The sanitised version of Cuba

Cayo Largo, Cuba

Cayo Largo, Cuba

I arrived in Cayo Largo (my first official stop) a week after my departure from Mexico. Threading my way trough the various islets (against wind and current), was not easy and on more than one occasion I came within centimetres of running aground.

Lessons learnt?

Don’t try any of the passes at night… Even if apparently well lit.

It was quite a relief to moor at a real marina for a few days because I was utterly exhausted (there is no sleeping when sailing within a mile of the coast) and my provisions, fuel and water were running low.

Marina Cayo Largo

Marina Cayo Largo

It must have shown, because by the time I had put the boat in some semblance of order (and gone through the check-in process), a local sailor and his wife came by to provide me with a hot meal, cold bear, basic provisions and a promise of fresh fish in the morning. Their generosity was overwhelming, and I have difficulty remembering an occasion when I enjoyed a meal as much as I did at that moment. Thank you again Liviana!

Cayo Largo is a pleasant stopover, but it is not the real Cuba, at least as far as I’m concerned. It is a resort island filled with tourists on all-inclusive holiday packages from Italy and Canada. There is nothing here other than resorts and their associated infrastructure. Not even the workers live here (most are from Isla de la Juventud). There is no doubt that the staff are good at their jobs… Everyone, everywhere, is so nice.

But my more cynical side suggests the catalyst for such efficacy is access to hard currency. But I’ll ignore that detail for the moment…

If you have a week or two to spare from your hectic work schedule and want a place to relax and recharge the proverbial batteries, then this is the place!

Service second to none. Well done!

If you want to see a more authentic and less sanitised version of Cuba, then you will probably want to sail on… which isn’t necessarily the best thing to do, but it is what I did.. regardless.

Aruba to Santa Marta, Colombia

A Renaissance Hotel beach in Aruba

A Renaissance Hotel beach in Aruba

OK, this is a tough one. I can say nothing bad about Aruba. My stay was hassle free, the people courteous, the facilities second to none and yet… and yet, I’ve been bored out of my wits.

This is definitely the place to go when you want to relax and do nothing.

The trouble is I do exactly that… every day! The last thing I want to do when I make landfall is nothing.

Your Hotel beach shuttle awaits!

Your Hotel beach shuttle awaits!

What fun is there in taking the hotel boat to the private beach when you have your own boat and see nothing but isolated beaches on an almost daily basis? ;)

What a conundrum! Do you suppose someone will let me mow their lawn or do some other fun activity like answer their phone in the office all day?

I took this photo from a bridge at the private beach.

I took this photo from a bridge at the private beach.

Oh look, a fish! How exciting… not… Let me take a picture…

Everyone that passed by wanted their photo taken by the white boat. :(

Everyone that passed by wanted their photo taken by the white boat. :(

If I were a gambling man, I’d be in paradise. Just ten paces from my mooring is the resort casino… Except I find casinos depressing. Nothing depresses me more than loosing my money (well, perhaps having it stolen does), so it remains a wonder to me that people frequent them at all. Or am I the only one that loses money in a casino… Perhaps there is a way to enjoy being depressed?

I’ll have to ponder that.

I think that the real reason I’m bored is that Aruba has very little to offer eligible young bachelors… or me for that matter… It’s a family destination.

Eileen of Avoca arrives in Santa Marta to a jubliant crowd.

Eileen of Avoca greeted in Santa Marta Colombia by a jubliant virtual crowd.

So I’ve braved the January gales (it really does get rather windy in this region), the enormous turbulent seas (OK, I’m starting to exaggerate now), and rounded one of the top 5 most dangerous capes (every sailor coming through here mentions this piece of J.Cornell trivia just to let others know how courageous they’ve been), and made the arduous passage to Santa Marta Colombia.

Voila…

Haven’t I been brave? (rhetorical question… said with a dollop of sarcasm… just in case any of my so called friends were thinking of making some clever comment at this point).

Now, who else can I tell…

A sailors life in images….

The life of a solitary sailor... It's all on film....

The life of a solitary sailor… It’s all on film….

I finally have an answer for those of you who’ve often asked…

What’s it like to leave it all behind and sail off into the sunset in your own boat?

Google has unwittingly provided it… Click on this link to see what I mean…

If the link doesn’t work just type “ifno.info/blog” (including the inverted commas) into google and then press images

Pleasure before travel…

s/v Sandpiper visits Saint Laurent du Maroni

Would you look at that! A UK registered vessel here in Saint Laurent du Maroni, and all because they read about it here.

What did they have to say about their stay?

  1. Click here:
  2. here:
  3. here:
  4. not to mention here:
  5. here:
  6. did I mention here:
  7. and here:

to find out.

While all set to sail to Domburg in Suriname, I’m certainly not going to miss out on Saint Laurent’s “Fête patronale”…

Why are my internal organs vibrating so?

While the idyllic anchorage becomes relatively noisy during the 5 days of festivities I’m not one to complain.

What harm can a little music do?

Buy your hair here! All shades all textures!

So let your hair down and join in on the fun…

Move over…. I’m driving!

Lots of activities for the children,

Welcome welcome… to the greatest show on the Maroni….

in fact, everyone is welcome.

A little more light over here please!

As you can see, the stage is set….

Testing 123 testing testing…..

Sound systems are go….

I’ve been assimilated by the borg… resistance is futile….

The cameras are rolling…

Ground control to Major Tom….

And all brought to you “live” from the Amazon!!!

Who will be Miss Saint Laurent 2012???

Election 2012 of Miss Saint Laurent du Maroni…

You dare wonder why I have not yet left for Suriname?

 

 

Eileen of Avoca is back in French Guiana

Maroni River at sunset… but no Eileen!

The motor sail to French Guiana from Guyana was a breeze… not even worth writing about… so that’s my excuse, and I wont…

It’s when I arrived that some real excitement started. As I’ve stated before, excitement for a sailor is a always a bad thing. Dull is infinitely safer, despite offering poor copy. :)

Motoring along the Maroni River I somehow managed to do my back in…don’t ask, I haven’t a clue how, but those who have experienced an attack of sciatica know the subsequent effects, ouch!

Needless to say that deploying my anchors in the usual spot was an immense chore. So much so, that I opted to use rope rather than chain on my trusty CQR and Danforth. Not the safest option, but a case of following the path of least resistance (or pain).

After several days of being confined to my bunk, I made tentative sorties for provisions and it was during one of these rare ventures that I had the fright of my life.

Just after dusk I made my way back to the anchorage by the tourist office only to find that Eileen of Avoca was missing!!!

How would you feel left standing there with just the clothes on your back (and a plastic kayak)?

Why didn’t the anchors hold?

Was it stolen?

Would I find it at all, and if I do will it be stripped of everything of value?

Queue the French Gendarmerie!

I immediately reported the disappearance to the authorities and luckily a river patrol was in the area. They took my details over the phone and began their search without hesitation.

Impressive, especially so when you consider that within an hour Eileen was duly spotted and intercepted.

With the equipment (including night vision) afforded the Gendarmes, I’m not surprised they made short work of tracking down Eileen. I was however pleasantly surprised by the high level of service afforded me. Taking me aboard their vessel to personally collect Eileen was an unexpected boon.

The subsequent trip at 30 knots or so in pitch dark did little to relieve my anxiety, but I needn’t have been so worried. Within minutes Eileen was under the Gendarms spotlight, her wayward attempt to make a leisurely tour of Suriname without her captain over. It’s true that I’d been recently making plans to visit Paramaribo, but I’d intended to be aboard when we cast off. I’ll have to have words with her! But none that are too harsh, especially after discovering that the anchors had been shocked loose after an impact… I still don’t know who or what hit Eileen but I have some minor repairs to do on her rubbing strake and toe-rail.

My wholehearted thanks go to the Gendarms at Saint Laurent du Maroni! They do a tough job, what with half the illegal miners in the jungle shooting at them, a somewhat porous border to police, and now, even the occasional stray yacht to recover!

That evening, two anchors redeployed with all the chain I carry, (despite the lingering ache in my back), I raised a glass to their health…

 

More ugly weather!

Another fine day in the Caribbean…

It was supposed to be a quick 10 day sail back to French Guiana but two weeks later I found myself still busy battling isolated thunderstorms and gradually being pushed toward southern Venezuela. Not my premiere choice of destinations given the number of sailors I’ve come across that have given it the thumbs down with respect to safety.

Feeling wet wet wet….

Just so that you know…. sometimes sailing isn’t that much fun!

Bouncing about like a cork for two weeks is one of those times…

Although squalls in the Caribbean had been forecast (they’re always forecast), who’d have imagined that isolated thunderstorms was a synonym for “focused entirely on Eileen of Avoca” thunderstorms?

With a steady Force 6 on the nose and a contrary current of 1 to 1.5kts I should have stayed put. Of course what I should have done… and what I did do…, are two paths that rarely bisect. In this case, I’d fallen victim to the one thing a sailor should never do…

I told someone I’d be in a certain place at a certain time. “Certain” shouldn’t be in a sailors vocabulary. In a moment of sheer stupidity (happens rather frequently I’m told), I agreed to attend a birthday party upon my return to French Guiana.

Of course I didn’t make it….

Progress at 1 knot was steady if frustratingly slow, but despite this I might have arrived with time to spare, if of course I hadn’t been swamped by a rogue wave!

Pause here for dramatic effect…

Obviously I didn’t drown because I’m still writing in the first person…

Was it a close call? No, but it was the first time I’d ever been thoroughly pooped!

How many adults dare say that nowadays?

I was dozing in my bunk (my favourite spot), when without warning Eileen was knocked sideways in a rush of noisy whitewater which, despite having one washboard in place and the hatch firmly closed, instantly drenched everything in the cabin. I can testify that having buckets of water thrown over me is an effective if unpleasant catalyst for gaining my full attention, an attention that was now directed at the cascade of water flowing down the companionway stairs. It’s source…? A new swimming pool in my pushpit. (—Deleted expletive!—)

One of these could save your life!

Outside it was immediately clear that everything that wasn’t tied down was now gone. Good thing I wasn’t outside huh? Cushions, ropes, jerry cans with my precious extra fuel, all washed overboard. Feeling strangely disconnected from reality amid apparent chaos, at least panic was the last thing on my mind. Stupefied, just about everything was far from my thoughts. It took the absurdity of a waterproof container (a practical Christmas gift) floating by, to break my stupor and set me in motion. Grabbing the improvised bucket, I did what I assure you comes naturally to all sailors in similar circumstances…

I bailed like a madman.

Why did I have to bail? Were the cockpit drains blocked? Much later I discovered that I’d only opened one of the two seacocks draining the pushpit. Luckily I’ve had a unique modification made to Eileen as a contingency against being flooded.

So glad I had this small modification made.

Check out the raised lip of my exterior lockers! The extra waterproofing kept most of the water out and the interior bilge pump installed in the heads meant I could safely deal with any seepage from the safety of “the can”.

An extra pump in the heads came in handy too!

Ten brownie points for being prepared!

Now what?

Not enough fuel to get to Saint Laurent but if I can push on a while longer I’ll just reach Guyana. Good thing I’ve got Chris Doyle’s guide aboard.

Looks like I’ll be making an unscheduled visit!

The history of Eileen of Avoca

Oil Painting of Eileen of Avoca?

I first read of the Yarmouth23 in a yachting magazine in 1999. Two years later, while working in London (and inspired by a weekend at the London boat show), I paid a visit to the yard in Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight where the little gaffers were originally built. I felt it was time to get a closer look at this diminutive classic cruiser.

It was love at first sight… Trite way of putting it, but true nonetheless, for it was at this point that I resolved to buy one. But it was not until I came across Eileen of Avoca in late 2007 that I had the means to do so.

While there were two other Y23s for sale at the time, the rather neglected Eileen curiously drew my attention. Like a mysteriously abandoned ship, the cluttered disarray inside gave me the impression of  a hurried yet temporarily departure. At the risk of being overly anthropomorphic, Eileen of Avoca seemed to be patiently waiting for her crew to return.

I was told that the owner (Bill Boyall) had died and that while his boat looked rather run down, it was  more or less only a cosmetic issue.  With a new injection of funds to spruce her up, Eileen was soon looking as good as new.

I am thrilled with number 9 and I can’t imagine anyone else with one of these boats being any less enthusiastic. Much to my friends and families distress it’s been where I’ve spent all of my free time. Dolly Parton’s song Joleen (just substitute Eileen) sums up how the significant others in my life have felt about my boat. lol

From what Bill’s granddaughter tells me, he was similarly bewitched by Eileen’s charms… With her permission (and while the PDF can also be downloaded from the Yarmouth23 Owners Association site), I am re-posting Bill’s journal of his adventures with Eileen of Avoca to ensure it remains online.

And for those of you who have always wondered about the vessel’s name and history, I feel it is best conveyed through Ellana’s ( Bill’s granddaughter’s) own words…

“Eileen of Avoca is named after my nan and the part of Ireland that she came from, Grandad bought the Y23 in 2001 and she was launched in 2002, my nan had died in 2000, they had been happily married for 50 years and the new boat gave him something to focus on.  My grandad loved sailing for as long as I can remember and Eileen was his 3rd boat, he previously built Ellana and Ellana II, the latter is a Lysander which is now owned by my brothers. Alas neither of these boats were actually named after myself nor my nan (and the name that her father called her when she was a child). She would not allow grandad to call the boats Eileen when she was alive!”

 “Grandad was very enthusiastic about the new boat and would often travel over to the Isle of Wight to see how production was going and once she was finished we had a little party onboard to celebrate on a cold Sunday in February. The rest of 2002 was spent with grandad taking many trips away getting to know Eileen, he was never at home!
He then planned his trip to Ireland, leaving from the old gaffers festival, the rest you know from his story. It was the December following his return from Ireland that we noticed that he wasn’t very well and was diagnosed in January 2004 with a brain tumour, he died in the June.”
***
When Eileen of Avoca returns from her odyssey (though this could be years from now), I believe that another trip to Ireland may be in order. I hope that Bill’s granddaughter Ellana will be able to accompany me for the return leg.

Mixing business with pleasure

Eileen at anchor, Saint Laurent du Maroni

After a week at sea, the little blue boat is back in French Guiana…. Saint Laurent du Maroni to be precise. Why?

Is it because the leopards here are considerably more desirable than zebra?

Perhaps… I’ll certainly endeavor to devote some of my time and energy to properly reflect upon the pros and cons of each regions disparate fauna. ;)

But there is another underlying reason for my abrupt shift in sailing itinerary…

Model of proposed marina

Had my stay in Chaguaramas been pleasant, had it adequately accommodated my yacht maintenance requirements and had it more or less met my expectations, I would now be on my way to Martinique and beyond.

Instead, my disenchantment with the yachting services and facilities in Trinidad and Tobago have prompted me to seek out alternatives….

Model of boat yard

Unfortunately, there are very few, and evidently the yards at Chaguaramas are well aware of this, (having adjusted their pricing and work ethic accordingly).

This particular sailor wasn’t happy. Nor were many others I’d met along the way. So, with a little help from my friends, some of us decided to do something about it.

The idea of a marina and yacht maintenance complex in Saint Laurent du Maroni was born. Plans were drawn up, a proposal submitted to council and upon acceptance, I sailed back to French Guiana to make it all happen.

View of proposed yacht service complex

Does this spell the end for the adventures of Eileen of Avoca?

Not likely, if anything, it is a new impetus, the stimulus required to ensure Eileen’s adventures continue. My Yarmouth23 has simply found a temporary home in the jungles of French Guiana, and if all goes well, Saint Laurent will soon offer everything a sailor needs.

Undoubtedly I will derive considerable satisfaction in developing a new viable alternative to Chaguaramas.

Feel free to come and visit!

Eileen of Avoca reaches the Caribbean

It's Eileen of Avoca at sea!

Yes, I’m in the Caribbean…. Excuse enough for the increasingly spasmodic postings. But was my sourcing of these wonderful snapshots of Eileen of Avoca at sea not worth the wait?

For six days Thierry on his 41 foot Feeling (called Ti’nga) kept pace with Eileen on route to Tobago. Sometimes I thought it was just to irritate me, but I’m assured his reasons were wholeheartedly altruistic. Not that that prevented me from raving like a madman whenever he came too close… ;)

Madman rages on Eileen.

I think he took a perverse pleasure in literally sailing circles around Eileen in the light winds.

That just about sums up the voyage. Light winds…

I’d have set more sail (including the seldom used topsail), if only I didn’t have to worry about the numerous squalls between calms. One minute I’m motoring at a steady 4 knots (head-sails furled) and the next I’m running before a squall at 8kts adding another reef to the mainsail. Absurd!

Eileen runs from another squall.

I guess it’s all to be expected in a days (or six) sailing.

The good news is that I’ve made it to Tobago. It’s taken some 7000 nautical miles of sailing and almost one year (since leaving Yarmouth) living aboard a 23ft boat, but I’m now in the Caribbean. Reward enough!

Though a celebratory cold drink (who needs a fridge when everyone else has one) is still the order of the day.

A beer aboard Ti'nga in Tobago

Here’s to living the dream (and working those abdominals) on the other side of the pond…

Cheers readers!

 

10 days at sea

Iles de Salut, French Guiana

It’s one thousand sea miles to the Iles du Salut (which includes the infamous Devil’s Island) in French Guiana! Time to sail the distance I’ve postponed by taking my Brazilian shortcut across the Atlantic.

No big deal. It’s a comfortable sail (with both favourable current and winds), provided I stay in deeper water (100 nautical miles out from the Amazon). At this distance, I’m not likely to hit any stray tree trunks or other Amazon jungle debris, I need only worry about the occasional squall or cargo vessel.

As it turned out, I had good cause to worry about both, especially when a mighty squall hit on the 7th day out from Fortaleza.

Rolling under stay sail alone

Let me share the details with you….

I’d had to weather a couple of uncomfortable days (with gusts to Force 7) on days 2 and 3, but was generally pleased with the progress I’d made since leaving Brazil. Especially when you consider that I’d logged 120 nautical mile daily runs (a new record for Eileen)! This was sufficient motivation to tolerate any discomfort and while the distances travelled were considerable (for a small boat under stay-sail alone), in future, I’ll think twice before running before the wind without my mainsail. Why? Because incessant rolling is liable to turn the stomach of even the hardiest of sailors, and I’m hardly hardy!

What followed were 3 days of gentle breeze so I opted to burn some fossil fuel and maintain my 100 nautical mile average to day 5. Eileen can easily manage 100NM in a 24hr period when motor sailing. Even if the winds are under 10kts. And since she consumes just over half a liter of diesel an hour (with her new 10HP Beta engine), I rarely feel compelled to wallow about for days on end in the tropical heat for the sake of conserving fuel.

That night more gale force winds arrived. Well, I assume they were gale force, but I did little to verify this empirically. Too busy concentrating on feeling sorry for myself (a touch of sea sickness coupled with a migraine headache can have that effect). Plus, I’m not to fond of braving downpours to measure wind speed with my portable ammeter, (though I did note a consistent 8 knots on my GPS).

Fancy that! No sails and Eileen of Avoca is making way at top speed with comfort and ease. No more rolling either! I’d have confidently gone to bed if a Chinese freighter hadn’t chosen this particular moment to play chicken with me.

Guess I’ll give them a call over the VHF radio…

“Motor vessel Sunny X (X to thwart potential defamatory action)…. you are within 3 nautical miles of my current position and closing. Are you currently tracking me by radar?”

I know they aren’t because my radar detector is uncharacteristically silent….

Yesh, I shee you…. your SSI number ish…..”

“No, that’s not me. I don’t have a transponder so you will not see me with your A.I.S. The ship you are referring to is 6 miles to port. I am a small sailing vessel currently 2 miles ahead of you…”

At last my radar detector starts to sound. At least they are now really trying to look for me…

I don’t shee you…Two miles? You shtay away from my ship….shtay clear….. you hear?”

“I’m trying… please maintain your course as I’ll adjust mine so that we pass port to port.”

rOK I adjust my course 10 degrees to port….”

“Not that way!!!! You’ll run me down!!!”

At this point I started Eileen’s engine and leapt (or rather crept) to the tiller. A close call. In appalling visibility (due to the worsening downpour), the cargo vessel passed within three cables! Much too close!

Lesson learnt…. Dodge before talking….

Evidently English isn’t as widely or well spoken on commercial vessels as I’d thought, so contacting a vessel via VHF might at best turn out to be counterproductive as it was in this case… or at worst…. well…. I’d rather not think about that….

But why didn’t they seem me on radar?

That mystery was only solved upon arrival in French Guiana. My over sized reflector had apparently “Gone with the Wind”…

A friend from the Amazon

Fortunately, the remainder of the voyage was pleasant enough. I picked up a hitchhiker…

I-pod? Nah… I listen to d-pod….

Listened to my d-pod all day (that would be a dolphin pod) as they whistled, clicked and whirled about playfully….

Worms with your dorado?

Caught my biggest catch of the day yet…. But didn’t get to eat any as it was full of parasitic worms… Yuck!

To finally find tropical paradise….

Catching up with old friends!

With two of my South African buddies (from the old Fortaleza gang) minding a spot for me at an idyllic anchorage (how had they known I was coming?). ;)

Tourists take the cat from Kourou

Time to join the day tourists and explore… but only after I make myself a little more presentable… After all, there are certain standards to uphold, and the “wild man from Borneo” look hasn’t been too well received of late…

The wild man from Borneo?

Yes… the beard and long haired hippie look will have to go. I’m in France now… how odd… never really realized that France extended to South America…

So it’s back to European prices, the Euro, and speaking French… I’m not complaining…

It’s also back to good wine, more than one sort of cheese and bread that doesn’t disintegrate when you touch it…

My taste buds are already celebrating in anticipation!

Vive la France!