Author Archives: JennyDurnan

Rota and Gibraltar

It’s about 120 miles from Portimao to Rota, Spain-this is from memory, so forgive me if I’ve got the figure wrong.

Anyway, we had to leave Portimao before dawn in order to get into Rota before dark. So, we set the alarm for 3AM, and quietly left our berth once we’d been properly caffeinated. The trip over was nothing special-lots of fluky wind-0 to 30 knots at times. Odd, actually. We managed to make some good speed in the puffs, motored in the calms. I think that i set and doused the main 5 or 6 times, then the wind finally died and we motored until the last bit. This didn’t bother me, I was sick of messing endlessly with the sails, anyway.

About a mile from Rota, things increased to 25 knots or thereabouts, which would, of course, make the marina trickier. Oh well.

It turned out that the marina was only about 1/2 full, so we got a nice, open ‘t’ head to tie up to. Cake.

We were there early enough to enjoy a nice walk around with the mutt, and we realized very quickly that this was a really great town-prosperous, clean, friendly. Great! There’s a big joint US/Spanish naval base here, so I’m guessing that there’s a lot of income generated by the place. We saw lots of obvious US Navy people enjoying shore leave in town. The tourist season had ended, so things were pretty quiet, just our style. The waterside discos were shuttered, as were the bars, but the town itself was plenty lively for our taste. We liked it a lot.

After a couple of nights there, we ditched poor B (no dogs over 8kg on the ferry) at home for the day and hopped the ferry to Cadiz. This is generally considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe, going all the way back to the Phoneticians. It’s been presided over by them, Moors, Romans, and during Spain’s voyages of conquest, it was a major port for those activities, too-and therefore a very rich city back then. The architecture shows it. We hit the major sites, involving lots of walking and a climb up a really tall bell tower for good measure. Well worthwhile.

Of course, we felt guilty about ditching the dog, so our visit was brief.

We spent one final day in Rota, waiting for a fair wind for the trip to Gibraltar, and then had a quick trip down there, passing Cape Trafalgar on the way. I liked being at the site of the battle that cemented Britain’s dominance over the seas for decades. Africa was also in view.

The straits of Gibraltar are interesting from a weather perspective. It basically either blows E or W, and it’s generally substantially stronger at the downwind end. Unsuspecting sailors have a long history of enjoying a fine spinnaker run at one end, only to find themselves dealing with a white-knuckled, out of control douse by the time they get to the other end.

For our part, we’d read up on it, so we didn’t get caught unawares. Of course, we were faced with this strong wind when making the marina approach. This was going to be our first med-mooring ever, and neither one of us was looking forward to tackling it in 30 knots! I called ahead to the marina guys, and they reported that the winds in the basin were just fine, so we made our way in the narrow little entrance, after dodging all kinds of commercial traffic (Fuel is duty free in Gib, so it would appear that every ship for 1000 miles is bunkering at anchor there-it’s loaded with ships), we made the tight turn into the marina.

I’m proud to report that our first med-mooring was flawless. It turns out that it’s not really bad at all. Boats are expected to lay against each other, so everyone sticks out lots of fenders. The general idea is to just get the boat in, lay on your neighbor, and then get sorted out. I’d had visions of it being far worse. It probably will be when we have to use our own anchor, but this place has lines anchored to the bottom ready to use. It’s really not much worse than a conventional dock, really. A little more hopping around handling lines, but it’s ok.

On the way down the dock to check in, we noticed that everyone had their stern lines doubled and tripled up, with motorcycle tires and big springs for absorbing shock. This was a bit ominous. I asked one of the neighbors, and we learned that during the right conditions, the marina was subject to a lot of surge. We missed that part in the brochure.

So, job 1 was to get a proper mooring setup rigged up. I went down to the chandlery and bought a bunch of 3/8″ chain, some 22mm 3 strand poly, shackles, and thimbles. I set about splicing up a bulletproof setup, and RS is now lashed to the dock with 6 lines, some to cleats, and a couple to the primary winches. Hopefully that’ll do the job…

Gibraltar’s an interesting place. They’re very proudly British there-Union Jacks are everywhere. The town itself is pleasant, but the population density is pretty high. The real gem of the place is the rock itself. There are a few really fantastic hikes to be done, and once one gets over the sense that the apes are intending to maul you, they’re really enjoyable hikes indeed. A bicycle circuit of the rock’s a fine thing to do as well. All in all, we’re happy there.

Next stop, Alaska!

Portugal

Our trip down the Portuguese coast was just a 2 stop affair. We had a deadline to get to Portimao to meet Jenny’s parents, and most of the coast consists of pretty shallow entrances not really fit for a 10′ draft.

So, we had a gorgeous spinnaker sail from Baiona to Cascais, just outside of Lisbon. We never did find out for sure how deep the marina was, so when we arrived and met an outbound Volvo Ocean Race boat, we knew we were all set. We tied up at the reception berth, got some fuel, and were directed to our berth for a couple of nights. The marina had a bit of a sterile, utilitarian feel (our view was of a huge concrete seawall), but it worked well enough for a rest.

The town itself was a pleasant place to spend some time, with lots of good restaurants and a big music festival going on. Unfortunately, it was sort of a euro-pop lineup-not my thing. But, anyway, it was a lively spot.

I also had the good fortune to find a dive shop and get a new tank. My old aluminum 80 was leaking at the valve, and I was honestly afraid that it was going to blow up and destroy the sail locker once I discovered it. So, I let all the pressure off and condemned it. But, I really don’t like sailing without a decent underwater air supply, in case we hook up on some gear or other debris and I have to go cut it off. So, this was a good development.

We sailed straight from there to Portimao, about an 18 hour ride for us. We left at the crack of dawn, and had an absolutely windless motoring trip down the coast. After we rounded Cabo S. Vincente, we did get a bit of a breeze, but that was just the last 20 miles or so. I didn’t even bother to set the main-we were going to be there after dark anyway, and honestly, I was just feeling lazy.

We made an easy night arrival, and scoped out what was supposed to be our berth. The finger piers were about 30′ long, and most of the boats there were in the mid-40′ range. I figured there must have been some mistake, so we tied up along the floating breakwater for a little snooze, figuring we’d get sent to a properly sized berth in the morning.

Well, it turns out that 30′ piers are used for boats to about 60′ in Portimao, so we secured the best we could (sort of like med mooring without bow lines) and set about exploring our new temporary home.

Portimao was nice enough. It’s easy to see why the Algarve is so popular with Northern Europeans for their summer break. There is sand, surf, sun, and bars in abundance, along with the tourist shops that cater to the visitors. There wasn’t all that much else on offer, it sort of felt like an old-world version of Cabo or Cancun. But, it’s very well sited for this, and the weather was gorgeous every single day we were there, and really hot-a big change from the coast further north.

Jenny and I were both uncomfortably warm for the first time since we left Charleston, some 14 months previously.

Anyway, Jenny’s mom and stepdad arrived the day after we did, and we spent the next two weeks being proper tourists, even making a day trip to Lisbon.

Next stop, Rota and Gibraltar…

Cruising Galicia

After our road trip, we spent a couple of days in La Coruna, and then headed out for some leisurely cruising down through the Spanish rias. This is a really beautiful part of the world, with nice anchorages and interesting towns to visit. As an added bonus, the distances between stops is really short, nothing’s more than a daysail away. Nice.

Our first stop after leaving La Coruna was the small town of Corme. It’s just got a small wharf for local fishing boats, so the yachts anchor up between the ‘viveros’ (aquaculture rafts) and the shore. It’s a pretty tight little spot, and our first crack at anchoring revealed that we were way too close to some abandoned cables which were invisible before the tide went out. So, we shifted a little bit away from that, and enjoyed a quiet night off the small waterfront. It was actually the first time that we’d been at anchor since we’d been in Newport on the way south from our first visit to Newfoundland! Everywhere we’ve been of late has been pretty much a dockside show. It was nice to get the hook back down and enjoy some proper peace and quiet.

After just one night, we carried on to Camarinas, an attractive town with a smallish, somewhat dumpy marina. The several anchorages were all gorgeous, though, so that was an easy choice for us. Anyway, we were still keen on getting back into anchored life. There was plenty of opportunity for dinghy exploring, a great beach for Baxter, perfect temperatures. About as good as it gets. We stuck around for a few days.

Next up was getting around Cabo Finisterre and the town of Muros. Another nice fishing village, with a busy marina full of cruisers. We got tied up in a tricky berth in high winds, after a bit of a crash landing thanks to the dock hand deciding that he needed to stop the boat with the spring line before it was in the slip.

By the way, to those of you reading this who may be newer to sailing- It’s REALLY common when you’re bringing a boat into a slip to have a well-intentioned helper take a line and then stop the boat while you’re not yet in the slip. Invariably, the bow or stern swings in hard, crashes into the dock, and they then look at you with a look of great surprise, as if to say ‘what did you do??’ Let the person driving the boat stop it with the engine, unless they ask you to do otherwise. End rant.

So, after getting over the trauma of our landing and a small paint chip, we settled in for a few days. Shortly after our arrival, an American boat arrived, and the next day, another one showed up. We’d not seen any US boats to speak of, with the exception of a couple of new ones which had been purchased in France and were awaiting delivery. It was apparently quite noteworthy, the marina staff told me they’d never had 3 yanks in there at the same time. Nice folks, too.

Next stop was Vigo. I wanted to take a look around the city, so we booked into the only marina that could take us, well to the west of town. The marina was nice enough, but it was in a location that was just awful. It was way out in an industrial area, and it was a 90 minute walk through a warehouse district with trash all over the streets and graffiti on most of the buildings to get to the outskirts of town. It wasn’t dangerous, but just really ugly.

Vigo was ok, but not really our cup of tea. We got out of there pretty quickly and headed to the small town of Baiona. Much better! And, we could anchor there too. On our way in to the anchorage, I was eyeballing the marina covetously, though. It looked really nice in there. I mentioned to Jenny that there was a nice, big T-head that we could tie up to, have power, easy dog walking, all the comforts. She rolled her eyes at me and my decadent tendencies (anchoring is free, marinas cost typically somewhere between 50 and 100 euros a night), and I realized that I was indeed being a bit of a profligate fool. So, we went off to the anchorage, and to both of our great surprise, the anchor windlass wouldn’t work! Off to the marina after all. I guess it was meant to be. It turns out that the little hand control for the windlass broke. It’s since been replaced, all good.

Baiona was great. It was the first place to learn of the success of Columbus’ trip in 1492. The ‘Nina’ (if I’m remembering right) arrived there.

Anyway, it’s a gorgeous place, full of history and great walking. We loved it. But, Jenny’s mom and stepdad’s arrival in southern Portugal was rapidly approaching, and we had to get out of there after just 2 days.

Next entry, Portugal.

A break from sailing… Road trip!

We hung around La Coruna for a few days, finding it a really fantastic small city. It’s got a nice waterfront, a great mix of old and new, good walking, friendly people, and a cool, agreeable climate. The only downside is that the marina there is subject to a lot of swell, so we had to put lots of dock lines on, and several got pretty well eaten up by all the surge. No matter.

We also both felt like we were re-entering the cruising community for the first time since leaving the Caribbean. There were lots of boats from all over Europe there, some going north, some south, some west. We had more interaction with our fellow boaters in La Coruna over a couple of weeks than we had in the previous year put together.

Anyway, we’d planned an inland excursion to Avignon in southern France. Friends from the Florida marina we’d stayed in a couple of years ago were on an extended holiday around France, so we used their visit as an excuse to get off the boat and see something new.

We fetched our rental car and went off with only a loose plan. We wound up spending a couple of nights in Bilbao for our first stop. It’s the Basque capital, and a very attractive place to boot. We stayed at a hotel way up at the top of a long, steep hill, so all got plenty of exercise tramping back and forth. Even Baxter was pretty worn out, which is quite rare, even at his advanced aged of 11.8.

I have to say that the north coast of Spain in general was really an unexpected surprise for both of us. What an absolutely gorgeous part of the world that is. It’s made the short list of places to live should we decide to retire outside the US.

Next stop was the principality of Andorra. Neither of us had ever been there, so it seemed like we should drop in while we were in the neighborhood. I found a hotel that was part of a ski resort, and it was simply spectacular. I suspect that the place probably fetches $500 a night during the ski season, but it was cheap and glorious during the summer season. A spa and the best hotel breakfast we’ve ever had were also included. Nice! Great walks were close at hand, and while we suffered a bit with the thin air at first, we had a fine time of it there. Jenny also took advantage of the lack of VAT to get some hiking boots.

Finally, we arrived in Avingon with a brief overnight in Narbonne. Avignon is a very old city, with the medieval ramparts still intact. It was home to several popes several hundred years ago, and the architecture was, of course, magnificent.

Danny and Allison, along with Remy and Jensen, their young twins, arrived the same day. It was nice to catch up with them. For some reason, Remy is madly in love with Jenny, so those two in particular had some serious bonding time. They had a funny episode at a restaurant. The lock wouldn’t work on the door of the women’s room, so they agreed to watch the door for each other. While it was Jenny’s turn, Remy was on guard duty when someone approached. She looked them right in the eye, and said ‘Jenny’s in there. If you go in, there’s going to be BIG trouble!’. This was almost certainly the surprised Frenchwoman’s first time being stared down by a 6 year old…

Anyway, all things come to an end, and Avignon was it for us. We trucked it back to Coruna in a long day, and started some proper cruising. Actual leisurely cruising! This has been a bit of a rarity for us of late, and it was just great to enjoy some civilized boating. We’ll update shortly on that portion of the travelogue.

To the Rias!

After a few rainy days in Plymouth, we stocked up on a few provisions and started making our way down toward the Spanish coast. We’d reserved a slip in La Coruna for a month, despite planning to keep RS there for only a couple of weeks. It turned out to be cheaper that way.

Anyway, the Bay of Biscay and the Western channel had been blowing pretty relentlessly SW’ly, so we took advantage of a decent wind shift to hop across to Brest and wait for a favorable wind to make the hop across to Spain.

Brest isn’t the most attractive place-the waterfront is basically military and shipping terminals, but there’s a decent enough marina stuck in the middle of it all. It served our purposes.

We also got a great introduction to the special breed that the Brittany sailors really are. Around the marina, there’s a sort of Hollywood walk of fame, complete with hand prints set into bronze plaques, commemorating all of the records set by the local boys and girls. It’s really a who’s who list of the highest level of distance racing.

We tied up behind a couple of Open 50’s and a superfast tri. The skipper of one of the 50’s stopped by to ask about Rocket Science. He really liked the boat and wanted to find out who designed her-he had just spent 158 days going around the world solo gathering water samples from the Antarctic convergence, and wanted something bigger and faster. The guy talked about the trip as if he’d just been out for a pleasant outing. Something special was clearly happening in this town…

Our second day in town, a gale came through, gusting up into the mid-40’s. The harbor entrance looked like a malestrom, rain was driving in sideways. Not really fit for man nor beast out there, as far as we were concerned. We hunkered down below, listing to the lines creaking with all the surge, the wind shreiking in the rig. Surely nobody would be out sailing on a day like this.

Strangely, I saw mast after mast passing by from my perch on the settee. A peek out the window revealed dozens of happy French crews heading out for a bit of fun. I could see them poking their bows out of the harbor, sheets of spray flying over the boats as they made their exits. I made a quick climb to the top of the breakwater, and found the sound to be fairly loaded with boats, deeply reefed and ripping along. Wow.

Anyway, we spent a week in Brest, waiting for the weather pattern to finally change so we could get across Biscay without any upwind suffering. Finally, we had a 24 hour NW’ly forecast, followed by calms, so we left as soon as the shift materialized, hoping to get across the better part of the bay before the engine was called on.

We did manage to put together a surprisingly rough (at least until we got out into deep water) 230 mile run for our first 24 hours, and then things dropped to nothing as predicted. We motored the remainder of the way, very slowly, thanks to a contrary current. We arrived at La Coruna at 0300, threading our way around a couple of very dense fishing fleets, a couple of freighters, and a bunch of other coastal traffic on our way in. We usually hold off until daylight when we go into a new port, but this one was pretty wide open, so it was safe enough to make a night entry.

We’ll have another update soon about our stay in Coruna, a great road trip, and our cruise down the rias. Great stuff all around.

Plymouth – A love story

Jenny’s story:

England was never on my bucket list. I did the obligatory weekend trip to London once half a lifetime ago. It was a bus trip from Germany, and not a whole lot of fun. When TJ and I decided to spend the winter in England is seemed more of a necessity as a base to go places further North from that actually are on my bucket list than a destination that would excite me.
Lymington was alright, but there were several things I disliked about it, especially most of our fellow boaters who could be seen walking around with their noses so high up in the air I was afraid they would soon fall victim to some sort of altitude sickness.
There were exceptions to the rule. Ann and Ged and Tilly the dog, and David and Laurel were all very special.
So when it was time to get out of Lymington I was okay with it. At the end of March we started our cruising season and visited a few more places, none of which I got overly excited about. Then we pulled into Plymouth.
The Marina at Sutton Harbor is very central, and it’s a short walk to anything you could ever want. Including Starbucks (GASP).

We got there fairly late in the day. The next morning I took Baxter for a walk up to the Hoe which is a very nice, big park with a spectacular view across the whole bay. It was a bright, sunshiny day and when I caught my first glimpse of all the stunning beauty there was a warm spot deep down inside me that said: THIS is where I want to be.

I knew, however, that revelation wasn’t going to go over so well with my dear husband. On my way back I stopped by the marina office and got a quote for us to stay until mid July. It wasn’t bad and in fact cheaper than our intended destination, Dublin. It’s good to have all the information needed to back up the requests. As I suspected TJ was not amused. He still had a couple of weeks off, and he wanted to see new places! So I grudgingly gave up and thought to myself well, Dublin shouldn’t be too shabby either.
We continued on to Falmouth, sat there for a few days and waited for a weather window. Finally we had one that would have maybe, hopefully just about almost gotten us to Dublin if we were lucky and the forecast held up and nothing went wrong. Sounds like ideal conditions to go sailing to you? Yeah, not to me either.
That day TJ went up to the marina office and talked to Ian there. He told him that I had really wanted to stay in Plymouth, but that he wanted to go to Dublin. Ian very nonchalantly answered: ‘What the hell do you care where the boat is? You aren’t even going to be there!’ Imagine my surprise when TJ returned to the boat and asked me if I wanted to go back to Plymouth! Hell YES!
We spent a blissfully happy week in Plymouth, with beautiful weather. TJ left on April 22 and I tried to settle into yet another new beginning.

I’m strongly suspecting that all people who ended up in Newfoundland came from Plymouth. Because next to the Newfies the Plymouthians must be the nicest people on earth. Even the ones you wouldn’t ordinarily suspect to be nice people. The ones who are tattooed up to their eyebrows, shaved head and all and look like they might just pull a knife on you and try to steal your purse. They give you a friendly smile and say: ‘Hiya, you alright?’
Here we meet Plymouthian cultural lesson number 1 and 2:
1) Never judge anyone by their looks. I have not met one person who was unfriendly in that town. In fact, some were a bit too friendly, but more about that later.
2) I thought I learned proper British English in school. They taught me to say: Hi, how are you. So what was this ‘you alright’ all about? Did I look unwell? It seemed to express some sort of concern. I decided to consult my most trusted source: Karen at the marina office. After she had a good laugh she explained to me that this is the Plymouthian way of saying: Hi, how are you. It reminded me of Germany, where nobody anywhere actually speaks any proper German. I wonder if it is that way in England, too?

As in most places I got in with the dog crowd right away. Baxter and I walked up to the Hoe every morning, and depending on what time we went (which these days largely depends on whether Baxter feels like punishing me or being Mr. Geriatric) we met different people. There was the friendly old guy with the Dachshund, who happily argues with me about Brexit for long periods of time, and told me all about the German friends he had in 1972.
There was the guy with the black lab who just couldn’t believe that it only took us 8 days, 18 hours and 48 minutes to get from St. John’s to Dingle. Every time I met him he had to confirm the time again, because he has sailing friends who, after he reported my information to them, were just stunned and needed to know all the details. And that’s all he ever wanted to talk about.
There was Pedro, with his big, badass looking dog who looked like he could rip your throat out if he felt like it and was really the sweetest lap dog. He mostly walked with a friendly lady with a black lab, who I would later encounter at Cap’n Jaspers. Same thing every day.
And my bestie Jim of course. He’s 78 years old and has a 2 year old Collie who is very energetic. So they walk. I think they must walk all day, because not just did I meet him in the mornings on the Hoe, but randomly in other places throughout the day. Amazing.

There are many memorials on the Hoe. Most of them are big, beautiful war memorials. One day I walked down one of the side paths and noticed a small, fenced-in area of scrubs. There was a plaque with the inscription ‘for those dedicated to world peace’. The priorities are very clear around there, apparently.
In the beginning I felt very sad and lonely. I hadn’t been ditched in a foreign place for about a year, and it was odd to be all by myself again. You know how people move to another city, even another country for a job, love or whatever reason? How it is hard to start all over in a new place. I feel like I do that up to 3 times a year, and it is starting to get old.
Things got better as I got more familiar with the place and the people. Karen was wonderful. She encouraged me to come up for a chat and a coffee any time, and I did so maybe a bit more often than was healthy for her work schedule. Talking to my Hoe friends was also good. In the end I found out that they all called me ‘the American lady’, though I had told every one of them that I am German. I suppose TJ finally lost the argument about me having a strong German accent…
I started going to a yoga studio nearby, the Yogaloft. There was a Monday morning community class which was at 11, the perfect time after dog walking and breakfast. For some unfathomable reason it was taught by a different teacher every week. But, this way I got to know the different teachers and their style. In the beginning I didn’t catch on. Leaving my fabulous yoga teachers in Germany had been hard, and it left me with the feeling that I would never, ever find anyone who’d be that amazing and have such an impact on me. To prove the point, I did go to a yoga class in Lymington, and it was horrible. It was in a very cold, dirty room and so slow I almost fell asleep on my mat.
Anyhow, here I was, all sad, and then Georgie showed up. I quite liked her class, and she encouraged us to come to the newly offered hot yoga classes she taught. Now I was somewhat suspicious about that. I asked her after class and she said ‘it’s a very safe class’. I wondered how in the world that would be accomplished, but decided it was a good idea to try and so I did.
5.45 pm isn’t really my time, but what the hell. Trying not to get stuck in old habits (I HATE working out after noon) I went and fell in love. Georgie gave me back all my faith in yoga, and she’s a wonderful teacher. I learned tons from her, and am deeply grateful that I was able to be her student.
Finally after a few weeks Jo returned. She’s the owner of the studio and took over the Monday classes, and it was so much fun! I noticed right away that the attitude around there is much more relaxed than in Germany. Everybody brings water and there’s even some talking in class. I’m not sure which I prefer – but trying to be all yogi about it I didn’t mind either way.
I also joined a gym right before TJ left. I decided I wanted to up my game (especially because one of my yoga goals is to master a hand stand and that takes some muscle!) and started training with a personal trainer. Hollie is one of those people who you must like instantly. She’s that super cute happy-go-lucky kind of girl who immediately finds a spot in your heart. She even kept that spot when she started kicking my ass. One shouldn’t complain about pain that’s self-inflicted, anyways…

So I settled into a nice routine of walking, yoga and workouts at the gym, Netflix, chicken soup and the great cod bake of 2017 at home.
The weather was nice for a little while. One of my favorite Plymouth stories happened on a nice, sunny afternoon when I was out walking the reverse Hoe route with Baxter. A homeless man came towards me and started petting the dog. Then he told me this very long story about how he had a dog that got sick, all the while standing really close to me and spitting a little. I slowly crept backwards, hoping not to offend and not to catch anything. The poor man was very run down. Anyway, that dog got very sick, had seizures and what not and was close to death and so he took it to the vet. The vet said to him: ‘Sir, I can either put this dog down, or you can take him home and pray.’ He couldn’t get himself to put the poor animal out of its misery, so he took it home and prayed all day. Guess what? The next morning the dog was as good as new!
I spent the rest of the afternoon chuckling in random intervals.
The weather turned to rubbish soon thereafter and stayed that way for most of the time I was there. We had precisely 2 heat waves. One lasted for 4 days, the other one for 2. The rest of the time I had to run the heater, often even in the daytime. In July. No kidding. That was the part that bothered me the most. And the fact that there were hardly any people around. I had a Princess 58 next to me whose owner was super nice. He was only there occasionally though. I was just about 100% sure that his name was George, and that’s what I called him for 3 months. I wrote something about him to TJ and he asked if I was talking about Colin. As confusion set in I decided to ask one of the dockhands. ‘Oh, you mean Jordan?’ At my wit’s end I decided to consult with Karen. Turns out the good man was called Nigel. Oops.
At the end of the dock was a classic wooden boat with a wonderful family on it. Sach and Lotty with little Hector and Phoebe were brand new cruisers-to-be. They were super nice, always up for a chat and the kids were quite obsessed with Baxter. Lotty told me one morning they had just been playing ‘Baxter’ in the bathroom. How cute!
I spent my birthday by myself which was a bit sad, but I scheduled a good butt kicking with Hollie, and since that always made me happy it wasn’t a bad day. A few days after I met Sach and Lotty and the kids with arms full of packages. I asked them if they had been on an online shopping spree, and they told me it was going to be Hector’s birthday the next day. I told him that it had been my birthday on Tuesday and that made us star sign twins. The next morning they showed up with a slice of Minion cake and a home made birthday card because they felt bad that I had spent my birthday all by myself. It was most decidedly the bestest birthday card I have ever received, and if I ever live in a house I shall frame it and put it up on the wall. I was very close to tears, so touched by their kindness.
Big V came to visit for a week, and that was great. We had one day of nice weather on which we took a ferry to Cawsand and hiked all the way to Cremyll. We got there somewhat exhausted only to find out that there was no ferry back to the Barbican and we had to walk another 2.5 miles after getting across the water to the Mayflower marina. The rest of his time in Plymouth was gray and rainy. We didn’t do anything too exciting after that hike day, but we ate a lot of really good food at the Rockfish restaurant, so that was good, too.

All things must come to an end, and since I am so very very sad about leaving Plymouth, I shall end this story (which has admittedly gotten a bit longer than I had planned) with another fun anecdote. There was a 32′ wooden boat at Sutton Harbor which was for sale. I saw the owner on it once, varnishing of course, and told her I thought her boat was very cute. About 2 weeks later I saw a ‘sold’ sign on it and was baffled by how fast that had happened. A few days later I saw a man and a woman on the boat while I was running back and forth doing the laundry. I stopped because I assumed they were the new owners, and I wanted to congratulate them on their purchase. Buying a new boat is so exciting, at least until you find all the things that need to be fixed or updated… We chatted for a while, and I was about to leave when the man (minimum age 70, kind of big, not much hair but a huge bushy beard) said: ‘Come see me again soon, I’m single.’ I was about to laugh it off when the woman said: ‘It’s true, I’m just a friend.’ As in: he and I was an actual possibility. I avoided doing laundry for a while after that…
So, thank you again Plymouth, you mad, brilliant, rubbish weather place for the wonderful time!
Thank you Hollie, for not having any mercy with me (as requested), and for being such a sweet, loving, caring person. Stay just the way you are and don’t be so insecure, you are a really good person.
Thank you Karen, for caring, for getting me a birthday card, and for entertaining me when I needed a friend.
Thank you Georgie, for being a wonderful teacher and restoring my faith in yoga.
Thank you Mark, for being kind and helpful and having mercy and endless patience with this internet addict.
And also special thank you to Dr. Holly May from Back2Back Chiropractic, who took such good care of me and finally, after many years, solved my shoulder problem! You are brilliant!

Panama, 1990

The old man and I left Ft. Lauderdale on ‘Ahora’ in 1989. This was the cruise in lieu of college.

We had the good fortune to be anchored off the Panama Canal Yacht Club just a few short weeks after the US went in and overthrew Noriega. At 17, this was endlessly fascinating to me. The town of Colon, a dangerous shithole at the best of times, now had the additional attraction of troops still in the streets, and buildings riddled with bullet and shell holes, and some roofs blown off to boot.

My first (actually only) war zone. I remember checking in with customs and immigration. The building was shot to hell, and there was no roof left in the office. While we were there, a rain squall came through. Papers were hurriedly gathered, typewriters were covered in plastic sheets, and everyone retreated to the single dry corner until it passed. Then, life carried on as usual.

We signed on to a California-based boat, named ‘Captain Musick’, and went through the canal as line-handlers.

Shortly after, we had enough destruction and ruin, and headed off to the San Blas.

Back then, there really were hardly any boats cruising the islands. We saw 3 or 4 sailboats in the 6 weeks or so that we were there.

Our arrival at our first stop was absolutely incredible. The village, home to about 40 Kuna, all excitedly piled into their dugout canoes and paddled furiously to come out and stare in wonder at the new arrivals. We didn’t even have the anchor down, and the rails were lined by smiling Indians. Even more remarkable, the crowd wasn’t there to try to sell us anything, not to ask for anything. They were all just there to come and spend time with the newcomers.

It gave us some very small idea of what it must have been like when the early explorers arrived in remote places. Truly remarkable.

Our most recent visit, while still very pleasant, certainly didn’t compare to back then. Our sailing boats are old news these days.

While in this first anchorage, we became friendly with a Kuna named Nigel. He’d had some schooling on the mainland, and spoke passable English. He wanted to go to one of the more remote islands, where he had some family. A warm welcome was promised, and he would guide us through the reefs to get there. The charts of the San Blas are based on incomplete surveys from the mid-1800’s, so some local knowledge was welcome.

We left late one morning, to have the sun high and behind us for reef spotting, allowing Nigel to take the wheel. We quickly noticed that every time we came near another canoe he would discretely change course, so as to pass as close as possible to his buddies. Each time, he would stand proudly at the wheel of this huge yacht (by dugout canoe standards), grinning at the bewildered folks paddling along. It was cute.

Our next arrival was in a place which was apparently even less visited. By the time we got the anchor down, we had easily 100 people surrounding us. We were informed by Nigel that since we were on one of the main, less visited islands, we would have to go meet the chief at the great hut, and gifts would be a good idea.

My dad’s friend, George, a dentist with a desire to spread better dental hygiene to the less developed world, had given us a big box of toothbrushes to take along on our trip. Perfect!

So, armed with our gift, our flotilla paddled our way into the village, where everyone who wasn’t with us on the water was already assembled in the great hut. The big chief and two under-chiefs welcomed us to the island, a few speeches were made, translated helpfully by Nigel. Finally, it was time for our gift to the village.

What a flop.

A polite smile, some quiet conversation between the chiefs ensued. We could tell we didn’t do too well. After a pause, the big chief spoke up, saying that the village was low on tobacco, and this would be a better thing.

Well, we had none.

A little desperate, my dad mentioned that he had a big bag of candy on the boat, maybe we could hand that out to the children? Once this was translated, the air was electric in the hut. We seemed to be doing a little better with plan B.

So, back to the dinghy with an even bigger flotilla surrounding us!

We grabbed the candy, fended off the mob, and managed to make it generally unharmed back to the great hut.

The intent had been to hand out the sweets to the kids, but the melee that ensued made it very quickly clear that this was going to be a free-for-all, with teens and women knocking over kids to make sure they got their share of this unexpected bounty. I managed to grab a few handfuls and make sure the little ones got some too, while the old man dealt the best he could with the rest.

So much for the dental hygiene mission…

Most of our days there were spent snorkeling on the reef, socializing with the few other cruisers, and really just reveling in the magnificent culture of the islands. The initial excitement of our arrival slowly wore off, but generally, we would have a canoe or two alongside from dawn until dusk. Most mornings, I’d wake up to a couple of smiling Kunas peeking down through the windows at me, happy to see me finally awake.

What a fascinating place. To do it at that age, with dad, was also pretty special.

Finally, it was time to go, next stop Cartagena, Colombia.

That’s a story for another day, however.

The crew from hell

The year was 2003. I had Star Path based in Puerto Vallarta. Through a bit of an accident of scheduling, I had the entire non-hurricane season off. What a treat! This is rare. Almost all of my career, I was in Alaska in January and February, so I was determined to do something a little more ambitious than hang around with the retirees around Mexico.

Right on cue, I opened up an old Cruising World, and found a story by Alvah Simon (one of my all-time sailing heroes, by the way) about the Galapagos and Ecuador. The Galapagos had recently changed their rules, allowing cruising boats 6 weeks in the islands. This was a big departure from the old ways, and the islands suddenly became a very attractive target for me. There was also a small, secure marina on the mainland which had been recently visited and written about favorably by Jimmy Cornell, so I made the plan to make a winter circuit from PV to Ecuador and back. I was really looking forward to both the islands and getting up into the Andes. I’d never been anywhere in South America except Cartagena back in 1990, so getting some exploration in was an exciting prospect.

There was just one problem-no crew. I can’t remember if I was broken up with my on again-off again girlfriend, or if she just didn’t want to come, but I was faced with either finding somebody or going solo. It’s a really long-ass passage from PV to the islands, and a long-ass one back, not to mention the 500 miles or so from the islands to the mainland.

I didn’t want to go alone. I just don’t really think that singlehanding’s that much fun.

So, I started looking around online, and found a crew site or two. I posted an ad, and got quite a lot of responses. Most were from obvious dreamer hippie snowflake types. Nothing against the dreamer snowflakes, but I really didn’t want to go to sea with someone who was all keen for the romance of the open sea. These types are more often than not very quickly disenchanted when reality sets in.

Yes, when things are going perfectly, it can be really special out there. But, for the most part, it’s a lot of work, repairs, broken sleep, and general discomfort. Let’s just be honest about it.

Also, the offshore route to the Galapagos is a very hot, often very light air passage. There would be a lot of mizzen staysail and spinnaker work to do to make any miles. The stormy gulf of Tehuantepec also had to be negotiated, as we would not be completely offshore of the wind zone.

Anyway, this was not really going to be a pleasant trade-wind trip. I expected to be at sea for somewhere between 2-3 weeks.

Finally, Erin materialized. She was light on experience, but seemed really keen to go, and had what I deemed to be the proper reaction to my description of what she could expect. Sort of a mix of apprehension and determination. Ok, a good candidate! I bought her a ticket straight away, and we arranged to meet at the PV airport in a few days. I then set about finishing up readying the boat.

On the appointed day, I waited outside the arrivals gates, with nothing but a general description-medium build, reddish curly hair, the obligatory Canadian flag patch sewn on to everything. Why do they do that, by the way?

Finally, the palest individual I’ve ever seen emerged. We’re talking skin entirely devoid of pigment. Probably as close as one can be to albino without actually being one.

Oh, shit. I really hoped that wasn’t her. This person was probably among the least suited for being on the water at the equator I’d ever seen. We made eye contact. Yup, here’s my crew. Oh well, they make SPF 950 or something, right?

Anyway, we had a couple of friendly nights getting acquainted to each other, and her to the boat. All was looking good.

We set off from Banderas Bay on a warm evening, rounding Cabo Corrientes in a moderate fair wind. Erin turned in while I took the first night watch. After a few hours, I called her up to the cockpit for a short shift, which was handled just fine. But, I had the sense that all was not well with her. Every little whitecap that hit the hull seemed to startle Erin, and the fact that no land was in view was a frequent topic for her. This was a bit of a bad sign, as we would spend the entire passage way offshore, up to about 450 miles.

Day 2 found us ghosting along on an oily sea, with just a slight swell from the south. Hungry, I put some cheese between a couple of tortillas and tossed them in the oven. I offered Erin some, and she gave me the most horrified, accusing look. ‘How can you even think of cooking in these conditions?!’.

Uh oh.

So it went for 17 days. Erin generally stopped talking, didn’t eat much. I asked her to do as little as I could. Generally, I’d have her stand night watches for as long as she could stay awake. Her record was 12 minutes. Rarely did she stay on deck for an hour at night.

I should have singlehanded…

Anyway, all good things do come to an end, and we made our landfall in the Galapagos in good order. The boat had a little bit of damage due to what I’m pretty sure was a whale collision, but she was still seaworthy. We anchored in Puerto Ayora, checked in, had a decent meal, and turned in for some needed sleep. At least I needed to sleep. I’m pretty sure Erin was managing 18 hours a day in the bunk.

The next day, I really wanted my boat back. First, I encouraged her to go take a tour or something. Anything. She replied that her walk around the village had shown her all she needed to see of the Galapagos, and she settled into the cockpit with a trashy novel. I couldn’t believe it.

Finally, I booked her a room in a cheap little hotel, telling her I needed 24 hours for boat chores. Reluctantly, she packed up a little gear and went on her way. I finally relaxed, poured a strong rum and coke, put on some really good late ’60’s Grateful Dead on the stereo and finally was able to bask in the satisfaction of a landfall well made, and also my longest passage ever.

Anyway, the Galapagos turned out to be great, even with Erin. We left Star Path anchored bow and stern with the tour boats, and went on the pretty high-end ‘Galapagos Legend’ for a week. It’s prohibitively expensive to cruise on your own boat. The islands really are spectacular.

Finally, it was time to head for the mainland. It was right back to the same old Erin. Contrary, grumpy, just awful.

It took us 6 days to get to Salinas. About a day out, I broke the news to her that she’d be leaving the boat as soon as we arrived. Her look of surprise at this news was unexpected, but she just had to go.

So, as soon as we got to an internet connection, I booked her a ticket back to Toronto or wherever the heck she was from for the next day. She would have to take a bus to Quito from the coast, about 6 hours, and then fly from there.

She appeared on deck in a pair of short shorts and a sort of bikini top for her solo bus voyage into the S. American interior. It took some convincing to get this 23 year old to cover up, but she finally did so, and she left with the promise to send me the money for her ticket home.

And, she was never heard from again. Her parents knew how to reach me, so I can safely assume that she made it home.

Wow.

On the way back to the marina from the bus stop, I walked with the lightness in my step of an innocent man just released from prison. There were just a few cruising boats there, and the first guy I saw off of one of them noticed my radical change in demeanor, asking me what was going on.

‘She’s finally gone… I’m free!!’ This got quite a chuckle, and of course the topic around the evening pow wow in the marina revolved around crew horror stories. I was not alone, not by a long shot.

In the end, I found someone else to make the trip back to Mexico with me. A 25 year old guy, Geoff. We had an awesome time heading back to Mexico. Even getting denied entry back into the Galapagos (a long story-we didn’t read the fine print) didn’t faze the guy. We hopped up the Mexican coast in a leisurely fashion, having made our landfall in Zihuatanejo.

My only gripe was that he was probably the most beautiful guy I’ve ever seen, just a perfect sculpted body, rippling muscles, long hair, Adonnis landed in Mexico. He preferred to haul the anchor by hand, and I swear that every woman on every cruising boat was staring wistfully at the dude through binoculars while this was going on. I was definitely the dumpy friend on this cruise.

Good times.

I’m sure glad I’ve got Jenny now. It’s almost too easy. And, I’m still the dumpy one of the crew. Oh well, I’ve gotten used to it.

2017, or, the year we won the battle with ourselves and learned to love bureaucracy

Ok, it’s not really as bad as Orwell’s vision, but we have had an absolutely mind-bending time trying to jump through all of the hoops that are in place over here in this part of the world.

It’s complicated-I hope everyone’s able to keep up. Here goes…

Jenny and I were sitting in Falmouth, discussing winter plans. Rocket Science has until February to get out of the EU, for at least a day. The vessel gets 18 months after arrival to either get out or pay VAT. This is a tax of about 20%. We’ve sailed to lots of places, and never have we faced an expense remotely as onerous as this after such a short time.

But, the good news is that one can sail out of the EU if needed. Norway and the Channel Islands are both available in N. Europe. Gibraltar, Turkey, and any of the African countries are options to reset the clock on VAT.

Our original plan had been to sail to Norway for a little while this summer, and then sail to Gibralatar for a winter berth. But, thanks to Baxter, we are not allowed to sail into the UK after leaving. Essentially, we would have to negotiate the lee shore of continental Europe, and would have a poor departure point for the crossing of the Bay of Biscay, thanks to the prevailing winds and continental shelf.

So, we concocted the scheme where we would leave the mutt with Jenny’s mom, and then reclaim him via ferry or airplane before leaving for Gibraltar. Ok, a pain, but still workable.

Further research revealed that Gibraltar would only allow the dog entry if we could prove that he was in the EU for the previous 6 consecutive months. Since Norway’s out of the EU, our trip there to get outside the union would end up effectively barring us from entry into Gibraltar.

Good god.

So, we figured that we could bypass Norway, spend the summer in Scotland, and then sail on down to Gibraltar in plenty of time to beat the clock on our temporary importation’s expiration. No problem. We were a little bummed to miss Norway, but here in Europe nothing is too far away, we could always go back later.

Ok, we had a plan! Off to Dublin!

But, while we were sitting around in Falmouth waiting for a weather window for the trip north, we availed ourselves of the opportunity to learn a little more about how customs rules were being enforced in southern Europe.

We discovered that even though Gibraltar is outside the EU, France and Spain don’t necessarily recognize a visit to the rock as sufficient to reset the VAT clock. They might, but they also might not. What?!

We’ve had some experience with the varying interpretations of the rules here, so it wasn’t a terrible surprise, but it’s awfully frustrating to deal with, since all of the EU countries are operating under the same laws. Identical questions to different countries will often yield opposite answers.

Ugh.

So, we were still faced with getting the boat out of the EU. Norway was out because of the mutt and weather routing, Gibraltar may or may not have been out, depending on who you ask, Turkey’s awfully far away, and I wasn’t all that keen to go to Morocco or Tunisia. Sailing in there with a US flag waving in the breeze seems to be sort of asking for trouble. Maybe I’m being paranoid, but it just seems ill-advised right now.

What was left? The Channel Islands. So, we reluctantly scrapped the Irish plan and turned tail, sailing back to Plymouth from Falmouth. There we ditched the dog, boarding him at a very nice little luxury retreat in Cornwall. It’s illegal to sail into the UK with a dog unless you arrive from Ireland, even if you’ve just crossed to the Channel Islands and back, so he couldn’t come.

So, we made the 90 mile hop over to Guernsey, topped up on some cheap fuel, got the boat out of the zone for a couple of days, and then sailed right back. Mission accomplished. We think.

It’s certainly been interesting. We are probably overthinking things a little bit, but we’re just trying to do our best to stay in compliance with all the rules around here.

We’ll have a report on the rest of the sailing portion of our travelogue shortly.

Spring cruise Part 1- Lymington to Falmouth

I flew into Heathrow on the 13th of March, then rented a car and hopped on the cross channel ferry to go and fetch Jenny and the mutt. We were all overjoyed to be back together again, everyone immediately fell right back into their customary roles, domestic bliss restored.

Rocket Science enjoyed a bit of a pit stop at Berthon’s outstanding yard in Lymington, and she seemed to be as eager as we were to get back out sailing again. We spent a rather leisurely 10 days getting the boat rigged up and provisioned, and finally tossed the lines on the 25th, destination Cowes, a mere 10 miles down the Solent.

Cowes is a bit of a sailing mecca, located on the N. coast of the Isle of Wight. We enjoyed the place a lot, but there was a strong NE wind during our stay there, and the marina was awfully surgey. There was plenty of crashing and banging going on all around us. The tight little yacht haven really doesn’t have any maneuvering room, so we also spent a lot of time helping boats get in and out of their berths. We were grateful to get out of there without getting t-boned by anybody! It was generally mayhem in there. Interestingly, the marina staff never did make an appearance in all this. Everyone was left to their own devices.

We were also boarded by the UK Border Force while laying in Cowes. The HMS ‘Vigilant’ seemed to be making the rounds, checking up on all the foreigners. After a thorough review of all of our paperwork and a rather lengthy interrogation regarding our plans, we finally satisfied the boarding team that all was on the up and up here on Rocket Science, and they went on their way.

I do have to say that they were very professional, and they even wore boat shoes! This is not normal. Usually, we get heavy boots on board. That was a nice touch.

After a couple of nights in Cowes, we carried on to Portland, about 40 miles to the W. This is one of the largest man-made harbors in the world, protected by a truly massive sea wall. Portland had previously just been a commercial port, but a very nice marina was built for the ’12 Olympics, and it’s now a great stopover.

We spent just a single night in Portland, eager to get to Plymouth before a sustained period of contrary winds set in. We chucked the lines right at dark, making a really cold overnight hop. We pulled into Plymouth just as the leading edge of the gale arrived. Perfect timing.

We ended up in Plymouth for a week.

Finally we were catching a break in the weather for the 5 hour hop to Falmouth.We arrived there, found a spot right between two naval patrol boats, and settled in to wait for the right weather window for the passage up to Dublin.

This passage never happened. Stay tuned for the next update. Our discoveries about the many layers of EU bureaucracy have been truly astounding, and we’ll dedicate a full entry to it tomorrow.