Monday, 5 September 2011

Back in Falmouth - 5 September

We have made it to the Scilly’s and are now back in Falmouth waiting out a storm. While I won’t go into the details just yet I can assure you that the Scilly’s were just as lovely as promised! Pictures and more details will be posted soon!

Fowey to Falmouth – 28 August

This passage was rather uneventful. It was a four hour passage that went by rather without incident. Perhaps we are getting the hang of this sailing thing after all! We spent two nights in Falmouth enjoying the town – visiting the beach, getting some supplies and generally preparing ourselves for the Scilly Isles. A place that has been dubbed ‘heaven on earth’ by other yachtys, the Scillys aren’t accessible except by boat or helicopter. About 22 miles off of the Southwest coast of the UK they are supposedly much like the Caribbean. Without major marinas we had to make sure that things were ready to go. Tomorrow when we head out we may not have access to internet or phones – so we have to make we haven’t left a vital piece of information ‘in the cloud’. Also tomorrow marks our movement out of the English Channel and into the Atlantic Ocean. Can’t wait!!!

Dartmouth to Fowey – 26 August

Another rather brief one. The passage started out rather rough. Early starts and pouring down rain is just not so much fun. We got soaked early on and started looking for ‘ports of refuge’ (ports along the way that you can safely pull into if you don’t want to keep going). It wasn’t that conditions were particularly bad – it’s just not that nice sailing in the rain and this is meant to be a holiday!!!

Each time we approached a port of refuge we planned our way in – but by the time we arrived the conditions had improved just enough that we agreed to press onto the NEXT port of refuge. This continued all day – past 3 different ports until we finally reached our destination – Fowey.

Fowey was a beautiful little seaside town where Neil had been previously and had always wanted to return to on his own boat. It was a beautiful little place, and after a quiet dinner at anchor we used the dingy with the new outboard (GO OUTBOARD) to motor ashore and explore the town.

We explored an aquarium in Fowey where you are able to pick up baby crabs. This is me attempting to get over my childhood fear of live crabs. As you can see from the pic, I am not too convinced. However Neil came good on his part of the bargain by getting me a Cornish ice cream cone to reward my bravery.


It feels like we have finally arrived at a destination I didn’t even know we were heading for. Here we are sitting in Dartmouth Harbor, known as the Riviera of the UK. It seems we have stumbled upon regatta week, a weeklong festival celebrating boating and the seaside community. We are rafted up outside a large yacht who was delivered a day earlier by a delivery crew. They unfortunately forgot to top up the water tanks and so we got quite friendly with the neighbors whose yacht is much more ‘yachty’ then ours.

You see there are two types of people in the boating world. The first are people who are out not because they love it and have made sacrifices to afford whatever boat they could in whatever state it was in so that they could be on the water. You can spot them because they have miss-matched fenders, chipping paint, old tatty lines that tie their barely floating boats to the pontoons. Then there are those people with the big shiny boats that have lines without any scum on them and fenders that are so shiny you could use them for mirrors. Their boats are almost like museum pieces. They glimmer in the sun, have cushy deck chairs and are stocked with gin and tonic. The people who own them also like boats but are wealthy enough that they can have their vessels delivered by crews and they could then fly in to enjoy them. We are tied up alongside one of these yachts.

We had to help them in and out of their space while they cruised around looking for water. We saved them a spot and helped them with their lines as they returned into the port. As they returned they asked as if it was the most casual thing in the world… ‘Do you guys like lobster? You have been so kind to us we just thought we would bring you one.’ I thought Neil was going to fall off of the pontoon he was so excited. The previous day we had walked around town for hours popping into a local restaurant that gets its seafood catch in daily waiting for the lobster to arrive. By about the 6th trip into the shop to wait for the lobster delivery Neil made me go in to ask if the lobsters had been delivered yet (he was just too embarrassed to ask yet again). Luckily we did get a lobster meal, but as it was a bit overcooked, we vowed we would have to try and cook one ourselves (OK so Neil would cook it and I would provide moral support – but it’s a TEAM effort around here people!!!). Dan and Katy were planning a visit, so we picked up another lobster which we named ‘Pinchy 3’ (pinch two having been given to us by our kind neighbors’. It was a marvelous feast. And as always Neil did the cooking much better than the hoity-toity restaurant.

Other exciting news is that WE GOT AN OUTBOARD MOTOR. Don’t get me wrong – I am still the rowing champion but this beautiful harbor (and waiting nearly an hour for a water taxi) made us realize how much more mobile you can be with a little outboard motor for our dingy. It’s so great – it’s like having a little car for your boat! And as an American – I LOVE the freedom of the road. We can zip into town from our mooring buoy whenever we want. Neil does the driving as even giving the outboard motor a little rev makes me feel completely DRUNK with power!! I just can’t take the excitement. It is GREAT!

Pinchy 2 and Pinchy 3!!

Our outboard motor is so exciting I am including a pitcure of it!!!

Even the dogs are cuter here. This one was tied up to a post in a bid to collect money for charity!

Weymouth to Dartmouth - 22 August

Now it is true that I can be rather wordy – both in speech and in my writing. As my blog posts have waned off people have tried to tell me that I can just write up the highlights and leave out some of the details and people would be just as happy – ‘we just want to hear about where you are, where you are going, and that you are ok, that’s all’ they said to me. However I think my cousin Jana said it best when I asked her why she didn’t regularly read my lengthy emails home to friends and family about my time in the Peace Corps. She said, ‘They were just too long. I just needed the highlights – bullet points like:

• My first host family were mean and didn’t feed me
• A donkey stepped on my watch and smashed it
• Crazy men follow me around in the streets telling me to give them money
• Kids throw rocks at me sometimes
• But most of the people are really nice, and I am learning a lot.

So these next few ones are in honor of my cousin Jana – and just for her, and for the sake of keeping you all updated on our progress I am going to make this one a bit shorter and more concise (or at least give it my best effort).
The update:

• We left Weymouth way too early in order to get around Portland Bill – a nasty headland that is notoriously difficult to pass and should only be attempted in certain tidal windows
• We actually managed a 4am start – that is 4am pulling away from the pontoon which means a 3:15 wake up time for me while I stow the boat, and rousing Neil out of bed with a cup of tea at 3:45 to get us moving.
• Watching the sunrise from the boat is phenomenal
• Not so phenomenal is starting off a passage in the pitch black and 3 hours later at sunrise realizing in your haste to get off you forgot to turn on any of your running lights
• Portland Bill was anticlimactic after the drama we encountered on our way to Brighton. We were relieved that not all headlands are as horrible as that. It gives us faith that we might be able to manage them after all.

Sunrise on the Boat - could anything be more peaceful?!

A mid-day nap after a 3am start is required. Harrold is more than happy to help...

I don't know what Neil is doing here or why I am taking his picture - but with a hubby this cute - can you blame me?!

Poole to Weymouth - 21 August

The next morning we started things off with a cooked breakfast and set off at about 9am from Pool to Weymouth. While some rain did fall in the early part of the sail, ultimately Sunday ended up being a phenomenal day as well. This was the kind of sailing that UK sailors wait all year for. We were able to sail for part of our Journey, and ultimately made it into Weymouth in time for Tom to catch a 5pm train back to London – leaving Neil and I to prepare for the next leg of our journey.

With Tom’s encouragement, Neil and I were ready to press on. Tired after two days of great sailing and plenty of wine, we contemplated settling in for a day in Weymouth – a charming town you could easily lose yourself in for days! However, the weather for the next day was superb – high pressure meant low winds, and still water. The tides were with us if we made a departure at 4am to get around Portland Bill – a headland legendary for its tough passage. While the whether looked good for Tuesday as well, anyone who has spent any time in the UK knows that tomorrow’s weather forecast is mostly right, but predictions for two days out are consistently unpredictable. With this in mind we took our window and ran with it.

Tom and I enjoying the Sail!

Cowes to Poole Harbor - 20 August

The next morning the sailing gods seemed to be smiling on us. The winds were at our back, the sun crept out from behind the clouds, it became a beautiful day!! As we sailed into Poole harbor after a satisfying 30 mile sail the Red Arrows (the UK equivalent of the Blue Angels) began performing their Bournemouth show. They danced around the sky screeching over and around us creating a wonderful display for a thrilled audience. While it was a beautiful display – unbeknownst to us, it was to be a fatal flight for one of the shows pilots whose plane didn’t recover from one of the death defying turns. Still under investigation, future Red Arrow performances have been suspended.

We cruised into and around the harbor and found a beautiful anchorage just off of Brownsea Island – or as I like to call it Red Squirrel Island. It is a national trust sanctuary for the red squirrel who has been overrun and decimated by the more aggressive and disease ridden grey squirrels native to North America. While I recognize the potential parallels in the red and grey squirrel story to the ‘Neil and Rebecca/Hallie’s story, it seems dangerous for me to draw comparisons here – so I will leave it to the readers discretion to do so if they please.

We successfully anchored outside of Red Squirrel Island and I rowed us ashore. As I mentioned previously I am the designated rower on Ranger. While our visitor Tom made a heartfelt attempt to ‘overthrow my position,’ his power grab was ultimately unsuccessful, and my position as ‘top rower’ remains intact. However I must admit, I did enjoy abdicating my throne if only temporarily to be rowed back to the boat. The Island sanctuary was beautiful, we spotted a few red squirrels, a deer, and even a few wild mushrooms.

We returned to the boat where we used our wild mushrooms to make some lovely mushroom and fois Gras bruschetta, coupled with some lovely Champagne Tom brought. We toasted the day and all of us agreed that this was the life! We finished off the night with some lovely Lamb Tagine Neil whipped up and a bottle of red wine. As the sun set around us we wondered how we ever considered living on the boat roughing it!

Neil and I enjoying the sail!

Tom and Neil Cruising Along at speed

Neil's Glamour Shot - What a STUD!!!

Me showing off my rowing prowess

Gourmet Cuisine - we eat like this all the time - honest!

Tom enjoying the sunset after a beautiful day on the water. If only all British summer evenings were this beautiful!

Early August - Back on the boat

Being back on the boat has been a rollercoaster of emotions. At first we were so thrilled to be home again. While we loved our time visiting folks in the US and then in Guernsey, it was heaven to sleep in our own bed once again. There is nothing like unpacking from a great holiday and being back in your own space once again. We couldn’t believe how exhausted we were from it all. All of the visiting and endless cocktail parties had taken their toll on us. It took us a day or two to recover before we set off on our first Journey – Portsmouth to Lymington. While the journey was in the protected waters of the Solent it was a precarious trip. The water was rougher than normal, and the engine just wasn’t sounding right. It was also the start of the FastNet race – a legendary race that starts in the Solent, goes to FastNet Rock off the coast of Ireland and back. Particularly when that many yachts are on a starting line there are bound to cause incidents. We heard several ‘Pan Pan’s’ which is a call over the radio saying that while we are not in life threatening danger we do need assistance, and then we heard a mayday – there were five men in the water in a precarious bit of water just outside the Solent called the needles. Neil was getting more and more nervous as we sputtered along and were tossed around in the sea. We were both relieved when we made it to Lymington, the first part of our journey completed without major incident (at least that we were involved in). However some of the not-so-nice realities of living on a yachts were hitting us again. Showers were spotty, my hair was in tangles, I had thrown out my back getting us tied onto a pontoon, and the journey was an unforgiving reminder that everything had to be stored properly on a boat or else it would end up in a jumble on the floor after a passage. Our confidences knocked Neil cleaned the fuel filter on the engine, and I re-stowed the boat. We limped around the Solent doing little day trips from Lyminton out to Yarmouth with a small sail in between and finally from Yarmouth to Osborne bay and then back to Cowes. The Solent offered us protection from the seas that had been so cruel to us leading up to our trips to the states. We were still recovering from wedding-a-polluza and felt unable to take on any more. Luckily for us, Tom a friend of Neil’s from RBS planned to come visit us for the weekend. Tom is a more seasoned sailor and our confidence was boosted by having an extra more experienced sailor on board. With Tom on board, we decided to head out of the Solent the next morning and to Poole, a lovely harbor.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

We are hitched!

Ok so it has been inexcusably long since I have last written and I have so much to catch you all up on that the task has seemed too daunting to take on.  However, luckily when your long distance flight is delayed a while you get some extra time on your hands…

Firstly I am happy to report we have successfully achieved the main objective of the summer – two in a boat are now successfully married!  No longer living in sin – we are happy to report that we are hitched!  We had a wonderful time in Seattle with family and friends celebrating the wedding festivities.  Because for so many it was a destination wedding we created a lot of events around the day in addition to the wedding itself.  It felt more like a week-long wedding-palooza than just a day – and we feel lucky and honored that so many people took the time out of their busy lives to celebrate this time with us.  We can’t thank them all enough!

Because this blog is supposed to be about our sailing adventures, I won’t dwell too much on the wedding, but because I know it will be in demand, I have included some info and posted some pictures of our wedding below.  We have yet to get back official pictures for the photographer.  As these are another few weeks away friends have generously donated their snaps, and I have picked out a few of our favorites so far to share with all of you.

As you know the big date was 16 July.  We sailed until the 2nd of July when we flew to the US.  From there we enjoyed an American 4th of July – took a jaunt up to Vancouver, and then settled into a manic wedding planning mode leading up to the big day.  Following the event there were a few days out at hood point where my aunt and uncle have a beach cabin, and then we were off to Hawaii.  We spent a week on Maui where we indulged in all local delicacies, lazed by the pool, snorkeled, and caught up on sleep.  It was a much needed relaxing retreat from it all!

Prior to leaving the UK, we did get the boat repaired, and made the journey as far as Southampton which is a remarkable feat given the whether windows that were presented to us.  While I hope to possibly return back to some of the adventures we had during this time, I wanted to outline the passages, and give you some highlights from one of our more memorable passages:

Eastbourne to Brighton – This was without a doubt the toughest passage we have made together on Ranger to date.  The sea state was worse than predicted – which is quite rare.  We were getting tossed around quite a bit and were being continuously soaked by the sea as we splashed through the waves.  Neil remained a champion as Hallie learned (slower than Neil might have hoped) how to ‘fall off of a wave’ without making the boat smack violently on the water.  On this passage we also learned:

·         That what passes for ‘stowing everything away on the boat’ on a trip in calm waters won’t cut it in rough seas.  After arriving with books and food strewn all throughout the inside of the boat we came up with more secure stowing solutions.

·         Multiple granola bars and candy bar stashes really can be a viable meal replacement when desperate.

·         Diet Coke really does have a place on the boat – caffeine hit without putting the kettle on can be a lifesaver.  Hallie is GREATFUL that Neil conceded to this at the moment of truth – and while limited stocks may be tolerated she can be assured that Diet coke will always have a place when there is risk of troubled seas – and there is ALWAYS a risk…

·         When the going gets rough team Wheeler-Meyrick can really pull together to get things done.  While we started the morning quite honestly a bit snappy at one another all of that faded when we got into rough seas.  We pulled together to make sure that we made the journey successfully.

·         Ranger (our boat) is an absolute STUDETTE (Boats are always female)!!!

I don’t think either of us has ever been more pleased with ourselves and our sailing ability as we pulled safely into the harbor and then watched a fully crewed boat make their way toward the breakwater, get a quick peak at the state of the Sea, and turn back around to the safety of the marina.

We celebrated our success with hot showers, a nice meal out and a long nap in the afternoon – both of us too tired for much else.

Ok – the flight will be leaving shortly, and I promise to post more soon to catch you up on the rest of our journeys which I have outlined below.

The boat is currently in Southampton, but we won’t be returning to it today.  Firstly we are off to Guernsey to spend a week with Andrew and Alison, Neil’s aunt and Uncle on their speed boat.  Weather permitting we plan hanging out on the island and nipping over to France and some of the other Channel Islands.  While their boat doesn’t have sails, it does go about 6 times faster than our top speed – so for a week – it will do!

Updates on passages to look forward to soon…

  • Brighton to Shoreham (yes we realize this is only 2 miles from Brighton but it was a LONG 2 mile ride given the rough seas)
  • Shoreham to Itchenor (in Chichester Harbor)
  •  Itchenor to Cowes
  • Cowes to Newtown Creek
  •  Newtown Creek to Southampton

Wedding Pics....

Photos before the wedding

First Dance

Ariving after the ceremony

The Ceremony Itself

Notice the dark clouds in the back.  Luckily the strong winds kept the rain just far enough away that we were able to complete the ceremony without getting wet!

The view from the deck of the venue

The cakes
And 'the duck' makes his presence known...

Post wedding festivities at the cabin - Neil (with a little help) catches dinner for us all!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Ramsgate to Eastbourne

First thing is first – WAY TO GO JOHNNY B!!! Please see the below picture of my very studdly nephew who won the CHAMPIONSHIP!! John – enquiring minds want to know more about it! Let us know what your team is champion of and won we will be sure to keep readers up to date on the next blog posting!

On a much less exciting note – we had a wonderful passage today. We travelled over 60 miles and I am happy to report it was without any major incident at all. Whoop whoop!!! A few of the many highlights from the trip:

1. We went over 60 miles – our longest passage yet!
2. We saw our first dolphin about 100 feet away from the boat. It was a little guy that jumped several times before we lost sight of it. I am LOVING the Sealife!
3. We went over some MAJOR waves today and Ranger (our boat) took it like a CHAMPION!! I have never been so proud of her. Neil and I were both beaming at how smooth the ride was. I think Neil was less impressed by my cheering like a small child as we rode some of the more significant waves. It was a 10 hour passage guys – a girls got to keep herself entertained somehow!
4. Today for the first time on the trip so far we turned off the engine entirely while we were under sail and let the wind carry us for a while – it was gloriously quiet and peaceful without the constant hum of the engine. Below are a couple of pics of Neil - happy as can be about this milestone!

Thought all of the excitement I even got Neil to take a picture of me - usually when the camera comes out he gets shifty and insists we should be doing other things! This time he was willing to snap a few shots. Strangely I am not in the centre in the photograph... I think this might have been intentional... :)

5. We actually got out our books and took turns reading in the cockpit while the other person was on watch! While Neil is reading some educational economics book – I am still on trashy mindless chick book drivel. I am slowly letting my brain turn to mush and it’s glorious!
6. We saw the white cliffs of Dover. No bluebirds were sighted unfortunately – even though I got the binoculars out.

The passage was going so well that we contemplated pushing on into the early evening and proceeding to Brighton (another 4 hours approximately). However in looking at the weather we decided to play it safe. Visibility was dropping – down to only 100 meters in some places and when you are in a boat and can’t see where you are going or what you need to avoid it’s a bad thing. With all of the modern electronics in the world 100 meter visibility is not something most people would choose. While we felt like we could continue the conditions just weren’t with us. We studied the charts and tides, and realized that there is a favourable weather and tide window in the morning tomorrow to get us to Brighton before the next bad weather front settles in for a few days.

The marina we are staying in tonight (like many in the UK) is a locked marina. The boat that pulled in behind us in the lock was a Lobster boat that had just picked up their pots. They had several crabs as well that they had caught inadvertently and were preparing them for the store by severing a nerve in their pinchers. As we were waiting for the lock we wandered down to have a chat with them, and managed to get a free live crab right out of the sea! ‘Pinchy’ as we have named him was sitting in our preassure cooker much of the evening in a cool bath waiting until he could be properly prepared. At my insistence Neil has fastened on an ill-fitting lid so that Pinchy doesn’t sufforcate, but secured the lid down with bungy cords so he didn’t try and make a creative getaway either! See pinchy's last moments below...

Also on our way into the marina we encountered Gypsy Moth 4. This Neil insisted that I blog about this as this is apparently a very historic vessel. It was the boat built for Chichester when he circumnavigated the globe. It has now been fully restored and is a teaching boat. Honestly I don’t know much about it – but Neil told me that after Chichester made his epic journey on this boat Robin Knox-Johnston decided that the only thing left to do was sail around the world single handed non-stop. Robin Knox-Johnston is a stud! The guy fixed the bottom of his boat – while it was in the water – while it was moving – while sharks were circling him all because he didn’t want a Frenchman to beat the English in a boat race. The man is a living legend and if this boat had anything to do with his journey – than I will blog about it. By the way – the best book about Robin-Knox Johnston and the race he was in is ‘A race too far’ By Chris Eakin. Chris is a journalist rather than a sailor so doesn’t get bogged down in the sailing details but rather focuses on the human story behind all of the grit. It is the only book on sailing I have managed to read cover to cover so far – and that’s because it wasn’t really about sailing (don’t tell Neil)!!!

Apologies, I digress. Tomorrow, weather window permitting, we are off to Brighton!

PS – A couple of you have enquired about our Boat and what it is like. While I have told Neil he really knows more about the boat and should take this on, it may be a while before he gets to it so I will tell you what I know:

1. It is a Rival 38 Centre Cockpit boat. Apparently it was one of five centre cockpit Rivals ever made. The insurance surveyor for the ‘little incident’ we had in Ramsgate apparently knows someone who owns one of the other Rival 38 Centre Cockpit boat. It is in mint condition and perfectly varnished – ours is not. While it is in good condition - varnish is not our thing and while Ranger is beautiful nobody in their right mind would say she is in ‘mint’ condition. The decks are scuffed and the toe rails nicked – but she is a GREAT seaworthy boat, and we do all the maintenance on the stuff that matters.
2. Lynn Rival (the boat famously taken over by Somalie Pirates about two years ago) was also a Rival 38. Her owners were captured by pirates and held for over a year until their family paid a ransom. We do not plan to meet the same fate.
3. The boat has one main sail and has two head sails at the front. Apparently it’s called a ‘slutter’ rig. I have no reason to believe that this is because of it’s indiscretions. Apparently it is like a sloop but has two headsails that are not meant to be used at the same time.
4. Ranger is a sturdily built ocean cruiser. She is designed to go anywhere and take anything. This is something that Neil has long professed but something that I got to see evidence of today.
5. Neil has committed to developing an ‘about Ranger’ page on the blog that will tell you more. In the meantime see below a picture of her in her natural environment - outside of the marina!

PPS - Another request has been to see 'the duck' and understand his role. Constantly concerned about our safety at the moment Harrold spends most of the time focused on navigation. See him below helping Neil with some of the more critical bits.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Picture Backlog

Ok - So I am just learning how to post pictures so I figured I would show you a few of the backlog I have been building up until I sort out the technology issue. Enjoy!

This is me very proud of my wind generator fix

Neil being a stud checking on the tides - etc on the ipad in its waterproof bag

The living room on our first day underway. Everything that would be 'loose' in the boat has to be stored near the floor and hopefuly securely. I have since figured a better storage place so the living room can be more functional while we are under sail

Our Cockpit-Safe BBQ. Ok this is while we were still in London but how great is this?!

Before we set off we had a lovely visit with Aunt Colleen and Uncle Doug. We think they were a little shocked by the small space, but we hope they enjoyed themselves nonetheless. And before you ask - Yes they stayed with us on the boat.

Ok - now that I know how it works - more pictures to follow.

Queenborough to Ramsgate – and then in Ramsgate for quite some time...

Tuesday we set off on what we considered to be the first major leg of the journey – Queenborough to Ramsgate. A 35 mile passage that took us into the open sea for the first time together. Last year during our two week holiday we spent the majority of the time pottering around the meadway due to various different mechanical difficulties – so we were excited to take Ranger (the name of the boat) out to really stretch her legs. The weather was beautiful – with Blue skies and only minor wind, we motored along navigating the coast. We had breathtaking views of the coast line, and got to see some world war two era forts up close.

We even stumbled upon the Thames Barge that Neil and my Mom had taken a trip on last year.

It was a lovely day, and Neil and I both marvelled that perhaps all of the tireless work on the boat was paying off. She was running smoothly – and we were even able to bring out the sails for an hour or two as the wind shifted off the nose of the boat. As we approached Ramsgate we contemplated pushing on until the next port but decided with such a perfect journey, and with forecasts good for tomorrow it would be nice to visit Ramsgate. We pulled into the marina around 4pm and got permission from the harbourmaster to enter and dock anywhere along pontoon E. We spotted the pontoon and picked a spot about halfway down.

Before I continue I must tell you at this point that there are several lovely things about a boat as ‘well aged’ as ours:

1. She was born in ’77 the same year as me, and Neil says with great pride – ‘all of my favourite girls were born in ’77.’
2. As an older boat she is built very sturdy, and as such can take tough seas
3. While her space isn’t optimized to be a London flat – it is optimized to be the best sailing boat she can be in the space allotted

However one of the drawbacks of a boat like ours is that when she was built, marinas as they are today were not really in operation. She was built to pull up to a buoy in a long easy slow approach, not necessarily manoeuvre in tight marina quarters. We don’t have a bow thrusters (a little propeller at the front of the boat that helps move the nose around) like most modern boats do, so manoeuvring into marina spaces can be tricky. We had an instructor come last year who taught us some great tricks in boat handling, and many people now marvel when we get ashore at how well Neil handles the boat. However it takes a lot of backing up and moving forward to get to where we need to be!

With that little explanation we move into our birthing (parking) at the Marina in Ramsgate. It took some backing up and moving forward in rather rapid succession to try and get the nose where she needed to be to enter our slot in the marina. In the middle of the manoeuvre I was standing on the side ready to lasso a line onto the pontoon corner clean when we reached it (oh yeah, I can do this), and being a second pair of eyes for Neil on the nose. Neil took the boat forward to spin the nose around, and then tried to throw the boat into reverse. I heard the engine revving but our momentum forward was not being counteracted. I shouted to Neil that he must be in neutral as the boat was still lurching forward. Ranger was now dangerously close to the stern (back) of a Dutch boat in the pontoon next to the one we were aiming for. Neil shouted back that he had lost all control of steerage and the engine, and that we needed to secure the boat as best we could and park her at the next available opportunity. In disbelief, I watched as the owner of the Dutch boat tried to fend us off. I ran up to try and help him push us away. Unfortunately we did a little more than ‘kiss’ the boat in front of us. Our newly placed anchor protruding at the front of the boat broke through a back rest on hinges off the back of their boat, and scraped over the gel coat on their stern seat. A very angry Dutchmen screamed and shouted while a group of onlookers came to the rescue grabbing lines, and rushing us off other boats to ensure that they didn’t fall victim to the same fate.

We got the boat secured without further incident. I tied down the boat properly while Neil went to inspect the damage done to the Dutch cruiser. Lucky for us the damage was rather minor – nothing a few hundred pounds won’t solve, and certainly much less significant damage than could have been done in the situation. After exchanging insurance details with the other boat we began to inspect the damage on our boat – to explore exactly what went wrong. When we opened the engine compartment, it became evident immediately that the coupling between the gear drive and prop shaft had sheered completely. Translation – The bit that connects the engine to the steering and powering part had become completely unattached – so while the motor was running, it was no longer attached to the propeller and wasn’t moving anything!

Lucky for us the community of people in the boating world are extremely friendly and helpful. It is a rule that at sea whenever anyone is in danger you help out others – if you are the nearest to a man overboard or mayday situation you stop whatever you are doing to help people in distress – no questions asked. What has constantly amazed me about the sailing community is that you could be in the middle of a competitive race, and a mayday in the vicinity comes on the radio everyone – without fail - will stop to see if they are the closest, most capable boat in the vicinity and divert their course to offer assistance. While the same action is not required at shore – it seems to spill over. Wherever anyone has a problem anyone who feels that they can be of any assistance - lends a hand. The same people who came to shore to offer assistance recommended that we speak to the people just on the dock to identify a mechanic – that there were some good ones around. As it was just before 5pm – Neil and I decided to divide and conquer. He dealt with the Dutchman and the insurance company while I ran to the dock to source a mechanic before everyone in the sleepy seaside town headed to the pub. Not even off the pontoon I already had a name of a local mechanic, and a man offering to give me a ride to his shop down the road. Everyone in the quayside community offered help and before too long I returned to the boat with a couple of names and numbers to try. Feeling grateful that I was able to contribute, I rushed to give Neil the news – but he was already on the phone with another mechanic who came highly recommended by another yaughty a few boats down who saw the incident and came down to offer a recommendation.

The next morning at 9:30 am Brian arrived to come to our rescue. A retired airplane mechanic, Brian who was 71 and ridiculously agile and sharp for his age, had been working on boat engines for years, and proved to be a wealth of experience. After quick inspection he confirmed what we knew – and proposed 2 solutions – 1 replace the gear box completely which could take weeks – or 2, get the coupling re-fitted using the parts that we already had to get us through the next couple of months, and then replace the larger unit when we had more time to order the appropriate parts etc. Neil and I, aware that we have a limited window before we are off to the states, opted for option 2.

Brian got to work and amazingly was able to remove the offending piece, and get new holes drilled into the piece. The previous wholes were entirely filled in with bolts that had sheared off – some of them it looks like years ago! He fitted new screws, and even got a new piece of metal welded to replace the bit that was irreparably bent. The poor guy called us at 8pm after the first day’s work to proudly announce that the work was done. He was here the next morning to fit the rescued part onto the boat. We tried it out and we were up and running again by 2pm!
Unfortunately for us – the weather window we had giving us a ridge of high pressure and beautiful weather was closing in on us. The forecasts were predicting some serious gusts and very rough seas. Given the tide, the winds – and Neil’s inexperienced crew – we have been in Ramsgate waiting out the storm since Tuesday. Now Sunday, it looks like tomorrow will give us a promising weather window. Our aim is to get to the Solent (the area between mainland UK and the Isle of White) by 26 June where we are meeting a friend of ours who will assist us with the channel crossing over to France.

While in town we have certainly got to know the city. We have wandered the shops, and been to several restaurants in town. We have had amazingly cheap good seafood, spectacular Thai food in a seaside restaurant run by a man married to a Thai woman, and even Persian food one night. While dining out isn’t something we planned to do a lot of – we have found it amazingly affordable outside of London. Lucky for us Ramsgate – while not far outside of the big city – doesn’t have a direct fast train line to London. As such it feels like a proper seaside town – rather than a suburb of the big city. The people, the personalities, and the prices reflect this.
Yesterday we even managed a trip to nearby Moorgate where they were having a summer festival and an air show. It was a true English summer festival in every sence. Fish & Chips, Ice Cream, and kids were abundant. Even though poor weather was predicted the crowds were out in droves wearing overly optimistically cool clothing. The majority of the day passed with patches of glorious sunshine and dreadful dark clouds. When it came time for the air show the planes performed with a backdrop of monstrous grey clouds that were moving ominously closer with each performance. Slowly the beach began to thin and people started to take cover. Neil and I huddled together with our umbrellas and jackets like a few of the hard core spectators on the beach and were absolutely pelted with sideways rain – the kind that soaks you to the core. It continued relentlessly for about 20 minutes and then passed by to reveal blue skies once again. We watched the last of the air show, and then still soaked, ducked into a Primark (Similar to a K-mart for you US folks), and each purchased a pair of dry 5 GBP trousers (money well spent I can assure you). Sure the sales people looked at us funny when we came out of the changing room tags still hanging from the clothing we tried – and KEPT on – but we are discovering we are not proud people. In our new less-than-stylish threads, we then found a tea shop where we enjoyed tea and scones before we braved the buss back home.

Sure it’s frustrating being ‘stuck’ in a town that probably didn’t weren’t more than an evening’s stopover but we are trying to make the best of it. I have learned that the key for me is to start each day with a long run to rid myself of any anxious energy. This is helpful for me, but also Neil as I become much less ‘prone to crankiness’ after I have had a good run! (These are my words – not his – he wouldn’t dare!!) There is a beautiful stretch of sandy beach that I have found perfect for the occasion. Each morning there are different owners out walking their dogs and different families making the most of the early morning weather – I only hope that my body holds out. In the last 5 days I have run just under 20 miles – slightly higher than my usual mileage but necessary to keep my sanity. My legs are grateful that tomorrow we will hopefully be at sea where there are plenty of other things to keep me busy.

We have also used the time to do some much needed wedding preparations and planning – so much to do and 16 July is closing in quickly! Today we are preparing the boat to go out to sea once again. Neil is doing some odd jobs, and after my morning run, I am hauling laundry back and forth to the facilities. The next weather window may be a brief one so we plan to make the most of it, and get as far as we can tomorrow. It may be a long day, but I am very much looking forward to it, and the change of scenery.

Think good weather windows!!

PS – As you likely know I have been doing all of the blog postings so far. Neil has now gotten me my own login to the site so that there is no longer any confusion.

PPS – Some of you sent emails indicating that you were unable to post comments without logging in. We believe we have now rectified this – so comment away!

PPPS – While my initial intent was to have sort of a quality assurance process in place whereby Neil checked my posts given my propensity toward grammar and spelling mistakes – Neil is not operating within the SLA window. He feels that ‘we are on holiday, this isn’t client work, it doesn’t have to be perfect, and I should loosen up!’ As such I am putting a general disclaimer on all future and existing posts. There will be mistakes – I am dealing with it, and so should you.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

We are Green!

We are now officially green.  We installed our solar panel, and hooked up the wind generator so that the energy being generated was powering our battery.  What a glorious feeling to be sitting on a buoy with a refrigerator running, the radio going, household lights on and watching the battery voltage increase!
Neil spent past few days running from item to item taking apart the control panel and asking me where I packed away this tool or that tool.  My favourite request to date is, ‘hey babe, can you get me the thing with the thing?’  Some descriptive hand gestures are included here, but mostly it’s as descriptive as it sounds. 
The good news is now, things are pretty much in order.  We popped over to a marina in Gillingham to have our rigging checked out (the stuff that holds up the mast), worked on the bilge pump (the thing that pumps water out of the bottom of the boat if some gets in), did the final wiring of the mast (running wires through the ceiling), and even fixed the table in the cockpit to make it a bit more stable.
Yesterday we were ready to set off but the winds were a bit too gusty for our liking.  As such we had a free day and decided to visit the town of Whitstable – a beautiful little seaside town where Neil proposed last year.  While the visit was lovely getting there seemed to be a colossal effort.  When it was time to go the seas were rough and the tide strong.  We have the kayak which will cut through the rough water with no effort, but we decided taking the time to assemble it just wasn’t worth the effort and that the little rubber dingy would do just fine.  We moved our boat to a mooring closer to the dock at Neil’s insistence (thank goodness).  Along the way, I managed to jam a wayward small rope around the wind generator we have dubbed Kylie (as she spins ‘round and ‘round).  It took us a good hour to untangle the poor girl to get her going again.  However, it was a great team effort, with Neil fastening a knife on the end of the boat hook to saw part of the rope free, and after much insistence and nagging on my part, a very reluctant Neil hoisting me up in a harness to untangle the remaining rope.    It was a great role reversal for us, as it is usually me who is hoisting him up worried sick on the safety of the deck as he dangles several feet above me.  However in this instance it was him worried sick as I happily requested tools and finally wrangled Kylie free.  Relieved we had our green power restored, we decided to head to shore. 
In my childhood I did a LOT of rowing buoyed on by the encouragement of my parents who were no doubt just trying to rid me of some energy.  One of my favourite childhood memories is rowing my dad across the Puget Sound to our beech cabin, the boat weighed down with supplies.  My dad would sit in the back of the boat with a beer and a paddle acting as the ‘rudder’ and I would be the engine fed with praise and granola bars as my little arms powered us across the bay. 
Given all of the ‘practice’ I had as a kid, I am our designated rower.  Even though seas were rough, and we had moved the boat closer it was only about 40 yards to the dock and I was confident I could handle it – despite the rough sea, the wind, and the tide being against us.  About 5 minutes into the row, we had moved about 10 yards away – about 3 body lengths from where we set off!  Neil was trying to encourage me on with positive words – ‘you are doing great – we are making progress’ – all I could muster in return was ‘shut up – no talking’.  Already getting grumpy, I needed all my energy to move us forward.  About 10 minutes in – half way to the dock, having moved about 20 yards it turned into me saying, ‘we are getting a “*&^ing outboard motor’.  Neil’s response being, ‘oh we have an outboard motor, I’m just not sure if it works...’ at which point I replied with ‘”%$^ing shut up!!  No talking!!’.  (Note to my Niece Veronica – do not ask your mom what those words mean those are abbreviations for naughty words you shouldn’t say – ever).  Luckily there was a little row boat half way through the 40 yard journey.  We grabbed onto it to give me a rest (and give me a chance to pummel Neil).  Rested, and with promises to look into getting the outboard motor in working order, we tackled the last bit of the journey and make it successfully ashore together.
In re-reading the above I am aware that I haven’t cast Neil in the best light.  However, I must assure all of you that I am constantly amazed at how well he is taking care of us.  The man can fix ANYTHING.  He has had infinite patience with me as I have bumbled through this sailing adventure, and has been patient as I have made rookie mistakes, forgiving when I have forgotten things he has told me a million times, and cautious and thoughtful at every step of the way.  While I will continue to rally for an outboard motor – I really have no room for complaint and am always grateful that he is by my side to get us out of whatever sticky situations I get us into!
Whitstable was a lovely opportunity to stretch our legs and pick up a few bits and bobs.  To our dismay we quickly learned that anytime we went in doors we became ‘land sick’ – a new phenomenon for me.  The water moves a lot more on a mooring buoy than it does in sheltered St Kats.  Within a few minutes of being in any shop we were forced to jet outside for a peak at the horizon to steady ourselves.  Not the most pleasant feeling when you are indoors on dry land and you know perfectly well that the ground shouldn’t be moving.
Despite the constant need to return to the outdoor world, we had a lovely day and even had the opportunity to enjoy some fresh oysters and locally brewed beer by the seaside.  We topped the day off by returning to the boat and enjoying a dinner of spaghetti con Vongole Neil whipped up with fresh clams we picked up in Whitstable.  We ate it in the cockpit with a bottle of champagne we found in a storage locker that was left over provisions provided by the lovely Mrs Katy Farrell-Wright who has much superior tastes to Neil and I!  As such we took the opportunity to re-christen Ranger back to the Sea by sharing a bit of it with Neptune (god of the Sea) who is said to protect sailors who share some good bubbly with him.
This morning I am writing to you from the cockpit of the boat.  It is a beautiful, sunny, calm day with the water as smooth as glass, and the black headed gulls circling around skimming the water until they find something close to the surface to their liking, at which point they dive in and out seemingly effortlessly to catch their prey.  It’s gorgeous – and I can’t wait to begin the next leg of the trip.  Today we are off to Ramsgate.  It is our first stretch in the open sea and further afield than Neil and I have ever taken Ranger together.  If nothing else we are certain it will be an adventure!  For now, I need to get the boat ready to go!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Maiden Voyage

 Miraculously today was the first day of our voyage! 

It seems like it has been days – weeks – months and even years of preparation.  These past few months  in particular we celebrated ‘electronics Easter’ where we spent the entire weekend installing the new radar, chart plotter, and an active radar reflector, all very important navigational equipment which involved re-running wires through the boat, and disassembling the ceiling entirely.  This was followed by ‘royal wedding windlass weekend’ where we celebrated the union of Prince William and Catherine Middleton by working on the windlass (which powers the anchor up and down).
Neil has been off for the past month working on the boat, where as I commenced my work free summer just last week.  My first day off, last Wednesday, was a glorious day.   The sun was shining, and I could just imagine the comments of my co-workers thinking I was out on the deck of the boat in a hammock sipping gin and tonics and reading a novel.  As it turned out being out of the office was a heck of a lot of work!  Neil and I were running around frantically making last minute preparations on the boat and making it hospitable for out of town guests scheduled to arrive on Thursday.  We were frantically trying to turn the floating construction zone into a semi-functional bed and breakfast for guests.  While at one point the stress of getting it all prepared led Neil to request I produce an excel based project plan for the entire situation, in the end we soldiered through without - which is entirely against my nature.  This past week I couldn’t help but think that if Nancy (my glorious, long suffering assistant) were here to help, things would be running a lot more smoothly.  In the end the visit was wonderful, but when the guests arrived – having navigated Heathrow quicker than normal – we arrived at the boat earlier than expected only to find Neil and the marina staff still working to get the mast lifted back onto the boat.  The first two hours of their visit to London was spent:
1.      Aghast at how they were possibly going to live together for two days in such a small space;
2.      Wondering if the mast re-assembly went wrong what shambles of the boat would be left to camp on.

We had a wonderful visit with our fortunately very understanding Aunt and Uncle who graciously sipped wine while we frantically smoothed epoxy on odd parts of the boat, and worked to reinstall the bow roller at 7 in the morning.  We were able to squeeze in lots of touring of the city, and we hope show them a pretty good (if not unique) view of life in London. 

This Monday, after returning from a quick trip up North to return a car lent by Neil’s lovely parents (how great are our families!!) we decided that we could be in London for days and weeks completing last minute preparations on the boat if we let ourselves.  Perhaps it was London fatigue, or the feeling of being so nearly on our way, but so hopelessly far away, but we decided that we would hurriedly complete the necessities get on our way, and leave the nice-to-haves for a bit later.  As such, yesterday was a marathon session.   We started early getting the pulpit back together (the front bit of the boat that keeps us from falling out for you non-boaties), and making sure the guard wires were tensioned (things on the side that keep us from falling out).  We re-assembled the boom (the bottom bit that holds the sails on), and put up the sails once again – re-rigging every line with care to ensure sails could go in and out with ease.  We ensured that the lights on the mast that Neil re-wired were working (important for navigation and being seen when at anchor and at Sea).  We defrosted the refrigerator which would undoubtedly thaw considerably when at anchor or under sail, and worked on stowing tools and various different pieces so that they wouldn’t fly around during our first passage.  We returned borrowed books to the library, filled up spare cans of fuels, made a last minute stop at the local sports store, and finally at 9pm made it to the local grocery store for ‘last minute’ provisions – all the fresh and perishable food we might want, snacks for when we are sailing, and of course wine and diet coke at a reasonable price so we aren’t entirely ripped off by convenience store prices.  By 10 loaded down with groceries we staggered into a local Chinese restaurant we have frequented over the years as we have been too exhausted to cook after long days of boat maintenance.  Over the years we have appeared there in various states – covered in sawdust, or skin tinted blue with antifouling desperate for beer and nourishment after working tirelessly until sunlight was gone.  Last night however must have been one of the strangest.  We came by hopeful that they might still be open, loaded with various different carts and bags of food and provisions.  We pleaded with them to allow us to pile our things in the corner and have a quick meal.  Ever obliging they allowed us to park our bags in the corner, and we settled in for a quick but fabulous feast.
This morning we arose at 5:30 (ok – I got up at 5:30 and was successful at luring Neil out of bed with a cup of tea at 6).  We topped up the water tanks, stowed all of the last minute bits, took off the power cable, got the engine running, and set off to leave the Marina.  We made it through the marina locks without drama.  Neil – ever the stud – navigated the tricky turns with ease, which gave me confidence for the journey ahead.  The morning was beautiful – and leaving London affords fabulous views of the city.  As we were leaving we saw people on their way to the office, going about their normal day, and I couldn’t help but feel a bit of smug satisfaction.  Finally all of the hard work was coming to fruition and we were on our way.  The journey initially was relatively smooth – the chart plotter makes navigating the river a dream.  As we discovered last summer the Thames is quite shallow in places, it’s a major shipping channel with big boats speeding through, and various different danger markers, and the rising and falling tides add additional complexity.  While we had our paper charts out to check buoys and confirm we were where we thought within the river – it makes the checks less panicked, and the ride smoother when you are not constantly trying to view paper charts through the wind and spray.  We traveled today by motor only.  Our destination being the mouth of the Thames.  We had booked in with another marina to do some of those additional bits, one of which is getting our rigging tension looked over by an expert.  As we have removed and repositioned the mass ourselves, we felt that getting the tension looked over by an expert might be best before we start putting the pressure of the wind and sails on it!
At about noon the wind started picking up higher than any of the forecasts predicted.  Like any good sailors we had mapped out various different ‘emergency exit routes’ if things got to hairy.  While the weather wasn’t dangerous by any stretch of the imagination, the wind kicked up, a little rain started, and the spray of the wind against tide splashing over us soaked Neil and I a couple of times.  As such we took a detour into one of the little inlets where we stayed last year and could easily pick up a mooring buoy. Arriving at around 2 in Queenborough we made some quick lunch followed by a nap.  And so here we are in the Medway enjoying being in open water instead of in a marina. 
Since I started getting into sailing everyone has always talked about sitting on a buoy or at an anchorage waiting out a storm.  They talk about all of the glorious dead time where they plowed through tons of novels, or learned to make fresh bread in the pressure cooker, or watched back to back movies.  In the past year there hasn’t been a lot of time for any of that.  Between preparing the boat, planning a wedding, keeping down two full time jobs, and generally living life it feels like the world has been spinning faster than ever.  However today, even though we are just hours outside of London we agreed that the last leg of the journey into the marina where we can do more work can wait until the morning.  Tonight, even though the skies have cleared up and the water is a bit calmer we are going to practice waiting out the storm.  The bags full of groceries have been unpacked just enough to find the latest indulgent novels, and we are sitting back just watching the world go by.  Soon we will open the cupboards packed full of provisions for just this occasion, and pull the bottle out of the ‘freezer compartment’ in the refrigerator that is perfectly wine bottle shaped, and enjoy the first evening of our trip.  We might not have come far, but at last the waiting is over and the journey has begun…