Off South

The time has come where we must finally start to go south. We have booked into Port Louis Marina Grenada for 6 months starting June 1st. The idea is to be enough south to reduce the risk of hurricanes and be within striking distance of a refuge if one does come. From Grenada it is 12 hours sail to Trinidad and they have not had a hurricane in recorded history. So after over 3 months in Rodney Bay it was time to prepare to go to sea again. As Sephina has been in the water for over 12 months we arranged a lift out to clean the bottom and replace the 5 anodes that protect the metal from corrosion. Rodney Bay has a big travel lift so it was very easy. The copper coat had performed well as apart from some small molluscs the bottom was relatively clean. On the 22nd March we set off to Marigot Bay to get used to sailing again. We stayed for a few days and arranged to take the cats to the government vets in Castries to have the export permits. These are required in the next country, St Vincent and the Grenadines before they are allowed to be imported. We checked ourselves out in the customs office and had a temporary permit issued to stop over night in the Pitons area before crossing the water to St Vincent. We moored in Malgretout just to the north of Petit Piton and had a great dinner in Harmony Beach Bar and set off early the next day for St Vincent. The open water between St Lucia and St Vincent takes you into the Atlantic swell. The last time we were there at the end of the Transatlantic waves were large but luckily they were much calmer. The last part as you approach the northern tip of St Vincent cut up a bit rough but we soon had the lee of the land and all settled down. After another couple of hours we arrived at Young Island where we had arranged for Sam’s Taxi Tours to clear us into customs and immigration and the government vet to clear the cats for import. All went to plan and we picked the vet up in the dinghy to check the cats on board. We had arrived at our next country. 

Stoned

Your heart stops when you see blood in your urine. If you are female there are lots of innocent causes but if you are male less so. My one piece of advise is do not google “blood in urine” it will give you nightmares. And so it happened to me the day Matt and Steph set off back to the UK after helping us across the pond. A visit to the local medical practice in Rodney Bay resulted in a batch of medical tests, Blood, Urine and Ultrasound. An anxious few days followed waiting for the result of the tests but the blood continued and the tests were all clear. The local doctor then wanted to refer me to a Urologist. At this point you start to think are you doing the right thing. Luckily our friends and owners of Gozwaz who also did the ARC were two doctors, Haematologist and a GP. Their strong view was to go back to the UK to get a CT scan. Ju would stay to look after the cats. The flight booked and a few calls to ex-colleagues and I was back in the UK having a CT the following day with real time reporting. All well! Phew. The diagnosis, kidney stones. I had passed a kidney stone which was still in the bladder and after seeing the Urologist I was listed for a stent as a day case. I was staying with Carina, Dave and Luke who looked after me and I took the couple of days as an opportunity to visit Steph and Matt in Porthcawl. We went to look at the wedding venue where they will be married in November. They have chosen well. The day surgery went well until the following Thursday when I was admitted as an emergency with acute abdominal pain that even morphine wouldn’t ease. A few days in hospital and Ju flew back to the UK while we got this all sorted. Things stabilised and the Urologist let me fly back to St Lucia to return in a month to have the stent removed. Another quick trip home and a simple outpatient procedure and all is well. Thanks to all the family, friends and ex-colleagues who made the whole affair bearable and quick. I know strings were pulled.

 

Christmas In Marigot Bay

After several days chilling out in Rodney Bay, Sephina was on the move again. This time a very short downwind hop to Marigot Bay. Our friends on Kika who finished the ARC+ had bende sent to Marigot Bay to clear out of Rodney Bay for the big ARC fleet arrival. They had been there for some time and Jon had flown home for Christmas to be with his family. Colin was left minding Kika so we invited him for Christmas dinner. The arrival in Marigot Bay is quite special as it is a very narrow deep entrance that opens up into a spectacular hurricane hole. There is a marina in the lagoon that accepts superyachts and it is a marvel how they get in there. We took a mooring in the inner bay just in front of Kika. Matt and Steph were still with us and we made several visits to the local bars and restaurants. One of the famous ones is Dr Doolittle's named after the film. Many reviews in Tripadvisor comment that the name is apt as apart from the setting the food is mediocre and the staff “do little”. The night before Christmas Eve it started to rain. In the morning and throughout the day it continued, not drizzle but torrential rain. We would be missing our traditional Christmas Eve party which we always held at home for our friends but Steph and Matt delivered superb party fare to compensate. Christmas morning dawned and the rain had stopped. It had been raining solidly for 36 hours, which became known as the Christmas Tropical Wave. It wreaked havoc across the Windward Islands and on St Lucia 5 people died and many more on other islands. Roads were washed away and there was no water or electricity. Luckily we were self-sufficient on the yacht with our water maker and generator so the turkey was put in the oven and we went out for a drink at the local hotel. On our return the roast potatoes were made ready and with some good wine the 5 of us had a full traditional Christmas spread. As is family tradition we watched a film in the early evening slept through most of it and went to bed. Perfect.

Family reunion Caribbean style

Our eldest daughter has been and gone!

The week went so quickly for us but we managed to cram quite a lot in to the time that they were here, including a trip to the rainforest. That was just amazing and I’m so glad we all did it taking a gondola ride above and amongst that tall trees Obviously it rained, but that’s the whole point.  This picture shows Dave having a bit of trouble with his poncho which seemed to have a lit of its own.

Little Luke was such fun and so well behaved. He seemed to be inquisitive with everything around him and certainly knows how to charm the ladies.  It got embarrassing after a while as everyone seemed to be drawn to him, but then he is gorgeous. We took him to the Spice of India restaurant in Rodney Bay for Sunday lunch and he had his first taste of curry, courtesy of Pirate Granny. His face was a picture and he just wanted more. He wasn’t overly impressed with the beach (which was a shame as we were all happy with the cocktails in the bar), but he loved the swimming pool back at the house and enjoyed a thorough dunking by his Dad before Mum got in on the action.

Our youngest daughter and her fiancé have just gone back to the UK after spending just over 2 months with us and the boat seems very quiet now they’ve gone. The support that they both provided to us on the Atlantic crossing was invaluable and we were so grateful to have them along.  But apart from that it’s been lovely having the opportunity to spend quality time with them both as they’ve been working abroad for the last 2 years and the time that we’ve all managed to get together has been fairly scant. They’ve been good company and hopefully they’ve had a good holiday out here.

Meanwhile, we’re still exploring the area and chilling out with the locals and, now that we're alone again, we can get up to date with our website.

"Here are couple of photos of Luke saying 'hello" to Thornton and Peri aboard Sephina. Isn't he a treasure!

Atlantic Crossing

It has taken me some time to get my thoughts together, not about the facts but about the effect of the experience. A number of skippers in the Canaries were reflecting on the journey ahead and were apprehensive. We all agreed that you never read a blog or ARC posting which says it was terrible, so we were reassured.

We went out as a crew for a last night departure meal. The crew being myself, Ju my wife, Steph my youngest daughter (and a Commercial Yacht-master) and Matt her fiancée and Ocean Graduate. Despite a strong crew we were all quiet and reflective. Sir Robin Knox-Johnson once said, "Anyone who goes to sea and is not scared is a liar". A fitful night passed.

The new day dawned and there was so much happening it took all our minds off the journey ahead. Matt and Steph set about preparing the twin foresails and putting foam on the spreaders to avoid the main sail chaffing. I was getting last minute spares, all of which we never used, and Ju was tidying the boat as usual. At 11:30 we were hugely privileged to have a number of our friends around us and they joined us on Sephina. The photo below shows from left Helena, Elaine, Gren, Cherry, Steph, Matt, Johnie, Ju and myself. As they left the emotion took over and I was too choked up to say thank you.

Just after 12.00 we slipped the berth and headed out of the marina. There were hundreds of people cheering and bands playing. We motored out and were checked out and photographed by the ARC Crew standing at the end of the mole. It was a spectacular site seeing so many yachts of all shapes and sizes making their way to the start line.

We tried to keep out of every bodies way but saw one crash and an unfortunate boat get their jib sheets wrapped around their prop. Their dreams of a crossing were over and it made us doubly careful. We had no intensions of racing across the start line as a few minutes gained in relation to 20 odds days would be insignificant for the risk.

As 1 o’clock approached we turned the engine off and set the rig. We speeded across the line some 5 minutes later and were surprised to be overhauling some of the fleet. Just as we were relaxing into it a sudden rain squall drenched us.  The wind was perfect for the rig and we sailed directly down wind passed the end of Gran Canaria and were making a little west but mainly south. This is the preferred cruising route as the wisdom says “go south until the butter melts”.

The watch system kicked in and I was on 8pm-11pm, Ju 11pm-2am,  Matt 2am-5am and finally Steph 5am - 8am. Over the weeks I would often join Steph for breakfast to watch the sun come up. Theses were magical times.

On the second day the winds dropped and we deployed the parasailor. We used it for 2 hours and then the winds dropped again. Nothing for it but to put the motor on and it was on for the next 48 hours. Then much to the fleet's surprise a low pressure ridge built and instead of trade wind sailing we had brief headwinds then easterlies then northerlies and everything in between. This tested our twin foresails as both sails are on the same foil so it was not really possible to sail from a run to a broad reach. Beam reach and close hauled was no problem as the sails set against each other but anything after a beam until a dead run was not possible. We had to use our engine as with the swell and strength of the wind, changing to the genoa was not going to happen! The GRIB files (weather maps downloaded over the satellite phone) showed that as the low passed we were in for a further spell of no wind. We contemplated our options as we would run out of fuel if we carried on. I decided to head for the Cape Verde Islands to refuel. So the mighty Yanmar was switched on once again and we made best speed to Mindelo to get there before anyone else had the same idea and they ran out of fuel. I used the satphone to email the ARC to see if we could refuel without checking into the country. This was important as we had the cats and it would have meant getting a vet out and the corresponding expense and delay. Luckily they came back to say the Cape Verdes had a policy of Splash and Dash. Perfect. We soon relaised we were not the only ones using this strategy as we approached we spotted familiar yacht names on the AIS (Ship Identification System) also making their way to Mindelo. Amongst them were Aditi who also had exhaust problems and were planning a stop over to fix. We arrived and filled up with fuel and then anchored off to use the washing machine. Four hours later we were off, refuled and clean!.

Before we lost our sea legs we were off and had a nice beam reach sail down the sound to exit into another period of no wind. The Yanmar was on again and the sea became so flat that Ju decided to go for a swim in the Atlantic with the depths in thousands of meters we all kept a look out for sharks! There was time and quite enough seas to see to a few jobs. There was a small leak of sea water into the bilge. Matt and Ju traced it to the non return valve on the secondary electric bilge. The skin fitting was duly switched off to avoid any further leaks. Next the generator stopped working and Ju could smell diesel under our bed! On inspection it turned out to be the fuel pipe connection and it had parted company spilling fuel into the lazerette and then drain under our bed to the bilge. Matt fixed it and we were in service again.

Steph was master of the galley and as a “dry” boat we could not celebrate half way with champagne so she managed to cook us some great chocolate brownies. She also managed to cook in some challenging conditions aided by the use of M&S tinned curries.

Looking ahead I could see we were in for some wind. It soon kicked in and we had to head slightly north to keep the wind on our beam. The direction was set to veer so after a couple of days we would be able to use the twin foresails rig again and sail direct for St Lucia. I soon started to realize the winds were going to continue to increase in strength and now with 10 days to go I could see the weather files to the end. My heart sunk as I realized it would only get stronger and the seas would start to build. We had our sea legs but after another couple of days as we set off dead downwind the corkscrew motion and ferocity of the confused seas started to take its toll. None of us felt great but Ju had to retire to her bunk. For two days she was very seasick and I started to worry about dehydration. It was a testing moment for me as I had convinced her to do this with me and as I saw her crying I had to question why we were doing it. It is to her great credit that she never missed a watch throughout this time. The seas continued to build and we were now taking the odd wave broadside and the occasional wave over the stern. Some started to lap the dingy on the davits and this was a worry as if it got much worse the force could take the dingy off and the davits with it. We reefed even more but still the odd wave would knock the boat off course. I was amazingly surprised that during these roundings the auto pilot never missed a beat and put us right back on course again. It was a good decision to upgrade the drive unit to a beefy Simrad planetary gear unit instead of the usual rams. At this point the hot water connection to the clarifier came off for a third time since we left Deganwy. Stupidly, as we were only a few days from the finish, I had opened the second water tank. This meant that our entire water supply emptied into the bilge. We had no water and 5 days to go. We were saved by two things, one the decision to have a 240volt and 12 volt water maker and two, the emergency water bottles stuffed in the bilges. As at this point the generator was not working but we were able to run the engine to supply 12volts to make water. We started to drink the emergency water but after 8 hours our tanks were back full.

The weather continued to build. We reefed again as the wind was now consistently 25 knots and over and in the squalls reached over 35 knots. This is all very well on coastal sailing but with the wind and Atlantic swell it is a whole different ball game. At one point we reefed all the sail away and were considering using the drogue to add some directional stability. With no sails at all we were still doing over 5 knots. I wanted to tell Ju it would get better but I knew it wouldn’t. Matt and Steph were brilliant not only because of their ability but the confidence of youth made them see the up side all the time. I, on the other hand, had dark thoughts about rig and autopilot failure. I had been awake for over 40 hours and was sent to my bed with the sound of Genesis on full blast to clear my head of all the noises I started to think were things breaking. It is amazing how much you hallucinate when you are sleep deprived. I had some fitful sleep but as I awoke Matt noticed the head sail furler was twisted where it attached to the bow. This could result in rig failure. We had to slow the boat down and go forward to assess the cause. It became quickly apparent that the force of the wind on the two headsails was twisting the furler beyond normal limits. (Having two sails on the foil even if set on opposite sides still puts the force of both sails in the same direction on the furler) We slackened off the sheets as we had been having the sails bar tight to stop flutter, and this bought us some time. The attachment was via a clevis pin and split pin.

The split pin was under extreme pressure. I slept fitfully again that night and in the morning decided we had to jury rig some strain relief. Matt and I went forward and used some stainless steel bar and Dyneema rope with the “handy billy” to not only rig some strain relief but put in an emergency lashing in case the rig parted. Now we were settled again and were counting down the days until this was all over. The last day dawned and as if we had not had enough we were greeted with continued squalls with torrential downpours. By now we had the plan off pat. Reefing was easy as we had rigged the twin poles in such a way as to be able to reef all the lines from the cockpit. As we did not have to use the mainsail with the twin foresails rig it only took 20 seconds to do. Next we would simply switch on the radar, go below and wait for it to pass. This was better than the original plan of staying up top and getting soaked! The squalls continued throughout the day and at noon we were in site of land at last. We estimated we would be in just after dusk and as dusk started we were greeted with another fierce squall to remind us it was not over yet!

 

We were in sight of Pigeon Island and had to radio ARC finish line to tell them of our ETA. As we rounded the island I went for a shower to don our Sephina of Beaumaris polo shirts as Matt steered us to the finish line at 7pm. He let me helm it across and I radioed the committee boat to say there were three crew and two cats relieved to be here. That brought a laugh. We then went into Rodney Bay Marina to be greeted by Jon and Colin from Kika who had travelled all the way up from Marigot Bay to be there and Mary my ex Chief Exec who had travelled all the way from Wales to be there! With Mary’s friends and Kika’s crew clapping and applauding the whole waterfront of Rodney Bay Marina started to cheer and clap. Emotional. We were then greeted by the ARC welcome crew and were duly given our rum punch courtesy of St Lucia Tourist Board. That was very, very, very welcome. The ARC was over.

We had crossed an ocean in what the ARC later described as “One of the most challenging crossings in recent memory”. We had done 3,055 miles across the Atlantic and 5,122 miles since leaving North Wales. We were a family crew and I must thank them all for making my dream possible.The talk on the pontoons were of a horrible last 8 days and many skippers were contemplating changing their plans.  Will we ever cross another ocean? I don’t think so, but more on our plans later.