Saturday, 29 November 2008

Radio Ga-Ga

I love the medium of radio, much better than TV. I love its immediacy and the tone of people's voices as they communicate...

Listening to the BBC World Service over the SSB whilst in isolated anchorages gives me a sense of the distances that we have come and what a massive place the world is. Struggling to hear the news headlines through the crackles and hisses transports me to a world of romance and adventure like nothing else.

Radio's play a big part in the cruising life. SSB for the long distance (usually) exchange of information. The rescue operations, which become addictive as a real life reality show plays itself out across the airwaves. Cruisers nets, collecting emails.

And then there is the VHF. Mostly for talking at close quarters, hailing ports and other ships. And of course the 'local cruisers net'.That daily show where treasures of the bilge are exchanged, events advertised and boat to boat contacts made.

Over the years I have heard a number of surreal requests and statements over these community based transmissions but this morning has to take the biscuit!

There was an unexpected death on one of the boats based on the river, natural causes it seems but tragic never the less. This morning a request was made for 'a computer expert' who would forge a marriage certificate!It appears that the couple on board were not legally married and so, of course, there are problems with bodies etc.. I wasn't at all sure that I was hearing clearly...but yes there it was again, repeated for those who didn't hear it first time! Doesn't matter what country any one will do! But the request was real enough.

What can you say??? Yup, sure lets break the law and broadcast it at the same time...ooh whoopee!! Real life radio Ga Ga!!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Happy Thanksgiving...

...unless you are a turkey of course when it's a BAD day for you! Except the one that gets pardoned by no-less a person than the President of the USA.

That's right here we are in the middle of the mother-of-all financial meltdowns and Bush is out there on the lawn pardoning a turkey. No, not Cheney you fools, one of the white feathered variety.

You have to love the good 'ole USA don't you??

Supposedly the 'pardoned' bird makes it's way via a first class flight(assisted) to Disney where it is Honorary Grand Marshall of the Thanksgiving Day Parade. And they actually believe this stuff!

Personally I think there is sufficient photographic evidence around to warrant asking some serious questions about the integrity of G.W., and we're not just talking turkey here either folks!

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Rio Dulce Literary and Lamb Society.

I am feeling more than a little delicate today after another successful gathering of the Rio Dulce Literary and Lamb Society!

If you haven't read the book 'Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society' rush out and do so. It's an excellent book and we have unashamedly hijacked the sentiment of its title as an excuse for our regular lamb roast evenings here on the dock!

Last night we were fortunate to have acquired an Australian leg of lamb to form the basis of our meal, until now we have only acquired lamb from New Zealand... Well it was a triumph, definitely the far superior sheep. Our thanks to member Woolly for identifying the source and member Pud for acquiring said joint.

This superb example of an Antipodean sheep was much larger than its NZ counterpart, weighing in at a goodly 7lbs it has a little more fat than its rival. Imparting, in our humble opinions, a fuller flavour... I must admit to being concerned during cooking that 'Pud' may have been sold a pup in the shape of a piece of old mutton but I should have known better... He may be a late convert to the RDL&LS but he is certainly making up for lost time with enthusiasm!

Prepared with garlic, honey, ginger and thyme the considered opinion of the tasting panel was that this was indeed a 'three baa' lamb.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Out but not down...

Alex reflects on the Vendee

It's been a strange time since my retirement and return from the Vendee Globe, weird to be on dry land, driving in a car and sleeping in my own bed, when I should be out there deciding where to cross the doldrums and working hard to win the race.

The last month has been one of the most challenging of my life. I felt so proud to be arriving Les Sables with a boat that we knew was ready for the race and with every eventuality planned for months in advance. It begs belief that our dreams were shattered when we were holed and dismasted by a fishing boat on arrival at Les sables. At that moment in all of our minds , we were out of the race , but that was short lived. The idea to fix the boat at the beginning was really just talk, an impossible idea but the commitment from my team was outstanding and that is what made the impossible, possible.

The attitude change from being out of the race to 'we are going to start the race' happened within hours and the support from other teams, Team Origin, our suppliers and local support from Les Sables was unbelievable. I am quite sure that it would have been impossible to do what we did in the time frame anywhere else in the world but because it is the Vendee Globe, and because of the associated passion and emotion, everyone pulled together and made a miracle happen. There are so many people to thank for their efforts it would take up pages, so for now you know who you are, and I am eternally grateful for making the impossible possible and doing it with such dedication and good humour. To be clear it was nothing short of a miracle that the boat started the race on time and in good shape.

It was very important from the outset that we reset our goals and the goal was to make the start line of the Vendee globe and on time. That was achievable and I am sure a clear understanding of what the new goal was helped the situation enormously. I also knew that the enormity of the repair and the inevitable teething problems were going to put me on the back foot in the race but once repaired the new goal really was just to finish.

The forecast for the start of the race was not filling anyone with confidence, Force 7 on the first night and a Force 9-10 on the second evening. No matter how well prepared you are the start of the race is very daunting, its the first day of 90 and with so much time, effort and money gone into this one moment it is difficult to focus on the job in hand. I started the race completely exhausted I thought I was in good shape but within hours of the start i had serious instrument and pilot problems and although i was muddling through it, i was not racing the boat, simply surviving! Sleep was virtually impossible with so many boats around and the dangers of shipping and fishing boats very prevelant on my mind. Hearing that Bernard Stamm had been hit by a ship made me feel sick, and i felt so sorry for him as this was his third Vendee in a row where his dreams had been shattered. The first night was not made any better when one of my ballast tanks carrying 1.5 tons of water discharged itself into the boat, over the engine, generator and other important 'dry pieces'. In fact the bilge pump could not work as that was under water and i had to use the speed of the boat and a ballast scoop to control it. In normal conditions it would not take too much time to clear up but in a Force 7 beating upwind it was a four hour slog whilst already shattered.

The following day brought a brief respite before being clobbered by Force 10 winds and six meter waves but to honest i felt in the groove then and was making back the few miles that I had lost. When the weather front went through and I tacked the sea was awful and for hours I had to keep the speed down and the storm sails up. Even at four knots of boat speed the boat was crashing heavily over the waves. It sounds horrendous I know and it was, but these were by no means the worst conditions that i have faced in this boat and I was comfortable with what was happening, and despite my continuing instrument and pilot issues I was confident that the conditions in the coming days were going to suit HUGO BOSS and we would 'light up' and make some miles.

Six hours after tacking and with the sea calming down, i went below and noticed some water on the leeward floor. I assumed i was having a similar issue with ballast and could not understand why it kept coming, it was then that I saw a small fountain of water coming from what appeared to be a crack in the floor. Emotion was short lived because immediately I had to stop the boat, investigate and get on the telephone. I knew it was bad and I felt so gutted for all the work that so many people had put in to get us to the start line, it felt so unfair and so harsh but that was where we were. It was quickly decided that I should sail back to Les Sables and look at repairing and getting back in the race, and I felt so useless in that 36 hour period getting back to Les Sables. I had also found strips of six meters of carbon streaming out the back of the boat and my mind was awash with the potential damage underneath.

It was strange to motor back into Les Sables, it was not the return I had imagined at the end of the race, but I was met by a team that despite working 24 hours a day for the last three weeks was ready to fix and send me out again. The emotional and physical pain that my team had gone through - and they were there ready to do it all again. Simply amazing!

You will see that I often flick from 'I' to 'we' in my reports and that is because although solo sailing is considered an individual sport it is in fact a team sport and i consider myself to be a small cog in a huge wheel. The wheel was in motion but when the boat was lifted out it was immediately obvious to the boatbuilders, designers and engineers that there was not a quick fix and I knew I was out. We were all so desperately disappointed, we had all been through so much, and my body gave up and I slept.

Four years of hard work down the drain, wasted, destroyed in an instance, or is it? No not in my eyes, I know we made some great decisions with our boat, we were well prepared and I know I work with some of the most dedicated people in the world. I am proud of what we have achieved and despite being presented with these awful situations we have worked through each issue with grit and determination. My sights are already firmly set on the next Vendee Globe which currently feels a long way away but it will come around quickly and we will be there in better shape and even better prepared than last time. Our planning starts now, we have not left the last month behind, but with positive thoughts and a strong achievable goal the healing process will be quicker.

HUGO BOSS have been brilliant and so supportive throughout this difficult month and were on site continuously in Les Sables. They saw the dedication and the passion of so many people from every angle and they really understand what it takes to get to the start line of the Vendee Globe and I am very grateful for their unwavering support.

We tried our dammed hardest, we achieved the impossible but this time it was not to be. 2012 is a different matter.


Sunday, 23 November 2008

Tomato Soup

Yesterday I wore a sweatshirt all day, it was that cold here on the Rio...

Definitely a soup making sort of day. Looking at the pile of swifly ripening tomatoes the decision of which sort was easy to make.

Take 2lbs boat grown beefsteak tomatoes, well ripened. Halve and place cut side up under hot grill. Cook until edges of the fruit are just charred(this intensifies the flavour).
Meanwhile finely chop one large onion and saute in a heavy pan with a tbsp olive oil and a tbsp butter until soft.

Add charred tomatoes, 1-2 pints chicken stock, a splash of brandy, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to the boil and then simmer until the tomatoes have pulped down, approx 30 minutes.

Strain through fine sieve, return liquid to heat and simmer for a further 20 mins until the consistency is to your taste. Heat 300mls single cream, add to soup, stir and serve with warm crusty bread. Yummy!

Maybe should have added some herbs but I didn't have any fresh ones to hand and I don't like dried. The intense flavour of the tomatoes was pretty good though!

Friday, 21 November 2008

Skills take time to acquire.

The management of the marina has erected the Christmas Tree in the bar, aagghh! I am not ready for that yet.Although it is still chilly I am not in the mood to think about the festive season just yet.

Watching the news come in on the TV and reading the internet. Time and time again I am struck by so many people's need for 'instant' solutions.

As Obama waits for January to take on the role of President his motives and possible decisions are being second and third guessed at every turn. Will he adhere to this promise or that one, will he repay 'favours' received, who will be in his cabinet? Wisely he remains virtually silent. 'Marry in haste repent at leisure' must be his mantra these days!

There are few instant fixes in any aspect of life, certainly the current financial meltdown takes a great deal of understanding before any remedies can be tried. Sometimes it can be urgent to do nothing...

Sailing is similar. The temptation to believe that we know it all can be difficult to overcome. There are so many aspects to this way of life that it would be virtually impossible to claim mastery in any one aspect let alone all.

I was concerned to read this claim for a local class for cruisers:

'I've "done the weather" for several nets on both the Pacific and Caribbean side, and the class has come from that experience. It is my boast that anyone who has taken this class is qualified to "do the weather" on any net I've ever heard.

The class is free and takes about 2 hours. The intent is to allow you to be your own weatherman: to make you self-sufficient with respect to interpreting and understanding weatherfax products such as you get from NOAA.'

Yes and I can learn to speak Spanish in 6 easy lessons! Only my badly spoken Spanish may not be putting my home and life at risk if, no when, I get it wrong...

I suggest that a 2 hour class is hardly sufficient to enable you to be a knowledgeable weatherman. It may be a start but that's all it can possibly be.

We carry a library of 'weather' books on board. Some of them are:
'Understanding Weatherfax' by Mike Harris. An invaluable guide.

The Voyagers handbook by Beth Leonard which has an excellent chapter on weather forecasting.

Instant Weather Forecasting
by Alan Watts is a good revisionary publication.

These books are read and reread. To me, the interpretation of weather signs, the understanding of the inaccuracies of computer weather models and the continuous reinforcement of knowledge are vital components of a happy, and safe, cruising life.

Many are the times that we have watched fellow cruisers relying on over simplified computer generated Grib files as they make a decision to set sail. Ignorance has quite a price to it, and mastery of the weather is an inexact science!

It's great to learn new skills and add to existing ones but don't be fooled that you will 'learn' the weather in two hours. The cruiser giving the class has thirty years experience, that says it all!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Harvest Time.

Yesterday marked the end of a short but prolific period of tomato growing on the boat. As the weather has turned much colder and I have got more and more fed up with the encroaching foliage it was time to call a halt to the experiment!

Harvesting the rest of the green fruit, I am confident that I can ripen them below decks over the next few weeks, it was a pleasant surprise to estimate that we got approximately 20lbs of tomatoes from the plants. I am working my way through a large file of tomato recipes now...

We wrestled the plants from the deck to the dock, stuffed them in to black plastic bags and transported them to the burning area of the marina! The staff watched with amazement at the size of these things!

Last night as we settled down to watch a recent BBC series on Venice, excellent production, we dined on my version of pizza. I had a packet of English Muffins that needed eating so I split them and toasted one side, flipped them over and spread a teaspoon of pesto on each. Topped that with a slice of ripe beefsteak tomato(!) and then a layer of goats cheese. Grilled it until the cheese was browned and bubbling. Delicious and appropriate to the entertainment...

The deck is a bit grimy but nothing that our end of season clean-up won't shift. A bit of insect infestation, small ants. Quickly dispersed with a spray of ant-killer. No excuses now for not putting TBH up the mast to replace the wind instruments, damn.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Whale Shark Poo!

Well I could not resist this video moment! Due to be screened by BBC TV on Tuesday 18th November at 8pm its part of a programme looking at the world's biggest fish, the Whale Shark.

Don't you just love the scientist as he waxes lyrical about the scientific potential that his phial of poo holds.......!

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Passing time,position and power.

It's been another busy week here...

Tomato harvest is in full swing. As the weather has warmed up the starboard side(sunny) plant has started to look a little weary. Browning leaves, droopy branches. As the fruit starts to colour some of the skins have been splitting. So as soon as the slightest touch of yellowing appears I am picking these fruit to finish ripening below decks. That seems to be working fine. The port side(shade) is still growing well and the tomatoes there are far superior, must have a natural left tendency!

TBH's book has finally arrived, well the first consignment, in the UK. This week sees the review copies being dispatched all over the world. Amazing.

Mike(Dragonheart) gave TBH his old celesticomp calculator last week. It had stopped working and he said he didn't use it anyway, so TBH was welcome to see if he could get it going again... This is the wonderful electronic gizmo that works out the figures taken by sextant so you can find your position. Well to his delight he managed to find the right batteries in Puerto Barrios and it is up and running. Now all we need is a horizon to check the thing on....might be a week or so till we are in that position.

We seem to be a pretty rare boat these days with such a lack of electronic aids on the boat. We still use papercharts, no chart plotter. Although we do have electronic charts on the computer. Most of our navigation is done with paper charts and the GPS but we feel we ought to brush up our sextant skills, you never know!

We have no generator so power usage is always an issue. No freezer, no microwave, no TV. We even still have functioning paraffin lights! Our refrigerator is engine driven which does mean we run the main engine for 30 minutes EVERY day. It can seem a pain but on the positive side that means we also get sufficient hot water for 24 hours and early warning when there is an engine problem!

No solar panels just a wind generator.

I was asked recently what I most missed about no longer living on the land. You know it was a tough question! Maybe a washing machine? But when I thought about it there is a certain sense of satisfaction in a bucket and washing dolly! Then when things get too bad its usually possible to get the laundry done ashore! Now that is a luxury.

Do I miss a dishwasher? Nope.
Freezer? Nope.

I have a massive galley, two heads(one more than we had on land!), comfortable bed and a great friend to share the adventure with.

That's enough ...

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Alex is out.

Sad news as Alex Thomson bites the bullet and pulls out of the Vendee Globe race.

What an unbelievable disappointment for him, the team and all their sponsors and supporters. This attempt had been 4 years in the planning, even building a new boat for the race. No doubt he will be back but he must be feeling 'pig sick' today.

But isn't that sailing for you! Life even! just when you think everything is right it goes horribly wrong........

November 13. 2008
“Repairs would take weeks rather than days.” Thomson told, “It is a much more complex and time consuming repair than the one we had to do before the start.”

“I am gutted, absolutely gutted. To have put everything into this for the last four years, and battling to get away like we had to do, this just feels so unjust.”

“Obviously we need to now sit down and look at the things we did and plan for the next one, but I think we were certainly one of the best prepared teams with one of the best prepared boats until what happened with the fishing boat.”

“It is a cruel game, but you look at what happened to Bernard Stamm in his third race ,out twice and fighting again after re-starting this time, and Bilou in the past with his mast track. It can be a cruel game, but you have to think that it brings you back stronger for the next time.”
“I will go home now, have some rest and then starting looking at what I do.”

As we regularly tell our kids (and remind ourselves too) its not how you deal with success that moulds your character but how you respond to disappointment and failure. Alex is without doubt a fighter and will no doubt battle on but he must be really gutted right now.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

More bad news for Alex.

Sadly the news is not getting any better from the Hugo Boss team in France. It is beginning to look as though there will be little chance for Alex to rejoin the race. What a terrible shame...

At 05h00 this morning Alex Thomson arrived back where he had started the Vendee Globe some 61 hours previously . The team had to wait until 10h30 for the tide to enter the canal into Les Sables d'Olonne. By 14h00 the mast was taken out and at 15h30 HUGO BOSS was lifted from the water.

Waiting for the arrival were the Alex Thomson Racing shore team, Paolo Manganelli, from Gurit who was responsible for the structural design of HUGO BOSS and Pascal Finot from Finot Conq, the boats' designer.

The true extent of the damage could not be assessed until the boat was lifted out of the water. Harry McGougan, Alex Thomson Racing's Operations Director explained what they saw when the boat was lifted. "There is a transverse crack that runs through the outer and inner skin of the boat. Having now lifted the boat out of the water we can see the underneath of the boat and the full extent of the damage. The crack extends 5 metres to almost the centreline. The unidirectional fibres that make up the outside layer of the boat have peeled off from the start of the crack to the back of the boat."

To repair HUGO BOSS before next Wednesday's restart deadline McGougan explained what the team need to achieve. "In the time scale available to us to restart the race we would have to do a full structural survey, put together a full repair plan and then put a team together the size of which we had for the repair three weeks ago." A decision will be made tomorrow on the best way forward.

"At the moment there is no definite reason why this has happened but there is a strong possibility that the boat has hit something ," concluded McGougan.

Paolo Manganelli's (structural engineer) initial thoughts on the cause of the crack after a visual inspection of the boat were the same. " It's a bit too early to say very much right now, but we are not ruling out a collision with a submerged object."

Thomson was visibly upset when he stepped ashore this morning. "The team went through so much over the last 3 weeks to get the boat to the start line, so for this to happen is very harsh," said Alex.

Explaining the sequence of events that led up to the discovery of the cracked hull. "I was sailing in about 25knots of breeze, the front had gone through and I had tacked and was heading south on a beam reach. I couldn't fully power up as the sea state was so bad, the boat was slamming through the waves. I heard a thud but couldn't see anything visible to think I had hit something."

"The previous day I had been on deck and gone below to find 1,500 litres of water sloshing around. The windward ballast tank was leaking, so when I saw more water down below I immediately thought there was another leak in the other ballast tank."

"As I finished bailing out again, (this time only about 20 litres) I saw water was squirting through the hull like a small fountain from a crack in the hull."

"The water intake was completely manageable, I was only using the pumps to clear the water every 3 hours, so I never felt we were in any real danger," explained Alex.

"It's gutting, I feel very sad not only for me, but also my sponsors and the team. These things happen in sailing, you just have to pick yourself up and move forward." concluded Thomson

Tomato thieves on Rio!

Jeannie (sv Oasis) came to the boat yesterday in a state of indignation. She and Jim had been the recipient of one of Bob's baby tomato plants. They have loved and nurtured it to maturity.Then. just as their one and only fruit was ripening nicely SOMEBODY has stolen it.The tomato not the plant...

What a mean and despicable thing to do. Gone were their visions of the perfect BLT, gone was the sense of satisfaction of sinking their teeth into the well formed scarlet flesh of their very own beefsteak tomato. Fie I say! Shame on you, you perfidious tomato wrangler....

So early this morning I went on my tomato patrol. Armed with a squeezy bottle of ketchup, well I packed two, one in each hand. Sadly no succes, the thieves have flown. Taking my own security precautions in the face of this outrageous 'War on Tomatoes' I plucked my crop of ripening fruits.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Sad, bad and a little better...

Not a day full of good news I am afraid...

At 19.45 GMT on Monday 10th November Alex Thomson turned HUGO BOSS around to head back to Les Sables d'Olonne following the discovery of a crack in the port side hull.

On inspection at daylight the crack is located between the aft keelbox and bulkhead.

Only a small amount of water is being taken onboard, water is squirting through the crack as the boat flexes and is completely manageable. Alex is currently bailing out every three hours.

HUGO BOSS is currently sailing downwind back to Les Sables d'Olonne under main and headsail only.

HUGO BOSS is expected to arrive in Les Sables d'Olonne early morning on Wednesday the 12th November.

At 1330 GMT HUGO BOSS was 122 miles off Les Sables d'Olonne, making about 9.5 knots.

Alex is understandably gutted, he was lying in 9th place when he was forced to turn HUGO BOSS around.

I also hear that there have been a couple of very nasty incidents in Venezuela. In one a cruiser was shot dead and another seriously wounded when they were attacked on their boat just outside Puerto La Cruz. Another cruiser was killed in the anchorage at Porlamar, Isla Margarita when their dinghy was hit by a panga.

Details seem sketchy but will no doubt become clearer in time.

On a brighter note the weather is looking good and more boats are leaving. Everytime I see one sliding down the river or casting off their docklines my heart gives a little leap...wish it was me!

TBH soothes my fevered brow and assures me it'll be our turn again soon, I hope so!

Still patience is a virtue!

Monday, 10 November 2008

Alex heads back to the start with a leaking Hugo Boss.

What an absolute bummer. Less than 36 hours in to the race Alex has made the decision to return to the start line as a failure in the hull is allowing water on board. He is apparently not in any danger, the pumps are coping but what rotten luck.

It's the opposite side of the hull to where he was hit by a fishing boat prior to the start. Must have been some mighty collision...

He must be mightily pissed off but thank goodness he is only 270 miles from his support team. We will be hoping that there will be a solution to this latest catastrophe. Our thoughts are with you.

After 32 hours of horrendous Biscay conditions in the Vendee Globe race, Alex Thomson is returning to Les Sables d’Olonne following the discovery of a structural problem onboard HUGO BOSS. A crack has appeared on the port side hull, the opposite side to the recent repair.

At 19.45 GMT Alex Thomson turned HUGO BOSS around to head back to Les Sables d’Olonne. Thomson is in no imminent danger; the boat is taking on water, but at a manageable rate. On arrival in Les Sables D’Olonne the damage will be assessed. He is currently approximately 290 miles from the port.

Changing future of cruising.

Yesterday the marina had a visitor. Chris Caswell, a journalist from Sailing magazine.He was researching a piece on why cruisers stay together etc...

Nothing new in that, or is there?

It set me to thinking about the current changes in age demographics, the economy, state of the world etc and how this will really alter the face of cruising in the future.

I have talked before about the way the economic meltdown is having an immediate effect on cruisers here, many boats for sale, many cruisers returning to work. And reading the forums on the various sailing websites this is by no means unique to my current location. So where from here?

Will there be a swing away from the older retired boater? Pensions are taking a hammering, house prices plummeting. These issues, coupled with the fear that the future may not be as well cushioned as had been planned for, will no doubt dissuade many from spending a large cash sum to purchase the boat and head off on an adventure that, for many, can be a disappointment.

The cruisers who see boats as an extension of the RV ( recreational Vehicle) lifestyle are often the ones most disappointed as they discover that sailing can be scary, expensive, and not the endless round of social activities that they are craving.

Equally the young families taking a few years sabbatical are going to be under greater pressure economically and may feel more comfortable remaining in their salaried jobs. It will be harder to pick the reins up on return.

What, it seems to me, is going to be the growth area are those who have a career that enables them to be totally independent of geography.Who will work from their boats. The entrepreneur, probably based around the internet, could well lead the cruising community in to the future. Probably younger than today and seeking a more adventurous lifestyle than before.

Will it be that, for the first time in many years, we will see more boats out on the water than in recent times when most stayed close to, or even in, the marina. And will that change the type of boat that is desirable? Less apartment type catamarans and more ocean going yachts?

The explosion in the boating industry has been driven by the massive economic wealth of a few nations. As we enter a period of recession and cost cutting the first things to go will be the yachts, and the racehorses, I am told! I wonder if the big AWB (Average white boat) manufacturers are nervous.

What do you think?

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Vendee Globe- They're Off!

We wish Alex all good fortune as he crosses the start line. It must have been totally nerve wracking as the team struggled to repair the seriously damaged Hugo Boss after its collision with a French fishing boat. But they made it and now he has to focus on the 90 or so days ahead.
I am certain he will be enjoying a bacon sarnie some time later today and reflecting on what an achievment it has been to get to the start tine on time!

Go for it Alex!

You can follow the race on Alex's website.

Goal one achieved – Alex Thomson starts the Vendee Globe

9th November 2008

Alex Thomson has made the start of the Vendée Globe 2008, crossing the startline on port tack at 13.02 local time today.

“When I drove HUGO BOSS into Les Sables D’Olonne three weeks ago, she had a big hole in the side and the mast was 2 miles out to sea at the bottom of the seabed. It’s so incredible to be coming out of the canal today and seeing so much support for us. Although it is much easier to deal with than last time, I am still choking a bit, but managing to hold it back,” said skipper of HUGO BOSS Alex Thomson “Since the incident the objective was always to get to the start line and we have done it, my whole team have done such a great job to get us here. .”

The conditions for the start were 15-18 knots of wind with large swell of 6ft – 9ft. This is forecast to increase through the night, which will test the single handed sailor and his repaired boat, HUGO BOSS:

“After the last couple of weeks I’m hoping the next week will feel like a bit of a holiday! But I think we’re in for a hard couple of days. We’re expecting 30 knots tonight building to 40 knots tomorrow. It’s definitely going to sort out the men from the boys. This is either going to be good or bad for us, it could be bad if we break something, but if we do I would rather do it close to the start.”

After an emotional farewell, the crew of HUGO BOSS were cheered through the canal by thousands of well wishers. Sir Keith Mills, Alex Thomson Racing Chairman, Team Principal of Team Origin and deputy chairman of the 2012 London Olympics, was onboard HUGO BOSS as they exited the canal. “This is unbelievable; no event is quite like this in the world. It is quite extraordinary. What a great send off for the skippers, it’s all a bit emotional,” commented Sir Keith Mills.

Alex Thomson’s race to the start has been deemed one of the most miraculous repair story in the Vendée Globe history – as Alex and his team triumphantly overcame the disaster of being stuck by a fishing vessel only 3 weeks ago.

At 9.23 this morning, friends and family had gathered on the docks to wave Alex and HUGO BOSS goodbye. Alex and his brother, David Thomson, will both be in the Southern Ocean at the same time, as his brother competes in the Portimão Global Ocean Race; for his family this is a testing time.

“We are very proud to see Alex on the start line. My first reaction was the feeling of relief that Alex and his team have achieved the impossible by making it to the startline. It is a complete miracle. We haven’t had much time to think about him going. Now the realisation that he is gone now for 90 days is very hard but we just have to grin and bear it. We have a very strong family – and Alex will call us a lot whilst he is away – like he always does. It doesn’t get any easier – particularly as both Alex and his brother David are away at the same time. I will be particularly worried the whole time he is in the Southern Ocean. And certainly when he reaches Cape Horn we will all breathe a sigh of relief.” Peter Thomson, Alex Thomson’s father

Friday, 7 November 2008

Sunrise and Tomatoes.

This is a nice site for tracking storms in the Caribbean. Hurricane Paloma is heading directly for Grand Cayman as I type this and then on to Cuba...again. I wonder what we will see when we get back there next year? They seem to have had more than their fair share of hits this season.
If you are interested these webcams from the Caymans are beginning to show the degenerating conditions on the island.Not sure how long they will be transmitting for though...

Whilst surfing last night I found this site on knot tying. Wonderful animations on how to get those lumps of rope to do what you want! Perfect for the likes of me who are somewhat spatially challenged when it comes to transferring book instructions into a three dimensional world!

We were wakened rather too early by a telephone call this morning so unable to return to sleep I went on deck to watch the sun rise over the hill known as 'monkey mountain'. It was beautiful. A flaming red sunrise reflected in the waters of the Rio. A bit chilly but with that freshness to the quality of the air that reminds me of an English summer day. Even the birds seemed noisier than usual. They were scrabbling over the tin roof of the restaurant, must have been a lot of bugs up there.

We have a fair sized gecko in residence in the cockpit. He is to be encouraged as he's getting nice and fat on the ants that try to infest the place from time to time. I enjoy seeing him dash out from behind the fuel can to capture an unsuspecting morsel. I think he's having a great time in amongst the tomato foliage! We had a superb couple of ripe fruit yesterday and looks like harvest time is fast approaching. Hopefully 3 or 4 more to pick today. They really do taste superb. Sweet and juicy. A few of the fruit are massive, the size of a large orange and still growing. Maybe we will manage one to reach the one and a half pound weight advertised on the seed package.

So from a bad start the tomatoes are doing well. The downturn in temperature has helped considerably. They appear to grow much better in the shade and need a great deal of water. Not to be recommended at sea but here on the dock quite manageable!

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Parties, Politics, Predictions.

Busy week...

Halloween came and went. Judging by the laughter coming from the Cayuco Club the participants were having a great time and looking at the photos the day after there were some classic costumes.

Election day for the USA was celebrated with voting and a party here. Carol (Androsian) and I acted as International Observers, ensuring one man, one vote. Well we hope we did! An overwhelming majority for Obama, 67%, when the polls closed gave us an indicator of which way the night was likely to go. And it did!

The boaters here were amazed at such a high percentage in our poll which as a lot of them are from Texas and are dyed in the wool Republicans was not really too much of a surprise. Personally it gave me hope that the USA can finally start to get itself back on track again after the appalling leadership of Bush.

I have learned a great deal about politics in the USA since we have been here and most of it is pretty dreadful, not that the UK is any better. Indeed I am currently rather envious of the USA for having a man who really does appear to hold the promise of a brighter future in his hands, unlike our own tawdry Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

And now the hiatus of the election is over it's back to the reality of a financial crisis, that's not looking too great right now is it? The effect on the cruisers is beginning to be felt. Just here, in this one small marina, in the middle of nowhere(approx 60 boats) there are at least seven boats that I know of on the market. And those are boats that have been used as full time live aboards. There are a couple of boats being laid up as their owners return to full time employment - unplanned.

I think this is just the beginning of a huge fall in the number of cruisers that we are going to see over the next couple of years. Wonder what it will do to boat prices...

Guatemala is still reeling from the huge rainfalls of last month, many areas of the country suffered tremendous damage. And now as TD17 turns in to TS Paloma, predicted to reach hurricane status by Friday, they face the prospect of further high rainfalls. It's tough being a nation in the Tropics.

I hope that the boats that have been leaving the Rio this week are keeping a close eye on the weather. Although the storm is currently predicted to swing North and then North East you just never know and it's all a tad too close to the coasts of Guatemala, Belize and Mexico for my liking.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Playing 'chicken' in the hurricane season.

It ain't over yet.....

The number of boats already streaming out of the Rio is quite astounding, given that there is another three weeks until the end of the 2008 hurricane season.

This satellite photo shows the next potential development of a tropical storm, the pundit on weatherunderground giving it a 40% chance of becoming a hurricane...The area has become better defined over the last few hours and it's centre is currently situated at 12N 81W.

I find it scary how lightly some folks take the issue of weather in this part of the Caribbean, guess they are either uninsured or just don't think it can happen to them. Me? I'd rather play it safe every time!

Caribbean survivors resort to cannibalism

This story certainly made me go and check on the contents of our grab bag!

Five migrants rescued after 15 days lost at sea were forced to resort to eating their dead comrades to stay alive, a Dominican official has said.

The group was found floating near the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean. One of the five - the only woman in the group - has since died in hospital.

Dominican minister of tourism Francisco Javier Garcia said the remaining four, part of a large group of migrants, told him that without food, they ate from the corpse of the last person to die.

A total of 33 Dominican migrants were trying to reach Puerto Rico by boat when they were reported missing by relatives in mid-October. Survivors said they lost their way after the captain abandoned the ship.

Bodies of the other dead were thrown into the sea, but the group kept the body of the most-recently deceased for food, Mr Garcia said. "The other four are dehydrated and have swollen legs but are expected to recover."

It is not known if the men will face charges.


Monday, 3 November 2008

Death of a legend.

I just picked this up off the Seven Seas Sailing Association site. How very sad. This man was one of my great heroes and like many others his books chronicling the adventures of Margaret, his wife, and himself are at the root of much of my own knowledge. His explanation of anchoring techniques in 'After 50,000 miles' is still the clearest dissertation I have read on a difficult cruising skill.

Sat Oct 25
The Associated Press

EASTON, Maryland -

Hal Roth, an avid sailor and author of 12 books who circumnavigated the globe three times, has died. He was 81.

Roth died on Oct. 18 after a 2 1/2-year battle with lung cancer, according to his wife, Margaret.

Roth's first book, "Pathway in the Sky," about the John Muir Trail in California's Sierra Nevada mountains, was published in 1965.

The next year, Roth and his wife quit their jobs and began a 19-month journey around the Pacific on an 11-metre sloop. The adventure led to his first sailing book, "Two on a Big Ocean."

Publisher McGraw-Hill later coupled that book with two other critically acclaimed titles, "Two Against Cape Horn" and "The Longest Race," to produce "The Hal Roth Seafaring Trilogy," released in 2005.

His books "are universally listed among the most influential sailing books ever published," according to SpinSheet, a sailing magazine.

Hal and Margaret Roth sailed around the world together from 1981 to 1985, and Roth later competed in two solo round-the-world races. The couple also retraced the path of Homer's Odysseus.

"We had an amazing life," Margaret said. "We were married for 48 years and a large part of that we lived on our boat, on our yacht. That became our home and so we were very close together when we sailed."

Roth's last book, "Handling Storms at Sea," will be published this month, his wife said.

Faster,smaller, better!

Perhaps the main reason we chose Mario's Marina in the Rio Dulce as a place to wait out the hurricane season was it's excellent internet facility. With TBH developing his software,the challenges of marketing his book and our usual email use it was very important to us.

Unfortunately the market value of the copper wire for the DSL lines proved irresistible to local 'entrepreneurs'! After replacing the 25k of landline 4 times the Guatemalan provider declined to do it once again and the Marina was left dependent on a satellite system for internet connection.

This provided about 1.5 gigabytes of bandwidth a day which should have been more than enough for the liveaboard boats that were using it. However something TBH calls 'the tragedy of the commons' entered the equation. That is the incentive for selfish people to grab more than their share of a common resource. That's what happened here. Consequently the internet was overloaded and everyone had to wait a whole day for it to reset. Bloody irritating.

Reminds me of the current economic meltdown where we are all going to have to pay for the greed of a few. The'solution' is to limit everybody's internet access to a 40mb download per day after which each individual maxes out.

Certain steps have helped us make use of our limited megabytes such as steering clear of Youtube and installing the flashblock add in to Firefox, our browser.

But far and away the most successful remedy has been to use Propel Accelerator. Occasionally we come across a bit of software that works like magic (I would put Skype and Paypal in this category) and this accelerator is one of those.

It costs less than $5 a month, speeds up page loading by 5x or so and reduces the bytes downloaded by blocking adds and banners and degrading photo quality(you can always increase the quality by right clicking on it).

And as a result our 40mb has given us 4-5 times as much surfing. For those on wifi with bandwidth limited locations I cannot recommend it highly enough.A very satisfactory solution.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Crunch time for Cruisers?

We have been living aboard our boat now for 8 years. It doesn't seem that long!

We have changed a great deal during those years. Aged, learned, forgotten, grown (both physically, not so good, and intellectually, much better!). Becoming both more and less tolerant, strange but true.

As we move in to a new stage of our lives, a closer relationship back to the world of business for a while, it has set me to thinking about the changes we have seen in just the short years that we have been aboard our boat.

I grew up in a family that loved boats and the ideas of adventure. My sister, a qualified RYA dinghy instructor, kept my parents busy ferrying her back and forth with her various boats as she competed in competitions all over the place. At that stage in our lives I was just as demanding with my interest in horses...

I read everything that came my way about cruising and great voyages and haunted marinas and harbours imaging the challenges that could come my way... one day.

Of course the reality is never quite what we dreamed of and my first voyages had me pretty much paralyzed with fear a lot of the time. Fear of my own ignorance, the weather, pretty much everything. But rescue was at hand in the form of Martin Northey, a knowledgeable and gifted instructor who we chanced upon via a small ad at the back of one of the yachting comics. His gentle coaching and encouragement led both TBH and I through a sharp learning curve to the acquisition, finally of our Yachtmaster qualification. This was a vital component in my own confidence building.

And yet on reflection it is nothing. A piece of paper, an intellectual endorsement. And on our early long passages I realised just how meaningless it was.

I had wanted to test myself physically and mentally to the limit, probably not realising that I actually did have a limit to test!

I recall watching Ellen MacArthur as she cried into the video camera on one of her world girdling record attempts. How crass I thought! Fancy collapsing like that... until I faced, in a small way my own nemesis.

Halfway across the Atlantic we were hit by a squall, a big one. It knocked the boat down and blew out our reefing line, snapped the sacrificial tube to the Monitor and had us in a state of shock. We were 1,500 miles from anywhere. I suddenly realised there was no rescue helicopter, no "I'm a celebrity get me out of here" option!

Working together, we started to restore order, then TBH trapped his hand in the steering gear, crushing his fingers. He was in agony. That was a real 'oh shit' moment!

It was then that the training Martin had so painstakingly given us kicked in. Restoring order we got the boat comfortable, TBH sheltered, and dealt with the situation calmly, well reasonably so!

We came through it because we spoke to each other throughout the whole thing. Asking questions, making decisions, acting together. It was a defining point in both our sailing careers and our personal relationship.

And then I collapsed. Pointing nervously to starboard I announced there was a big wave coming and TBH calmly answered, "Yes and there's another one behind that, and another and another!"

One of the big changes we have seen is in the type of new cruiser that we are meeting on our travels. Often these are type-A individuals. Determined to prove something to themselves and others by circumnavigating the world, often with family in tow, in just three years. Because they don't have the luxury of a steadily graduated learning curve, they spend generously on a new boat expecting to turn the key and drive it away with no great mishaps.

These are the people you find littering the remote marinas waiting for parts and shaking their heads because the third replacement generator didn't work either, and they are now trapped in a pissing match between the boat builder and the generator manufacturer about whose fault it was and who foots the bill.

TBH says that all good skills take 7 years to master. You might learn a language in 3 or 4 but it will be 7 before you are writing poetry in it. It's the same with cruising. You might even surmount the technical challenges (if you have practical flair) in 3-4 years but the deep knowledge of yourself and your partner that only comes from facing and overcoming life-threatening situations takes longer to acquire.

My heroes in this respect are the Roths, who not only handled a terminally leaky boat whilst they circumnavigated the Pacific but also coped with shipwreck in the remotest part of Chile. Rebuilding their shattered boat and restarting their cruise. The strength they developed as a couple and the self-sufficiency of their lifestyle enabled them to overcome the never ending tests that cruising throws at you.

Increasingly the cruisers we are seeing are seeking 'the perfect anchorage', a 'better party', another cocktail hour. They cruise in packs abdicating a personal responsibility, becoming part of a group-think mentality. It's themselves that they are cheating.

They employ 'experts' at every destination to fix the sails, the engine, the a/c, the refrigerator, the bureaucracy. Complain about the lack of first-world facilities in third-world settings. Moan about lack of safety in foreign ports.

Seeing themselves as adventurous non-conformists they flout the laws of their host nations, overstaying visas, evading charges for checking in/out. Refusing to attempt to speak the local language and maintaining a cultural imperialism, oblivious to their surroundings.

Not all cruisers are like this but we seem to have seen rather too many in this mould recently. Hopefully the financial crunch will weed them out and we can once again be proud to be cruisers as we travel the world.