Hello from the high seas! Sorry it has been a while, but as you will read it has been a challenge … I will upload images when I can but the internet we have in harbor is not fast so here is the story so far.
Day One: Thursday 27th November
Portsmouth to Portland
I arrived back from work at around 8pm having driven the Defender from Colchester to Portsmouth. As I was arriving late I had arranged to meet Mark and our delivery crew, Simon Skipper and first Mate Peter at the Italian on the Board Walk in Port Solent. I was tired but excited – the work with Essex County Council had gone well and I now felt I had permission to look forward to our adventure. As I walked amongst the yachts it felt a bit odd to be in my work gear and not my sailing gear. In the window of the restaurant there was Simon, Peter and Mark all waving – I went in and sat down – delighted to be home (what ever that meant now!) We ate and laughed and discussed our plans. How many days would it take to get to Lagos? What would the weather be like? How would May cope? We went back for our first night with the whole crew on magic.
The following morning Simon was in charge and we were happy to see his calm and soothing manner in action as he took the helm and we slipped the lines.
Slipping the lines was a small job but a metaphor for a very big dream finally coming true. My dream of living aboard had been shaped by the sight of the yacht coming in towards us and Mark’s had been shaped by the vision of him slipping the lines as we left the cosy harbor for the open sea.
Mark, May and I were filled with such a mix of emotions that it defies description – anxiety, excitement, exhaustion, elation, wonder… we were finally sailing out into the rest of our lives.
We sailed passed many famous sailing places – out of Portsmouth Harbor, towards the Needles then beyond to Cowes – as the sun went down it became cold and very windy and the wind over tide created quite a chop. We started getting used to the bumps and crashes and holding on to everything to move about the boat.
Finally we put the sails up and turned the engine off – always a magical moment – the sound of the whirring, chugging diesel engine replaced by the slosh of water on the hull and the dry creak of tight ropes on metal. Soon we were sailing by the stars – (using the set course on the compass you can fix a star between the shrouds and follow it.) So romantic, it was a clear, cold night.
We carried on like this for hours. Simon the skipper carefully shaped our watch patterns – 2 hours each through the night and four hours each during the day. He is so careful, professional and experienced. We can relax more because we know we are safe. I have never before sailed with someone who has such an exceptional demeanor and it makes the world of difference.
We had shared our MMSI with some friends and family and we were surprised how many of them were following our journey. We feel looked after.
The wind crept up and the swell built and soon it was pretty uncomfortable. To stay on the deck was to be cold and blown about and to go below was to feel disorientated and randomly fall about bashing arms and legs against all the unfamiliar objects. I even crawled about on the floor to obtain items from cupboards! Our crew is fantastic – Peter is really hard working and knows his stuff
After a few hours of this Simon gently suggested that we ‘could’ spend a more comfortable night if we went in to Portland and sheltered. By 11pm we were working on docking and by midnight we were tucked up in safe harbor listening to the wild wind whistling through the shrouds – good decision we all thought.
May had been wonderful the whole time – a little anxious and shivery but really a trooper. Our main concern was that she had not had a wee or a Poo since we had left Port. As soon as we docked Mark took her for a long walk and she relived herself – Mark came back on board and announced that “May is empty” so we entered that into the ships log. Day one of our new ways of live was over and we all had glass of wine at the saloon table ad went to bed. Wind swept with red faces and exhausted. We had only travelled from Portsmouth to Portland but it felt like we were on another planet and had travelled hundreds of miles.
We slept really well.
Day Two: Friday 28th November
Portland for the night
Waking in Portland Marina was interesting – the wind was whistling through the rigging making it sound pretty scary. Seals were bobbing up to have a look at us and the segulls circled overhead. In the distance people were windsurfing and Paragliding – proving the meaning of “it’s and ill wind that doesn’t blow someone some good” We all went to shower and then had a breakfast porridge and toast aboard.
The wind was wild and even in the marina the sea was choppy. It made us so relieved that Simon had decided to take us to shelter. All showered and rested we set to on small tasks like putting markers on the anchor chain and doing a small repair to the shore power line. Simon also created a new line for our third Reef to ensure we could use it easily when we crossed the Bay of Biscay. (Do you like the way my blog is becoming more professionally yachty?!!)
At around 11am we decided to take a walk up into Portland – a very steep walk up out of the marina into the town on an adventure to find a bakery – The co-op seemed to be the only shop so we got bread there and Peter, one of our able crew – who is also, rather usefully, a chef! got the makings for Chicken a la King – one of my favorites for dinner that night. The light grey Portland stone cottages over looking the sea were beautiful, this Jurassic coast is stunning.
As we walked and talked we confirmed our thought that we should invite Simon to be our Skipper for the ARC crossing next November – our Atlantic Crossing. Simon has an elegant leadership style – quiet and polite, encouraging and gentle. He never tells he always suggests – he gives lots of information and then lets us feel as if we have made the decision. We asked him if he would consider being our skipper and he said YES – how exciting – then we found out that not only had he done the Arc a lot of times and even been the skipper on a winning yacht –perfect!
One thing that we love about our new life is time to talk and listen! During one of our chats Simon had been talking with us about the many things that had gone wrong with Magic since we had bought her – a lot always needed fixing on yachts all the time but Simon thought we had had more of our fair share. He suggested that perhaps a de-naming and re-naming ceremony was required. I did some research on the proper manner of this ceremony and we decided to create a modern version. In brief – Neptune and Poseidon keep a log of all the ships and their names and allow them safe passage. So, basically, we had to tell them to update their database!! We also had to remove all references of the boat’s previous name from anywhere on or in the boat –after a through inspection – we found two stickers with ‘il Sogno’ on the helm and in the chart table there was a Cork key ring with the previous name written on – all were removed off the boat.
Another part of the ceremony is to write the old name on a small ship and drop it into the water. Where to find a small ship? In a quirky shop in town – where a lovely man was meticulously painting toy soldiers and displaying them in cases, we found the perfect little model boat – it was £2.50 but with my famous negation skills I purchased it for £3.00. The man asked us where we sailing to (he knew we were sailors as we were wearing all posh new gear with ‘Team Magic’ on it when we told him The Algarve – he screwed up his face and said – “Hum… Biscay in November” we were getting used to that response
Back to the boat for some down time including some weather and passage planning. Even though we had lost some time by hiding from the wind in Portland (which was only a force 6 but at night in the rain and near to Portland Bill the wind over tide created a nasty sea state) We planned to make up the time by heading out the following Morning and heading straight to Portugal without stopping. The weather looked perfect and Mark and I were excited by the prospect of 3 or 4 days at sea.
That evening the five of us went to the Marina bar for a couple of pints – ‘Proper Job’ beer it was really yummy and, we thought had an appropriate name – then home for the delicious Chicken a la King – I love this dish, as it was one of the staples we were brought up on. I usually make mine with a roux as a base but Chef Peter used cream and it was quicker and better – a revelation. So – onions sweated down, chicken fried in them til browned then chopped mushrooms and red pepper – cooked in fresh cream with salt, pepper and garlic. Served with Basmati rice. We enjoyed our meal together in the lovely cosy Saloon of Magic with a few glasses of wine – pretty civilized!
Then a walk for may and bed.
Reflecting on the past days as we fell asleep we were thinking how the heating still doesn’t work nor does the TV and the LED lighting though the boat is not right – some out all together – some hot and the auto pilot is still not functioning. But we can get some help in Lagos. The critical thing is that the boat sails well – she is safe and she is fast!
Day Three: Saturday 29th November
Set sail from Portland to Portugal
We woke up to calm water and beautiful sunshine – time to go! We got the boat ready for 4 days at sea – extra gas and water on board. Ever vigilant, Simon asked that we prepare a grab bag ( to grab if we have to abandon ship!) – The Epirbs – Mars Bars – bottles of water, seasickness tablets and hand warmers. It is important that we are prepared for any issue. Then we ran though the health and safety elements on the boat – fire drills, MOB and use of all the safety equipment – professional and careful. Then we kitted up – we are getting faster at putting on our thermals – oilies – boots and life jackets!!
We made a nest for May – Portside deck, by the companion way under the spray hood! Then we carried out our de-naming and re-naming ceremony from the foredeck. I asked the gods of the sea to remove ‘il Sogno’ from their records and add Magic – affording her all the same rights and privileges of safe passage. Peter took Photos to mark the occasion. Then we picked up our steps and slipped the lines, brought in and stowed the fenders and away into the Channel.
Now on a watch system mine was 10 .00 – 14.00 – sailing in 1m waves and light winds with the sun shining was bliss – this is our new life. From the helm I watched May sleeping and Mark smiling and imagined many, more happy days like these to come.
Perfect sailing all day and all night –we crossed the shipping channel once again under Simons watchful eye – wow those tankers are HUGE – thought one of them was Guernsey! We watched the sun go down and were then given quite a display as the orange waxing moon rose. By morning we will be North of Roscoff and then on. We took some time to think about our plan: Sunday lunchtime we predict we will begin crossing the infamous Bay of Biscay. That will be on my watch and I am excited and anxious. Simon is with us and we literally trust him with our lives. It is a crossing of 350 miles so we will have completed the crossing by Tuesday lunchtime. Then Wednesday, Thursday will see us moving down the coast of Spain and Portugal – we may even pop into Bayona for Tapas – then on to arrive in Lagos around Friday (ish)
That is not your usual week is it?
We had lasagna and baby broad beans for supper – I cooked – well what I mean is I put the water on for the beans and put the lasagna in the oven and served!!
As we are at sea all the time we have a watch system. When I learned to sail we did four hours on and four hours off – 24 hours a day but that is exhausting. Simon prefers watches of 4 hours in the day and 2 hours at night. So for example – Simon does 06.00 until 10.00 then its me 10.00 – 14.00 then it is Mark 14.00 til 18.00 then Peter 18.00-22.00 then Simon 22.00 – 00.00
Then I do 22.00 – 02.00 and then Mark is 02.00 – 04.00 etc.
I took the night watch from Simon and walking from the dark Saloon up the companionway was like walking up the stairs into heaven. The night air was warm and there was not a single cloud in the sky, only inky blackness and thousands of stars. As my eyes became accustomed to the darkness I watched in rapture as Simon pointed out the 12 dolphins surrounding our boat – whizzing along beside us like some honor guard. I could see their dorsal fins as they surfaced in turns and their grey shiny backs were flecked with magical phosphoresce – green sparkles. I imagined them playing beneath us – Dolphins under our beds. The main sail was up full and the perfectly sliced half moon cast a silver shadow across the sea. The swell bulged making the horizon appear as if there were hills in the distance and Magic sailed effortlessly over it all. We were navigating by the stars, which I find impossibly romantic. You make sure you are on the right course and then rather than steer to the Compass or the electronic instruments – you pick a star that is in just the right place between the shrouds and keep it there.
Dolphins beside me and under my feet and staring up a star – I was so very happy. This is what we came for – I reflected on how little of the outside I have seen in the last few years and now the sky is our roof. It is such a wonder and a privilege to experience such magic.
Day Four: Sunday 30th November
Reluctantly in Camaret – Beer, Batteries and a rather nice Swedish guy called Stig
As is usually the way of things every silver lining has a cloud – today we had hoped to be able to grab the excellent weather window and keep going South but we have more issues – the heating still doesn’t work and the LED bulbs are still a problem – but those are the least of the problems – the new and altogether more important issue is that the batteries are not charging. This is potentially dangerous as without them we them we cannot pump out the bilges or have Nav instruments or lights. This is an issue that Simon highlighted to us following his delivery trip from Bruinesse to Portsmouth. So checking the batteries was one of the first issues we had looked at in Portsmouth and the declaration was that all was well and in working order – not so. This is bad as it could literally have put us all at risk – we are not happy.
We have had to turn everything off including fridge and freezer so that we preserve the power for the Nav instruments – we are navigating some tricky waters in the infamous Chanel du Fort North of Camaret and if we have no navigation instruments it would be an issue. We crossed our fingers that the battery power would last as we passed some really rather enormous and nasty looking black jagged rocks with waves crashing up on them. The batteries are supposed to take on a charge as you motor but they were not. We cannot risk the Biscay crossing with no electric. So, we are reluctantly heading to Cameret to make a stop – being Sunday and as we will arrive in late we will not get help today. So, in the morning once the engine has cooled we can look at the issue and consider if we can fix it or if we need professional help. I guess this is what sailing is – fixing things, spending money on fixing things and changing plans so that things can be fixed! We had so hoped we could just crack on as we were getting into the watches and being at sea full time – it is an irritation to call into a harbor – However that is sailing and we will enjoy Camaret – and even stock up on wine and cheese and pate for our trip across Biscay – which now looks like it will be Monday or Tuesday now – depending on the weather.
Having just completed my 4 hours on the helm I am pretty tired – May and I have gone to our room for a break – I am sipping hot tea with my got water bottle on my legs and eating a slice of ginger cake. May is by my feet and seems cheerful enough, she doesn’t get sea sick and has generally good sea legs – The only issue is she hasn’t had a wee or a poo since we left Portland – I hope it won’t make her ill – she is such a good dog I am sure she cannot face the prospect of going to the toilet in our home.
We have put a dog toilet made of Astroturf on the ‘Poop Deck” (and that is the proper name for it!) and we even had her use it ashore which she did – but now she refuses to go. As for me well, everything aches, I have a cold sore and a spot! I know my body is telling me it is running on empty when I get a cold sore – and I haven’t had a spot for about 20 years! I am looking forward to taking time off in Lagos and repairing – mind – body and boat. Mark is a trooper – but then he does look after himself better than I do – he takes breaks and rests and doesn’t let himself get exhausted. He was a little nauseous but thankfully that seems to have passed. Perhaps the problem with me is not exhaustion and stress but that I haven’t had any alcohol for over 24 hours – We are T total when we are night sailing and running a watch system ….Now as I write we have called into Camaret –Mark rushed into our cabin – I was sound asleep “Where is the French Courtesy flag?” he said – I was bleary eyed and honestly couldn’t think what the hell he was talking about — France? Flags? What day is it? Where am I? Then I woke up more fully and was able to tell him. I got up and quickly dressed so I could go on deck to help with fenders and lines as we pulled into Camaret Harbor.
It’s a horrible situation not just because we are missing the perfect weather window to cross Biscay – but also because we feel we have been let down – these batteries had been checked! In Holland and in Portsmouth – both on land and sea in each case. All the flooring is lifted to review the batteries and Simon is doing his best to fix the problem but we don’t have a battery tester. He suggested that Mark and I go ashore to see if we could find one – another challenge – Sunday night in a small French town to search for a battery tester – all the shops were shut except for a bakery and an Irish Bar – we thought we would use our initiative and bought bread and cake for the troops and then went to the Irish Bar to see if we could find some one to help us. We found Stig – an ex Swedish Navy man who was sailing his boat from Sweden to Grand Canaries – and then on to the Behamas. He is a wonderful guy a true adventurer. Like us he was stuck here his problem is worse than ours however as his Yanmar engine had completely busted – he was hoping for an old one at £5k but thought he might have to purchase a new one at £15k – we felt for him – we were all stuck and longed to be making the most of the fine weather to cross Biscay. He is lovely – a salty sea dog – we swopped tales of the sea and then we asked him if he had a volt meter and of course he did so he walked with us back to his boat – even though he was going to have a Pizza in the bar (he told us they do a pizza which has a croissant dough base and seafood topping which is out of this world!) As Mark and Stig left the bar I gave the bar tender ten euro which is the price of a pizza for Stig. Now Simon is doing his best to see what is wrong as every hour that passes we watch our precious weather window disappearing– perhaps he can fix the issue or perhaps we will have to wait until Monday morning and stay here. Either way it is really frustrating as we had a survey and then some fixes then paid for the surveyor to return to check all was well – we had a sea trial and we had the batteries checked in Portsmouth and we were told all was well….. We have been let down. So, we are currently stranded in Camaret and the batteries have been pronounced dead!
You may think ah that’s ok just change the batteries – but it is 10 batteries and there are none here in Camaret – there are two in Brest and two else where – we have to order them and then have them fitted – it is Monday now and they won’t arrive until tomorrow after noon – then we have to have them fitted. By then the weather will be bad again – force 8 and rain, so – it seems the new plan is that we will set sail again on Wednesday afternoon – that should enable us to get to Lagos on Monday or Tuesday!! I suppose its only 3 or four-day delay and it all adds to this adventure. The cost of the batteries fitted – oh yes, well that is two thousand euros…..
I thought it would be good to note the highs such as last night and the lows too to ensure this whole adventure isn’t romantisised.