Thursday, 31 January 2008

Way to go, Socrates!

Since I have been writing this blog, I started in September 2007, I sometimes feel that I have been pretty harsh on some of the recipients of my sceptisicm. And then you come across a story like this one.

A story that illustrates all that is good about cruising, personal challenge and spirit.

Jeanne Socrates(can you believe that name!) and her boat Nereida are on a single handed circumnavigation and have already sailed from Mexico to Australia and rounded Cape Agulhas in South Africa. In complete contrast to the arrogance of 'Captain' Heather, here is a lady who deserves our support.

No spin, no premature claims, just honest hard work....I like it!

Reading through her website she not only had a fair bit of experience before she began single handing but she had the wit to recognize the deficiencies in her knowledge and worked to correct them before setting off. Her personal challenge has been to take on single handing after the death of her husband and sailing partner in 2003.

She writes:

I continued on alone - but it was quite a daunting task, getting to know the various systems on board Nereida and dealing with a variety of problems - fortunately boat friends (then, as nowadays) would come to my rescue with helpful advice, useful tools, perhaps some muscle, often expertise I lacked... and lots of moral support! But it soon became clear to me that, if I wanted to persevere with sailing and living on board Nereida, practical problem-solving was something I had to expect to have to learn to cope with. The actual sailing was a mere detail!! (After taking many courses and exams, I had finally gained my RYA Ocean Yachtmaster qualification after the Atlantic crossing sextant sights and calculations - but there is always something new to learn...)

Now this I admire! I have often said that without TBH I could not imagine sailing alone, there are so many gaps in my knowledge. But reading Jeanne's web entries I am filled with admiration for the way she has grasped the challenge and is making her dream a reality.

Bugger all that talk about "Captain' Heather and her soul, and all the crap spewed out by her appalling father Gene Neill. Let's see whether a woman who really does epitomize what sailing is about, who isn't a spring chicken either, will get the support of the world's cruising community. Her log is full of harsh realities, problems encountered(and overcome). No spin here just good honest dreams backed up with realism and practical knowledge.

No half- safe boat, no phoney title, no puffery...

Best of luck Jeanne I'll be rootin' for you...

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Cool thoughts...

Finally the rain has stopped, and's really hot again! The time for heading North is approaching even quicker than the reality will allow.

The river is very busy, yachts are steaming up and down past Mario's Marina. Each one going down river elicits a sigh from me as I wonder where they are going and look forward to when it will be our turn to let go the docklines.Not too long now.

TBH is in to the second day of fridge repair, our new clutch arrived on Monday, amazingly right on time! I am sat writing this in the only small corner of the boat that has not been turned upside down, well not yet anyway. The compressor has been removed from where it is bolted to the engine. Sounds so easy doesn't it? But it is yet another of those depraved acts of contortion where the thing is virtually inaccessible...Poor TBH's forearms are black and blue with bruises as he forces them in to places that seem to fight back at every turn.

The old clutch is off and the new one installed, yes it was even the right part. You cannot begin to imagine how amazing this has all been so far. I sit here waiting for 'the big problem' to rear its head, but so far so good. Now he is assuming a very strange position on the sole of the cabin as he wrestles to get the repaired item back in to place. Fingers crossed that when we fire then engine up we will have lift off, or at least a cold cooling plate!

For the technically minded amongst you we have an engine driven refrigerator, a Frigoboat. We love it. By running the engine about 30 minutes a day we can cool the large, two compartment, icebox to a temperature low enough to even freeze the stuff that lays alongside the cooling plate The beauty of this set up is that we never take a big draw on our batteries thus enabling them to have a much longer life. In fact our last set lasted seven years and we only replaced them as we were about to cross the Atlantic, they probably still had a year or so left in them.

We have ordinary lead acid batteries, nothing fancy. In keeping with our philosophy of keeping everything as simple as we can.For a forty foot boat we do well on power consumption. No solar panels just a superb KISS wind generator.

So I am off to make a cold drink, and hope that by tomorrow I will be able to report that we are cooling our own wine again rather than relying on bought in ice!

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

...and the winner is....

I've always wanted an Oscar, or the British equivalent, a Bafta. But I know my limits, well sometimes....

So unaccustomed as I am... it gives me great pleasure to accept first prize in The Cruising World inaugural video competition! I'd like to thank our mothers, the kids, the cat, and other cruisers such as ...

Yes, we are the proud recipients of an American Express Gift voucher and validation of TBH's magnificent editing skills.

We made this to send to TBH's Mum on her 95th birthday. Seemed like a more personal tribute than a bunch of flowers. She loved it and we hope you will enjoy the portrayal of our everyday cruising life out here in the Caribbean.

The winner of CW's first video contest is community member gerry, who won the judges hearts with his thoughtful, humorous submission, "Hallo Mum...this is what it's like cruising!"

Among the dozens of entries submitted to CW's video contest were tales of tranquil family cruises, on-the-water emergencies, and pirate attacks. In the end, however, it was a video postcard sent by a loving son to his dear mother on her 95th birthday that claimed first prize-- a $500 American Express gift card.

Monday, 28 January 2008

This n' That.

Thought you would like to know that after our little difficulty with the ATM in Fronteras our bank have refunded the money that we didn't manage to get out of the machine. I didn't need to forward the letter that I wrung out of the Banco Industriales and all was completed within one week of the incident, not bad huh!

Our green and mouldy suncover is off the boat, scrubbed and repacked AND stowed away. How's that for efficiency!Of course it has either poured with rain or the sun has beaten down since but I mustn't complain.

We have been putting off repairing our refrigerator for months. We were certain that it was going to cost a lot and thought we would probably need to replace the whole thing, big bucks. But no! Manfred, the Rio's refrigeration guru, visited us a few days ago. All we need is a new clutch, it was ordered on Saturday, IN STOCK, and may be with us tomorrow all for less that 600 quetzals. I love it!

My great pal from Panama, Karen, sent an email to say she would be leaving tomorrow, heading our way as she crews a boat up to Georgia. I am so looking forward to seeing her again. All the triumvirate will be missing is Stephanie but maybe Guatemala just isn't ready for us yet!Hope she has her scissors with her I am in desperate need of a haircut!

TBH is putting the final touches to his book before it goes off to print, an exciting time for us.

Cleaning is well advanced now and little green mould is to be seen. A few bits of canvas ie the dodgers and the sailcover to wash and then we will be respectable again.

So we are happy bunnies, even though it is STILL raining here. It's getting beyond a joke now. There is talk in the marina of doing a 'stop the rain' ceremony if it doesn't stop soon....

Sunday, 27 January 2008

A Video Treat.

I mentioned recently the series of six programmes about the Barcelona World race that were due to be screened starting last Sunday on British TV.

Well here, for your delectation and delight is episode one!

If you ever wondered how many pairs of underpants you need to circle the globe, Andrew Cape of Hugo Boss has the answer!


They, Hugo Boss, are still holding second place but along with siting in the wind-less zone of the doldrums they are having to cope with yet more rudder problems, which might explain Alex’s lack of enthusiasm during today’s call. ‘We discovered our rudder is broken again today we have had to try and sort it out again, it has cost us some miles whilst we were trying to fix it. We thought the last repairs would last but they haven't, we hope it will last now but are not overly hopeful at this stage’, said Alex.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Extreme sport....

The rain is going to our heads here at Mario's, or mine at least!

As I turned the conversation over breakfast this morning in the Cayuco Club to the amazing sport of Extreme Ironing, I could see the glaze of disbelief run across the faces around the table..

It's true! So here you are, especially for Beth and Trisha a taste of what's to come!!

The photo is of extreme ironing on temple 4 at Tikal!

For more fun watch the video...

Friday, 25 January 2008

Surfing on a wet day.

Talking about blogging yesterday I thought that you might appreciate some of the ones that I visit on a regular basis, not all of them sailing ones, but all have a certain something, in my opinion!

Our young friends Alan and Cora, have now left the cruising life behind as they establish themselves ashore. They were the perfect representation of the ideal cruisers. They learned so much, overcame massive mechanical trials and enjoyed their sailing lives no matter what was thrown at them. Cora made us a super sailcover and bimini. We missed their happy smiley faces when they moved on.

We met Mick and Bee when they wound their way into a marina in Portugal. We fell in love with their cat, their boat and their adventurous attitude to their sailing. We were amazed that they were living the cruising life on a budget of under 4000€ a year! They have had many adventures, particularly as they sailed northwards and we understand they are on their way back to the Caribbean as we speak....

Another inspirational couple are Ulf and Jen , we met here in Guatemala and loved that they are taking time away from high flying careers to experience the tribulations of cruising! Ulf, from Sweden sounds a little too much like the character 'Borat" at times when he talks about 'vomens' but we love him all the same!

I love for its irreverent, and sometimes, cruel look at the world of water based sports. they certainly don't pull their punches here!

And this one has great recipes with glorious photographs too....

Angus and Ruth are now in New Zealand, we met at the entrance to the Panama Canal, making lifelong friends when we gave them series two of 'Desperate Housewives'! Didn't see them for 3 days after that as they indulged in a final frantic feast before heading off across the Pacific!!
Their website has some really good detailed info on what they have on their boat and why!

This site is a source of cheap, up to date movies that you can access over the web. We love it!

So happy surfing. It's raining, again, here. Maintenance continues apace and we have just ordered a new clutch for the refrigerator which should be here at the beginning of next week. I am trying not to get excited but we may actually have a working fridge before long!!!

Thursday, 24 January 2008 v

Blogging and membership of forums is certainly an intimate introduction into cultural disparities as well as similarities! Like cruising it exposes me to a different perspective not only of where I am but where I have come from.

One of the extraordinary aspects of communication via the internet is both its immediacy and its geographical spread. It highlights the parochialism of our worlds and the vagaries of our language. The difficulties of communicating across borders are certainly still there! Instead of it taking time to exchange ideas and information we can now 'converse' with a speed that we could not have imagined even ten years ago.

But that brings its own problems.

I have recently had another 'enlightening' experience courtesy of the forum site. Billing itself as 'the world's largest online sailing community' one would have expected a wide range of geographical and culturally diverse participants. Well I did anyway!

What I have found however is the equivalent of an predominantly male, American Country Club. Where membership is controlled by the chosen few, outsiders are required to prove themselves and their pedigree and woe betide anyone who suggests a different way of thinking or criticizes any of the old boy network.

Even though Americans and Britons speak the same language we have a very different culture and norms.

I was stunned to hear an American cruiser yesterday express real fear abut the risk of voicing dissenting opinions in the States as in 'either you are with us or you are with the terrorists'. That certainly echoes the experiences I am having within the tiny world of USA that I am accessing.

There is a real horror of self expression or protest. To the point of paranoia. It does not bode well for their future I fear.Whatever happened to the frank exchange of differing viewpoints!

Have I been warped through the time space continuum to Communist China?

Beam me up Scotty....

In my post on dialogue versus debate I wrote all about the value of diversity in viewpoints and ideas. Yet this tiny sub-culture clearly values consensus more highly. In the biological world it's diversity in the gene pool that keeps the species alive. Learning, changing, adapting and growing. One thing is for sure incestuousness as demonstrated in the sailnet community leads to strange pathologies. Learning difficulties, bad eyesight and the like!

I was asked to change my blog by the sailnet moderator to something that 'did not enrage' the sailnet membership! I declined!

The experience has made me value more highly the lighter and more intelligent moderation and therefore content of the forums. I commend them to you....

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Captain Heather announces her comeback!

Oh Good Grief! I really don't know how much of this we can take, do you?

It's nearly as bad as the Rolling Stones frequent retirement concerts!

Dear old 'Captain' Heather has now told us all to be quiet if we can't say something nice as she announces her 'comeback'!

What is it, 23 days since the planned departure, 20 days since she actually left and 17 since she announced she had given up? Wow! And now just 20 days on she has changed her mind again...way to go 'Captain' Heather.

Well as I have quoted before, in the words of Sophocles: Let us wait until the evening to see how fine the day has been.

January 23, 2008 - Since my last post I have received a truckload of emails, most of them kind and understanding and supportive (thank you, I needed that!)...and some reaming me pretty fiercely. I've been criticized for everything under the shining sun -- from saying I might take some time off for a vacation, to worrying about the weather window to get to the Marquesas, to being scared because I was locked in the cockpit in the storm, to using my injured hand as an "excuse," to, well, you get the picture. (It sure is easy to tell a complete stranger what to do from the comfort and anonymity of your Barcalounger, isn't it?). One sensitive fellow emailed (and I quote in full), "too bad it didn't work out for you. How much for the boat?" Buddy, your wife really got a prize when she got you. Darn, the good ones are always taken!

I'm typing pretty much with one hand and having trouble keeping up with all the emails, so I'd like to clarify a few things here.

Firstly, the boat isn't for sale. And when and if it ever is for sale, Sir Galahad of the Email doesn't have enough money to buy it.

Secondly, I'm pretty sure my thumb would be an asset if I were hitch-hiking, but I am unable to use it for anything as simple as holding a fork, brushing my teeth, operating a can opener, or zipping my pants. Hoisting the mainsail, working on the engine, hefting anchor chain, or, say, maybe hanging on to a lifeline in rough seas, pumping out the bilge, or maybe setting a storm para-anchor, are all out of the question. (I know, I know, I'm such a sissy!)

Third, I'm not scared and I haven't quit. But I am being honest and realistic with myself and you in admitting I know there's probably no intelligent way I can go this year. I'm also realizing that I could use a little more sailing time and familiarity with handling the boat in rough weather. And, despite even some family urging to sell the boat, I have no plans of that at this time. My vague, subject-to-change-because-I'm-a-woman-and-reserve-that-right plan is to take some time off, take a vacation, do some closer-to-home sailing (Bahamas are likely), and begin again. Believe it or not, this change in plans has been an awfully big pill to swallow and, by golly, I'm entitled and unapologetic!

To the folks who have offered encouragement and well-meaning advice, thank you, thank you, thank you - I needed it!

To you yahoos in your Barcaloungers: I talked to your momma. She said to tell you, "Shame on you! If you can't say something nice, hush!"

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go do my thumb exercises. removes abusive thread.

The link to in my previous posting no longer works because they have removed the offending thread.

Actions speak louder than words , clearly they thought the interactions less than scintillating, too.

Dialogue not Debate

Dialogue – the recognition that “two heads are better than one” - is a key skill for a sailor. Yet many rookie skippers and even some older hands find difficulty in “thinking together” in this way.

In a storm, I usually take the wheel while TBH moves up to the mast to reef the mainsail. Both of us can do either, but he is better on the fore deck and I am better at the helm. Either may call orders to the other, the lead rotates to the person best placed at that time, in that situation. Knowing our relative strengths and weaknesses helps us perform better as a team than either of us can on our own.

“A conversation with a centre not sides” is yet another definition of Dialogue, and it is the essence of a good captain. Thus in Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey/Maturin books (and in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, the film of the books starring Russell Crowe), the brilliance of Jack Aubrey, the Captain of the Surprise, is rooted in his ability to transcend the ingrained Naval tradition of the infallibility of the Captain and to take aboard critical feedback from his surgeon, Stephen Maturin, and from his crew.

I would like a dollar for the number of times I have seen insecure Captains who start yelling at their bewildered crew as soon as they come under any pressure. The people they abuse are often their wives who, unsurprisingly, resolve never to sail with them again.

Maybe the failure to understand the importance of Dialogue lies in the antediluvian notion that leadership means “taking names and kicking ass”. Dialogue is about the frank expression of different views, it is about respecting the other person and about listening. But many people have a problem grasping this notion. This may stem in part from the appalling example set by political debate on TV. Here is a useful table from the Public Conversations Project that contrasts TV Debate and Dialogue.



Pre-meeting communication between sponsor and participants is minimal and largely irrelevant to what follows.

Pre-meeting contacts and preparation of participants are essential elements of the full process.

Participants tend to be leaders known for propounding a carefully crafted position. The personas displayed in the debate are usually already familiar to the public. The behavior of the participants tends to conform to stereotypes.

Those chosen to participate are not necessarily outspoken “leaders”. Whoever they are, they speak as individuals whose own unique experience differs in some respect from others on their “side”. Their behavior is likely to vary in some degree and along some dimensions from stereotypic images others may hold.

The atmosphere is threatening: attacks and interruptions are expected by participants and are usually permitted by moderators.

The atmosphere is one of safety; facilitators propose, get agreement on, and enforce clear ground rules to enhance safety and promote respectful exchange.

Participants speak as representatives of groups.

Participants speak as individuals, from their own unique perspective.

Participants speak to their constituents and, perhaps, to the undecided middle.

Participants speak to each other.

Differences within “sides” are denied or minimized.

Differences among participants on the same “side” are revealed, as individual and personal foundations of beliefs and values are explored

Participants express unswerving commitment to a point of view, approach, or idea.

Participants express uncertainties as well as deeply held beliefs.

Participants listen in order to refute the other side’s data and to expose faulty logic in their arguments. Questions are asked from a position of certainty. These questions are often rhetorical challenges or disguised statements.

Participants listen to understand and gain insight into the beliefs and concerns of the others. Questions are asked from a position of curiosity.

Success requires simple impassioned statements.

Success requires exploration of the complexities of the issue being discussed.

These thoughts were prompted by the dire moderation of the General Discussion forum,see the thread titled 'Flicka 20 is this crazy or what?' The moderator violates the first principle of facilitating any conversation by taking sides in the discussion rather than remaining neutral. He does not listen to the points made or address the questions raised, instead he bullies anyone who dares to voice a different viewpoint, conducting a “reign of terror” that rapidly drives thoughtful comment out of the discussion. In his megalomania he re-frames discussion as personal attack, and he can't see why.

I'd hate to sail with this character.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Flight of Fantasy!

It has been an enlightening experience following the story of 'Captain' Heather, her dad Gene Neill and her boat "Flight of Years".

Most of the enlightenment has come from the posters on the sailing forums, I have been a member of the British community for a while now, and more recently.

My initial contact with the Neill circus came about through Cruising World when Mr Neill posted a thread to inform the world of his daughters attempted solo-circumnavigation. He mentioned a marina in Panama that I had personal experience of and I responded with some practical information that I believed may have been of some help.

Now those of you who have been following the story, and there are a great number of you, will be conversant with the aggressive and increasingly strange responses and statements that these various interactions engendered!

Suffice to say that the story ended ingloriously after a trip of less than 100 miles when 'Captain' Heather turned back after suffering sea-sickness, running out of minutes on her satellite telephone, locking herself out of the boat, and experiencing engine problems.

I am only human! I do, of course, have a deal of satisfaction in the clarification that my original perspective was indeed correct. No its not gloating or 'reveling' as the moderator of the Sailnet forum labeled it . Its just an honest human reaction to being proved right!

It seems that some of todays sailors are so politically correct that they have, in many cases, lost the ability to be honest about their own emotions and motives. I suppose this should not have come as a surprise to me but it has!

It's fine to jump around cheering from the sidelines, commending the razamatazz, waving the pom-poms wildly but for Christ's sake lets not address the serious and fundamental questions here. Like; this woman may not only be endangering her own life but also the lives of those who may have to try and save her. Oh no we mustn't go there it might discourage her! Too bloody right it might!

And so it should.

I can honestly say that I am sick to the back teeth of this saccharine coated , sailing fantasy that so many people are sold. Sailing is great, cruising is fantastic, there is nothing on this planet, in my humble opinion, to better the sense of freedom and accomplishment of a passage completed, a problem overcome, a decision well acted upon.

And therein lies the crux. It isn't a storybook tale of dolphin sightings, sundowner cocktails, white sand beaches and meaningful encounters with cute native children. Its a hard learning experience that involves large periods of boredom, shorter ones of sheer terror, mastering new skills, surviving in a self-sufficient manner. And that's just those of us out here cruising. For the solo sailor there are the added requirements of honest self-knowledge and an understanding of the considerable stresses of being alone, completely, for long periods of time.

None of these had appeared to be addressed by 'Captain' Heather. She has two kids, a dog, a dependent father.....where were the lone forays into the wilderness, the practical challenges , the addressing of basic issues of sailing knowledge?

They added up to some sailing lessons(started in Jan 2007) a shake down cruise which appears to have consisted of 170 miles, mostly motoring, and a deep belief that soul and God would see her through anything. Well guess what - she was wrong.

And again thats OK, its OK to be wrong but please don't expect me to endorse bogus sailors, pr spin doctors and bogus preachers. Maybe it's my character flaw, goodness knows I have plenty of them, but I WILL NOT lend my support, even in silence, to these money grabbing charlatans.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Captain Heather Quits!

Well I copy the entry from her site to tell the tale in her own, glorious(!) words.

Whilst I know it is incorrect to have a moment's schadenfreude (taking pleasure in somebody else's misfortune), I do sincerely hope that this will be a wake up call to all those 'cheerleaders' out there to remind them that sometimes there are considerations that deserve greater thought than simply waving around the pom-poms.

Obviously it takes a tad more than 'just soul'.

January 20, 2008 – The two weeks since limping back into Steinhatchee have been difficult and felt a whole lot more like months than days. I received an email, among hundreds of emails, a week or so ago which said it was time for me to resurface. It wasn’t - at least not for me. It still doesn’t feel like it is, but I owe it to you.

The injury to my hand remains painful and was more serious than I imagined (yes, Ross, I went to an orthopedic surgeon). I am now trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey, wrapped in a splint and immobilized up to my wrist. I will be wearing it for another six weeks, to be followed by six weeks of physical therapy twice a week. By the time I am cleared by the surgeon I will have missed my departure weather window for the year. And Dad, whose health has not improved, but who will support me in whatever I undertake, does not want me to go back out again.

Without subjecting you to the full extent of my recent maudlin musings (I wouldn’t do that to you) it is not possible to describe what these days have been like in my head and heart. I have put everything I had into this endeavor, and put behind me everything we think of as intrinsic to a “normal” in life. Abruptly, the dream was shelved and I no longer had home, car, income, personal belongings, or plan. For a while I felt paralyzed, like I’d had the wind knocked out of my lungs. Devastated. Lost. Alone. Irresolute. Hurting. Tired.

But, as Dad would say, “Happiness is a choice.” And I have picked myself up now, and gotten my head back together and my attitude straight (which took some doing). Though I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it yet, I have finally admitted to myself that I need to unpack the boat. But I still have no clue what I’m going to do next, or what the coming year will hold.

Strangely enough, now that I’m getting over the blow, not having all of those “normal life” things and responsibilities is actually somewhat liberating. I feel as if I have a blank canvas spread before me on which to paint my next rainbow, and I’m excited again about tomorrow. I’ve been working full-time since I was 15, and I’m about ready for a sabbatical. I think I may pilfer the sailing kitty and do a little bit of traveling on the cheap over the summer. I have enough airline points for a free ticket to pretty much anywhere. Maybe Thailand or Japan. Or maybe do the Europe-by-hostel-and-train thing. There’s no telling.

Life has never turned out like I hoped or believed it would. “Things rarely go according to one’s youthful, heroic master plan.” But never will I be without things for which to be thankful; every day, every moment, is truly what you make it. Dreams, though sometimes elusive and subject to change, are the stuff of which life is made - what a drudgery it would be without them!

Thank you for being with me along the way.

Shiver me Timbers!

Okay, you see lots of strange stuff floating off the shores of the world. Single shoes(where are the other ones, how do they get there?), rubbish and once we even found a big wooden boat with a brand new 25hp motor calmly bobbing around in the middle of nowhere. But currently off the coast of Southern England you can't see the beach for the trees and there is a navigational warning out for a large 'wood slick'!

Coastguards said the timber, several feet deep on the tide line, now stretched along the Sussex coast and was moving east towards Kent's coast.It comes from the Greek-registered Ice Prince which sunk recently about 26 miles (42km) off the coast after a storm. It's cargo of more than 2,000 tonnes of timber have drifted 100 miles through the Channel.

The Solent coastguard said timber had washed up all the way from Littlehampton in West Sussex to Beachy Head in East Sussex.
He said: "What's there on the beach will stay until it is removed by contractors authorised by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. Any other wood in the Channel will move to and fro with the tides."

He also said that coastguards were unable to predict where timber in the water would drift, because it could depend on whether it was affected by the wind.

In Britain we have an 'Official Receiver of Wrecks', a sort of police man for the recovery of flotsam and jetsam. There is only one and they cover the whole coastline! A few years ago a similar wreck, involving massive quantities of wood, happened off the West coast of England. The authorities were hopping up and down trying to prevent the locals from taking away as much wood as they could carry. It became all rather farcical as new garden sheds, conservatories and fences proliferated in the area and the newpapers became full of stories of the ancient tradition of 'wreckers' on those shores.

I used to live near Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. A wild, bleak area close to the coast where strange lights at night have always been associated with the smugglers and wreckers of the area. It is a romantic place filled with the thoughts of French baccy, cognac and Belgium lace. The old staple of the smuggling fraternity. Sadly these days I suppose it is more likely bales of cocaine and hemp!

There was a song that we used to sing as children that was written by Rudyard Kipling :

If you wake at Midnight, and hear a horse's feet,
Don't go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street,
Them that asks no questions isn't told a lie.
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!

Five and twenty ponies
Trotting through the dark -
Brandy for the Parson.
'Baccy for the Clerk;
Laces for a lady, letters for a spy,
And watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!

Running round the woodlump, if you chance to find
Little barrels, roped and tarred, all full of brandy-wine,
Don't you shout to come and look, nor use 'em for your play.
Put the brushwood back again - and they'll be gone next day!

The 'wreckers' would use lanterns to attract the cargo ships on to the dangerous rocks that surround the area and once the ship was wrecked they would loot the cargo. It was seen as an honorable profession in the small villages of the area but strangely discouraged by the authorities..

It is a pastime that still seems to go on in parts of the world. We were anchored off a small island in the Eastern end of the San Blas Islands in Panama. The protected lagoon behind the island was calm and we were enjoying the isolation and peace. It was one of the traditional islands where the village 'chief' kept the occasional yacht very much at arms length from his people. We were officially welcomed with a list of rules, no being ashore after nightfall, no buying molas from non official sources, no locals on the boat etc..

We were a little surprised but quite happy to abide and settled in to let a very nasty weather system pass. I enjoy just sitting on the boat and watching the locals go about their business. It always seems a bit like watching a herd of wild deer. Warily at first they view you with deep suspicion, slowly they get closer, sniffing the air for danger until finally one approaches and makes contact. In the islands that are less frequented by boats it takes time to understand the dynamics of the social structure.

Anyway to get back to the story, there is a point to this I promise!

After we had been there about 3 weeks the ulu(canoe) of the chiefs second in command came alongside. A very drunken number two insisted that we must leave now! We were stunned, this had never happened to us before. We said that as soon as the weather improved we would depart but not before. He was very agitated and we couldn't understand what had gone wrong. We racked our brains for possible transgressions of the rules, could think of none. I was particularly concerned that I had inadvertently done something wrong.

I find it a difficult moral issue at times when we travel to out of the norm destinations, questioning what right I have to descend like a voyeur on these peoples....It makes me very uncomfortable.

So the next day we left, consigning the event to memory. A week or so later TBH had occasion to fly to Panama City. He returned full of news. He had seen on the TV that the island we had been asked to leave was the centre of a massive drug scandal! A Colombian boat, packed with thousands of dollars of cocaine had come ashore on their island, being the business men that they are the Kuna had looted the wreck and sold it on..... BUT the Colombian drug barons were coming after them for the return of either the drugs or the cash. A dangerous situation and we had been sat innocently in the middle of all this. No wonder they were nervous and wanted us out of there!

For the first time since the Kuna uprising in the early 20th century the Indians called for help from the Panamanian police force, simply an unheard of event!!

I wonder what the 'Official Receiver of Wrecks' would have to say about that one?!

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Records and rain.

So Dame Ellen loses her world record, and decisively! Rumour has it that she is going to have another attempt, rather her than me...

Joyon pulverises solo record

Francis Joyon, the reluctant hero, looked slightly nonplussed at the hoopla that greeted his arrival in Brest this morning. His solo record of 57 days and 13 hours not only beats Ellen's solo record by 14 days, but is the second fastest ever. Joyon's average speed round the world in his 97ft trimaran IDEC is an incredible 19 knots.

If the feat seems superhuman, the man himself emphatically does not. Joyon waved shyly at a crowd of several hundreds, small by French sailing standards, and seemed faintly embarrassed by the attention. Joyon is famously a quiet-spoken man who says little, preferring to let his actions speak for themselves. With this record, and his natural reticence, he has become the natural successor to France's most
revered and private sailor, Eric Tabarly.

Here is a video of the boat that he has sailed into the record books.Of course he was alone during the record! This is it's first outing.At least , as Brits we can claim that half of the design team was ours in the form of Nigel Irens! he also designed Dame Ellen's boat B&Q.

It's raining on the Rio, looked like a front coming through last night, a classic black cloud line followed by wind and rain. Of course ever since we took down our huge sun canopy it has either been steaming hot or peeing with rain, c'est la vie.

Last night as we lay in bed and began to hear the pitter-patter of raindrops on the top of the cabin sudden realization dawned - oh damn no cover, close the hatches! At which point the fan at the end of our bed gave out and we proceeded to get hotter and hotter until one of us vacated to the saloon and the joy of a working fan. So one more job to add to the list, mend fan!

The dinghy is full of lovely fresh water this morning so we have taken the opportunity to soak another load of lines in it to get rid of the unattractive green colour that most things are currently tinged with. Today is the turn of the main sheet and the running backstays.

We are getting through the cleaning at quite a pace now. So today will be given over to 'down below' jobs, the boat is looking more shipshape by the hour! Scary stuff!

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Hugo Boss on TV.

The drama of IMOCA Open 60 sailboat racing is coming to television in a multi-programme, international series to be shown on over 20 channels around the world.

Channel 4 in the UK is set to broadcast the first episode of a thrilling six-part series, The Barcelona World Race, beginning this Sunday, January 20th at 07:20 GMT. Further screenings will be shown on the digital channel More4, so be sure to check local listings in the UK. The six episode programme will be shown as a weekly series.

Setanta Ireland will broadcast the first episode on Monday, January 21st. And M-Net in South Africa will launch the show on January 30th. Sun Sport Florida will begin the series on the 26th.

The series has been produced by leading production company Sunset + Vine/APP. The Barcelona World Race series tells the full story of the inaugural edition of this two-handed, non-stop, around the world race.

“For Sunset + Vine|APP the chance to tell the story of two sailors cooped up in a tiny space for such a length of time was a massively exciting prospect,” says Executive Producer Andrew Preece. “And with the added dimension that all of them are trying to conquer the global race track against competitors who have their foot on the gas in the middle of every dark, cold and dangerous night, this makes the Barcelona World Race something very new.”

Have to get somebody back home, hint, hint, to record this for us. There have been some superb images available on the net throughout this race and I wonder if the TV production can match that?

Latest log from onboard:
Thursday 17th January 2008 Daily Log Time: 10:00 GMT Latitude: 40 01.31’ S Longitude: 45 21.91’ W Position: Second Average speed: 15.5 knots Since re-entering the Atlantic Ocean over the weekend, we are having a great time on HUGO BOSS. We have managed to make up a few hundred miles on the leader Paprec Virbac, and each day the air temperature gets a little bit warmer. The weather ahead is going to be very tricky to negotiate, due to its unpredictable nature in this area of the world; however this could work in our favour as we are ever hopeful of catching up with the leader. The weather over the last 24 – 48 hours has been pretty varied, with light conditions followed by some of the most punishing weather that we have seen on this race so far. Last night was particularly hairy as we negotiated a large low pressure system that moved east from the Argentinean coast. We had been sailing in a very pleasant 20 knots of breeze in a relatively flat sea, making good progress towards the next racing mark. The breeze started to build and we continued to decrease our sail area accordingly. The wind strength then increased quite quickly, and within no time at all, it was gusting 50 knots! The sea state that accompanied this weather was short, sharp and pretty horrible. HUGO BOSS was receiving a real pounding as we surfed off the top of waves at up to 30 knots boat speed and crashed into the toughs between the waves. It is a very disconcerting feeling, as you feel the boat become airborne off the top of waves and brace yourself for the landing. It feels a bit like losing your stomach as you drive over a small bridge in your car; however the crash landing feels like the boat is landing on concrete. The boat survived pretty much unscathed, and early this morning the wind died down and things became a lot more comfortable. Unfortunately, due to the weather Capey and I haven’t eaten much in the last 24 hours. When the conditions are bad, it becomes quite dangerous to boil up enough water to dehydrate our meals, and most of the time you are just too busy to eat. Food plays a very important role in long distance ocean racing, as it gives you something to look forward to. Whenever I get bored, I come up with new and ingenious ways to make food fun and tasty. My latest culinary experiment resulted in what I like to call the HUGO BOSS Panini. You take a part cooked pita bread, cut it in half and stick some cheese and salami inside. Then all you do is fry it in a pan with some melted butter. Capey has taken a real liking to them and whenever I suggest making them, it puts a little spring in his step. I am going to make up some bacon butties for lunch today, and I would like to extend an invitation to Jean-Pierre and Damien onboard Paprec Virbac to slow down a bit and join us for a butty or two! With the temperature rising as we head further north, life on deck is becoming a lot more pleasant. I am currently contemplating whether or not to lose the mid-layer during the day, which would be a great feeling I can tell you. The wind is going to drop over the next few days, as we experience the effects of a high pressure system that has replaced last nights low. This will help increase the temperature further, but is not particularly good for catching up with Paprec Virbac. Over the next few days we think that we will lose a few miles to the leader, but the weather in this area is so changeable we are ever hopeful that we will catch a break. For now though, we are very happy with where we are, and we are really looking forward to continuing our progress north.

Fingers crossed that all goes well as they head towards home and the finish line...

Friday, 18 January 2008

Suck, Squeeze, Bang, Blow

Sex rears its ugly head, again? No, these are just words engineers use to help remember the combustion cycle.

TBH here. I have a guest spot on gerryantics having spent the day helping a cruiser with the same engine as ours (a Perkins M50).

Engines bloody engines. Love them or hate them or both, sometimes at the same time. Very handy when there is coral about or in fog, motoring up river or even maneuvering into a marina berth. A nightmare when they let you down and you spend your planned break with the engine stripped, the boat in chaos, waiting for parts. There are three or maybe four boats in that situation in the marina at the moment.

The local diesel engineers seem to have got it to a fine art. Once they have dismantled your beast in the bilges and walked off with a few key parts to repair, you aren’t going anywhere ‘til you have paid their hefty bill. Maybe I am unfair.

The problem with this cruiser’s engine was simple enough: a failed seal on the raw water pump. I know it well and keep a few spares. The trouble is that the shaft had corroded and simply replacing the seal might not work at all and certainly would not be a lasting solution. So we started calling Perkins’ Dealers looking for spares. The phone number gleaned from the internet for their dealer in Guatemala City was incorrect. A call to Perkins Head Office in the UK yielded the right number and my friend found it would take at least ten days to get the parts, so he began seeking them from US suppliers. This would take just as long, but at least they could confirm that had the items in stock.

Oh, and by the way, the prices are astronomic – about ten times what they should cost – what Australians call “charging like a wounded bull”.

There is nothing at all unusual about this experience. It’s the reason the cynics define cruising as “a series of repairs in exotic locations”. But it’s a long way from the romantic drivel dished out by salesmen at boat shows. We know several people whose expectations were so mismanaged that they have given up cruising.

Bottom line? If you are likely to be going anywhere off the beaten track, take a diesel engine maintenance course, buy the workshop manuals and parts lists, carry a full range of spares and a full set of tools – and seek out boaters with similar engines to show you what to do. Sooner or later you are going to have to tackle some awkward repair at sea. Be prepared.


This site has some truly amazing photographs, probably some of the best action pics I have ever seen of racing...

Nearly flying isn't she!

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Patience is a Virtue.

Patience is a virtue
Virtue is a Grace
Grace is a naughty girl who didn't wash her face...

Patience is a characteristic that a cruiser does well to cultivate, and one that I personally have to work extremely hard at developing. Dealing with the sometimes-convoluted bureaucracy that goes along with checking in and out of a new country. Chasing up missing deliveries, communicating in different languages or just waiting for the right weather, all require patience.

Yesterday was a case in point. Off we had toddled to Fronteras, a bit of shopping to do but mainly the need to replenish the cash on board. I try not to have too much real money around as its not only tempting to spend it, but I am always aware that it is something easily stolen.

That said it was a beautiful morning, cool and bright. The dinghy started first time and we puttered gently to the dock at Bruno's.

It is a pleasant walk up through the main street, vendors to the left and right, loud Latin music playing, overladed trucks shouldering their way through town.

"Buenos dias" the shotgun toting guard outside Banco Industriales said with a broad grin. Us pale gringos are always nannied along by courteous locals.

In to the little cubicle that house one of the two ATM's in town. This one is much preferred by the cruisers as it only swipes your card never taking that precious object from your possession.

I punched my way through the menu, si , si, si. The machine told me it was taking a $1 handling fee. Si again, you don't like it but what can you do. Nice counting sounds and then... nada! Eventually a sign Muchas gratias and the thing closed itself down.

TBH and I looked at each other, shit I hate it when this happens. Leaving him to guard the machine I trotted in to the bank and in my broken Spanish attempted to explain to the desk clerk what had happened. Of course nobody in this situation EVER speaks your language!

"desculpe" (excuse me)
"mi carte esta una problema!"
"el machino dice gratias, adios No dinero!!!"

With a lot of hand gestures and vocal imitations I was told to return in one hour. Okay got the name of the clerk, collected TBH and off we went to do some shopping and have some breakfast.

I used the card in the other ATM, no problem except that I could see that the money had indeed been debited by the rogue machine so we were going to have to fight to get it back... oh dear.

Actually, touch wood, we have been fortunate whilst cruising that this is only the second time we have experienced this kind of problem, the first time being in St Maarten's. That was sorted quickly and painlessly by our bank. No reason not to believe this would not be the same.

After an hour back we went, no madam it will be another fifteen minutes. Okay we shrugged and dumped ourselves down on the two available chairs preparing to sit it out in the air-conditioned comfort of the offices. Thats one think I have learnt, the skill of just sitting, smiling at all and sundry. Looking as though we are there for the duration - and sometimes we are! We talk quietly to ourselves, sometimes one of us goes for a can of cold drink or we get something to eat. Eventually it usually gets to the staff who try and studiously avoid eye contact. Finally one of them always breaks! A tentative smile and we begin the shrugging, gesticulation and mangled language to begin sorting the 'problemo'!

After repeating my pantomime of the 'malo machino' (bad machine) to just about the entire population of Fronteras we wrung a letter, on headed notepaper, out of the manager. It confirmed the malfunction, agreed that we had reported the 'problemo' immediately and that was it. All very good-natured but still no 'dinero'. Oh well at least it wasn't too much.

Back at the boat I began the process of reporting the event to our own bank. I have every confidence they will sort it out...

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Wotcha Fidel!

It looks as though we may be able to spend up to three months cruising Cuba, that should be enough to get a decent look at the country.

Research is getting in to top gear now. We have had a copy of Nigel Calders' cruising guide for some time and have recently acquired an old copy of Simon Charles' guide.

The bit that was concerning me were the charts. When we got to examining our pile of them that live under our berth I found that I had been mistaken. I thought, and had cataloged, that we had at least one chart of the whole island. Well I was wrong - the only decent chart we have is of Guantanamo Bay! Oh dear! Somehow I think that is one we really won't be needing..

It is difficult to get things sent here to Guatemala. An extremely zealous customs office in the City have a tendency to hold you to ransom over any package sent in to the country. My copy of the latest Harry Potter book was held for 3 weeks and a fine of 100 dollars threatened...took the combined muscle of three of us badgering the DHL offices in London and Guatemala to get it released. So I am not eager to repeat that experience.

I contacted two of the major chart sellers in the USA. Curiously, despite a ban on their nationals visiting Cuba, they supply charts for the country, work that one out.

Yes they had the charts we wanted but would only send them via a carrier like Fedex. Damnation. I had wanted then sent by US mail as that stuff seems to get through no problem. Oh well back to the drawing board.

Then yesterday evening in the bar a fellow cruiser, hearing me moaning, said he had all the charts of the south coast and that we were welcome to have them! How wonderful! He is American and cannot visit, much to his intense disgust..

That now solves the charts and pilot books problem so no more excuses, its definitely Cuba for the summer. Buena Vista Social Club, Fidel, Che Guevara... I am getting more excited by the day.

The boat jobs are coming along well. TBH replaced the packing in the stern gland yesterday. We had put in some of this new 'drip-free' stuff when we hauled out but it has been a disaster. After our first trip down the river the product just span out of the box and plastered the compartment with nasty black sludge.

I hadn't really understood why we had to change from the good old fashioned flax in the first place. It worked very well. Still, $75 poorer, we are back to where we started and all is well. Probably we got the pressure wrong when we did it up or something but no matter, all's well that ends well.

Next major event is to mend one of the two autopilots that are both currently non-functioning. Although we use our Monitor as first choice for some coastal passages the auto-helm is much easier and more practical. Sudden wind shifts and navigational dangers are not conducive to leaving the Monitor to do it's thing!

The hydraulic version has never really functioned and when one of the display headers failed a few thousand miles ago we cannibalized it and kept the electric version working. On our passage here from Roatan that too failed and kept turning itself off line so TBH's next task is to try and get one of the units working again.

It never stops does it! I have also decided that we need to renew our passports before heading north so that means a couple of trips in to the City to visit the British Embassy. Hopefully that will go smoothly and we may also try and acquire American visa's if we have the time....

In the meantime I am listening to Cuban music, watching the film 'Motorcycle diaries' a great movie about the early life of Che Guevara, and reading anything I can get my hands on about the country, it's history and people. Looks like it could be a fascinating cruise.

The video is of the Bueno Vista Social Club in action:

...and this is the trailer for Motorcyle Diaries, a great film :

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Down below.

The interior of our boat has always been very important to me. One of my principal criteria when we first decided to live aboard fulltime was that my boat had to be a comfortable haven. Granted there are compromises to be made when you are going to take your 'house' out across oceans but I knew that if the boat wasn't as comfortable as our land based home had been that I would not be happy!

As we close up our home in England, for the final time, I am turning my thoughts to a refit of 'below'! As I have been thinking about fabrics and upholstery and varnish I have come across some lovely items that I would like to find space for....

We had a reasonable collection of paintings when land based but sadly these are all too large to find a home onboard . Also in such a small space a very different style of art will be my choice. With limited space to hang pictures, and we already have a lot of photographs displayed, I am much more discriminating as to what I will give room to!

What that means in reality is that I have bought hardly anything !! Just can't make up my mind...

I found these super 'arty' plates on the net and have been lusting over some of the designs, I love the lobster one.

These paintings are pretty good representations of ocean waves but I am not sure that I want to live with that below decks as well as above. The jury is still out on that one.

Like many cruisers we have collected our share of 'souvenirs' as we have traveled around. A hand carved sea-turtle from Tobago to celebrate seeing our first leatherback.Hand made jewelery made from calabashes grown in Colombia, couldn't convince TBH that I really needed the emeralds that were on offer!

And of course far too many 'molas' from the San Blas Islands. These extraordinary pieces of reverse appliqué embroidery have a way of insinuating themselves into the boat, could be the sales techniques of the VERY determined Kuna women.

I have a stack of them waiting to be turned in to cushion covers and other useful items...may be sometime as my skills as a needlewoman are truly lacking.

Monday, 14 January 2008


Push! Push! Harder! Stop...

No we have not opened a maternity unit on board. These are simply the sounds that were issuing from the depths of the boat as we threaded the new bilge pipe yesterday. Talk about 'herding cats', that ain't nothing on trying to encourage a twenty foot length of one and a half inch plastic pipe through a small gap into a place that you can't see, or reach, and get it to come out of the requisite small hole... Then take two ninety degree turns and encourage to reach the bottom of the bilge that again you can neither see or reach.

I mean who the fuck designs these things!!

Well it's done, in place, attached and working. Yeehah! With any luck this is a process that won't have to be repeated for another fifteen years.I must say that some of this boat maintenance really drives me to the brink. Not only are a lot of the jobs only fit to be done by a three foot midget with six foot arms and the flexibility of a contortionist, you also have to completely destroy the boat before the required feat can be performed. Thank goodness TBH is both patient and able, left to me we would have given up maintenance long ago...

Still we now have a grand total of FOUR working bilge pumps on board, one electric and three manual. One of which is movable for use in dire emergencies. It may seem like overkill but we have seen so many boats this last couple of seasons in trouble because of inadequate or non-functioning bilge pumps that we have taken the risk very seriously.

Of course as you rip parts of the boat apart you go through the whole process of deciding whether to keep the bits that you come across that you had long forgotten you owned! the current decision is about lamp glasses for the anchor light that we carry, the paraffin one. I have a fetish about spares and it seems I may have got a little carried away... did I say that! TBH has just discovered three spare glasses, now bear in mind these are not your usual delicate glass tubes but big thick chunky globes..and they are impossible to replace without completely dismantling the afore mentioned lantern...maybe they should go? Nah, I mean you just never know when these things will come in useful do you?

No wonder we have raised the waterline so much.

One of the greatest items on board as far as maintenance is concerned is... the good old turkey baster! We use it for cleaning oil from out of the engine sump, removing liquid from strange inaccessible places.If you want to see a scary use on board a boat have a look at Dragonheart's blog...I am NEVER eating turkey cooked by Cindy again.

So please excuse the brevity of today's entry. If I don't get this place back in order today I wil need therapy and too much alcohol!!

Sunday, 13 January 2008

What makes a good one?

It truly is a beautiful morning here on the Rio Dulce. The sun is shining there is a gentle breeze blowing across the water as I sit on the veranda of the Cayuco Club awaiting my breakfast.

We are out so bright and early because the boat is in complete chaos. As TBH struggles to insert the new bilge pump, we have abandoned all expectation of cooking on the boat for the next few days.

The old pipe came out reasonably easily but having to empty just about every locker and lift every piece of cabin sole on the boat does not make for easy living. It's one of those jobs that I really only feel comfortable tackling in a marina.

Your comfort with where you are is much influenced by the people that you are with. We have a marvelous core of boaters at Mario's. Just how much they influence the atmosphere here became obvious when some of them were absent for a while recently. It's hard to explain but the 'sense' of community just disappeared overnight... Well they are back and good natured laughter fills the air again from dawn until dusk.

It must be a difficult job managing a marina. Its not just about maintaining the docks, unblocking the loos, keeping the showers clean but maintaining the atmosphere that, I guess, in the end is what differentiates a good from a great marina.

We don't stay in marinas often but when we do we tend to stay for a considerable time. It is interesting how that exposes the management styles, and how those that concentrate of creating the right ambiance are the ones that you will always go back to .

Probably the most outstanding place we have stayed was Puerto Calero in Lanzarote, Canary Islands. The fabric of the docks and surroundings was outstanding, clean, attractive and well designed. The facilities exceptional, a small but well equipped boatyard, travel lift, workshops, a good labour base but the best feature of all was the superb manner of the manager, Mel. A bi-lingual capable young woman she walked that thin line between professionalism and friendliness. So easy to talk about but, in practise, a very difficult position to master.

Probably the most unsatisfactory place we have spent time was Shelter Bay in Panama. To be fair it was a very new facility when we were there but there were already some fundamental issues building. The docks and facilities cannot be bettered. New, gleaming and all those great things. It was interesting though that from the start of our stay there were serious maintenance issues. Basically it just wasn't done! A dock started to list, the showers wouldn't drain, the food in the restaurant was poor and pricey. On top of this the treatment of staff was appalling. Exploitation of the locals included not paying them on time, not providing sufficient food and the most basic of living accommodations.

Here are Morton's previously unpublished criteria of excellence in restaurants. They apply to marinas as well:

1. At the core is the quality of the Food. If the food is no good, nothing is any good. For a marina, this could equate to clean facilities, the quality of the pontoons, water, reliability of power and wifi, and so on.

2. Next comes service. You can have great food but if they get your order wrong or keep you waiting for hours it certainly detracts from the experience.

3. Most people just think of Food and Service (task and process, if you like) when describing a restaurant but the difference between a good cook and a great cook is Imagination which you could describe as innovation, diversity, flair in the menu. Or creativity in the additional services (yes, maybe even offering Karaoke some nights).

4. Last but not least comes Ambiance, which is sometimes so tangible "you can cut it with a knife."

It is the happy coincidence of all four that makes a meal a lifetime experience, a moment you will never forget, or a stay in a marina something you will commend to others.

It doesn't take a great leap of imagination to apply these criteria to any management of any service business...

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Hugo Boss update.

As Hugo Boss approaches Cape Horn they have closed the miles with the leading boat a little, I must say that it still looks as though they will have their work cut out to win.

"We have about 880 miles to go to Cape Horn which should take a little more than two days, we are making good progress. It’s not at all a spiritual place, and I don’t look forward to it with any meaning but it’s a huge relief just to get the boat heading north – it’s the end of the Southern Ocean and you don’t have to go any further south, it’s a relief to get on with the race. Paprec around certainly hasn’t changed the way we look at the race – we have the gap there and we gave them a two-day lead so you expect things to happen. We just have to play the race as we see it, with the weather we have got; there is nothing else we can do. But we should gain on them in the next twelve hours; it will be a bit of a mixed bag, and there is still a third of the race to go. "The forecast is not incredibly optimistic… we are still in different weather systems and it doesn’t look there is a huge parking lot where they will stop and we can get closer to them, that probably wouldn’t happen in this section of the race, it is more likely off Rio and there is still a lot of opportunity there. Right now we have 25-30 knots; we are riding the front of a front, it’s quite squally and gusty, coming and going getting pretty bumpy, and we are sitting on 18-20 knots of boat speed. We are getting there, it's not too uncomfortable it’s bearable and hopefully in a couple of days we will be there and stay north. "Typically you head east of the Falklands unless there is a funny weather situation, I noticed that Virbac are going through the straits which I wouldn’t bother with normally but then their system is slightly different, we will see how it goes for us… I wouldn’t go to the west of the Falklands unless you paid me!"

Back in our small cruising world here in Guatemala we have been steadily working our way through the list of 'must do' jobs before we leave for Cuba. Yesterday TBH finished stripping down the old outboard that we acquired from some friends who were about to dump it. He has cannibalized it for the spares and also as he put it, to really see how the thing is put together. It is the same as the one we use on our dinghy so we are very pleased to have rescued some $50 of spares!

We have a new shower hose in place, yeah! Installed yet another electric fan in the saloon and done some woodwork repairs. Reinstalled the Monitor paddle, we often take it off when in a marina as its a bit vulnerable to passing traffic! It's all getting pretty exciting stuff...

Sometime in the next couple of weeks I have to travel in to the big supermarket and stock the boat, again! We are told that Cuba is impossible to shop in and we must carry all our provisions etc. I have two pilot guides onboard and armed with those and an armful of charts am beginning to look at our possible route, I love this part of cruising all those new places to decide on!

Friday, 11 January 2008

One to watch.

We have just watched 'Deep Water' an excellent film about the tragic demise of Donald Crowhurst in the first Round the World Sailing Race.

Here is the trailer.

Crowhurst was living his dream but deluded both himself and his supporters into believing his story to be true. (Shades of others here.)

He got himself into the position where to continue was probably suicidal but retreat was financial ruin. It is a strong reminder of the need for realism both from the main player and those surrounding them.

Interestingly Deep Water is made by the same team who brought you 'Touching the Void'. Although this phrase carries overtones of deliberately obscure Zen philosophy, the film is a harrowing and true down to earth story of a mountaineer, Joe Simpson, who kept going against all odds to survive.

Here's the trailer. You can see the whole film on YouTube . It's broken into 12 parts.

Both these films were highly acclaimed by the critics.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Bits and pieces.

Some years ago I worked, from time to time, as a cook on racing boats. Never saw much racing as I was strapped in to a tiny galley turning out high calorie nosh for hunky crew still my pounding heart!

Some of the racing videos that I have been watching have awakened a new interest in that world. Not that I am in a hurry to take part, far too much yelling and screaming for my taste. But the exhilaration of those fast sails does look attractive...

Running hard downwind in the 2007 Sydney to Hobart yacht race, on Goldfinger, a Farr 52

One site that I rate highly is Sailing Anarchy it's not for the faint hearted but the spread of racing and general news on the sailing world is excellent, and current.

..and if you would like to be truly appalled have a look at the video on Cruising World. It's tedious but compellingly bad! I cannot believe what I see here, flagging down a large ship mid-Atlantic to scrounge diesel and provisions....words fail me.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

A Heroine Returns.

"Captain" Heather's lengthy account of her 100 mile sail and subsequent rescue is as disingenuous as her other writing.

"Throughout the entries I have made on this site, I have been honest. I have been up-front when I’ve messed up and tooted my own horn when I did well. I have praised those who deserved it, and told the truth about those who were unscrupulous or unreliable. I wish I could truthfully tell you I persevered during those two and a half days, but I didn’t."

What follows is a good deal of breast beating and 'mea culpa'. Too much information, I think. The sad truth for "Captain" Heather is that communication is not just what we say its everything we do. She has spent a good deal of her credibility on a poor start and I expect most of us will , like Sophocles, "wait until the evening to see how fine the day has been."

What a pity.

Many people repeat the same mistakes again and again. The smarter of us only make the mistakes once and the smartest of all learn from others mistakes and only make new ones! I wish "Captain Heather" only new mistakes A little less self praise and a little more action might become her better.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Reflections on Fear.

The story of "Captain" Heather has set me thinking about what we are all doing here. Sailing is a voyage of discovery but not just discovery of new people and places but discovery about ourselves. This is what really interests me and is so little talked about.

For example, I find myself in deep sympathy with "Captain" Heather, in her current crisis, because I remember the thoughts that flashed through my brain when TBH injured himself. I discovered that he and I have a very different response in a crisis. I tend to react quickly and intuitively, TBH reacts slowly and thoughtfully. TBH, for example, will very methodically tackle an engine problem at sea taking great care not to force anything, strip threads, shear bolts or compound the damage.

Neither is right or wrong, and both helped us in a tricky situation.

On a long passage we encountered a micro-burst. Something we had never heard of at the time. Our first response to the sudden storm conditions was to try and keep the boat heading into the wind. This was not a good idea as the wind is coming straight down and spreading out radially! Suddenly I realised that we might be holding ourselves in the bad weather by going round in circles and decided to turn 90 degrees to the wind, risking a knock down. This was the right decision and in a couple of minutes we were out of the very localized bad weather.In those few wild minutes we had snapped a reefing line and the Monitor paddle was dragging behind on its rescue line after the sacrificial tube had snapped!

During this crisis TBH crushed his hand in the Monitor mechanism, with winds over 55k( the highest calibration on our windspeed gauge) and spray coming horizontally it was impossible to assess how badly he was injured.

As I was struggling to stabilize the boat, I told TBH to sit in the cockpit and scream! Good therapy for him! It seemed to work well too.

The jumble of thoughts and decisions were fascinating in hindsight.

We were literally mid-Atlantic, and go back or go on is one of the thoughts that come to the fore. Its a real test of your level of commitment!

As I stood at the wheel, in a split second or two, I realised that I needed to decide what we were going to do. I did not feel capable of sailing singlehanded unless TBH was conscious, at the very least. I believed that even if he were confined to a bunk for the rest of the voyage, so long as he could give me instruction in certain matters, I could cope. If however I was going to have to give him heavy duty painkillers I would need put a call out for assistance. I recognised my own limitations physically and mentally.

You need to understand the speed at which these questions and answers were going through my mind, it was fast!

How we perform under stress is determined by our sub-conscious and gives fascinating insights in to our true self. I had a strong immediate gut response, we have to go back because somehow where we had come from was known and where we were going to wasn't! Illogical but very real!

However as my brain flew through the 'risk assessment' it was obvious that although this was an emotionally satisfying solution it was not a practical one.

So I am not surprised at "Captain" Heather's decision but it makes me wonder whether she will restart the trip again. In her moment of crisis she ran for home. On the surface an understandable decision. Under stress very minor problems loom very large. But illogical, the weather was settling, the seas calming and Isla Mujeres was an easier sail. What, maybe, this tells us about her psychology is that there is a very deep rooted fear which I am relieved she has listened to.

'Be what you is, not what you ain't because if you is what you ain't you ain't what you is'! Work that one out!

This issue of how we handle stress is the most compelling aspect of a lot of sailing stories.

For example I have just watched the video of Lionheart, the Jesse Martin story,(circumnavigated non-stop age 18) and most of the story centres on coping with tiredness, loneliness, boredom and sheer terror! It's ALL about the mind.

What Jesse had done though is to listen carefully to advice and carried the tools and materials as well as the practical knowledge to repair breakages. He had tested himself in previous, land based, expeditions.

Another recent example was quoted on Elaine Bunting's blog and the story here of a dismasting in the 2006 ARC shows how the academically qualified skipper froze, while the practically qualified rigger dealt with the emergency. The skipper called a Mayday and wanted to launch the liferaft. The practical crewmember borrowed some tools from a nearby boat and fashioned a jury rig.

This is not about what is right or what is wrong in any one persons response it is about self knowledge and recognising that the system is not the boat alone but the boat plus YOU and that it's your mental flexibility and capacity to handle surprise that keeps the boat moving forward (or backwards in Captain Heathers case!).

Finally, on a more positive note, this is where Jesse Martin is today, I want to go!