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!

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!

Apparently I’m crazy…

Eileen of Avoca in Sailing Today

There is a six page feature in the current issue of Sailing Today of my trip across the Atlantic with Eileen of Avoca. According to their editor:

You don’t have to be nuts to sail the Atlantic in a Yarmouth 23 glass fibre gaffer – but it helps.

How about substituting the “be” with “have”…. 🙂

or better still…. “nuts” with “audacious”, “daring”, or “tenacious”

My regular blog followers will have read it all before, but for those that simply can’t get enough, the article can be downloaded here (from the Fisher Boat Company website) or by clicking the following link for a direct download… Eileen of Avoca, Sailing Today article. Better still, pick up a copy at your local news stand!

I’m off to exercise my latent Tourette’s syndrome with spontaneous exclamations of imaginative obscenities…. I hear it helps hone your sailing skills…

I think I will sail alone across the Atlantic today

Sailing across the Atlantic

Goodbye Cape Verde!

I can’t answer my email just now as I am currently at sea, (and will be for at least the next 20 days….) Please leave a message after the tone….


Updates to the blog are promised as soon as I reach Brazil…

PS: If there are no other updates, one of the following has happened:

a) After an epic battle with a freak storm, Eileen finally surrenders to the monstrous breakers and I’m lost at sea… 🙁

b) I’m shipwrecked on an uncharted island and busy impersonating Robinson Crusoe 😐

c) There is just too much fun to be had in Brazil to bother with writing a sailing blog that virtually nobody reads. 🙂

Take your pick!

What happened to all those regular updates?

Approaching Lagos... Canaries exit...stage left

I’d like to say that I’ve been alone, cut off from the world valiantly battling heavy seas for weeks at a time, tempering my physique whilst exercising my mental mettle, but the reality is that I’ve been tremendously busy making unplanned social detours at every opportunity.

Following a night of pontoon festivities, [where alcohol refreshments were enthusiastically consumed by sailors young (that’s me) and old (i.e. everyone else… OK, not you either Marta…) and gathered for one last bash under the twinkle of party lights and thrum of music emanating from the little blue boat], the majority of southerly migrating yachts (three out of five) left Cascais on the 2nd of November bound for the Canary Islands, (Madeira had become a no-go zone due to forecast heavy seas).

After a teary goodbye by the throngs of well wishers gathered to witness Eileen of Avoca’s departure [(that would be the crew of Angel of Rio and Apodis), and enthusiastic (if somewhat imaginary) jostling by hoards of fans crowding the shoreline (now I’m harboring illusions of fame and grandeur but do bear with me, the phenomenon is generally transient…), eager for just one last glimpse of number 9 putting to sea], I spent a thoroughly undignified and sleepless night dodging all manner of royal annoyances including cruise liners from the Duchess and Empress, to the Princess and you-name-it-ness, all apparently intent on running me down.

The high priestess and priest of 'yea almighty' Lupin

Despite managing a respectable 100 nautical miles in just 24 hours under just tri-sail and stay-sail, I quickly satisfied my quota for ‘hours logged in a confused swell’ (yes, I’m ready to accept the label of wimp!), and took a left hand turn round Cape Vincent, setting course for Lagos to satisfy a newly devised theorem on mollifying seasickness with ice cold larger ashore. After promising initial trials at the marina cafe, I managed to significantly expand on my basic proof, concluding that the miracle cure for nausea at sea is to be found in hot vindaloo at an Indian restaurant, courtesy of old 3-day friends, (oh… and only after a foundation of several refreshing pints).

The official version of my story reads: faulty wiring with Eileen’s tri-light forced me to put to shore on safety grounds, but upon exhaustive testing and intense scrutinizing (I flicked the switch back and forth a couple of times), the mysterious intermittent problem resolved itself. There, you see! Having a technical background specializing in troubleshooting does pay off!

Determined to make the most of this unscheduled stopover, I went hunting for the crew of Riviera Magic (wintering afloat), to pay homage to the resident feline deity “Lupin”. Those of you who have been diligently reading all my updates (ah… dear mum), will recall that I met the high priest and priestess (Brad & Diane), serving yea almighty Lupin, on Riviera Magic in May while sheltering at La Coruna. I am pleased to report that Lupin is well and may consider an extended public tour after sufficient rest this winter.

Heading for the Canaries... Take 2

At dawn I made my second attempt to reach the Canary Islands… For the moment, lets just say I didn’t quite make it.

Eileen of Avoca’s refit

Yarmouth Marine Services on the Isle of Wight

Yarmouth Marine Services is currently working on making Eileen of Avoca ready for her Atlantic crossing. The to-do list is ambitious, but I’ve the know-how of the people who originally built Eileen on hand, so I am confident the work will be of the highest standard. I guess I’m betting my life on it… hmmm… looking it it that way, I vow to haunt anyone responsible for cutting corners or shoddy workmanship if it leads to my untimely demise… 😉

How’s that for an incentive?

The job list goes something like this:

  • Fit new 13.5HP Beta engine and ancillary equipment.
  • New rigging
  • Deck and mast fittings acid dipped and re-galvanised
  • Stanchions removed and re-mounted to prevent leaks
  • Mast and teak areas varnished / painted to handle tropical heat
  • Inner linings waterproofed
  • Companionway washboards strengthened
  • Hatch locking mechanism reworked
  • Companionway step reinforced
  • Pushpit lockers waterproofed
  • Fiberglass stress points reinforced
  • Seacocks and cockpit drainage pipes replaced where necessary
  • Second (internal) bilge pump fitted
  • Second VHF aerial added
  • VHF radio tested and repaired
  • Solar panel mounted
  • AIS receiver fitted
  • Life raft serviced
  • Tillerpilot to vane gear fitting in addition to the existing mount.
  • Anodes replaced
  • 3 coats of antifoul
  • Dodgers made
  • Foresails serviced
  • Non slip decking material re-painted
  • Jackstays replaced
  • and more…

If I have any money left over I’ll buy a new EPRIB and some extra anchor rode / chain… ha! big if…
This list will be updated as it changes, and as soon as I get back to the boat I’ll take photos to show everyone how the work is progressing.

Crossing the Bay of Biscay in a small boat

General weather situation for Bay of Biscay crossing

Crossing Biscay wasn’t something I was willing to take on without careful preparation. I spent hours sifting through my pilot books studying approaches to suitable bolt-holes and checking the tides for destinations as varied as Audierne to the north and La Rochelle to the northeast.

The prevailing weather conditions (winds with a northerly aspect and corresponding swell), would not make the passage trivial, and given the frequency of storms, it is not surprising that it took a week of sheltering in Gijon before a suitable three day weather window presented itself.

Gijon was my chosen jump-off point because it shortened my crossing by at least 24hrs (compared with La Coruna), and maximized options for changing my destination on route.

As a large high pressure system approached Biscay offering north westerly winds and settled conditions (see weather-fax) I committed Eileen of Avoca to the crossing.

The idea was to head north as quickly as possible and try to stay ahead of the high pressure system’s center. I was only partly successful.

After a marvelous 24hr run in steady Force 4 winds, covering more than 100NM under sail alone, I stalled in light variable winds. Apparently it was not fast or far enough to outrun the high. The next two days were spent motor sailing, maintaining 4 to 4.5kts, a speed necessary to avoid being caught by the cold front strengthening in the Atlantic.

That’s the official line. I’d like to embellish it further and add volumes on the discomforts endured and how only fine seamanship and the luck of the Irish (I’m figuring that Eileen of Avoca qualifies for this), saved us from a certain doom as we fought a savage sea against a lee shore. But I’ll save that version for my retirement.

The unofficial version (for your eyes only) goes something like this:

I spent hours pouring over my pilot books because there is nothing else in the way of reading material on Eileen, and I stayed in Gijon a week because I didn’t want to be rained upon on route.

The approaching high pressure system equated to an inconsequential swell,which suits me fine because I can keep my food down better when I’m not being violently shaken about.

Swallow visiting Eileen for the night

My marvelous run was spent deciding what to eat next (at sardine sandwich o’clock or half past cold roast chicken), and dozing, because heading directly north from Gijon allows you to miss most of the shipping traffic (my radar detector bleeped only once).

All I had to do was stay on the boat and amuse myself while Eileen did the rest. Hardly an epic journey.

Apart from a surreal “Hitchcock birds” moment or two as increasing numbers of exhausted swallows noisily settled both on and in Eileen each night (in the most unlikely of places), it was delightfully uneventful. Dull is always good when sailing.

As soon as I see the first item in NAVTEXT transmissions taken on route stating “No Warning”, I know I can relax into my semi-catatonic solo passage making stupor. Here is one that almost threatens to be moderately interesting with its mention of fog and rain, but upon closer examination doesn’t quite manage it:


181200 UTC MAY 10



TUE 18 MAY 2010 AT 09 UTC.




LOW 983 48N45W, MOV SE, EXP 995 47N40W BY 19/00 UTC THEN 998 49N35W





3 : FCST TO WED 19 AT 12 UTC

















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. 😉

A small boat is best!

All comforts?

All comforts?

If I were to list all the virtues of owning a small boat, not only would it make rather dry reading for the non-boating enthusiast, but inevitably it would spark an argument between those who hold to “bigger is better” vs. “small is beautiful”…

Now where have I heard that before?

I guess it all comes down to a matter of taste, (and the size of ones wallet). Mind you, some people just have to take everything with them when they go cruising and no amount of argument will ever shift them to the minimalist small yacht camp.

A tiny boat will certainly never cater to this fellows idea of traveling in style, but for the benefit of the skeptics and fence sitters I offer you a few photos showing the diminutive boat owner in his element.

It isn’t often that I find small boats cruising far from home, so when I do, it almost always warrants a photograph.

Mini "Gin Paslace"

Mini "Gin Palace"

Above is a photo of a happy couple living it up on the smallest “Gin Palace” in St.Tropez.

English Canal Boat

English Canal Boat

On the French waterways I came across this cruiser in a shortened English canal boat.

Apparently it’s a thousands pounds per foot to build one of these (and he managed to get 70% off)!

Ugly boat?

Ugly boat?

OK this isn’t a small boat but I thought to include the photo to show that the “ugly is best” camp also has a following!

Tiny boat

Tiny boat

Last and also least (dimension wise) is this minuscule yacht found cruising in the south of France. It makes my Yarmouth23 seem extravagantly spacious.