Friday, November 18, 2011


Day 14

It’s a strange feeling, Watching the sunset behind the last hills for at least 3 weeks, while directly opposite a massive purplish moon, perfectly full tonight, rises out of the ocean. 

Nature puts on the farewell fireworks.

It’s been a wicked ride so far, and I already have so much to digest, notwithstanding Herve’s  fantastic olive oil and garlic-saturated cooking. Though it’s a journey of a different kind from here on in. Wind, wave, weather wise what will wappen will wappen (just couldn't resist getting some more 'w's in there). Lliterally all we can do is ‘ride it out’. We’re heading south, hoping to come across the slightly stronger winds closer to the Saharan coast. We’ll probably go as far south as the Cape Verde Islands, maybe even stop there (Africa!) before swinging westward with the trade winds, eventually complete the 3,000 mile ark by curving north past Trinidad and Tobago to Antigua, where we will sit on the beach, snorkel, fish, drink rum, call loved ones and try to remember how to walk on hard ground that doesn’t move beneath our feet. Until then though it’s hopefully some solid winds, a couple of big fish and no cyclones. I never thought I’d be doing this…

Day 17
Is this wind the beginning of the Trades? Hope so! Made a flying entry into the tropics (22 degrees North) early this morning, reaching speeds of ten knots in the darkness. Great fun! Our 4th day at sea on this leg. Just as the Passageweather software predicted, the wind picked up yesterday about midday after a couple of slow days and as I type we a doing an average of 7 or so knots for the Cape Verde Islands, where Cap’n decided to make an impromptu landfall because a) when else are we gonna get this close to the Verdes!? And b) we forgot to buy his favorite fruit yoghurt in the Canaries.
Harry Hydrovane (wind-powered self-steering system: basically a small sail that connects to it’s own rudder at the stern and steers for us) has undergone several DIY improvements involving weights, plastic bottles and gladwrap. He is faring somewhat better, but needs to sack up a bit if this is the kind of wind we are in for. Still too much zigzagging and not enough straight up the guts.
A couple of fish have shown interest, including one massive bugger that chomped our biggest lure (RIP monster killer). I pretty much ran out of line so he decided to bite through it and be on his way. Herve thought it might’ve been a marlon, and according to him he’s not often wrong. A second spate of repairs to our beloved, tow generator-mangled Magnum DeepdiverÔ lure proved fruitless (he just won’t dive for us anymore) and a burial at sea is planned complete with a 13 gun salute later this afternoon.
Herve’s cooking is as always exceptional. Roast Chicken, Roast pork, Fresh bread etc. We must’ve gone through litres of olive oil and a couple of kilos of garlic so far, no doubt this has something to do with the copious amounts amount of wind being generated and what I’ve fondly coined the “Herve Winds” or “Herves” for short –  currently around 5 to 7 knots and strengthening.
Hope to reach the Verdes by Thursday AM. We need a fish or two.

Day 20
Been at sea a week now. It’s very difficult to capture open ocean sailing with words or even photos. The ocean is around 4 km deep in some parts, and we have sailed over underwater seamounts higher than Mt. Fuji. The winds have largely settled in to 20 knots of nor easterly and we hadn’t changed the sails for 3 days until we jibed on our final approach to the Capes Verdes. Yep, going to Africa! Eta is around 11pm tonight. Good sailing all round so far with the odd broadside by the solid Atlantic swells to keep us on our toes and tightly gripping our sunset whiskeys. Averaging about 8 knots which is too fast for fishing but can’t complain as the water rushes by us sending the flying fish scattering, including a couple on our deck . I’m just about to shove some wire down the length of one, connect a big hook and see if I can’t catch something bigger with it. A couple of really big dolphins (I thought they were whales) gave us a good show as they launched out of the water a few times on their way past, probably checking us out as we were them. Belly smackers to be proud of.
Day 21: Mindelo!
We had an interesting time coming in last night with the strongest winds of the trip so far at 30 knots in the pitch black passage towards the anchorage between , Fogo and St. Vicentethe two islands where we are currently at anchor. Mindelo is the capital of St. Vicente, a town of Portugese heritage who speak an amazing Portugese Creole language. My impression at the one hour mark is  volcanic landscapes covered in tropical flora and fauna, inhabited by laid back people with big smiles. 

That thar be a foine Spanish galleon me mateys! Aarrrgh! Harbor in Mindelo.

I have been here one hour and already I know that our stay here won’t be long enough. I also realised that in the tropics the moon waxes/wanes horizontally, with a top half and a bottom half. It was a bottom half moon tonight, a Cheshire Cat smile.  Is only the top half full on some nights? To me the fact that people for centuries have looked at the sky and used the information obtained to navigate across expanses of ocean of which I’ve still only seen a very small portion, is astounding and awe inspiring. You set a course and sail as close as you can in that direction allowing for variances in wind.  It was a good feeling when the Verdes rolled over the horizon after a week at sea. Glad we have GPS etc., I’d be shithouse with a sextant.

Day 22: Le petit Jesus un culotte du velours!
This is French. Literally it means “Little Jesus wearing velvet knickerbockers” and it is used to refer to something as being pretty bloody special, as indeed the sight of a mini Jesus wearing said costume would be. Mindelo is pretty bloody special. I love this place for reasons that I will never be able to fully convey here. The fact that it’s in the middle of nowhere means that it is not touristy at all. 

Enough said.

You step off the boat straight into the real deal. The language is Portugese officially but everyone speaks a kind of Creole. We found an amazing little place for lunch which had one dish one the menu, coral trout Creole style. 

Mut Zapp! (Bloody delicious!) 

Then we commandeered a bloke with a ute full of potatoes and onions and headed off over the volcanos to a few of the beaches, past ladies carrying big loads of bananas on their heads, through little villages of run down stone huts, kids playing in the dust and washing hanging among corn fields dotted with windmills, none of which seemed to be turning despite the decent wind. No seemed to mind either. 

Onion truck island tours inc.

There is very little money, and the harbor full of yachts is an easy target for people trying to make a buck in pretty much anyway you can imagine, but in my very limited experience of the place I’d say the people are happy. Definitely friendly.
Ponche! (Rum punch) or Groque (grog) are the two local tipples, and they kick your arse in a good way. The punch is the authentic stuff, made with lots of molasses (a kickback to the sugarcane slavery of the islands’ history) and limes. 5 bucks will get you 1.5L. I could go on and on, but we’re about to leave and I have to wash clothes and buy food (and punch). So here are some photos. Definitely no more stops between here and the Caribbean, more than 2,000 miles straight west.

Cheap rum punch and veggie market. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Back to the Story...

Days 5 and 6: Viva La Graciosa!

Accessible only by boat, this small island on the very northern tip of the Canaries is AWESOME. The volcanic nature of the place makes it part Medditeranean-esque seaside village, part moonscape, all brilliant. We arrived at the anchorage in a passage between the top of Lanzarote island and La Graciosa on the afternoon of Nov. 2nd, and after 5 days at sea, no sooner had the anchor hit the sandy bottom when I had a large glass of rum, jumped off the side of the boat, and went fishing – in that order, but not at the same time. Well the rum and the fishing part was pretty simultaneous, I just couldn’t work out how to swim while holding my rum without getting it all salty. Five nice-sized Black Bream later and we had the next day’s lunch sorted. They couldn’t get enough of my left over Gibraltar steak.

Rum, classical guitar on the stereo, sunset, bream, rum, moonlight, bream, rum, music, brum…you get the idea…
The next morning (sunny, again. Hating me yet?) we unhooked Freddy (mercury – the outboard motor) and winched Bob (the blowup zodiac dinghy) into the water and Dusty and I headed ashore, leaving Herve the gouty one to look after the boat. After a brief stroll to check out the volcanic scenery, including a real life sea shanty (made of rocks and shells with empty wine bottles outside and all!) I made a sunburnt stroll into town to get bread to go with the bream for lunch, which were cooked up to perfection on the BBQ. 

Hopefully I’ll find somewhere with internet soon (found it!) so I can put some photos up, because words just can’t describe how beautiful La Sociedad is. 

Soft, white sand leading from clear blue water up to palm tree-dotted streets of one-storey, whitewashed cubist (?) houses with sky blue doors and window frames, all immaculately maintained, with the odd elderly Spanish gentleman on his promenade (the evening stroll Spanish take after their siesta and before dinner). Even veteran adventurers Dusty and “The Canaries are all just black sand and drunk Irish tourists” Herve had good things to say.  Best paella I’ve ever had too, although admittedly that’s not 
saying much.

Day 7: Volcanos and surf
After making contact with Joy, another Cygnet, Tasmania local (seriously, what are the chances!? We’re everywhere!) who was staying at Rubicon marina at La Playa Blanca on the southern tip of Lanzarote island, we decided we’d drop in for a visit because we have a yacht and we can go anywhere we want. We woke to the forecasted gusting souwesterly wind and crashing waves on the far shore of the passage we were anchored in. Rounding the top of Lanzarote to a cranking soundtrack of Mastodon, Animals as Leaders and QOTSA, past large volcanic craters dotted with the odd church (please god, don’t destroy our humble village with fiery boulders and molten lava, amen) we hit the top speed of the trip so far with 8.6 knots, as 6 foot barrels peeled left and right along the petrified lava coastline, the same offshore wind that fed our sails lifting plumes of spray off their tops and misting up the air, adding to the whole primeval vibe. In fact, the water around Lanzarote is 2 degrees warmer than the other islands, purely due to the volcanic activity.

Lighthouse on a volcano. Tough.

The east coast of Lanzarote is more developed than La Graciosa, though all the buildings still maintain that same square, white design. Hundreds of them all together look amazing and add to the uniqueness of the place when contrasted to the martian countryside, though I couldn’t help but wonder if the similarity occasionally gives rise to issues with trying to find your own home after a hard night on the aguardiente. That stuff kicks arse. Tastes kind of like potato vodka and draino, only with a higher alcohol content and a worse hangover.
We made it into the marina at a little past 7pm. Coming in was a little more dramatic than it could’ve been, but nothing a touch of paint won’t fix. After being at sea for a while it’s a strange feeling when you get ashore, kind of like being really drunk when you’re sure everything else is moving. The marina routine was starting to consolidate: beers, chat, bottle of red, Herve charms waitress, dinner, digestivo (fancy word for strong alcohol consumed after dinner). As the oldies went to bed I wandered off on my own around the coastline to a place with live music, sat back, and quietly came to the conclusion that La Playa Blanca was kind of like a adult version of Tokyo Disney Sea, with bars instead of rides and fat European tourists instead of crying kids.

La Playa Blanca. Disney for adults.

Day 8: Viva Espanol!
Functional wifi seems to be rarer than the Spanish gold doubloons that filled the galleons who stopped here on their way to and from pillaging the Americas all those years ago. But funnily enough, it works fine on this rock outside the marina laundry, so here I sit, resorting to beer to maintain sanity after a quick trip to do the washing festered into a full day of laundro-tedium, the details of which no ones needs to be subjected to. I found a little Italian place for lunch right on the water overlooking the marina, the most memorable part of which was the gayest Italian/Spanish waiter on Lanzarote island, possibly the Universe. Priscilla, Queen of the Canaries.  Though while I’m on the subject, Spanish people have impressed me with their friendliness and vivaciousness. Seriously, that’s the right word! Coming from Tokyo where some (not all) neighbours I’ve known for years won’t say konnichiwa if they can avoid it, I must’ve said hola! at least 100 times to no one I’ve met before or will meet again. It’s good. I like it. Respect to the Spaniards. Must be the siesta, and the awesome weather, and the food…

Not much to complain about.

A great tapas dinner was the setting for discussions on how to avoid the debacle (and bow scraping) of our arrival into the marina the previous day. I finished my La Playa Blanca experience with a night time stroll along the coastline, past bars of retiree couples avoiding eye contact with each other while guitarist/singers belted out other peoples’ pop songs to varying degrees of success. But I was only half listening. Most of my attention was on the sea. New waters and new vistas awaited the next morning.


Day 9: Lanzarote to Fuerte Ventura
Refuelled and watered, we headed out of the marina and southward down the east coast of the island of Fuerte Ventura, aiming for an anchorage in the town of Gran Tarajal. With the wind on our back we brought out the spinnaker; 140m2 of sail that balloons directly out the front of the boat, picking up any tail wind and immediately giving us 2 or 3 more knots of speed. (1 knot is 1 nautical mile or about 1.8km/hour). We hit a new speed record of 9.6 knots (nearly 18 km/hour).
There is an ancient European maritime belief that women bring bad luck to a boat, no doubt made up by henpecked seamen desperate to get away from wives and domesticity in general. It’s bullshit. Joy, the Cygnetian I spoke of earier, had decided to join us as far as Gran Canaria, and not long after she came on board we hit our speed record, and then the fish struck. First a smallish but decent enough bonito, then 15 minutes later a mahi mahi (finally!). Not as big as the one that got away, but decent enough.  Both fish were fantastic eating that night. The bonito we did Japanese style with soy sauce and fresh grated ginger. The mahi mahi (one of the best eating fish there is) went on the bbq with a squeeze of lemon. Bewdy!

This is just the beginning...

That evening we anchored just off Gran Tarajal, much less Disneyland than La Playa Blanca, despite the neon merry-go-round/disco type thing blaring Spanish pop till the wee hours.  The east coast of Fuerte Ventura is dotted with tiny villages, almost enclaves, of little huts tucked between the volcanic formations. Villages that obviously had not been party to the massive funds injected into the resorts further up the coast, but by the same token had an air of permanence, which can’t be said about some of the tourist spots, now that the funds in Spain (and Europe, and the world?) are seriously drying up. Or so it seems back in the real world.

It's the second house on the left. The white one. Can't miss it!

Herve hailed a local fishing boat in the hope of scoring some crayfish. They didn't have any...

Top Gun on a sailing boat.

Fast sailing, good fishing and another awesome sunset were toasted with beers and chorizo in the cockpit, as we edged further south towards the trade winds that were to ‘carry us across the pond’ in a few days time.

Days 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 : Fuerte Ventura to Gran Canaria. Waiting for the wind…

Sitting amongst more civilization than we’ve seen for a while, in the anchorage at Las Palmas, the capital city of the main island of Gran Canaria. I’m attempting to burn the remaining white parts of my body to match the bits already done. It’s working. Arrived here from Fuerte Ventura last night and broke the speed record for this yacht in doing so. 11.7 knots, held by yours truly! (Suck it Herve, hehe). The wind has dropped so after typing it will be in town for an explore and to pick up more supplies. Still gotta fix the radio and get the snorkel on and scrub the slime of the hull.
Whenever entering a new port, the first thing you do is search out the 'Sailor's bar'. Every decent port has one. 

A few coldies here and then drink driving in motorized dinghys. Great fun!

Have met all sorts of interesting characters in the bars around the marina in Las Palmas. Got drunk with a skipper of a big racing yacht, and had beers with some English blokes who just chartered a catamaran to head across the Atlantic with the aim of learning to sail and scuba dive on the way to the Carribean to be treasure hunters.  Bars full of fascinating people getting drunk. Good stuff and makes for interesting banter.

 Part of the main bach in Las Palmas. 6 foot point break going off on the point too.

Korean people running a Japanese restaurant in Spain.  Ordering sushi from a Korean in Spanish was fascinatingly confusing. Can anyone spot Hello Kitty?

Now hopefully the wind will pick up and we can leave.  See you in the Caribbean.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011


Bouncing through the open ocean in 9 tons of wood, steel and fibreglass makes for some pretty novel ways to damage yourself, which obviously need to be documented.

Locker Dropkick

Toe Scalping

Cracker Burn

To be continued...(no doubt)


Cruising, when things go according to plan, is all about moments of exhilaration wedged into long periods of relaxing free time. That’s the main reason why sailors have fancy knots, because they have all day to practice tying them. Furthermore, the more complicated knots you know, the higher your rating on the ‘seadog index’.  So without further ado, let me get me knots out!

Clove hitch with two half hitches. If you can’t tie this, you suck.

The bowline. The quintessential knot for tying stuff that you want to keep. Dinghys,  bottles of special reserve, Spanish girls etc. etc.

Rapala knot.  The ultimate for tying a lure onto a fishing line. When used in conjunction with the Rapala Magnum Deepdiverä the fish pretty much just jump onto your BBQ.

Fisherman’s tie. Can’t get better than this for joining two lines/ropes together. Very effective but too small to impress people from a distance.

The hangman’s noose.  Mutinous seamen/drunk Frenchmen beware!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Remember kids...

The best way to view this blog is by starting with the bottom post first and going upwards, if you want chronological order.  Jus' sayin'.



Day 1: Chicken with cargo ships

After postponing our departure due to some nasty weather, Friday October 28th at 2:30 saw us weaving out into the straits of Gibraltar under blues skies, zigzagging among the massive tankers waiting in some kind of line to drop their loads in Algiceras.  Once out in the straights we dodged a shipwreck and while motoring hoisted the sails in the moderate winds to scoot across the crowded shipping lanes. Once across the other side we followed the mountainous Algerian/Moroccan coast which brought into view a massive Arabic slogan engraved into the mountainside (“God is Great!?”) Though perhaps the writing on the hillside was trying to warn us of the ‘Banca del Fenix’…

The first sunset of the voyage. Straits of Gibraltar.

Higher temperatures inside the Mediterranean than out, leading to much more evaporation, result in the sea level outside the straits of Gibraltar being about 3 metres higher than in the Mediterranean. Besides having to sail up hill (joke), this leads to some pretty heavy inflow of ocean through an already small gap. Just east of the bay that is home to the Moroccan city of Tanger lies the Banca del Fenix, a massive shallow bank (banks anywhere near Spain are nothing but trouble it seems) that magnifies the effects of the tide and the incoming currents, all in all making for some pretty rock’n’roll action. After an hour of going in all directions at once, very nearly including backwards (up to 5 knots of current against us, with the tide on our side), we made it out of the blender in time to marvel at the prefect crescent moon hovering over Tanger in the cloudless orange and purple of twilight. Herve is about as French as they come, but he was in fact born in Morocco, and he made the call of pulling into Tanger for some cous cous. I was tempted (it’s f**king Morocco!), but the somewhat wishful suggestion was shot down by captain Dusty under the premise that with all the booze we had on board we’d probably get done for smuggling…always thinking, that man.
The inaugural night watches all went by smoothly, a million stars and the strangely meditative rumble of the engine for company, as well as about 35 massive cargo ships. But the Atlantic is pretty big and they kept their distance. We were on our way…

The portside steering wheel, showing the compass and navigation equipment. Gets us to where we wanna go...already a few nights have been spent behind these babies.

Day 2: Invisible

A cloudless and largely windless morning.  A time for reading and snoozing in the sun, that seemed somehow warmer after escaping that little bit of England off the bottom of Spain. During the afternoon the wind picked up enough to allow us to cut the engine (thankfully, with half the fuel gone and only one day in). Lures were attached and the fishing began, a dinner in the Caribbean ‘on the line’ for the biggest fish caught, due to a bet with another yacht we met in Gibraltar on a similar course. The evening sky made me think Michelangelo might have been a yachtie, and the swell had grown and evened out into large, gentle lines and walls that made me want to go surfing. Perhaps in the Canaries…


A couple of boats that didn’t show up on the AIS (navigation and ship ID system) gave me a little surprise during the night. Being the diligent sailor-in-training that I am, I though I’d mention it the next morning:
Me: “Some boats don’t show up on the AIS then?”
Capt. Dusty: (nonchalance) “Yeah, if they don’t have a transmitter. Actually, we don’t have one either.”
Me: “Sooo, those 900 foot long, 15,000 tonnes of steel out there can’t actually see us?”
Capt. Dusty: (yawning) “Well we’d show up on their radar, but no one looks at that anymore really. Don’t worry, just keep your eyes open at night.”
Me: “That shouldn’t be a problem…”

Day 3: Fishing – c’est  la vie!

A smooth night’s sailing thanks to mostly steady winds and Harry the hydrovane (wind-powered auto steering system that basically connects a mini-sail to a second rudder), gave us a steady 6 or 7 knots, which almost made up for the apparent lack of interest in our lines by the fish.  The next morning we were visited by a school of at least 50 jumping and swerving dolphins, giving us all a little bit of a high.

This guy and 50 of his mates came to make friends with us. It's hard to have a bad day when this is how it starts...

Meanwhile some nasty storm far, far to the north had starting heaving rather large, but tranquil hills of water at us that later would give Herve plenty to think about as he prepared the day’s dinner of lasagne in the galley, (yep, lasagne, on a yacht!) punctuating the refreshing sea air with the occasional merde! But it was still early in the piece when the only coffee plunger took a tumble and broke into the sink before the captain had had his morning cuppa. Ordinarily a flogging offence, the author quietly thanks Christ we were only two days out of the Canaries. Bloody landlubbers and their landlubbing dish placements…
All thoughts of coffee were soon forgotten as the first bonito hit the line. A moderate 5 to 6 kg according to resident fish (among numerous other things) expert Herve.  Game fishing skills being a bit rusty, or non-existent in my case, that bonito and another escaped before I hooked on to a beautiful looking and excellent-eating mahi mahi; sky blue on top, silver underneath with bright yellow fins and tail.  Following a good fight we had it close enough to taste, when due to some excessive zeal it got tangled in the rope of the newly installed water-powered generator. Watching the biggest fish I had ever nearly caught floating gently away, face mangled by the generator, I thought to myself – fuck. To add insult to injury, the line potentially damaged the seal on the water generator and broke our best lure in the process, obtained upon unambiguous advice from a brawny fisherbloke in a fishing warehouse over the border from Gibraltar in Spain (i.e. across the runway and past all the Spaniards lining up for tax free smokes, somewhere in the dusty back streets of La Linea and next door to a Chinese thrift store called Super Chino). After briefly pondering whether fishing was in fact a shit sport, I cast my eyes eastwards to the distant glow emanating from Casablanca to the east (yes, that Casablanca!), and decided that it probably was a shit sport, before wondering how we were going to fix that lure. If anyone can, Dusty can…

This is a mahi mahi. I didn't catch one...

We left the shipping lane that night which was a relief. No more super tankers to contend with. The wind picked up to around 18 knots in the night, all in all pushing us 150 nautical miles closer to La Graciosa, our first anchorage.

Day 4: Let there be coffee!
It’s amazing how your concept of time changes on nightwatch, surrounded by 50% ocean (heard, not seen) and 50% starry sky. On land, waiting 30 seconds for the wifi to login basically has me ready to kick my laptop overboard, but a 3 or 4 hour watch just ‘sails’ by imperceptibly, kind of like trying to time how long a dream is.

Looking sailorish yet?

The curious and playful dolphins once again paid a visit, as if to signal the end of the dawn watch, and Dusty rigged a coffee maker from a teapot. The day had started well, was there to be a fish or two? Alas, not even a bite. So it was that we had to contend with 8 knots of sailing under blue skies with nothing to do but read, nap in the sun, snack, and occasionally change sails. What a bum deal. Not even Harry hydrovane’s general reluctance to ‘loosen up’ could put a dampener on things. In the end, a plastic bag and a couple of pegs worth about 8 eurocents got the thousands of dollars worth of equipment to cooperate.
Changeable winds from the night watch onwards made sail selection a bit of a chore (to pole the genoa, or not to pole the genoa, that is the question). Waiting for the sun to rise and bring the Canaries into view, all was good. If dolphins could talk, or if we knew how to listen, perhaps that’s what they would’ve said as they did their morning rounds of the boat…

a note...

*Please excuse the massive volume of this post. Must make use of wifi while in port you see. Japanese translation to follow (one day)

* Fortunes being the fickle bastards that they are, our crew of 5 has, due to various misadventure, dwindled to 3. Nevermind, more rum to go around…

Captain Dusty

The skipper of Adagio. His real name is Derek. He built a yacht next door to the house I grew up in (and in doing so was constantly covered in sawdust, hence the nickname). I have fond memories of playing in the incompleted hull, passing hammers and nails etc. He sailed that yacht all over the world including across the Indian and Southern Oceans, by himself. I think if I can manage to do what he tells me, everything will be fine.