How many yachts are taking part?

on my way

Eileen of Avoca is on her way!

Not such an easy question to answer. If you ask me how many yachts have shown an interest in taking part in this year’s rally. No problem, the answer is 21.

I just tally up the number of emails that people sent me saying they would like to participate.

How many of those actually registered?

And by registering I mean how many paid the fee via the official web site to join the rally, the answer is also easy. 12.

But I still have not answered the first question. How many yachts are taking part?

Do I include the ones that at the last minute were still waiting on parts held up for various reasons but will set sail in a week? 10. Joe and maybe Ron, we will be waiting for you at the next stop (Saint Laurent du Maroni)!

Or the ones that due to a medical emergency had to fly back home? 9.

That had a relationship breakdown just days before the start and now have more pressing concerns than a rally? 8

That changed their mind and decided to sail back to Europe during the hurricane season the day of the start (to pursue a whirlwind romance) instead? 7 Good luck Katina.

Or had to turn back during the rally because something broke on the yacht? 5

Well there you have it.

A handful of yachts are currently at sea battling an unexpectedly fierce current off Trinidad on the 1st edition of the Nereid’s Rally.

Nothing like a rally to separate the sailors equivalent of the wheat from the chaff.

More on the contestants later…

Crossing Biscay in late September

Sainte Marine near Benodet, France

It seems I’m always running late with my planned itinerary. Having a slow boat doesn’t help much but this time it’s definitely not my fault that I’m crossing Biscay in late September. Not that it’s such a big deal, but the appropriate weather windows grow few and far between this time of year.

Oh, and it’s now decidedly frigid after sunset.
I waited three days in the seasonally busy (read currently devoid of all life), but charming holiday village of Sainte-Marine until my chance to reach Spain presented itself.

Weather situation leaving France to cross Biscay

  • Day 1: Up to Force 5 Northwesterly winds in moderate to rough seas.
    The Aries wind vane steered Eileen effortlessly toward Gijon. I spent most of the time bouncing off the cabin fixtures (usually head first) and shivering despite my five layer wardrobe, but that’s a small price to pay for getting under way.
    Hats off the the 65+ sailing set. They must be made of sterner stuff than I am. While I’m certainly not finding my spiritual self alone at sea, I’m certainly discovering the measure of my physical self. This via a series of bruises, bumps and assorted muscular pains or strains. My trim office physique (hard as marshmallow) is having a hard time adapting, and if I hit that particular bulkhead one more time I’ll undoubtedly risk a serious concussion before the day is out!

The fishing vessel Magellan came rather close!

  • Day 2: Force 3 to 4 Northwesterly winds in settling seas.
    I’ve had to switch to my electric Tiller Pilot as the apparent wind is not strong enough to persuade the Aries vane gear to cease it’s incessant zigzagging.
    I’m at last far enough from any shipping to risk a good four hour sleep. With my new AIS system set to wake me if any vessel draws dangerously near, I snore to my hearts content as Eileen of Avoca’s automated systems take command. Bet you wish you could do that with your car!

Safe with Avel Vat at the visitors pontoon in Gijon.

  • Day 3: Force 2 Variable winds on a smooth sea.
    I’m motoring along at 4kts trying to decide whether to turn toward La Coruna or continue with my current course for Gijon. NAVTEXT weather forecasts are usually the adjudicating factor but in this particular case it’s my stomach that insists on having the final say. I eventually defer to it’s interminable grumblings and make haste for Gijon (in order to gorge myself on pizza and to stock up on Chinotto).
    On the horizon I spy another sailing vessel and interestingly it stays on an almost parallel course for much of the day. I say interestingly, because I’m used to being rapidly overtaken by just about anything that floats. Driftwood has been known to overtake my yarmoth23 in light winds! I conclude that they obviously have engine difficulties.
    By sunset I’m tying up alongside the very boat that has kept pace with me all day. It’s the French registered Avel Vat with it’s one man, one boy, crew.

The fearless crew of Avel Vat

I introduce you to Frederic and Vivien on their way to Martinique and blogging all about it (in French) here:
http://fredericconstant.blogspot.com/
They’d been watching me with equal interest and even took a picture of Eileen of Avoca on route:

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_Nygl8nAqDqQ/TKHnS8R7EpI/AAAAAAAAARY/aU4NxmU5JDc/s1600/P9270372.JPG

The perfect weather window

Matt's idea of diving

Matt's idea of diving

Sunday the 13th of September.

Checking the weather (my new found obsession) on my laptop from the boat (one hour passwords for Internet Wi-Fi access were available at the marina cafe at no charge), I was pleased to see that several calm days were forecast for the Cyclades. Good weather appears to have been a rarity this summer, so we made haste to depart and make the most of it.

Our destination? Ios via Thira (approximately 100NM distant).

With a few hours to kill (so as to arrive at Thira / Santorini by daybreak), we motored to the small island off Iraklion called Nissos Dhia. It has a splendid little anchorage ideal for swimming, or if you are so inclined, doing back-flips off the boat (BTW that’s Matt in the photo). At dusk we continued north at 4.5kts on a gentle sea.

Sailing solo across the Atlantic is too dangerous in a small boat!

Saling keeps you fit

Sailing keeps you fit

I cringe every time I have to hear this. Family and friends, with absolutely no knowledge of sailing have rallied to harangue me incessantly on the absurdity of my impending travel plans. They would all rather I find a new job, settle down, and be responsible.

Ha! No chance of stopping me now, but you would think they’d have had a little more faith given that risk management was my “bread and butter” profession. Let me digress a moment to reiterate my intentions:

Towards the end of this year I plan to sail across the Atlantic in my 23ft sailboat (a Yarmouth23). Not because it is a life-long dream, not because I want to set a record or publicise sponsors, and certainly not to prove anything to myself or others.

I just want to be alone at sea in my boat, free to travel where I please for an indeterminate period. It’s not a vacation, I’m not trying to “find myself” (surely that asininity has gone out of fashion), and I’m still insisting it’s not a mid-life crisis (surely I’ll live at least another 70 years!)

However, I am intentionally getting away from the Machiavellian machinations of corporate life to pursue a rewarding hobby / lifestyle that has helped me relax, get fit, see new places and put some melanin back into my pallid office dweller complexion.

I have not rushed into any of this. I’ve spent the last two years just equipping and getting to know my boat. Cruising trips have only gradually become more ambitious, and I’ve patiently acquired and familiarised myself with all the warranted safety gear.

I have confidence in my immaculately maintained craft and have left little to chance with regards to safety. I carry a life raft, EPIRB, PLB, 3xVHF radios, HF receiver, a parachute sea anchor, Jordan series drogue, second complement of sails, Aries vane gear, two tiller pilots, a pyromaniacs horde of flares, 3x handheld GPS and more.

The only pieces of cruising equipment I don’t have are a water-maker, satellite phone and HF transceiver. Prohibitively expensive on my budget so I’ll just have to carry the water I use, live without SMS at sea, and listen rather than talk all day on the HF.

Not that any of this is likely to allay their fears, so I’ll just have to weigh anchor, do my Atlantic crossing, sail back and tell them; “See, you needn’t have worried!”
With a little luck I might be able to stave off the alternative “find a new job, settle down, and be responsible” option for a while yet. ;-)

The gale force winds die down

Day 29

Weather Check

Weather Check

Prior to the gale I had contacted an Albanian Freighter for an update on the weather situation, but now at anchor and within mobile phone range I could check the forecast with my laptop and its GPRS Internet connection. Apparently there would be a lull lasting approximately 10 hours so without further ado I followed the coast, heading for the shelter of Ayos Nikolaos.
Arriving at dawn I wasted no time getting some desperately needed sleep. I was a wreck, on the other hand, Eileen of Avoca had weathered the gale admirably.

She is one tough little boat.

Caught in a gale!

Day 28

My last minute checks via the Internet (The Yacht Club boasted Wi-Fi) of the expected weather using several sites including

were very accurate for at least 48hrs.

The forecast for day 3 is included here:

Mediterranean weather forecast

Mediterranean weather forecast

Even the most pessimistic weather models did not prepare me for what I was to encounter on the 28th of November just 60NM SE of Crete.
The wind was consistently from the NW and considerably stronger than the anticipated 15 to 20kts but Eileen of Avoca was making steady progress on the auxiliary under control of the Autohelm. I had already dropped the mainsail and hoisted my new trysail so that the gaff would stop swinging from side to side.
I rested during the night and as I had only recently topped up the fuel tank assumed there was little to do until morning. I was right; all was well until daybreak (30NM from Crete) when the motor stopped. I sprang into action, heaving-to and adding another jerry can from my fuel reserve in decidedly heavier seas. The engine refused to start as it had probably sucked air into the fuel line!

Could I sail the rest of the way?

Could I bleed the fuel line in these conditions?

Trysail

Trysail

The first question was immediately answered after a quick 360-degree turn. With the wind from the NW I could choose to return to Egypt or head for either Libya or Cyprus. None of the options appealed given the worsening conditions, especially when I was so close to Crete. I would have to get the engine started regardless of the nausea overwhelming me while examining the fuel line. I gave the ignition another try and miraculously the Beta spluttered to life. Joy! Setting a course of 320° at 3kts, I put in two of the companionway boards and huddled in what shelter I could find to count down the remaining miles.
Progress was slow, and the waves grew gradually larger. I would conservatively estimate that the largest (coming from the North 40° or so from the general NW swell) were no more than 4 metres, and the wind speed at the low end of F7, but it certainly felt worse.
The VHF issued a constant stream of severe gale warnings, but I was relatively sure as I approached the lee of Crete to be sheltered from the worse of the gale. Nevertheless I had never been in such rough conditions with my Yarmouth 23.
The sideswiping breakers from the north were my main concern. While infrequent, they would slam heavily against Eileen and push her some distance laterally. The resulting propeller cavitation ceased all forward motion. Despite this Eileen did not seem too troubled by the turbulent seas. I was obviously the weakest link, especially after being thrown against the tiller (while adding the last of my fuel), breaking the Autohelm mount in the process. I would be hand steering for the rest of the journey, unable to shelter from the incessant cascades of water flowing over Eileen’s deck. I unwittingly refrained from any movement deemed less than critical so regretfully I have no photos to share, but perhaps I can be forgiven given that even getting a drink of water was a Herculean task.
Five miles from the coast and ten hours after dawn I was still battling a wild sea. The expected lee from Crete was evasive but as I turned north conditions did gradually improve. With immense relief I anchored off a small beach near Erimoupoleos for an hour to recover.

A memorable farewell from Alexandria

Day 25

I was there!

I was there!

I planned to leave on the 24th of November to make use of the most appropriate weather window but fell victim to more bureaucratic red tape, which would delay my departure by another 24hrs.
In the following 12hrs I discovered that the Yacht Clubs jetty becomes untenable under certain conditions. I was lucky to escape damaging Eileen as a vicious swell grew intolerable towards midnight. I abandoned my anchors (but not before attaching fenders for easy retrieval) and motored out into deeper water for the rest of the night.

Unattended vessels were not as fortunate, as I am sure the owners of at least one large fishing boat can attest. It spent the evening crashing its steel hull against the rock-lined shore.

Fishermen

Egyptian Fishermen

By 12 noon on the 25th of November my passport was returned and at last I had permission to depart. I wasted no time hoisting my sails and heading for the open sea. To my amazement the local fishermen gave me a memorable send-off, cheering and singing as Eileen of Avoca made way under sail. It was moving.

The Yacht Club of Egypt

Easter Port of Alexandria

Eastern Port of Alexandria

Day 20, 21, 22, 23, 24

In the light of dawn Alexandria exhibited its curious and somewhat tumbledown nature. Visits by sailing vessels are reasonably rare since cruising the Egyptian coast is generally thought to be an expensive bureaucratic nightmare. You are much better off arriving in one place and staying put because each movement must be accompanied by a repeat of seemingly endless paperwork and fees.

Yacht Club of Egypt

Yacht Club of Egypt

Having said that, the members of the Yacht Club of Egypt were extremely helpful and made our stay most pleasant. We were able to use all the clubs facilities, have a driver assigned for a visit to Giza and to ferry my multitude of jerry cans to refuel with Diesel, which by the way is so inexpensive at 15 Euro cents a litre that I’m considering importing it ;-). It was all very easy and quite affordable.
I stayed 5 days and for 5 days Eileen of Avoca was the talk of the local sailing community. Many an enthusiast in the club came to admire her and comment on her design.
Unfortunately sailing for club members is now restricted to the Laser and to the Optimist dinghy. Only 3 larger sailing vessels belong to individual club members and none has moved in years.

Three days at sea

Day 16, 17, 18 and 19

The Passenger

The Passenger

We left Ayos Nikolaos just after midnight to take advantage of favourable winds. After rounding Akra Sidheros I set a course of 140° and watched the GPS count down the remaining 300+ NM to Alexandria.

It couldn’t have been simpler. For the first 24 hours we ran with the wind. The next 24 were spent motoring in a calm sea and the last 24 were only slightly marred by a F3 headwind.

I had hooked up my shortwave receiver on day 3 of the passage to confirm the weather forecast (Area B) and have included my data gathering below for posterity:

Meteorological Forecast NE01 [Tu 10:10]

1010 UTC. 18 N*V.

ALEXRADIO F/C MED. SEA

AREAS : A,B,C AND D

VALID : 1300 UTC 18 NOV.

TILL : 0100 UTC 19 NOV.

T T T : NO GALE

G./INFERENCE : TROUGH OF LOW PRESSURE AT A,B

RIDGE OF HIGH PRESSURE AT C,D

SURFACE WIND : VRB TO SE AT A. SE/NE AT B.

E/NE AT C. ALL 3 – 4 BEAUFORT

SE/NE AT D. 3 – 4 BEAUFORT MAY REACH 5 B.

STATE OF SEA : SLIGHT TO MODERATE

H./OF WAVES : 01 – 1.75 MTRS. AT A,B,C

01 – 02 MTRS. AT D

VISIBILITY : 06 – 10 KMTRS. AT A

08 – 10 KMTRS. AT B,C,D

WEATHER : TEMPO RAIN AT A.

FAIR AT B,C,D

CLOUD* : 3 – 5/* LOW + MEDIUM AT A.

* – 4/8 LOW + MEDIUM AT B,C,D

OUTLOOK : NO CHANGE

We took 4-hour shifts during the passage arriving in Alexandria by nightfall on the 19th of November.

The city lights were resplendent and as I motored into the eastern harbor.

While winding my way past the myriad of anchored vessels a military official in a small motor boat pulled up alongside and made it known (in Arabic) that he required our passports.

Alexandria Egypt

Alexandria Egypt

Taking them in hand he indicated I should follow as he led us through a maze of fishing boats to a small jetty where members of the Egyptian Yacht Club assisted with mooring. After a surprisingly sincere welcome, and explanations that passports would be returned in the morning after completing the necessary paperwork, I spent my first night in this truly exotic port.

Worlds worst fisherman

Day 14 and 15

Sea Bird

Sea Bird

Another long leg of 110NM to get to the eastern side of Crete. On route to Ayios Nikolaos we were treated to the best dolphin display I’ve ever seen. One dolphin was particularly playful lifting itself out of the water vertically on it’s tail and in a manner I’ve only seen in marine shows! Truly splendid.
I tried my hand at fishing while on route but only managed to capture a seabird. I think I was more distressed than my poor avian catch as I hauled him in to remove the offending lure. It appears I have been relegated to my former status of atrocious fisherman.