that I don't need to do it all again on Monday we head to the old Fort to look round the excellent museum, and have a drink. Later, we find our way along the waterfront to an elegant cafe for lunch before taxiing home with our taxi driver, Ram, down half flooded jungle tracks. The car ahead of us saw orange legged monkeys......how annoying to just miss that sight!

Back on board we decide to set off down river to Domburg for the evening and had a wonderful peaceful trip, motoring in 16-18metres of water within a few meters of the dense jungle with the sun setting over the river to the west. We anchored off Domburg and had another congenial evening on the terrace of the waterfront Yacht Club restaurant.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Richard arrives to sail to Surinam

Richard arrived on Sunday afternoon, and on Monday 30th April we cleared out of France bound for Surinam. The muddy ebb tides the Mahury River took us swiftly along the ten miles out through the narrow dredged channel to the sea. It's very shallow along this coast and the water is full of sediment, much of it apparently carried round from the Amazon.

We soon picked up the 3 knot current heading west, and by 1400 we were approaching our evening anchorage at the three islands of Îles de Salut. Of these Ile de Diable, or Devils Island, is the best known as the place where Dreyfus was incarcerated, and from where Henri Charriere, of Papillon fame, made his escape on a sack of coconuts. We found calm water in the lee of Île Royale and picked up a mooring belonging to the Guyana Space Centre which administers these islands. Ashore we met a couple of heavily armed gendarmes from Toulouse, and then explored round the deserted penal colony buildings, eventually climbing to the top where there's an auberge in the Governor's old house.

In the grey rainy evening light everything seemed very drab, dark and despairing. However there were bright blue and yellow macaws in the coconut trees, and agoutis scampered about across the open spaces like leggy hamsters the size of fat rabbits, with a peculiarly ginger fur on their plump hindquarters. Mark even found macaques and watched one pounding a stick as if cracking open a nut or shell.

The auberge was surprisingly large with dining tables for a good hundred or so. There must be times when people flock here at the weekend to get away from Kourou. I tried the Punch Fruits Maison, which would have felled a horse, and certainly knocked me sideways. Pure white rum in a large glass, a hint of maracuja juice and perhaps a couple of bits of orange pulp but essentially free of fruit! Slightly stunned by this refreshment we wandered off again to look at the ruins, returning eventually somewhat more sober for our supper at the auberge, before retiring aboard Tin Tin for the night. The heavens opened and it absolutely poured with rain.

Next morning we took the dinghy across the tide rip between islands to Ile St. Jospeh. It's partly a military base, but we were able to explore the strange overgrown ruins of this notorious penal colony. Massive stone stairways and walls led up the hill through jungle to the main site at the top. A huge roofless building marked 1897-98 stood with its iron roof beams intact, with trees growing up through them, and curtains of fine roots reaching down to head height from the trees above. Tiny cells, rusting iron bars, all overgrown and crumbling, and yet in one building we met a taciturn man in army fatigues wielding a rake, and from then on we spotted rake scratches on all the paths around the island. We circumnavigated the island on foot and then, as three catamarans full of tourists arrived, we headed back to Tin Tin and set off for Surinam.

Within half an hour of putting the fishing lines out we had a respectable sized fish, just right for supper. Now it's dark and I'm on watch as we make excellent progress westwards, with the current giving us 10knots speed over the ground much of the time. We should be at the mouth of the Surinam River by midday and then able to use the flood tide to travel the 30 miles up river to Domburg.

Rejoining Tin Tin in French Guiana 23/4/18

My two weeks in the UK passed quickly in a whirl of ophthalmology consultations, family reunions and DIY repairs at home. Luckily there was no treatment needed for the eye, so I was able to travel back to join Tin Tin in French Guiana.

I landed in torrential rain in Cayenne, and caught a taxi into town where I had booked a room for the night. In fact Tin Tin had made good speed with a strong push from the 3knot Guyana. Current and had arrived that very morning.

Next morning I collected a hire car and made my way to the port at Degrad des Cannes on the River Mahury. Tucked away behind the container port was a small marina occupied by long term residents in boats draped with tarpaulins to keep out the rain, with piles of bicycles, boxes and all sorts of junk stored on deck under the shelter. Someone had a washing machine plumbed In on the pontoon! The muddy river runs fast through the pontoons, and we had to rescue a couple fishing boats that broke free and jammed sideways against the other boats.

Tin Tin was anchored up stream, with three other boats for company which had all arrived within the same day. It was a great pleasure to find Mark and Justin safe and well after their 2,500 miles from Ascension Island. With a car we were able to get out to explore Cayenne and it's surroundings. The old town is full of colonial French architecture, with the outskirts provided with modern roads, and large commercial estates filled with every sort of entreprise as well as the "grand surfaces" of Carrefour, Super U, and even Hyper U. It is, after all, France, despite the hot, humid tropical climate just 3 degrees north of the Equator. We drove a long way out of town to the Guyana Zoo, which houses indigenous species in the appropriate context of the deep jungle. We spent a happy couple of hours meeting tapirs, peccaries, giant anteaters, macaws, black puma and jaguar, various monkeys and rather disconcertingly large anacondas! Our day ticket was converted to an annual pass, so we could be back!

Justin flew home, leaving Mark and me to prepare for Richard's arrival. We did a large amount of laundry, plus some provisioning, but decided against replacing the batteries until we get to Trinidad and can solve the tec(Nicola issues.

I had pre-booked a visit to the Centre Spatiales Guyanaise at Kourou, and we were on the doorstep as required at 0745. It's an impressive site with launch pads for Vega, Ariane 5 and the Russian Soyuz launchers, and a new pad under construction for Ariane 6. At $20,000/kg it's an expensive launch, and the new generation of launchers provide fierce competition. The Space-X Falcon 5 with its twin boosters landing safely shows how costs can be cut dramatically by using reusable systems.

As we left the site a convoy of trucks with vast containers was swept in by blue flashing lights and motorcycle outriders. I just managed to get a photo, and saw that it was BepiColombo, the European and Japanese joint mission to Mercury which is due to launch in July.

Our final expedition on Sunday was out to Cacao to visit the Hmong market. The drive out was lovely through rich forest on winding roads as we climbed the hills. At the crest we found a cafe on stilts overhanging the view, where we enjoyed a bamboo mug of Maracuja juice. From here we could see how much of the jungle had ben cleared for agriculture. When we reached the market we chatted to a restaurant owner who had arrived at the age of 2 with 30 refugee families, escaping persecution for their role in helping the French and Americans in their wars against Communist Vietnamese. They now provide all the vegetables cultivated for sale in Guyana!

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

Marooned!

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

Ascension

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.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Electrical Meltdown!

The idyllic trade wind weather has us bowling steadily along at 6 knots under blue skies and little white puffy clouds with only the genoa and poled-out staysail. Just 180 miles to go to St. Helena this evening. The calms, and then stronger winds are behind us, and life revolves round our watch keeping, and meals. Fishing is a constant yet, so far, futile activity. We caught one very small dorado, which managed to spit out the hook, so I put him back. However we go through patches of dense flying fish which erupt from the sea like silver swallows. We also saw a shark fin passing, which was a rare moment, as it's only the second one we have seen in the whole trip!

Yet the calm rhythms of long distance passage making are being disrupted by a never ending battery management problem. We had new batteries when we left Portsmouth and yet I had replace them in Panama because they no longer held enough charge. Six months later we had the same problem by the time we got to Darwin. There were two completely dead batteries out of the five. I compromised and bought a single one to replace them with the expectation that they would all have to be renewed in Cape Town.

This we did, and yet just three weeks later we now have two dead batteries again, and hardly any capacity in the remaining three. I've turned off the freezer, as we did in the Indian Ocean, to try to conserve power, but even so I now have to run the generator for one hour in every three. What on earth is going on? These things should last 5 years with appropriate management. I originally worked on the recommended basis of discharging to 50% of capacity and recharging to at last 80%, with regular full charging to 100%. But then I found that, on Tin Tin, the batteries don't behave as detailed in the text books. We never managed to use 50% of the capacity before the voltage fell to dangerously low levels. Then after seeking advice we resorted to charging once the voltage reached 12.2volts, but in our case this only equates to about using 20% of capacity rather than 50%. The only recovery comes when we have been in a marina for a week plugged in to the national grid, yet marinas are few and far between, and non existent in the wide wastes of the South Atlantic.

Despite careful management and monitoring with hourly data logging and graphs, our new batteries are now nearly useless. I don't know whether we will have any battery power by the time we reach Brazil! Something weird is going on! The process that we experienced twice before has now accelerated it feels....

Leaving this problem aside, we should reach St. Helena on Sunday morning, and I'm very much looking forward to exploring the island and meeting people there.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

At last a breeze!

Tuesday 13th March 2018 Position 20 32.76S 006 03.88E at 06:05 GMT

After 333 miles we still have 722 more to go to St. Helena, but at last we can turn the engine off as enough breeze has arrived to drive us in the right direction at 5 to 6 knots. With it has come heavy cloud, with curving rolls of low dark purple-black behind us like a series of monstrous shark's jaws reaching out to engulf us. Off to each side there are grey curtains of rain, which we have so far been spared.

I have been devouring Joshua Slocum's book, "Around the World Alone" with great pleasure, enjoying his writing style, his wry humour and above all the knowledge that he made his voyage without all the paraphernalia that we use today. No engine, no electrical systems, no satellite navigation. However, as I travel with him I realise that the main difference is that lack of engine. In those days you sailed into your anchorage, and sailed out again. Luckily I do have some experience of this from teenage years, and from sailing Widgeon on and off her buoy or anchor, so If all fails I can do it, as I did once with Marta When with engine failure I sailed into Portsmouth and onto the marina dock.

As I spend time monitoring batteries, puzzling over another elusive current leak and so on, it seems as though it would be so much less stressful to have an old fashioned boat like the Spray! The lure of the golden age of sail!

Sunday, 11 March 2018

A mid-Atlantic dip

Sunday 11th March 2018
Dead calm again all day and we are motoring at a steady 5 knots about 20 degrees north of our direct course to St. Helena in the hope of picking up some wind earlier. The forecasts all agree that there may be a light 10knot breeze by tomorrow evening, but whether it will enable us to stop motoring is another question. It reminds me that this is exactly what we were doing this time last year, crossing the doldrums towards Galapagos with Emily.

Nothing much happened today, except that mid-afternoon we turned off the motor, chucked a fender and a line over the stern for safety and Mark and I went for a swim. Justin, as is his wont, kept a close eye open for large shapes in the water below us, but thankfully there were no alarms. Most refreshing!

Justin produced an excellent lasagne for supper, with which we ventured a glass or two of fine South African Pinotage, as there was little likelihood of anything else requiring our urgent attention. However a ship did briefly flash into existence on the AIS screen, but its closest point of approach was forecast as 99.8 miles away as it headed south east for the Cape.

Now as I come off watch at 9pm a zéphyr of breeze has enabled us to raise all sail while we still motor on and it adds a knot to our speed which is encouraging.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Getting Warmer

Saturday 10th March 2018

We are now in a near windless ocean, with just the lightest of breezes under a clear blue sky with a few distant powder puffs off cloud to the north. It is, happily, much warmer and the thermals, fleeces, woolly hats, socks and, yes, my ski gloves have come off and we are back in shorts and T shorts and bare feet.

The ocean is now a deep blue as we have left the cold green, nutrient rich, Benguela Current behind us on the desert coast of Africa. So too have we lost the birds, the great Shy Albatrosses on wings 10feet wide and the chunky White Chinned Petrels, all black except for the pale bill. Gone too are the regular visits from the Dusky Dolphins, leaping clear of the waves to look at us, their distinctive white lines making them easily identifiable. We are trailing two fishing lines, but the ocean seems empty of fish too.

However, this morning at sun rise I had a very stealthy visit from a few dolphins, hardly disturbing the quiet sea. But I did get a brief glimpse of one and was pleased to identify a Short Beaked Common Dolphin, with a pale patch on its fin, and a deep V shape in the black cape on its back. We are at its very southern limits here, unless it is the Long Beaked version which only inhabits the shoreline of the bordering continents.

Our water maker is now behaving as it should, making 90 litres per hour, the freezer is at -10 degrees C, and the batteries are behaving reasonably well, but there is a worrying little red light occasionally hinting at that current leak again.

I have been reading a charming little book called "Outposts" by Simon Winchester, in which he describes his mission in 1984 to visit the surviving relics of the British Empire, some of which he does in a small yacht. Of course he covers St. Helena and Ascension Island, which lie ahead of us, so I am thoroughly enjoying his beautifully written essays about them, and wondering how much of what he describes still remains.

He covers other places which I have been fortunate to have visited such as Montserrat which Anne and I sailed to in "Laros"in 2006. I found his description of the island before the devastating eruption very poignant, and was interested to be reminded our Quaker cousin, Joseph Sturge , who had invested in planting lime trees and freed all the slaves on the island. Montserrat Lime Juice was apparently a great success, until a hurricane destroyed the plantations.