So Long and Thanks

Saturday 6th July 2019

We have thought long and hard about when we should write the last sailraya blog, closing this amazing chapter of our lives. We are still feeling tired and rather disoriented but we are starting to integrate back into normal life, I actually have a working phone for the first time in nearly four years, yesterday we bought a car and the hunt for a new home has begun, our minds are slowly turning to life ashore, now, feels like the right time.

This evening I booted up my long ignored laptop and while it charges the screen saver is scrolling our photo collection, a fabulous summary of our trip. How we will manage without all the wonderful sights and experiences, the continual challenges and the satisfaction of achieving each stage of something so special, is hard to know, but one thing is for sure my Instagram page will be taking a turn for the worst.

Did the highs outshine the lows,? On that there is no doubt, every minute of those cold and tiring night watches was worth the five we spent absorbing the song of a humpback whale just 10m below us. Every uncomfortable roll of the boat was worth it to glide along side a manta ray or a whale shark. The exhaustion of a night in a rolly anchorage was easily washed away the moment we put our heads below crystal clear water above a magnificent coral reef and the pressure from the ceaseless demands of keeping Raya and ourselves safe was made manageable with the assistance of so many friends afloat and at home.

It’s difficult to know where to start thanking these people for their support, so many have helped us in so many ways, from those who accompanied us across oceans, Ian, Eric, Hartmut, Jonathan, Sheridan, Penny, Stephen, Richard and Tony, to everybody that sent newsy emails to raise our spirits during those long passages.

Andy who got us through the boat preparations, Peter and Joanna who spent hours putting together our medical kit, the numerous friends who joined us in Southampton to wish us well and Chris who has been there for us from the start to the finish.

Our fellow cruisers whose easy friendship was one of the trips highlights, their generosity and support was nothing less than life affirming. Nina, Toothless, Yolata, Pawpaw, Britican, Into the Blue, Randivag, Alexandra, Crazy Daisy, Knockando, Moonshadow, Il Sogno, Influencer, Vela and so many more, it was a pleasure to sail with you.

Thanks to the folks at Oyster especially Eddie and Regina, Harry at the rig shop for a faultless rig, Chris and Stokey for their weather help through the tricky bits, mailasail for keeping us in touch with the world and Navionics and Google maps for their help keeping us in the blue.

Thank you to all the blog readers whose continued loyalty and encouragement kept me writing, to everyone who opened their homes to us when we returned to the UK that kept us warm and fed and everyone who responded to our bizarre requests to secure boat bits that kept us afloat.

And a huge thanks to our families especially Nana who tracked and encouraged us every step of the way, Penny who, uncomplaining, worked as our unpaid PA throughout and Rachael and Matt who, despite their mad parents selling the family home and running off into the sunset, have yet to disown us.

Finally thank you Raya, our home for the past four years, her speed won us awards at the ARC and has kept the long passages as short as possible, her toughness has shrugged off high winds and large waves keeping us safe and her simplicity of handling has made things relatively easygoing for these two amateur sailors. Her spacious design has meant we have circumnavigated in style, her elegant lines still catch our eye.

Raya, our cruising community and all our family and friends who have joined us, what wonderful times we have shared.

Home!

Friday 28th July 2019

The wind is screeching through the masts that surround us in the marina so loudly that it’s difficult to think straight but the gales sweeping across South West England are not the only thing causing us to feel disorientated, we are home and have the challenge of a whole new life to organise.

We left Horta in calm seas and yet again the engine was on, more confident of our fuel range after all the motoring up from the Caribbean, we pushed quite hard, the easterly winds that are battering us now had shown up on the forecast and we were keen to arrive before they set in. Thursday, finally, we picked up some winds and quickly things became a bit livelier. After a fantastic day sailing, inevitably the waves increased in height and a nasty beam swell developed, rocking us back and forth. This was much more how we had imagined the the North Atlantic and although uncomfortable we were eating up the miles. Each day the temperatures continued to drop and this, in combination with a few showers, drove us into wet weather gear. On night watch everyone was now bundled into as many layers as was practical, boots were dug out from where they had sat for four years and rather musty woolly hats and gloves bought out for an airing.

Gradually putting on more clothes

The wild life, however, didn’t seem to be put off by these cooler temperatures and despite the rougher seas we spotted a couple of what we think were fin whales a hundred or so metres off to starboard and numerous pods of dolphins came to say hello, but the highlight was a group of Orcas. Easily identified by their black and white colourings we were delighted when a few swam closer and closer, ducking and diving right next to the boat just like the dolphins had.

Killer whales swam right next to the boat, this one seems to have a rather big chunk out of his fin.

Such sights brought into focus our feelings of sadness that our adventure was nearly over, that the wonders we have been treated to over the past four years were near an end, but as we struggled to get some sleep in the choppy conditions a still bed grew more and more desirable.

Emotions continued to be mixed, Monday morning the log clicked over to 40,000nm, the total number of miles we have sailed on Raya and we felt a certain pride in our achievement. As we sailed nearer and nearer to home, the SW of England appeared on the chart plotter for the first time since May 2015 and excitement began to build.

UK coast on the chart plotter for the first time in four years

Early Tuesday morning, our last day at sea, I came up on watch to find not just sunshine and calm seas but a very excited Rick, a hazy outline of the Lizard, the most Southerly point of the UK was visible on the horizon. We were surrounded by a mass of small fishing boats, so while I steered us through the traffic, Rick and Tony strung flags from our bows to the stern. It is a privilege of circumnavigators to arrive in port dressed in flags and Plymouth is a Navy port and flag signals are important, we were delighted when two Royal Navy boats acknowledged us by sounding their horns.

The temperatures had been increasing over the last day or so to warm us, on the dock were a dozen friendly faces to welcome us and in their bags plenty of bottles to celebrate with, a perfect home coming.

Raya arrives back in the UK

Volcanoes and Street Art

Wednesday 19th June 2019

Here we go again, weather window antics, we plan to leave Tuesday, no Wednesday, no Tuesday, no Wednesday. I think we have settled on Wednesday but maybe that will be Tuesday afternoon or perhaps next week.

In the end we left rather quickly Tuesday lunchtime and before I had managed to upload this post, there are photos but I will have to attach them when we reach the UK. Reach the UK, how strange that sounds.

Horta the main port and capital of Faial in the Azores is a pretty town full of often crumbling but decorative terraced buildings. Churches white, with black detailing stand out in the sunshine and flowers greet you on every spare piece of ground.

Church of Nossa Senhora das Angustias, in Horta

The Marina was friendly and being Europe the formalities straight forward. It was choc-a-bloc with transatlantic boats that continually arrived, stretching the facilities to the limit, for most of the stay we were rafted three deep.

The first few days were warm and sunny as we rushed about getting the normal mundane tasks completed. The laundry, run on a confusing part service, part do it yourself regime, was dictated over by a woman with Hitler pretensions and with so many boats continually arriving with weeks worth of dirty washing, it was a slow and painful process.

The supermarket however was well stocked and although everything was totally in Portuguese and it took us a bit of time to find what we needed, we, for the first time in a while, enjoyed delicious lunches of fresh fruit and tasty local cheese.

With the weather forecast looking unsettled for the weekend, Friday morning we took a taxi tour of the island. As we left the town of Horta and climbed into the hills, the smell of freshly mown grass assaulted our senses, with the lower temperatures, cows grazing in buttercup filled meadows and familiar bird song we could almost have been in Devon.

However, like most of the oceanic islands we have visited, the Azores were born from past volcanic activity. As we continued to drive higher we entered the cloud base that cloaks the highest peak here, as the mist swirled and thinned we caught glimpses of fantastic views of the island and the huge picturesque volcanic peak on the island across the channel, Pico.

We were headed to near the top of the Caldera do Faial, where a tunnel has been created through the rock side to a viewing platform to see the interior of the still perfectly circular cone. At 2km wide and 400m deep a unique ecosystem has sprung up in its base, with plants and birds not found anywhere else flourishing in their own tiny world.

Caldera do Faial

During the eruptions that created this volcano, pumice stone was flung out onto the island and this has made the soil here very fertile but acidic. Crowding every hedge row and many gardens are hydrangea plants, the acidic soil turns the normally pink flowers a bright blue and Faial has become famous for this magnificent summer display.

In stark contrast to the lush growth of most of the island is the barren headland on the NW coast, created by an eruption that took place less than 60 years ago, it resembles a moonscape. A huge slab of rock juts out to sea backed by rocks of solidified lava and slopes of sweeping black sand.

Volcanic landscape at Capelinhos

We were glad to have taken the time to explore because the weekend turned out to be quite stressful. We were tied up to the harbour wall, right in the corner, where the wash back from the swell, with the weight of two boats hanging off us, had us straining and jolting uncomfortably on our cleats, the creaking and groaning of the lines keeping us awake. Hours were spent tightening this rope, then tightening another, then loosening everything again as the tide dropped.

Finally Monday afternoon things quietened down and the showers cleared, time to get creative. As in a lot of ports and anchorages where ocean sailors gather, people like to leave their mark. Often it is in the form of national or yacht club flags, that adorn the insides of local bars and cafes or, as in the Percy Islands off the Australian East Coast where crews carve plaques that are nailed to the large A frame shelter on the beach. In the Azores the tradition is street art, every inch of the walls and paving of Horta marina are covered by paintings left by previous visitors.

We were keen to join in the fun and Rick had in his head planned a complex design to include the names of everyone who had helped us by joining us for an ocean passage. Unfortunately the combination of the busy first few days followed by the wet weather, had thwarted our attempts to put paint to concrete. Eventually, Monday, as an evening sun appeared we picked our spot and painted the background. This was nearly as far as we got, with a change in the forecast later in the week, making a quick departure looked advantageous. The original complex design had to be ditched and I and Tony were still painting Rick’s much simplified effort, as he refuelled Raya just an hour before we left.

As Rick and Tony prepare the boat for departure I’m still busy painting

It is our first night out and we are motoring again in very light winds, the full moon shines brightly, the only star visible in the light sky is Jupiter twinkling to our south. In the log Rick described the sea state as, motoring through melted chocolate, it’s glossy dark surface heaving gently beneath our keel.

Wind is promised in a few days time, Plymouth and reality beckon.

 

Ocean High

Monday 10th June 2019

We have finally arrived in Horta in the Azores, after a couple of weeks of very little wind, it has been a slow but comfortable crossing. I, particularly, get range anxiety when we have to do such a lot of motoring but this time even Rick, not confident of the fuel gauge, was measuring the inexorable draining of the fuel tank with the dip stick on a very regular basis. In the end about 50nm out from the marina we picked up some wind and sailed the whole of the last day, approaching the island reefed and doing 8kts, with at least 150 litres of fuel left in the tank.

‘Got here beer’ in Horta

Our crossing from the Caribbean might have been the slowest of our ocean passages but stuck in the middle of the Azores high pressure system, it also became the calmest. And calm seas don’t just mean more sleep and a much more comfortable life onboard, it also means our fellow ocean goers are easier to see.

On Wednesday I spotted what I first thought was rubbish, it looked a bit like the end of a child’s clear pencil case decorated with a pink rim. Then I saw another and another. We looked more closely and realised they were a type of jelly fish, a jelly fish with what appeared to be a three dimensional semi circular sail. Enquiries back home to those who have access to Google revealed them to be in the Portuguese Man-o-War family. We learnt that each creature was in fact not a single organism but a colony of much smaller ones, all working together to create a viable unit. And what was also incredible, was that five days and nearly a thousand miles on, they were still passing us by in a steady stream. The whole ocean is full of them.

A clump of a dozen sailing jelly fish

A rarer sight was a pod of whales. In a rougher sea we probably wouldn’t have spotted the telltale blow in the distance, but any thing that breaks the surface in these calm conditions is obvious. Too far away to identify conclusively, their small size suggests they were probably pilot whales. And just when we were beginning to give up on dolphins over the last few days of the passage we saw three or four large pods, They were Atlantic spotted dolphins and they gave us a spectacular show leaping from the water and dancing in our bow waves.

A pod of dolphins charging in to swim at our bows

The journey has also been big on the pure grandure of the open ocean, the only ripple to be seen was our wake as we motored over a glassy, inky blue, undulating sea, that stretched out to a huge horizon. We have been treated to dramatic dark orange sunrises and sunsets and one night the ocean was so smooth, I sat mesmerised by a whole sky full of stars reflected in its surface. As always we gaze in wonder and reflect on how honoured we are to witness such things.

Sun rising over a silky sea

While we enjoyed all this we were slowly travelling northward and we were noticing many changes. The temperatures of the sea and the air dropped daily forcing us into more and thicker clothing. The Southern cross that has for so long been our focus in the night sky, a few days ago disappeared below the horizon and after years of pretty much 12 hours of darkness each night, the shorter nights are taking a bit of getting use to. With the sun setting later and later each day, despite our routine changing of the clocks as we travelled through different time zones, we had eventually to push our night watch system back an hour because we were struggling to get to sleep. Even the duration of dawn and dusk is changing, the sudden onset and disappearance of darkness of the tropics is being replaced with the hour long fading and brightening of light of higher latitudes.

We hope to have about a week to enjoy the Azores, we suspect the passage back to the UK may not be so tranquil, so we must be patient and wait for a good weather window.

Homeward Bound

Sunday 2nd May 2019

There’s one certainty when you’re ocean sailing and that is you can guarantee that whatever conditions you have now, they will be different very soon. Currently we are sailing at about 7.5 kts, as high into a F4 wind as we can, trying to make our track to the Azores in persistently easting winds. The boat is well heeled over which means we are living on a slope, it is hard work!

Beating into calm blue seas, 500nm north of the BVI

Just a few days ago on the other hand, we were wishing for more wind, with so far to go we were reluctant to use too much of our fuel and so we were sailing as much as we could, often barely reaching 5 kts.

Last Sunday, however, the conditions in the mighty Atlantic were still just a forecast. With only a day to prepare for our departure, it was an exhausting day, especially in the humid heat of Road Town. We were extremely pleased to have the extra pair of hands belonging to our friend Tony, who has joined us for this crossing.

We walked to the customs office determined to keep our cool whatever procedures or rudeness were thrown at us. Thankfully the terrible experience we had had during check in wasn’t repeated and with our clearance papers ready, the fridge and fuel tanks full, we set off Monday morning just in time to miss the mass of dark clouds  descending on Tortola.

Leaving the islands calmed the sea and cleared the sky but didn’t produce any wind, we tried our best to relax and enjoy the comfortable conditions, making ourselves stop obsessively watching the speed dial, we had no deadlines to meet after all.

The sun was shining, the sea a deep royal blue and we had plenty of entertainment from a flock of shearwaters that seem to be following us, gliding in and landing right next to the side of the boat, we assume they must be snapping up tiny fish that are being stirred up in our wake.

Manx shearwater feeding right next to the boat

At night we have had the odd squall bringing erratic winds and torrential downpours but for the most part the nights have been tranquil too. With just a slither of moon the stars are incredible, one magical night-watch at around midnight, I sat with the warm breeze brushing my face, watching a display of a thousand sparkles not just above but in the water too, we were passing through a patch of dense phosphorescing algae.

The early calm conditions meant our warnings to Tony of what to expect and the difficulties he may have to endure appeared exaggerated but now when just getting from ones side of the salon to the other is a challenge and everything from preparing a meal to cleaning your teeth has its problems, our words are beginning to ring true.

A bit tricky washing up on a slope

Luckily the sea state is still reasonably clement so although heeled over we, at least, aren’t slamming too badly into the approaching waves and everybody is getting some sleep.

For a bit of a break this morning we furled the Genoa and put on the engine to flatten Raya out so we could more easily, shower, make tea, do a few jobs…., it was a relief to be able to walk around the boat without having to cling on to every hand rail.

We also took the opportunity to tackle a couple of issues, the AIS was accidentally turned off with the nav lights yesterday and when turned back on didn’t seem to be connecting back up to the chart plotter. We used the time on the engine to reset all the systems, unfortunately in the absence of anything close to us in this huge ocean for the receiver to pick up, it is difficult to ascertain if it’s working or not.

At the other end of the technical scale, our 25 degree angle is causing problems with our sinks and toilets, as water finds the lowest corners, a lot is flowing to the other side of the bowls from the drains and so can never really be emptied and in the warm conditions are quickly becoming unpleasant, the level boat gave us a chance to give everything a good clean.

Now with sails back up, we are again clinging onto our seats, moving around downstairs as little as possible and trying to see when the next change might take place.

Can’t really complain, just routine problems, such is the life of ocean sailors.

Goodbye to the Tropics 😢

Sunday 26th May 2019

Preparations in full swing, Rick scrubbing a very furry prop

As we lifted the anchor today and headed towards the marina to prepare to leave tomorrow it occurred to me that, rather sadly, this may be the last time we ever anchor Raya. Our next destinations, Horta in the Azores and then the South Coast of England will most likely have us tied up in marinas for the rest of the trip, our trusty anchor unneeded. By strange coincidence, while I play about with the possibility of writing a book of our adventures, I was just yesterday writing down my thoughts about our very first night at anchor, off the coast of Portugal as we sailed towards the Mediterranean.

Where on earth have the last four years gone?

Since our arrival in the Caribbean we have found ourselves trying to absorb the details of everything we love about our tropical watery life, fixing them into our memories to be conjured, at will, to brighten dreary November days.

Stunning tropical colours in the BVI

Not just the incredible events we have been honoured to experience but also the small every day things, like the feeling you get when, sweaty and hot, you jump over the side into the water, it’s delicious silky coolness enveloping you. The anticipation of what might be revealed today as you dip your head into the magical underwater world whose sights rarely let you down. Or the spectacular shows of the seabirds as they swoop and dive or dance above your heads. And the kaleidoscope of colours of the fish and the coral, the burnt oranges and baby pinks of the sunsets and the turquoise of shallow seas.

How can I live without that turquoise.

Not sure who this chap is but his home is a colourful mini reef

It’s difficult to imagine living without these things, however, I have recently caught myself contemplating other aspects of our life and thinking how nice it would be to wear perfume rather than insect repellent out to dinner, how great it would be to have a fridge full of green vegetables and what a luxury it would be to be able to flush the toilet paper.

So perhaps this is a good time to be leaving this life while our tolerance of the inconveniences, the price we pay to enjoy these things, is still high.

Thursdays sunset

You can track our homebound route through our Yellow Brick tracker, found at http://my.yb.tl/sailrayatracking/

Fish and Officialdom

Monday 20th May 2019

The sea around the BVI has become rather rolly and we are finding it hard to find a spot to escape. Swell is a very difficult thing to predict when sailing around islands, it has the tendency to creep around headlands, bend through passes and enter bays that look on the chart like they should be protected. We are currently on a mooring off the Cooper Island Resort and during the night a swell that in the ocean is from the E/NE, bizarrely began entering the bay from the SW.

It might be rolly but the views pretty good

It’s been quite an up and down week in other respects too. Last Monday we went back into Village Cay Marina, we needed to top up provisions, get the laundry done and extend our visas. We had mentally prepared ourselves, determined to smile through the unhelpful attitude of the immigration officials and to relax through the normal inefficiency, what we weren’t prepared for was the 2 3/4 hrs we would have to wait for a simple stamp on our passports. The office was crammed full of anxious people trying to get resident or work permits. We were all told there would be about a 20 min wait, so nobody dare leave feeling sure they would be called any minute, frustration levels were high. Finally we were seen but only given an extension to the end of the month, desperate to just get out of there, we didn’t argue but with our friend Tony not arriving until late on the 24th that doesn’t leave us a very wide window for departure.

To make things even more irritating, despite only being allowed 15 days extra on our visas we have had to pay the full $200 to import Raya for the whole year. Although we knew all this in advance it doesn’t make it feel any fairer and that evening we felt exhausted. It is amazing how tiring, just sitting or standing, feeling cross, while gradually dehydrating in a very hot room, can be.

As soon as our town tasks were completed, we left the marina and got back out to the islands, where jobs could be interspersed with cooling swims.

The pain of our visit to immigration was quickly erased by a particularly good late afternoon snorkel. Back in our favourite spot anchored in Privateer Bay we took off to visit the caves with the sun, now lower in the sky, shining straight on the cliffs, highlighting the caves interiors. Immediately we spotted a baby pelican, unfortunately our arrival frightened him and with his flying skills not yet up to parr, we watched as rather comically he struggled to get airborne.

A slightly clumsy take off but he made it.

As I entered the first cave his sibling was hiding inside and his exit took him only inches from my head, while below me a 5ft long tarpon emerged through a veil of a million tiny fish escaping the cave just below my feet. The light inside was glorious however and the shoal of inch long fish glinted in the sunshine like a curtain of slithered glass..

The cave was full of thousands of fish, tiny and huge (see bottom right corner)

Outside the cave it was crowded too, a large shoal of bar jacks followed me as I swam. If I swam right, they all turned right, if I went to explore a cave, in they came with me, if I slowed they all bunched up so as not to get ahead of me, I felt a bit like the Pied Piper.

From the blue depths, three large tarpons, their ugly mouths showing off their sharp teeth, cruised in, more shoaling fry filled the water, along with of course the ever present blue tang and sergeant major fish. With a good scattering of plankton in the water and gulls above us, it felt like whole food chain was ready to start supper.

Tarpons carolling their supper

Most of the rest of the week has been spent on preparations for the journey ahead. While I cook for the freezer, sort out the admin and start the passage plan, Rick has been carrying out some routine maintenance. In the marina I winched him up the mast so he could check the rigging and instruments. He has repacked the lazerette, our big storage compartment at the back of the boat, so the fenders can be put away for the passage. Batteries for torches and radios have been charged, the generator serviced, a broken fan replaced and lockers cleaned and sorted.

Touching wood as I write, which is not so easy while I cling onto my cup of tea which is threatening to be thrown off the table as we roll, everything has been in good condition, so far we’ve found only a few minor issues.

The plan today was to dive under the boat to clean a rather furry prop and slow cook a beef stew, but in this swell perhaps we’ll just abandon trying to work and head out for a snorkel instead.

Family Fun

Friday 10th May 2019

We have just waved the kids off at the airport, it has been fantastic to have them with us to share our last bit of tropical cruising. We now have only a couple weeks to ready ourselves and then we head off back across the Atlantic. It is impossible to comprehend that in a few months we will be back in the UK with Raya up for sale and us beginning the search for a new land based home.

Final walk along the beach at Trellis Bay

After leaving Privateer Bay we headed for a surprisingly windy Great Harbour. The kids, continuing their efforts to tick off every famous bar in the Islands, a visit to The Willy T’s floating restaurant was high on their list. We were in desperate need of refilling the fridge and the small supermarkets we remembered scattered around the islands were either no longer around or very badly stocked. So after a fun evening, bright and early the next day we headed off to Village Cay Marina in Road Town, the capital of BVI on the main island of Tortola, to restock at the bigger stores.

We also thought we’d take the opportunity to wash the decks, clean the bathrooms and fill our water tanks. Unfortunately we hadn’t read the small print of the marina contract. Often Marinas will put on a small extra charge for water, but here, unnoticed by us, they were charging 25 cents a gallon and we were faced with a shocking $90 bill just for water. To add to our woes Andy discovered his bank card had been cloned and used liberally a few miles away in the US Virgin Islands, it took him many frustrating phone calls back to the UK to sort everything out. Lessons learnt we put the water-maker on full steam ahead and none of us let our cards out of our sight again.

Feeling somewhat disgruntled we headed off for Gorda Sound, here the effects of hurricane Irma was still very much in evidence. The only restaurant open on the coast is at Leverick Bay, Saba Rock is a building site and despite a website speaking of rebuild plans, the legionary Bitter End Yacht Club has been seemingly wiped from the map. We found a nice anchorage however on the northwest side the sound, off Prickly Pear Island, next to a pretty little sandy beach.

Fruit Salad Beach, Gorda Sound

We discovered this beach many years ago during a charter holiday, nobody else seems to go there and while we enjoyed having the sand to ourselves, on the surf in bobbed a piece of pineapple, then a half of lime, a slice of orange, more pineapple……., we christened it fruit salad beach. Thankfully there was no food waste this time and after admiring the view we put on our masks and went for a snorkel. The visibility wasn’t that great but the rocky landscape of the sea floor, filled with soft corals, looked like an underground garden and with a good sprinkling of fish it made for an enjoyable hour.

Fan corals in Gorda Sound

Our next stop was on the South of Virgin Gorda, an area called the Baths, a jumble of gigantic boulders that sit on a pure white sandy shore. Although the boulders look like they have tumbled down from some long forgotten hill their geology is much more complicated. During a period of volcanic activity about 50 million years ago molten rock was forced to the surface, cooling to form granite. As it cooled the rock cracked and split into slabs and over the eons all surrounding softer rocks have eroded away and the slabs themselves rounded and smoothed to produce the magnificent spectacle we see today. It is a national park and a trail through, up and over the boulders leads you into small passages, picturesque pools and amazing spaces. If you arrive by boat as we did, to add to the adventure you have to leave your dingy tired up to the provided buoys and swim ashore. The water is crystal clear and the landscape beneath the waves as dramatic as above.

Robyn exploring the Baths

Back onboard we discussed what to do next, although the youngsters were enjoying the bars and the internet they provided, everyone agreed it was the swimming and snorkelling that were our prime objective. We got a bit of both at Cooper Island and then it was back to Privateer Bay.

Again the snorkelling was superb, Rick and I swimming far out on the point even spotted a reef shark our first in the BVI. Rachael and Andy continued there long swims around the shore line and back to the boat. And then there were the turtles, turtles everywhere. Robyn’s squeals of delight as turtles surrounded her summed up our excitement. And finally Matt got us that perfect shot.

Hawksbill turtle with a couple of small remora hitching a lift

Bubbles, Bars and Big Fish

Monday 29th April 2019

It’s a rather blustery morning with dark clouds rushing across the sky, but with the early light playing spectacularly on the hills, I am enjoying a few moments of quiet, in our calm anchorage in Privateer Bay, to catch up on my blog.

Hills of Tortola in the morning light

Last Tuesday morning we sailed to one of our old favourites, Diamond Cay and opted to drop the anchor in the slightly deeper water at the centre of the bay to escape the crowds. It is a beautiful spot with the shallowing sea providing every shade of turquoise imaginable with, in the distance, Sandy Spit. Sandy Spit with its Robinson Crusoe look of white sand with a solitary palm tree had often acted as the poster boy for the BVI, sadly, post Irma, the tree has gone but the sand island still acted as a good focus to paddle out to in the kayak, as did the bar on the opposite shore. Our kids were using every moment of their holiday to the full.

The walk through the mangroves to the ‘bubbly pool’ has also been stripped bare, the dead trees cast aside leaving open beach. However the view here where the mighty Atlantic is halted in a froth, by a wide reef, to produce a tranquil lagoon is still great, as is the clamber up the hill to the cliffs.

Mangroves stripped bare but the Atlantic forces its way into the lagoon just the same.

After a short 15min walk you are brought to the main attraction, a small bay where the same power of the ocean is squeezed, this time, through a gap in the rocks, each wave turning the calm pool into a seething mass of bubbles.

Having fun at the Bubbly Pool, Diamond Cay

After a couple of days we pushed on to visit two of the ‘must dos’ bars here in the BVI; the Soggy Dollar Bar and Foxy’s Bar. Both were full to the brim, in fact Josh Van Dyke Island, at least as far as the tourist dollar is concerned, appears to be very much business as usual.

Sopers hole on the other hand looks to be using the devastation to rebuild bigger and better, the whole place is currently one large building site, with nothing open we moved on to Norman Bight.

And finally we found some good snorkelling not just on the edge of the bay but around the corner to an area known as the Caves. While the younger crew opted to investigate another beach bar, Rick and I took the dingy out to explore. The water was beautifully clear and right on the southern point of the bay we found turtles. They were quietly relaxing on the rocks just under the surface, they were so close we could almost touch them. Surprisingly unbothered by our presence, they just sat there, rarely have we had such a good photo opportunity. Unbelievably, and probably for the first time ever, we had forgotten the camera!

In the morning we took Raya around to the Privateer Bay just beyond the caves and we all snorkelled most of the day intent on getting that perfect turtle shot. Typically there were none to be had, but there were plenty of things to enjoy instead.

The local big fish here are tarpons. They can grow to be 6 or 7 ft long and we have seen them, attracted to the light at the back of the boat, most evenings since Antigua. They are easily identified not just by their size but by their startlingly, shiny, silver scales that reflect in the spotlight. Yesterday we saw them as we swam along the cliffs, lurking in the blue of the deeper water their size was slightly intimidating despite knowing that they are harmless. In the shallows were smaller but more colourful specimens, from the crowds of sergeant major fish that Matt and Robyn fed with old bread to large parrot fish, elegant french angel fish, bright queen triggers and peculiar looking file fish.

A queen trigger fish snapped by Matt and a perfect Parrot fish caught by Rick

As the name suggests the cliffs here are full of small caves, the light playing on the water as you enter is magical and for those less frightened than me, the dark interiors fascinating. As everyone investigated I was excitedly floating above a large spotted eagle ray and later in the afternoon Rachael and Andy even found a nurse shark for company.

No turtles today but nobody was complaining.

Back to the BVI

Tuesday 23rd April 2019

With the wind behind us and a bright moon above us, it was a lovely night sail from St Barts to the British Virgin Islands. We sailed excitedly through the outer islands into the Francis Drake Channel as the first signs of light appeared in the Eastern sky. It was in the BVI , over a few charter holidays, that the seeds for this trip were sown and, as such, is a good place to have our final tropical fling before we set off back across the Atlantic to cooler climes.

Unfortunately our happy memories were immediately soured by the check in process. The anchorage in Road Town was small and very choppy in the brisk wind. The dingy dock for customs required us to squeeze between a ferry and the rocks. Once inside the custom office the procedure had about seven ill defined steps, each one requiring either form filling or payment and the receiving of numerous stamps. We have occasionally seen worse bureaucracy but nothing like the bad attitude of the officers here, they were incredibly rude, arguing with us and each other and being purposely unhelpful.

So it was two tired and rather cross sailors that docked a few hours later in Nanny Cay marina, to spend a couple of days on the normal marina jobs. Hose down the boat, laundry, cooking gas refil, provisioning…… It has to be said that it took us a few days to find the Caribbean vibe that a stay in the BVI normally brings

Every where has a not quite familiar feel to it. Of course not only has it been about 7 years since our last visit but during that time the country has suffered the effects of a devastating hurricane. On the 6th September 2017 Cat 5 Hurricane Irma passed directly over the islands. Producing wind speeds in excess of 180mph, it was the strongest open sea Atlantic storm on record and nothing much survived its fury. Eighty five percent of the housing stock in Tortola was distroyed or damaged, Island infrastructure was mostly wiped out and the charter yacht fleets, a major source of income for the area, were decimated. Miraculously due to the effective early warning systems in place only four people lost their lives.

The Islands after a huge effort have mostly recovered but signs of wreckage are still in evidence. Particularly poignant for us were the yachts that Irma left high and dry and that still line the beach at Trellis Bay, their typically jaunty nautical names, ‘The Good Life’, ‘Chillin”, ‘Starry nights’, now seeming cruelly incongruous.

Wrecks still litter Trellis Bay

We were however there for a happier event, Trellis Bay is five minutes from the airport and Rachael, Mathew and their partners Andy and Robyn arrived Saturday on the evening flight. Despite the fading light they couldn’t resist an immediate swim, in fact they have hardly been out of the water since.

Readying to snorkel around Monkey Point

We have been nicely surprised by the lack of crowds, of course we return with a lot more experience and are, where possible, anchoring, instead of being squeezed tight in the mooring fields. And there are so many protected anchorages here it’s easy to just hop from one to another each day as the conditions dictate.

Not so good is the lack of life in the sea, we remember the BVI for it’s good snorkelling but it seems Irma has taken her toll under the water as well as on land. Monkey Point always one of our favourite spots was teeming with baby fish but with very little coral the reef fish were missing.

The sea is still a remarkable blue, the beaches are of soft sand and the green hills of the islands still make for a stunning back drop.

Cane Garden Bay

Having six people onboard has rather embarrassingly shown exactly how much we have spread out over the past four years, emptying lockers and clearing bunks took us a couple of days but by Saturday there was plenty of room for everyone. The cooking and washing up is a bit of a mission, the beer seems to somehow be disappearing and the rails are permanently full of damp towels. However the conversation is good, the laughter is loud and trips ashore frequent, I think everyone is having fun, despite the captain dishing out cleaning tasks.

Crew earning their keep

Money, Money, Money

Monday 15th April 2019

On Wednesday we left the superyachts of Antigua, for, if possible, the even more opulent world of St Barts. In the immortal words of ABBA, it certainly is, at least around here, a rich mans world.

We are anchored off the west coast of St Barts, it is windy and the fetch combined with a bit of a swell is making things rather uncomfortable. The conditions are not improved by the continuous wake of large fast tenders racing back and forth from their luxuriant motherships.

The most luxurious of all is Le Grand Bleu, who at 113m long is one of the largest private yachts in the world and on her deck has, indulgently, a 22m sailing yacht (that’s 5m longer than Raya) and a 20m motor yacht. If Wikipedia is to be believed it was exchanged in payment for a lost bet between two Russian oligarchs.

Just plain greedy

Despite all this and the rocky anchorage outside Gustavia’s harbour, we are loving it here. From the efficient customs check in, to the restaurant staff, to the well stocked supermarket everything has been friendly and very french and unlike some of the French islands we have been to everyone is happy to speak English. Despite the superyachts in the harbour, the multi million pound villas that sit above us in the hills and the designer shops that line the Main Street, prices are unexpectidly reasonable. We decided to stay a while.

Not having local Sims for mobile data, we have been forced to spend time over long lazy lunches using the restaurants free and fast WiFi services. Not much beats eating fantastic food, with a cooling breeze and nice views.

Lunch time view

In fact overall St Barts has a very different vibe to the other Caribbean Islands we have visited, I decided to look into its history. Named by Christopher Columbus after his brother Bartomoleo. Little more than nine square miles of rugged rock, for years nobody paid much interest in it, even the local Caribs it appears only visited on occasional fishing trips. However in the 17C as the Europeans battled for dominance of the area, the French claimed the island and an increasing number of settlers began to live on its steep hills. In 1784 the French gave the islands to Sweden in exchange for trading rights in Gothenburg. As the only Swedish interest in the Caribbean they spent time and money modernising the island, building roads, forts and with no flat areas for plantations, they instead took advantage of it protected harbour to create a freeport, naming the capital Gustavia after the Swedish King. This in tun attracted more trade, legal and not so legal, and the island began to prosper. Eventually after a hundred years, with the population still mainly descendants from the original French occupation, Sweden returned the island to France and St Barts today is an ‘independent overseas collectivity’ and part of the French West Indies.

Pretty streets in Gustavia

Its main focus is now tourism, with many hotels and upmarket holiday villas. It restricts the number of large cruise boat visits and instead encourages cultural and sporting events. Including, another reason for us lingering here, the Voiles St Barts yacht regatta. For the past week amazing sleek racing yachts have been arriving and we have been enjoying watching the action as they prepare for first race today.

Racing Yacht Sorcha setting out for a sail

To escape the turbulence of the outer harbour anchorage we sailed around the corner to Colombier Bay. The water around St Barts is exceptionally clear and we had an enjoyable snorkel along the its rocky sides. As with the rest of the Caribbean there was little coral and few fish but an enjoyable swim never the less. The bay was still busy, escaping the large motor yachts seems impossible here and so when the next day a wind shift bought fierce gusts into the anchorage, we moved back to Gustavia to make ready for the overnight sail to the British Virgin Islands we plan for this evening.

Nautical Giants

Sunday 7th April 2019

The stunning 200ft schooner Athos joins us in Hermitage Bay.

Torrential rain beats down on the hatches, I’m up to my elbows in laundry, which, if the rain doesn’t stop soon, I’ll have nowhere to dry and Rick has his head over the innards of a broken toilet. The cruising life is not all sand, sun and sailing. Luckily, in compensation, we have had our fair share of each of these over the past few days.

English Harbour, a quick walk from our anchorage in Falmouth Harbour, is home to Antigua’s premier historical sight, Nelsons Dockyard. The bay was recognised during the 18th Century as large and sheltered enough to protect the Royal Navy’s Caribbean fleet from hurricanes. It quickly grew into a working dockyard repairing ships that otherwise would have had to have made the long and arduous trip back to England. In the 1780’s Horatio Nelson, then a Captain, was stationed here for three years and when the dockyard was restored in the 1950’s it was named in his honour. Now full of restaurants and gift shops it still retains its marine links with numerous yacht services based in its old buildings and docking for large yachts around its edge.

The old dockyard buildings although converted to commercial use still overlook large sailing boats

Last week the dockside was gradually filling with Oysters, the participants of the World Rally arriving for the official completion of their circumnavigation and boats gearing up for the Oyster Regatta that starts tomorrow. Oyster engineers were, as always at these events, on hand to help check over the boats and happily extended their advice to us and any other Oyster yachts anchored near by.

It was great to link up with old faces, one family that we met sailing their Oyster across the Atlantic with us nearly four years ago, were also on the dock. However, they have turned to the dark side, swapping their sails for a 72ft motor cruiser. They kindly gave us the tour, the engine room alone seemed nearly as big as Raya, a lot of pipes, connections, filters etc. to look after but all comfortably at eye level. The living quarters were as luxurious as expected but the thing that caught our eye was that chairs sat unfixed to the floor and picture frames adorned the shelves, having stabilisers makes life at sea much more comfortable.

Back across the headland in Falmouth Harbour there were plenty more nautical wonders to admire, megayachts filled the marina and they were quite a sight, at night, their tall masts fully lit,the scene was reminiscent of a huge oil refinery..

Nightscape created by dozens of mega yachts.

Near the entrance of Falmouth Harbour is Pigeon Bay with its pretty beach. Monday we took the dingy over to investigate and nestling, almost hidden, in the trees, we found Catherine’s Place a lovely barefoot beach restaurant. With great food, exceptional cocktails and friendly service, all a few steps from a cooling swim, we couldn’t resist and retuned the next day to do it all again.

Wanting to explore Antigua a bit further, for Phil and Julia’s final trip we set off around the coast. The first planned anchorage was very full, the second, although pretty was gusty and noisy from building works. Eventually we found Hermitage Bay, it was still a bit windy but there were few boats and the holding was good. We enjoyed a quiet couple of days at anchor, even finding an empty beach, our first in the Caribbean. It took a wet and bouncy trip in the dingy around a small headland to get there but was well worth the effort.

First impressions of the reef that ran the length of the beach was rather disappointing, but the more you looked the more you saw. Soft corals swayed in the current and amongst the scattering of small fish a few giants lurked, including, at three foot long, the largest porcupine fish we’ve ever seen.

Large spotted porcupine fish

We are now tied up in the Jolly Harbour marina, our friends have left, the large supermarket has been raided and the normal list of jobs actioned. Tuesday or Wednesday we head off for the British Virgin Islands, where Rachael, Mathew and partners join us for one last tropical fling.

As I begin to plot our trip back across the Atlantic it seems impossible that our journey is almost finished, last week as I sunk my toes into soft white sand, my feet bathed by the warm Caribbean Sea, it felt impossible to imagine giving all this up. However today as we contemplated another set of custom officers, tried and failed to get our cooking gas canister refilled, decided the water on the dock tastes too musty to fill our tanks, while the washing machine decides to lock up full of now precious water and a very soggy set of clothes, moving on to our next adventure, whatever that might be has its appeal.

Island Hopping to Antigua

Sunday 31st March 2019

It was with relief that we entered, past the Pillars of Hercules, from the choppy beam sea off the south coast of Antigua, into the still waters of English harbour. Unfortunately anchoring is tight here and we were forced back out and around the corner to the larger but thankfully equally protected Falmouth Harbour. Over the last few days we have been making our way north, day sailing the 200nm from St Lucia.

The journey passes three large islands, Martinique, Dominica and Guadeloupe and again involves some interesting sailing. Luckily the trades had veered slightly to the SE keeping the winds mostly behind the beam. Still, the 40nm passage between St Lucia and our first stop Grand Anse was quite lively, throwing our poor guests in at the deep end. Luckily we had taken the precaution of dosing up on seasick pills and had pre-made lunch, everyone survived unscathed..

Grand Anse turned out to be a bit disappointing and feeling rather tied we were not pleased to discover that the customs check-in was no longer in this bay and required a walk over the hill. We fled back to the boat deciding to check in the next day in St Pierre our next stop in the north of Martinique.

The French ports, rather conveniently, have computers placed in restaurants and small shops to allow easy check in. L’Alsace Kay served us cold beer and wine while we filled out the required forms and then lunch in their first floor restaurant overlooking the bay. The menu was in French, the boys took the easy route and ordered the dish of the day, chicken curry but Julia I opted to tackle the translation. I ordered ham with potato salad and Julia an onion tart from the vegetarian selection, or so we thought. What arrived was a little different, Julia was presented with a giant chicken vol-a-vent and I, a whole knuckle of ham. Luckily Julia does eat meat and decided it was too difficult to complain, the leftovers from my plate fed all four of us that evening!

We made an early start the next day and with a little less wind we had a fantastic sail across to Dominica, once in the lea of the island the wind dropped completely and we had a smooth motor up to Portsmouth near the top of the island. The boat boys, who in their small motor boats, scream out to meet you as soon as you appear around the headland were thankfully very organised. Anthony found us a mooring, took Rick to customs, relieved us of our rubbish and the next morning led us on a tour up the Indian river.

Beautiful Indian River

Named after the few final native Indians that took refuge here as the British and French battled over the island in the 17 century, the Indian river tour takes you a mile into the forest. Motors aren’t allowed so the tranquillity of the still green water, lined by large mangrove trees, with amazing gnarly buttress roots, is undisturbed.

Amazing roots of the Mangrove trees

The rainforest river scene from the Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed here, but Calypso’s, hut has been mostly destroyed, along with, unfortunately, many of the large trees. Hurricane Maria devastated the island 18months ago and the people, some of whom lost everything, have only just got back on their feet.

Faster to recover has been the river and it’s surrounding rain forest and they are home to, amongst other things, 20 varieties of crab, large shoals of mullet, juvenile barracuda, blue herons, snakes, humming birds and Iguana’s.

Iguana sunning himself in the early morning warmth.

We saw a good selection of these occupants as we glided serenely through the water, before taking a stroll amongst a plantation of fruit trees, the visit ended at a fruit and rum bar for refreshments. An enjoyable few hours that is well recommended.

Keen to get to Antigua before the wind returned to the North East, with the resultant rougher passage, we forewent the Saints Islands and took off for Deshaies, in the north of Guadeloupe.

We arrived mid afternoon to a very choppy anchorage and, despite the pretty town ashore, decided to stay onboard avoiding having to check in and a soaking from what was going to be a very wet dingy ride. Instead, as we had every evening in these west coast bays, we enjoyed a lovely sunset from the cockpit, watched 4ft long tarpons glinting in the light off the stern and prepared for an early start the next morning and the 40nm to Antigua.

Pretty Town of Desharies

The English and neighbouring harbour Falmouth are the Superyacht centres of the Caribbean, we are looking forward to a bit of nautical voyeurism.

Rum, Rain and Reunions

Tuesday 26th March 2019

Marigot Bay became much more fun with arrival from the UK of Phil and Julia and then three more Oysters, two of whom were celebrating the finish of their circumnavigation as they sailed into the bay.

Undeterred by their long journey Phil and Julia were happy to get straight into the Caribbean vibe, we took the dingy across the bay in time to watch the sunset with a rum punch. Doolittle’s restaurant, is named after the 1967 movie Dr Dolittle that was partly filmed in the bay. The rum punches turned out to be extremely strong and although there are no longer any animals here to talk to that didn’t stop us from trying.

It was four groggy passengers that joined our driver for a short tour of the island at 9am the next morning, the steep, windy roads testing our constitutions. The views were spectacular despite the succession of showers that were passing over the island. Near the coast we looked down on a sparkling blue sea full of yachts, beaches where rows of local fishing boats sat back from the often black sand and valleys full of tightly packed colourful roofs.

Marigot Bay from the cliff top

Inland we climbed high into the rainforest, the air became humid and the smell of the undergrowth thick and peaty. Huge ferns, leaves the size of a child, jostled for space in the thick undergrowth with fruit trees and large clumps of 15ft high bamboo. Deep valleys like gashes in the landscape made for precarious drop offs right next to the road.

The Pitons, two, tall, narrow peaks are the symbol of St Lucia and stand in the middle of a still active volcanic area. We gave the crowded natural hot springs a miss and went straight to see the centre of the collapsed caldera with its pools of boiling mud and steam vents. We didn’t stay long a combination of the sulphurous air and darkening skies sent us scurrying back to the car.

The Pitons with the roof tops of Soufriere lying in the valley

Our final visit was to the botanic gardens, an oasis of lush greenery and a feast of exotic flowers. We marvelled at the incredible shapes and colours of the blooms, it hardly seemed possible that they had evolved naturally. A tiny iridescent humming bird hovered enjoying the nectar, a waterfall cascaded over a cliff and a stream, coloured grey from volcanic minerals, meander downward.

Monday still feeling a bit tired and with the weather against us, we decided to spend one more day in Marigot Bay. The showers had turned into longer periods of rain but with the temperatures still warm we headed for the pool. The sun beds were covered with puddles of water and the towels sodden but the restaurant was open and a very talented singer was in full song. We spent a pleasant couple of hours swimming in the rain and drinking beer at the swim up bar.

What else is there to do on a rainy day

During the day the bay had become crowded with Oyster yachts, five in total. For our friends on Vela, whom we’d last seen in Richards Bay South Africa, Marigot Bay marked the completion of their circumnavigation. So that night they invited us all onboard to celebrate. With a lot of the round the world yachts reaching their completion points in the Caribbean it looks like a few more reunions and bottles of champagne are still to come.

Crowded Caribbean

Thursday 21st March 2019

View of Marigot Bay from the resort

Today’s stop is Marigot Bay, a very pretty, extremely protected inlet on the west coast of St Lucia. It is wonderfully still and the perfect place to give Raya a bit of love and attention and prepare for our friends who arrive on Saturday. However it is crowded, hooked up to our mooring ball, we are at times, as we all swing in the gentle breeze, no more than 3m from our neighbours. We knew that this is how things are in the Caribbean but the reality is still a bit of a shock.

Crowded mooring field at Marigot Bay

It’s not just the anchorages we are finding busy, sailing up the coast of the islands there is a steady stream of yachts coming towards us, requiring constant vigilance. Cruise boats disgorge their occupants into the small towns and beaches, and local ‘boat boys’ whiz around offering you everything from help hooking up to a mooring to live lobsters.

The crowds are here. of course. because the Caribbean has a lot going for it. The islands are beautiful, the sea is clean and warm, restaurant and bars are everywhere and the climate is near perfect.

We spent two days off Sandy Bay enjoying the classic Caribbean view, we still had plenty to do to get Raya straight after two months at sea but the anchorage was a bit too rolly to comfortably get things done. So we relaxed, strolled in the soft white sand and snorkelled in the shallows where shoals of tiny fish filled the water.

Lovely beach on Sandy Island

Each group of islands in the Caribbean are different countries, which makes for a lot of checking in and checking out with officials. Sandy Island and Carriacou are still part of Grenada, to move on we had to get our clearance papers. Tyrell Bay, just a couple of miles away had a customs office and first thing Monday we were waiting at the door so we could clear out and set sail for the island of Bequia, part of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

The prevailing winds here, at this time of year, are still dominated by the trades, so generally come from the north east or east. As we are travelling north through the islands we are sailing mostly into the wind which is unusual for us and has taken a bit of getting use to, but Raya seems to like it and the 40nm sail to Bequia was fast and exhilarating.

The anchorage when we arrived was very busy and the only area free meant trying to drop the anchor in one of the few patches of sand between a mass of sea grass. It took us three tries before we were happy that the anchor had set firmly, it was reassuring, especially during the night, to have our anchoring App on my iPad to warn us if we started to drag,

Busy Bay at a Port Elizabeth, Bequia

Bequia was one of our favourite places as we sailed south three years ago and although this time the island had been invaded by the passengers of a cruise ship, ashore it still had a charming and friendly feel to it. For lunch we revisited Jack’s, a beach bar right on the sand and just a minute or so dingy ride from the boat, a great spot to eat and swim.

The next morning we sailed on, passing by the stunning scenery of St Vincent and on to St Lucia. It was another nice trip with varying conditions keeping things interesting. In the channel between the islands, open to Atlantic Ocean, we had plenty of wind which again made for fast and fun sailing but in the lea of the islands the wind dropped and the sea calmed giving us time to make lunch, have a cup of tea and enjoy the view.

A shower threatens over the stunning Mountains of St Vincent

The marina in Marigot Bay is part of the Marigot Bay Resort which means we have access to its restaurants and swimming pools. Once we’ve stopped scrubbing and polishing and if we can find the space to park the dingy we’ll go and see what it has to offer.

On Dry Land

Friday 16th March 2019

We have just arrived at Sandy Island, a small half moon slice of sand just a mile off Carriacou. It’s nice after our time on passage to be at anchor again, just chilling, while being gently rocked, watching the sun go down. The view from the cockpit is a bit more crowded than we are use to but we are now in the Caribbean, the yachties playground

Today’s view from the cockpit.

Our week in the villa was fantastic, we ate, drank, talked and enjoyed the pretty pool. We lounged on the comfy sofas and put the world to right in the shade of the pagoda. And we slept, whole nights, in still beds. The sole disturbance being swarms of mosquitos that seemed to be everywhere, we all rapidly became covered in bites and the only fluid consumed faster than the wine was the DEET insect spray that was being applied liberally.

In the background of course Raya was still demanding our time. After three weeks at sea she was a mess, the decks covered in salt, the laundry basket full and the bottom of the fridge was supporting its very own eco system. She also needed some time on dry land, to fix the leaky through hull fitting and give the hull a once over before our trip back to Europe.

So just a few days after we arrived at St Louis Marina, Thursday morning, we, plus our villa crew, let go the lines and motored her around to Clark’s Court Boatyard. We had had the hull scrubbed by a diver in CapeTown but were still surprised how clean she looked.

Raya being lifted out of the water by the Hulk, a huge lift in Grenada.

While Rick supervised the cleaning of the hull, topsides and superstructure, replaced the through hull fitting and changed the engine impeller, I took a day off to join the others on a hike to a waterfall. When I say hike, stroll would be a better description of our pretty walk that took less than half an hour. Of course, as seems always to be the way when I visit waterfalls, the lack of recent rain had severely lessened the flow, the waterfall was still a pleasant site but the pools mentioned in the guide as swimming opportunities look uninviting.

Mount Carmel Falls

We drove back towards the coast, the small towns that line the road were full of Caribbean colour, with houses ranging from ramshackle purple and red huts to grand yellow and turquoise villas. And in keeping with the mood, the hotel we found for lunch that sat on the lovely beach at Sagresse Bay was bright pink.

Girls taking a cooling dip

Although all a bit of a rush, having Raya on the hard while we lived at the villa, was perfect timing and having the use of the car meant we could easily get back and forth and top up with provision. Penny and Stephen dropped us back on their way to the airport with just one day to cope with living on the hard. Yesterday a very shiny Raya was put back into the water.

Without a doubt one of the highlights of this cruising life is the people, not just the locals we meet all around the world or the pleasure of being able to get together with family and old friends in exotic places but also the comradery of our new cruising family.

In the bay next to Clark’s Court were our friends on Britican, Britican is also an Oyster 56 and we sailed across the Atlantic together. While we have been on the other side of the World they have explored the waters of the US and the Caribbean, we have stayed in contact, following each other on Facebook and via our blogs. It was great to catch up with them again in real life and we enjoyed a delicious Caribbean lunch swapping stories and comparing Oyster notes.

Revived from our spell on dry land and with more friends flying out to St Lucia next Saturday, we have a week to enjoy some quiet time and slowly sail the 120nm north to pick them up.

All the Way Round

Thursday 7th March 2019

We are circumnavigators, on Tuesday morning we sailed into Port Louis Marina on the Caribbean Island of Grenada, where 3 years and 45days ago we had set sail for the Panama Canal and the Pacific. We have been swamped by messages of congratulations and have been toasted with champagne but I’m not sure our achievement has really sunk in.

We are being very kindly treated to a week in a luxurious villa, with Jonathan our sail mate, his wife and my sister and husband. Slowly we are unwinding but the last few months of continuous sailing have taken its toll and we feel pretty tired.

The pool at our lovely villa in Grenada

The second half of the passage from Ascension was much windier than the first half. Having cleared the squalls the sea calmed down and for a day or two we enjoyed perfect trade wind sailing. With the sea flatter Jonathan put the rods out and we finally had some fishing success catching a small tuna and a few days later a Mahi Mahi.

Successful fishing day

The days rolled by, sleep, watch, eat, read, eat, sleep, crossword, eat sleep, watch……. We sailed on in our ever changing disc of blue, some days calm others a mess of conflicting waves, the oceans colour varying with the sky from deep ink blue to somber grey. The moon gradually reduced to a slither that rose later and later each night and as the nights grew darker we were treated to skies of a trillion stars.

We were mostly completely alone, the occasional brown booby flew close catching the flying fish we disturbed with our wake and a few AIS targets passed by on the chart plotter but too distant to appear on our horizon. So it was rather a shock when, with our waining vigilance, we spotted a fishing boat less than half a mile away. It had no AIS, in fact, covered in rust, it’s waterline thick with algae, for a moment we thought it may be abandoned but no, tossing wildly in the waves it’s crew valiantly fished on.

Ever since the equator we had been sailing through increasingly large patches of free floating, bright orange Sargassum seaweed. With no engine running it wasn’t a problem for the propellor, but we sat aghast trying to imagine how many acres of ocean it must cover, hoping that it was at least using up lots of carbon dioxide to help the atmosphere.

Masses of Sargassum seaweed covered the ocean

We were sailing fast which meant our eta had us arriving the morning before the arrival of our welcoming committee, who were flying in from the UK Tuesday afternoon. But after 15 days the thought of slowing up and spending an extra night at sea didn’t appeal to us, we pushed on. Until suddenly, and against every chart and source of information we had for this area of water, we encountered a negative current and for 36hrs we stared depressingly as our speed over the ground struggling to reach 7kts. Thankfully about 200nm from Grenada the current firstly went neutral and then positive, at times we screamed along at 10 knots towards the finish line.

The traffic had increased also, not only more fishing boats, with and without AIS but tankers and cargo boats, plying their way between the Americas and Africa or the Far East. The radio sparked into life with a large drilling platform calling up to ask us to leave them a minimum perimeter of two miles as we passed. On our final night we had to call up two cargo boats to ensure they were aware of our presence and as always they were happy to change course to give us plenty of space.

Tuesday morning we arrived off the SE corner of Grenada, land ahoy was excitedly written into the log. But we weren’t quite there yet, blackening skies and high winds built as we approached the island, overfalls tossed us about and we had to slow to let the rain pass so we could prepare the boat for docking. Then we faced the challenge of the complicated mooring system at Port Louis Marina, it was with a sigh of relief we secured the final line.

The ‘got here beer’ tasted good but not as good as the Champagne we shared with our friends that evening. We’d made it, we’d sailed all the way round.

Got here beer Grenada

Back in the Northern Hemisphere

Sunday 24th February 2019

Latitude : 02 12(N). Longitude : 034 54(W)

South Atlantic sunrise

Raya is back in the Northern Hemisphere. We crossed the equator about 400nm off the Brazilian East Coast heading for the Caribbean and celebrated the event with four glasses of bubbly, one each for the three of us and, as tradition dictates, one over the side for Neptune. Strangely it is almost to the day exactly three years since we crossed the equator going southwards in the Pacific.

Capturing the moment

We left Ascension Island under blue skies, with light winds and calm seas. A nice easy start while we settled into the pattern of eating, sleeping and night watches that would be the rhythm of our lives for the next 18 days or so. The going was a bit slow but we were saving our fuel to help us through the Doldrums.

Either side of the equator in the tropics run the trade winds, winds generated by the rotation of the earth that blow from the NE in the northern Hemisphere and SE in the Southern Hemisphere, we have been enjoying their consistency for most of our trip and they are the reason for our westerly circumnavigation. Running around the equator however is the intertropical convergence zone, the ITCZ. Here the winds drop dramatically, historically the doldrums were dreaded by mariners as they could become becalmed for days on end. These days with most yachts equipped with an engine it is more a matter of motoring through them as fast as you can to pick up the winds on the other side.

We motor sailed for a couple of days before the wind picked up a little and we managed to sail for a while. Friday evening however the wind dropped again, but when we turned on our engine, we were assaulted by a loud and worrying banging from the prop. As we crossed the equator we had thought of taking a mid ocean dip but decided there was a bit too much swell, now it looked like Rick would be getting wet after all. We sailed slowly through the night until at first light, equipped with his mask and a knife he went to investigate. For the past few days we had been passing through dense patches of weed, and to our relief it was this that was entangled around our prop and the simple act of stopping the boat freed it up. Rick stayed down to check things were ok before we continued on our way.

Where the trades meet the ITCZ there is often an area of unsettled weather and unfortunately as we sailed through the northern boundary we had 36hrs of squally conditions. Ominous dark clouds would continually build on the horizon and we’d watch as they either scooted past, missing us or relentlessly approached. Each squall brought high winds that backed northwards and torrential rain that fell for about half an hour. With light winds between them the trick to not getting continually soaked was to reef the sails with the wind increasing just before the rain arrived, this was not always that easy. On the upside our decks that were still covered in dirty South African dust have been cleaned beautifully.

Another squall comes through

Thankfully we are now through the squalls and are picking up the northeasterly trades which, with an accompanying current, are whisking us quickly towards Grenada. Just over three years ago we took off form Grenada for the Panama Canal and the Pacific Ocean, as we arrive back we will cross our outward track and unbelievably our circumnavigation will be complete.

For now however we have another week or so of sailing to do. We are pretty low on fresh fruit and veg but have plenty of frozen meals, we are all swapping Kindles to ensure everyone has plenty to read and we are becoming better and better at the four o’clock crossword. Raya as always is preforming well and our spirits are buoyed by a continuous stream of entertaining emails from home. The sight of land however will be very, very welcome.

Green Highlights in Ascension

Thursday 14th February 2019

Ascension Island turns out to be a place that is far more captivating than first appearances would lead you to believe, from the tropical cloud forest covered peaks to its pristine beaches, from the large Greenback turtles to the land crabs, even the sun sets have been special.

The passage from St Helena was very slow and rather frustrating. The winds were light, under normal circumstances we would have resorted to the engine but obtaining fuel in Ascension is difficult and with a further 3000nm to go until Grenada every drop of diesel is precious. Ever since our return to the boat at the beginning of the year we have had one date that has been driving our schedule, the 9th February. With only one flight a month into Ascension Island this was the day, our good friend Jonathan, would be arriving to join us for the trip to the Caribbean. With little tourism there are no hotels on the island so our arrival to pick him up on time was particularly important. We sailed into Clarence Bay the anchorage off of Georgetown, the capital of Ascension, at first light on the 9th just a few spare hours before Jonathan’s arrival that afternoon!

Georgetown and Long beach

When I describe Georgetown as the capital of Ascension I should point out that the population of Ascension is only about 800 people. There are only four areas that could be classified as towns, the American base, Georgetown and two small villages. Georgetown has a few houses, a shop, a church, a bar, a police station, the main government offices and little else.

And when I say that the Island receives few tourists, I should explain that so rare is their presence that when we checked in to all the normal authorities not only were we expected but everyone knew Jonathan would be flying in to join us.

Further the shop mentioned above is not exactly Tesco’s, its few short aisles are rather bare and any hope of finding fresh food were quickly dashed. Our diet for the next few weeks will be interesting to say the least. The bar, and our access to internet, has turned out to have rather erratic opening hours and the lasting memory of the much talked about cafe on the American base that we visited last night, will be the delightful aroma of deep fat frying that lingers on our clothes.

Despite all this we have had just the best time, we are so glad we stopped. The people, all in some way employed by the military or the island government, couldn’t have been more helpful and friendly. And the scenery and wildlife have been really special.

Ascension unlike St Helena has some spectacular beaches. The central peaks of the island are surrounded by barren lava fields, and industrial signs of the islands military status are everywhere, oil storage tanks, radar domes, huge arial fields, secret Sam type warehouses etc. etc… so it is wth surprise that you suddenly find yourself enjoying the sight of a stunning beach, the turquoise of the sea and the white of the sand exaggerated by the blackness of the rock.

Stunning beaches

Its not only humans that enjoy this coastline every where there are warnings that sharks frequent these waters. Intrepid as we are and avoiding the high risk times of dawn and dusk we have swam and snorkelled most days.

Shark warnngs

Visitors of a more gentle nature are the large Greenback turtles that incredibly swim the thousand or so miles from their feeding grounds in Brazil to lay their eggs in the soft sand, particularly on Long Beach right in front of the anchorage. By day they swim around the bay popping up next to us with the familiar puff as they breath out at the surface. By night the females climb up the beach and begin the laborious process of creating a hollow above the tide line, laying and then covering the eggs. Monday night we joined the conservation team, carefully making sure not to frighten the females climbing up the beach. They found, in red torch light, a female in the middle of laying, she weighed in at about 200kg and 115cm long. Once the nest has been dug, the turtles go into a trance like state and are not disturbed by an audience, so we were able to watch for half an hour before leaving her as she began to shovel sand to cover the eggs and gradually wake up.

Turtle laying her legs

Tuesday found us walking near the 859m peak of Green Mountain. Now a lush rain forest it has an interesting past. Seen by some as an innovative ecological terraforming experiment and by others as the worse type of man made biological invasion, over the past couple of centuries the mountain regions have been transformed from a sparsely vegetated arid area to the luxuriantly green landscape that gives the mountain its name today. In 1836 Darwin visited the island and noted the lack of vegetation and the complaints of the British marines that the island was “destitute of trees” on discussions with his friend Sir Joseph Hooker, later to become director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew a plan was hatched to increase the vegetation. Plants and seeds from all over the world were planted and the survivors remain to create this unique environment.

Walking on a Green Mountain

The islands other highlights include the bright yellow land crabs, crisp horizons that gave us a brilliant ‘green flash’ one sunset, clear rich water from which Jonathan supplied us with an iridescent green Dorado for lunch, amazingly caught from the dingy and donkeys that seem to require refuelling at the local petrol station.

Only customers at the petrol station

Tomorrow we leave for the Caribbean and will be at sea for nearly 3 weeks. Follow us on the tracker.

Swimming with the Whale Sharks

Friday 8th February 2019

Stunning views all around St Helena

St Helena, just a speck on the chart of the South Atlantic Ocean, is home, for a few month each year, to magnificent 10m long whale sharks. Nobody knows why they gather here or why for hours on end they come up to near the surface of the water and seemingly just float about. But for the few visitors to St Helena this behaviour means we get to see them up close and personal.

We arrived in James Bay at 3pm last Thursday and were almost immediately summons to the authorities so they could process our papers before the end of their working day. St Helena, at least when there are yachts moored n the Bay, has a very convenient ferry service that runs between the boats and the yacht every hour. Stepping off the ferry that surged up and down about a metre next to the dock, on legs that had been at sea for over nine days was not easy but we made it. We cleared customs and Port control filling out the normal raft of forms and then in the afternoon heat trudged up the hill to immigration sited at the police station.

We needed refreshments, in town we spotted an Edwardian hotel with, on its first floor, behind wrought iron filigree railings, an inviting breezy balcony. We sat and took in our surroundings over a very welcome cold beer. Jamestown is a thin strip of urbanisation running down a gully between high steep cliffs. The majority of buildings and houses which mostly seem to date from the late 19th century, cluster around the one main street, whilst the newer developments perch on the cliff tops high above.

James Town

The islanders are a rich mix of ethnic backgrounds, reflecting the history of the island as an important staging post for shipping heading east and west around the Cape of Good Hope. Everybody seems to know everybody else and life is led at a slow island pace.

Running impossibly steeply up the hillside is the infamous St Helena ladder, an almost vertical set of nearly 700 steps that rises straight up from the town, challenging visitors to climb it. I’m so glad we decided against it, if my vertigo thought climbing up would be difficult, standing at the top, a couple of days later when we visited it as part of our whistle stop island tour, it looked to plummet straight down.

St Helena Ladder

As is the way in small communities the ferry man turned out to be the man who also ran the whale shark trips, so on the return run to the boat we booked to go out the next morning. The dive boat retraced our track, following the sheer rock faces that we sailed past on our way in accompanied by lively spinner dolphins the day before but this time it was the telltale shadow in the water of two whale sharks that caught our eye. Their fins and tail tips cut through the surface Jaws style, but unlike Great Whites, Whale Sharks are plankton eating placid creatures. We slipped in and they seemed happy to just swim along with us. The trip was very well regulated with no more than 8 swimmers per shark and a limit of 40mins with them each day. It was such a privilege to be able to interact with them so closely, these amazing animal encounters are without doubt for us the highlights of this trip.

Wow! Swimming with Whale Sharks

Raya, with the pressurised schedule we’ve had for the past month, has become rather high maintenance and the weekend turned out to be no different The high pressure hose that feeds the watermaker has starting to split . We quickly filled our tanks with as much water as we could before Rick dismantled the offending piece and with the help of what appeared to be half the island tried to find a solution. They almost got there but were one connection short, luckily he had time to order what hopefully will be the right bits to be delivered to Jonathan who flies out to meet us tomorrow.

We couldn’t visit St Helena without seeing a bit more of the island, so putting down his tools for a few hours, we took a quick tour of the Island. Our guide had spent almost all of his 82 years on the island and was extremely knowledgable. St Helena’s greatest claim to historical fame is as the place of exile for Napoleon. Napoleon spent the last six years of his life, surrounded by members of the French court, in a large villa with exquisite gardens and extensive views. In fact the views everywhere on the island are fantastic, steep green valleys, forest covered peaks and dramatic rock formations all surrounded by a sparkling blue sea. Not too bad a place for a prison cell.

Napoleon’s residence while in St Helena

In between times I was trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to buy some fresh supplies. Luckily we still had some fruit and vegetables left from CapeTown, but that after another 5 days at sea is now almost gone, fingers crossed we will find more on Ascension Island for the 3000nm passage to Grenada.

Passage to St Helena

Wednesday 30th January 2019

As the sun rose my spirits rose with it. Our first three nights out of Cape Town were chilly and the sea rough, the wind making our night watches cool and the rolly seas making sleeping difficult. It’s hard to explain just how nice, when you are cold and tired the coming of daylight is. The skies were full of cloud and glimpses of sunlight rare but still being able to see the waves as well as hear them and feel the small amount of warmth from the hazy sunshine came as a relief from the hours of darkness.

We had timed our departure from Cape Town, last Tuesday, not on the tide but on the earliest opening time of the fuel dock. Designed for much larger vessels we hadn’t quite realised just how high the sides of the dock would be and at low tide this was exaggerated further. The only protection from the barnacle encrusted wall were three huge tyres and the only cleats languished about 10ft above our heads. The surge from the ocean swell entering the outer harbour, pushed us on, off, up and down against the all. All my strength was not enough to throw our heavy warps up to the fuel manager, luckily Rick managed to get one up and I then tied us off on a couple of rusty brackets. Once full of desiel there was then the problem of transferring R8000 (£450) across the watery gap and into the air. We placed the bundle of notes into a zip lock bag and Rick threw as hard as he could, for a moment as Raya lurched it looked like it would go into the ocean but with relief it landed safely on the dock. We didn’t bother with the receipt!

Dodgy fuel dock, Cape Town

We headed out of the harbour into crowded waters, small, local motor boats fishing, huge cargo boats queueing to come into Port, pilot boats ready to guide them, a large fast ferry, flocks of cormorants and dozens of sun bathing seals. The seals lounging on their backs with their flippers in the air seemed uncaring of the passing traffic, quite a few times we came to within a few metres of them they didn’t bat an eyelid.

Unlike the huge male that had lorded it over our marina pontoon, one day aggressively barring Ricks access to the boat. Rick had popped out for a selection of nibbles for our lunch, unfortunately seals don’t seem to be keen on vegetable samosas and resisted the temptation to be lured after one into the water. After a 15min stand off, Rick clambered on to a wall at the back of the pontoon and sneaked around the seals back before making a leap for the boat. The seal now very cross stationed itself right next to our step off the boat. A good day for jobs onboard we decided.Pontoon wars

There traffic quickly thinned out once we left the coast of Africa, there have been a few AIS targets on the chart plotter, mostly cargo boats heading to the Far East, but none that actually were close enough to see by eye. There have been no dolphins or whales and few birds, just us, the sea and the sky.

It was a chilly first few days

When not catching up with sleep we have been reading, doing crosswords and fishing, two bites, two got away. A slight leak around a through hull fitting kept Rick busy for a day, but luckily he managed to stem the egress to a slow drip that can wait for our arrival in Grenada. We’ve enjoyed a couple of nice sunsets, well stocked from Cape Town the food has been fresh and we have even toasted the halfway point with a sneaky beer.

And as we have sailed north gradually the temperatures have increased and with clearing of the clouds, by day 5 we were back in shorts and T shirts, unfortunately the fine weather came with light winds and eventually we had to give up sailing and put on the engine. Thankfully the winds have picked up and we are sailing again today and winds are forecast to stay with us all the way into St Helena tomorrow afternoon.

Very much looking forward to getting there.

Cape Town

Monday 21st January 2019

We have loved our short time in Cape Town. A vibrant city of stunning views, bright blue skies and an eclectic mix of people. We will be sad to leave but this morning we have checked out with the authorities and plan to set off on the ten day sail to St Helena first thing tomorrow.

Our visit started well when the guys from North Sails who with only two working days to restitch our main sail and hoist our new Genoa, were actually waiting on the dock as we arrived into the marina on Wednesday afternoon. The good service continued when thwarted by the high winds on Friday they came, out of hours, to bend on the two sails early Saturday morning.

Our location moored right in the middle of the V&A Waterfront complex is ideal. Not only is there, close by, a supermarket that I trudged to six times, back and forth, to fill the boat with enough fresh food for the ten day passage, but also street buskers to entertain, a very nice arts and craft market and dozens of restaurants many perched right next to the docks, affording great views

Table mountain from the V&A Watefront.

In fact there are great views everywhere, Table Mountain dramatically dominating wherever you look, but the best views of all have been from the top of the mountain looking back down. Having worked flat out for three days, everything was ready and we took Sunday to enjoy the city. With so little time we opted for the open top sightseeing bus that wound its way past the most interesting sites before heading up to the cable car base station. We had left early and were rewarded by clear fresh skies and short queues. The views from the top were incredible, in every direction – peering down to the city centre that sits snug in the bowl of the mountains, looking out to far off towns and hills that fade gradually into the distance or gazing down to the Cape where the sea sparkles in the sunshine.

Signal Hill and Cape Town City

The Cape Peninsular and the mountain are an area of floral importance, recognised by UNESCO as one of the worlds special areas in terms of diversity, density and number of endemic species. Flowering shrubs, succulents and exoctic flowers nestle between the boulders that cover the plateau at the top of the mountain. For the intrepid, paths wind through this unique landscape, steeply up the mountain side that takes about 3hrs to scale, for those like us who opt for the slightly less strenuous fives minute ride in the cable car, paths zigzag around the top to make the best of the surroundings and it’s majestic scenery.

Taking a break and enjoying the view out to the Cape.

Back down at the bottom of the mountain we took the bus to Camp Bay, one of the lovely seaside communities that surround the beaches SE of Cape Town. Th sea looks welcoming in the heat but unfortunately a cold current runs down this part of the coast, a few brave souls were playing in the surf but most of the visitors were just soaking up the sunshine from their deck chairs. Having never been to anywhere on the South Atlantic I felt the need to dip at least one toe in the water, I can confirm it is freezing. We strolled along the beach for a while and then went for a very pleasant lunch, enjoying the waves from the warmth and comfort of our restaurant table.

A bit cold for a swim

Every time we have looked at the weather over the past few days the winds for Monday and Monday night have been getting lighter and lighter, it seemed foolish to leave just to motor for 24hrs, using precious fuel that we may need later in the trip. We took the decision to wait to leave until Tuesday morning, this having the added benefit of giving us a little more time to further enjoy the city.

We chose to visit a vineyard, we have really been loving the wine since arriving in South Africa and the oldest area of wine production in the country is just 20mins out of town – Constantia. One vineyard, Groot Constantia, was establish in 1685 and quickly became known for its production of excellent desert wine, drank by Napoleon while imprisoned in St Helena, the cellar still produces bottles of Grand Constance to this day. We had to try some and very delicious it was too. We left a few rand down but loaded up with a selection of bottles and some of the delicious chocolate they have produced to accompany each of their different wines. A white chocolate to pair with Sauvignon Blanc, a blackberry flavoured milk chocolate for the Pinotage and a dark chocolate to go with their Grand Reserve.

Groot Constantia

Next stop St Helena, where we can complete the Napoleon experience and see where exactly he sat to enjoy his wine.

Rounding the Cape

Wednesday 16th January 2019

As we rounded the most southern point of Africa, Cape Agulhas, we turned north for the first time since July. Taking advantage of a short weather window we had left Port Elizabeth at first light the day before. We were expecting high winds for this part of the journey and this notoriously rough passage didn’t disappoint.

The previous week we remained trapped in Port Elizabeth. Two large low pressure systems, passing to the south, kept the wind against us and the swell large. This wind and swell crept around the headland and into the marina, setting us rocking and our warps creaking. The dodgy dock wobbled and bent as the yachts either side bounced and pulled at it. However despite looking like it might collapse at any moment it held fast and kept us all safe.

Rather rickety pontoons in Port Elizabeth Marina

We decided we deserved a day off from the continual buffeting, so Saturday we hired a car for the day and drove from Port Elizabeth along the picturesque Garden Route to visit the Tsitsikamma National Park. We headed for the mouth of Storms River that cuts through the country side in a deep gorge and can be crossed by two precariously looking suspension bridges.

As we arrived at the coast the full strength of the large ocean swell was dramatically demonstrated as waves pounded into the rocky shore line sending plumes of spray spectacularly into the air. It acted as a good demonstration as to why we were still in a marina and not at sea.

Large waves pounding the coast

Rick had tweaked his calf muscle a few days before so I took off on the kilometre walk out to the bridges alone. The path crossed a small beach and then twisted and turned its way up and around the cliff affording breath taking views of the coast line and the rough seas below.

The small beach at Storms River Mouth

At the end of the trail steep steps led down to the bridges, Despite their height, so rough was the sea that spray splashed up on to the bridge, timing my crossing wrongly I ended up with wet feet nearly 7m above the waves. From the bridge you could see just how steep the sides of the gorge were. The difference between the seething waters to seaward and the calm river that disappeared into the hills was striking. For the half dozen intrepid kayakers that entered into the water at the bridge the still waters in front of them must have been a relief after the sight of the surf as they trekked to their crafts.

The suspension bridges at Storms River mouth.

Sunday a glimmer of a weather window opened up, it meant motoring to windward for the first day and a half and then rounding the Cape in winds of F5 but in the perfect direction. The swell continued to be at nearly 5m but with the top of each wave being 13 seconds apart and light winds, we were ashored by the locals they wouldn’t be a problem.

So first thing Monday we set out, and sure enough the slowly rolling swell caused us no problems. As we motored along the wild life kept us entertained, Cape Gannets formation flew before dramatically diving for their supper, dolphins appeared at our bows, whales passed by a few hundred meters away and for the first time since New Zealand we saw seals, fins high out of the water they floated seemingly asleep.

As we approached Cape Agulhas the wind backed to the SE and picked up, by nightfall we were sailing in 30kts with an increasingly rough sea. We turned North and luckily the seas and wind turned with us, by the time we reached the Cape of Good Hope it was even stormier but Raya as always just ploughed through it all. We were extremely pleased however to find as we sailed further up the coast that conditions eased and as we approached Cape Town we were again motoring in calm seas. The spectacular sight of the city with Table Mountain looming above it was yet another high moment of this trip. And we were finally out of the Indian Ocean and all its challenges.

Welcome sight as we entered Cape Town

Passing through the bridges to get into the V&A Marina.

Waiting on Weather Windows

Wednesday 9th January 2019

We sit in the very industrial, noisy and rather rickety Port Elizabeth marina, not quite as far towards Cape Town and the start point of our South Atlantic Crossing as we’d like. But sailing here in South Africa is all about weather windows and despite this being the best time to round the Cape, they are still short in duration and numbers.

We were disappointed to find on our return to Raya, after the Christmas break in the UK, that the work the riggers had been promising to do since our arrival in November still hadn’t been completed. Worse still they had started job leaving the boat unable to sail, any thoughts of getting away promptly with a weather window that was opening on the Thursday were quickly dismissed, as finally the riggers got on with the job.

Finally all hands on deck, but too late for a quick get away.

With our potential time in Cape Town becoming shorter and shorter, we spent the next few days doing as much of the preparation for the long passage between South Africa and the Caribbean as was possible while still in Durban. Filling the freezer with meat, the lockers with non-perishables and cleaning products and doing routine boat checks above and below decks.

With the next break in the weather pointing towards the possibility of an early morning get away on Monday, we crossed our fingers and Friday morning went through the protracted process of checking out of Durban before the offices closed for the weekend.

When leaving or arriving in South African ports you are required to file a ‘flight plan’, a four or five page document, describing the yacht and your sailing route, sign and stamped by all the authorities. We understand the theory behind the need for this information, which has safety benefits for yachts as well as protecting South Africa’s borders from drug and frequent people smuggling. However, in practice, for yacht crews, that having already gone through the procedure to enter and leave Richards Bay and again on arrival in Durban, it just turns into a three hour, hot and frustrating exercise in paper pushing.

Ten am saw Rick standing in the hour long queue at the bank paying our port fees, the Port Authority bizarrely taking neither cash nor cards in person. In the mean time, the marina office and I did battle with the card machine that was refusing to take payment for everyone’s marina fees. After a call to their banks technical support team, at last, my card was excepted and the first box on our flight plan was stamped. Then it was on to the Port Authority office, about a km away, to submit our bank receipt. Here the gentleman also explained our next moves, including a return to his office, which he informed us would shut for lunch at 1pm, just thirty five minutes away. So at a run in 30C of heat we went to the building next door, here the immigration office inspected our passports and stamped their box in the flight plan. Next, in the same building but back out into the heat and around the corner through a different door, it was on to the customs office, where we submitted their outbound form. Interestingly this is exactly the same as the inbound form we had filled a few weeks ago, except for the circling of outbound instead of inbound, we collected another stamp. At two minutes to one we dashed back to the Port Authority office where with a flourish he gave us the final stamp. Relieved, if rather sweaty, we returned to the Marina office so they could add it to their files. The one flimsy bit of paper I was left with felt wholly inadequate for the amount of effort exerted.

Luckily we had the weekend to recover and our weather window stayed open. At five am Monday we squeezed out of the spot Raya had called home for the past two months and headed out of the harbour. With little wind we motored offshore to pick up the benefits of the Agulhas current and within a few hours, with sun shining and a pod of about a hundred dolphins entertaining us, we were travelling south at eleven knots.

A large pod of dolphins joined us and gave a fine display of leaping their antics

Gradually the wind increased and the sails came out. As the wind waves met the southern ocean swell it produced a lumpy sea, but with the wind in the north travelling in the same direction as the current, the fearsome Agulhas waves were kept at bay. The current increased and for a time was running at 6 or even 7kts, it felt odd as we gently sailed downwind to see our speed over the ground reading 13kts.

A very odd set of readings as we sped along in 5.5kts of current.

As Raya got into her stride we were seeing unheard of speeds, for a moment the gauge read 17kts!

We felt confident that we could make it a fair way towards Cape Town, reaching one of the picturesque bays on the south coast before the next set of strong SW winds arrived. Unfortunately this wasn’t to be, we have been taking advice from a South African sailor who, for free, helps foreign boats with his wealth of local knowledge of the weather and sea states on this coast. Early Tuesday morning we received an email, he advised us that a large swell was now forecast for the rest of the week and although the bays looked protected the swell tended to creep around the headlands making the anchorages very uncomfortable especially as we wold be there for 4 or 5days.

So having had our fastest day run ever, we put on the breaks, turned out of the current and towards Port Elizabeth. As we crept along with reefed sails at only 5kts, in contrast to the previous 24hrs, we probably produced our slowest 12 but as always we were keen not to arrive until first light.

Luckily what appears to be the one large enough pontoon for Raya’s 56ft was available and by six am we were tied up and happily munching on a bacon sandwich.

We have some very large neighbours.

Traditional Christmas

Monday 1st January 2019

As the taxi whisks us along the empty, early morning motorway from the airport back to the marina on he Durban waterfront, evidence of the previous nights revelling lines the route. Although it was by now 6am a surprisingly large number of party goers were still celebrating, chatting and even dancing near the city beaches.

We had seen in the New Year high above Central Africa trying our best to find a comfortable enough position to sleep in our aircraft seats. We have done so much celebrating with our friends and family over the past couple of weeks, that missing this final night of festivities was almost a relief.

After the first week in the UK we gradually, with the help of a few extra winter wollies, began to acclimatise to the cooler temperatures, enjoying traditional pub lunches, bracing country walks and an over abundance of food and drink laid on by our ever generous friends.

Traditional pub lunch with Tony and Gilly

Christmas itself was spent in Buckinghamshire. As we did two years ago, we took over the lovely house of our friends while they skied in the Alps. Having not been home for 18 months it was fantastic to get the family together to celebrate and to indulge in all the family Christmas traditions. From early morning Christmas stocking opening, piles of presents and a dinner of Roast turkey.

An abundance of presents

Augmenting the eight adults, this year, we had the pleasure of sharing Christmas with two lovely dogs, Dash whose house we had invaded and Stormi, Matt and Robyn’s new puppy. After a few nervous moments establishing doggy terms when they first met, they luckily became firm friends and were no trouble at all.

Dash and Stormi

Everybody around our Christmas dinner table will be joining us, at one time or another in the Caribbean while we are there in the spring and there was much enthusiastic chatter about sailing, snorkelling and rum. However with the end of our adventure looming a lot of conversation has also focussed on the small matter of what we plan to do next. But as we batted around all our exciting ideas and the seemingly endless possibilities, the thought that by next Christmas we would be firmly back on dry land is so far from our current watery existence that it’s quite difficult to imagine it actually being real.

And there is of course also the small matter of the more than 9000 sea miles we need to cover between Durban and our return to Europe. The most difficult of which could be our next leg around the Cape of Good Hope to Cape Town. For the last few days in the UK we have been looking for one of the elusive weather windows to escape Durban. Firmly reminding ourselves that with time a bit tight for our arrival in the Caribbean, it’s important to resist the temptation to leave in the wrong conditions.

It’s Cold Outside

Saturday 15th December 2018

The bitter wind whipped off the sea, freezing our ears and creeping down the gaps around the neck of our coats. We had gone down to Ramsgate harbour to view the Christmas lights that decorate the yachts each year and couldn’t believe that it could really be this cold. This was not the Ramsgate that lies about 75nm south of Durban, this was Ramsgate, England. We have arrived back home to spend Christmas with family and friends and although, as always, our welcome has been generous and warm, after two years of perpetual summer we are suffering in the cold temperatures that have taken hold in the UK this week.

Before we left Durban we had enjoyed a day on a warmer coast, we’d driven 20 mins north from the city to the beach at Umhlanga Rocks. The beach stretches into the distance in both directions, the waves crashing over the large smooth boulders that give the town its name.

Umhlanga Rocks beach and lighthouse.

The unusual ‘whale bone’ pier that stands at the centre of the beach has won scores of awards, it’s curving structure framing a marvellous view out over the Indian Ocean. A favourite spot for tourists and locals, my fellow visitors included a honeymooning couple, three teenage boys caps pulled down low over their faces, an old gentleman catching his breadth and a couple attentively clinging to their two young children. Looking around me I noticed that this was a rather happy spot, although a disparate group, old, young, black, white, as the wind caught our hair and the spray from the crashing waves beneath our feet filled the air, none of us could stop broad smiles from forming .

Umhlanga Pier

Amongst the new hotels and apartment blocks overlooking the beach sits the Oyster Box Hotel, built in the 1950’s it revels in its colonial grandeur. We had a fantastic lunch sitting on the terrace enjoying the views, before, like good tourists, we visited the art and craft shops, where we topped up on Christmas presents and fell in love with a sculptured giraffe. At about 4ft tall he was much too big for our suitcases and so will have to sail back to Europe with us, although where to store him onboard is a problem yet to be solved.

We flew into the UK on Sunday afternoon, straight into the political turmoil of Brexit, we have been watching from afar the twists and turns of the process, feeling gladly detached. This week as events seem to be tumbling further out of control, we have been avidly catching up on the radio and tv, aghast at the seeming chaos. The rest of the UK, on the other hand, who have been bombarded by it for a couple of years now, are completely fed up by it all, if you ask for an opinion they despairingly just hold their heads in their hands.

Perhaps to hide from reality, everyone is immersing themselves in Christmas, trees and decorations cheering up all the houses, shopping centres blast out cheery Christmas songs and supermarket shelves are filled with festive goodies. As always we have been treated to fabulous food and far too much drink and as we shiver in the chill emanating from Westminster and the wintery weather outside, the hospitality we are enjoying is very welcome.

It’s cold outside!

Right Now, perhaps

Tuesday 4th December 2018

Taking a reflective moment in the cockpit, late afternoon in Durban Marina

We are fast learning that getting things done here is not as easy as it first seemed. The progress we made with the easier jobs when we first arrived, has not continued for the more difficult tasks. Since our return from Safari it’s been very much a matter of one step forward, one step back, half a step forward, if we’re lucky.

When we arrived we were jokingly warned about the translation of words and the South African perception of timescales. Unfortunately we took less notice of this than we should have. We are beginning to discover that the word ‘now’ turns out to mean ‘maybe later’, ‘just now’ means eventually and ‘now now’ while better than ‘now’ still doesn’t mean ‘right now’ which is the best you can hope for and means you have a chance of something actually happening that day, perhaps.

To add to the frustration transferring money from the UK to South Africa turns out to be a lengthy process and full of pitfalls. So having finally got someone to do the work, if they don’t take credit cards, we have to ATM crawl until we have coaxed enough machines to pay out sufficient cash. This is made more difficult by the warnings from everyone to be careful to only draw out money in a secure place.

Despite these and all the other words of caution we have been given, we haven’t ever actually felt threatened here, walking through the run down area near us, does produce quite a few stares but whether these are malicious or just shock at seeing a European face amongst the crowd is unclear. The crime rate is high here and the perception of danger, real or not, is ever present. Barbed wire tops every fence and gate and security alarm notices warn of a ‘fast armed response’.

Barbed wire at the yacht club parking gate.

Despite delays from outside help, we have been working hard and getting things done. Rick has been busy replacing, fixing and servicing, while I amongst other things have been having a well needed clear out of some of the lockers. Anyone who has spent anytime on Raya knows of the stash of emergency food in the front cabin. Hoarded for times of serious starvation, the tins of Fray Bentos Steak and Kidney pies have become infamous as food of last resort. Luckily we have managed to avoid being stranded at sea and even the remotest islands have had provisions adequate for our needs. The stores mostly bought way back in Europe, have been shaken and bounced across three oceans and most items are now more than two years past their use by date, it is time for stocks to be refreshed.

Goodbye to the steak and kidney pies.

We head back to the UK for a quick visit on Sunday and despite the pressure that is putting us under to get people to get on with things, excitement is building. A very full couple of weeks has been planned with military precision, Christmas presents have been bought or ordered and winter clothes have been aired and washed of boat mustiness. The water maker is pickled, the freezer and fridge are almost empty and the suitcases dug out from under the bed. We are nearly ready!

Have to dash somebody has just told Rick they are coming right now, perhaps!

South African Safari

Monday 26th November 2018

Nambiti Game Reserve, in the incredible dawn light

As is often the case we were holding on tight as we lurched and bounced forward, but unusually the wind rushing past us was dry and full of dust, all around were greens and browns instead of our normal blues and the dark grey animals close by were elephants not whales. We have had a weekend away from the boat, enjoying a safari in the Nambiti Game Reserve, staying at the rather lovely Nambiti Hills Safari Lodge.

The lodge had a fabulous pool and terrace area

At only 22,000 acres the reserve is relatively small but is rich in biodiversity containing grasslands, savannah, rivers and dammed waterholes, woodland and thornveld (grassland rich in thorny acacia bushes). This variety of habitats means the park can support over 40 different species including the Big 5. The big 5 aren’t actually the five biggest animals in Africa, the title originates from the days of hunting when five animals stood out as the most dangerous to hunt on foot. Now thankfully most people only hunt with cameras and we were lucky enough to get shots of four of them, lions, elephants, rhinoceros and cape buffalo. The fifth of the big five is the leopard, which our friendly and knowledgable guide Siya informed us, finds you rather than you finding them, sightings are rare.

The park cuts down the rhino’s horns to make them worthless to the poachers

Siya was extremely good at spotting the animals at a distance and expertly manoeuvring the open truck up, down and around the rough tracks of the park to get us as close as possible to the animals. And at times we got very close, the game pretty much ignoring us as they grazed, or strolled pass.

Highlights were many and included in the distance, a female cheetah streaking across the hill capturing an impala for herself and two nearly grown cubs and one evening, right next to us, another female striding along with us marking her territory. A group of lions, suddenly rousing from their slumbers, startled us as they ran past the truck. A male letting out a roar just meters away, leaving us in no doubt about who is king of this jungle.

Up close and personal with the lions

A young bull elephant, ostracised from a herd we had seen the day before, angrily crossed in front of us, a herd of cape buffalos content in cropping the grass at one point completely surrounded us and magnificent giraffes strolled stately past.

A real privilege to be so near to these mighty beasts

On a smaller scale, one evening as dusk darkened to night, Siya caught a genet cat in his spotlight, being nocturnal they aren’t often seen. About the size of a domestic cat they have a striking appearance, their bodies are of white fur spotted with black and their long busy tails black and white stripes.

Not to be out done, colourful land and water birds were in abundance, a few having some very curious features. The prize for most ridiculous bird must go to the long tailed widowbirds. A medium sized bird, the males during the mating season have tail feathers that are about half a meter long, these may make them attractive to the females but make flying clumsily difficult.

We also saw two large secretarybirds with an appearance that is part eagle, part crane. With feathers extending half way down their long legs, they look as if they are wearing a pair of long furry shorts. The odd name originates from the crest of feathers that the adults have on the back of their heads, these were thought to resemble the quills that 19th century clerks stuck in their wigs.

A young secretarybird takes flight

To increase sightings the game drives took place in the surprisingly chilly mornings at five after a 4.30am wake up call and in the afternoon at four as the hot temperatures of the day decreased. They were punctuated by stops for coffee and tea in the morning and gin and tonics in the afternoon. In fact the food and refreshments at the lodge were all delicious and almost too plentiful. Between drives we indulged in some spa treatments and enjoyed our rooms large bath that looked out over the bush. We read, slept and revelled in the luxury. Today we return to Raya and the ever long to do list.

Enjoying the quiet of the Bush with a gin and tonic

It was so difficult to know where to stop with the photos and I couldn’t resist adding a few more below.

Amazing ears of the female Kudu

And the curly horns of the males

Delightful legs of the African Wattled Plovers

And the priceless expressions on the faces of the giraffes

Finally Durban

Reunion to Durban – part 3

Whales everywhere between Madagascar and Durban

Thursday 15th November 2018

At 3am last Friday, near the top of the tide, we left the dock in Richards Bay and with a good forecast we headed finally for Durban. The multitude of lights within the busy harbour, an incoming cruise liner and 50 or so anchored tankers that were overloading our AIS system, made for a stressful exit. But by first light we had turned south and were being whisked along with help of the Agulhas current, the light winds were directly behind us as we motor sailed, in sunshine and calm seas.

Ever since we arrived off the coast of Madagascar we have seen numerous pods of whales and this trip proved to be no exception. However many times you encounter them, when they are up close to you, it is still shocking how huge they actually are. One surprised us, surfacing just a few hundred meters off our beam, another pod entertained us, breaching and fin slapping as we sailed by.

Whale watching off Madagascar

By 4pm we were tied up on the International dock in Durban Marina. We are a bit close to the noise of the city, with its continuous traffic, a rail track and crowds of people. And the water in this corner of the marina is depressingly strewn with rubbish. We are however more than ready to enjoy having no anchor alarms to worry about, no walls to contend with as the tide rises and falls and an endless supply of power and water.

Durban ‘got here’ beers

Just across from us is the Royal Natal Yacht Club, the oldest yacht club in Africa. It’s a well frequented venue and everyone has given generously of their time and local knowledge. Sunday’s they served a carvery so we enjoyed our first roast lunch in 18 months, we have sampled the fine South African wine and been entertained by live music on their lawn. A few hundred meters in the other direction is the Point Yacht Club, who serve a knock out breakfast and have a Thursday night B B Q. Termed Braai here, as well as delicious chicken kebabs, we tried spicy boerewors, a tasty beef sausage and rather tough biltong, a thick cut beef jerky. There are a couple of Oyster rally boats still in the marina, as well as a few other boats we know, so we have plenty of company and as for once Sterling is strong here, to make things even better, everything is extremely cheap.

View from the yacht club lawn across Durban Harbour at spring low tide

We do however have lots of work to get through during the next few weeks, a long list of jobs sits staring at us from the table. Luckily with labour cheap and plenty of marine trades around, finding help has been relatively easy so far.

Which is a good job because moving about is a bit of a challenge, the crime level in Durban is high and exploring further than the marina precinct by foot, we are told, is ill advised. Our immediate surroundings, in the worst days of apartheid, was a whites only neighbourhood, upmarket new apartment blocks sat between majestic examples of Art Deco architecture. As politics changed, the wealthy residents moved out of the city centre and now many of the buildings stand empty and derelict, the whole area has become dismally run down and petty crime is rife. Consequently taxis are the order of the day and next week, having ticked off some of our tasks, we will hire a car to explore further a field.

Art Deco architecture overlooking the harbour

Landfall South Africa

Reunion to Durban – part two

Wednesday 7th November 2018

It was with a mixture of relief and disappointment that we managed with difficulty to tie up to the wall in the large port of Richards Bay about 85nm north of Durban. The arrival fantasies, in my tired state, of a safe, easy, marina pontoon, where we could close our eyes and sleep for a week, were not to be.

Richards Bay is full, the marina gearing up for the arrival of the World ARC and the Small Craft Harbour has foreign boats rafted two by two to the wall. The only spot we could fit into was nestled in amongst the large tug boats that operate in the port. Getting on and off the boat is difficult and in the gale force SW winds that have blown for the past two days and with spring tides, sometimes impossible. We are within the tug boat security area and so have to be let in and out by a security guard, we have no power and water only after Rick managed to temporarily connect us to the over sized pipes designed for commercial vessels. The rough wall is playing havoc with our lines as we rise and fall in the 2m tide and we haven’t dared look at what the barnacle encrusted sides are doing to our fenders.

Tied up with Vella in Richards Bay small craft harbour.

We have arrived in South Africa however and the ‘got here’ beers that we drank in a nearby bar, have rarely tasted so sweet. To cap things off, on the bar TV, a bit of home welcomed us, the England rugby team were playing the Springboks at Twickenham, we cheered quietly, amongst a sea of green shirts, as England kicked the winning penalty.

It was a five day passage from Madagascar to Richards Bay, from a sailing point of view it was straight forward, we had one night of higher winds brought by squalls of torrential rain but mainly there was light winds and the engine was on. We decided early on to make the slightly shorter run into Richards Bay, in doing so, avoiding a night entry, in high winds into Durban Harbour. However, psychologically the passage was quite stressful, timing was every thing, not just to avoid the worst of a squally front but importantly to arrive at the Agulhas current in the right conditions and our weather window was quite tight. Estimating our speed was complicated by continually changing eddies of current that swung from 2kts with us to 1kt against, the days of motoring gave, me at least, range anxiety and news from some of the over boats was not good.

The fleet had split at the south east corner of Madagascar, while we sat things out in Fort Dauphin others pushed on. Some, risking the run straight in, sailed through bad weather but after a day or so waiting at sea for the wind to change, successfully made it ahead of the pack. Other boats decided to wait things out on the west coast of Madagascar, but a terrifying incident, where Atem the Blue Swan was approached by an armed gang, who were only deterred by a strong squall from boarding the yacht, sent everyone scurrying to hide out off the coast of Mozambique. Atem reported the incident to the American, British, French and any other authority that have navy boats in the region, apparently the potential pirates were apprehended. Atem arrived in Richards Bay a few days after us understandably very shaken. Thankfully we had no such problems and with help from our weather man, Chris Tibbs, when we reached the infamous Agulhas current all was calm, a sleeping monster beneath our keel.

Crossing the Agulhas Current

In the few days we have been here, Richards Bay has thrown everything at us, scorching decks, violent thunder storms, torrential rain and gale force winds. We have been invaded by a swarm of May Flies, that promptly died and covered the decks and visited by a troop of monkeys that we had to shoo from the boom.

Lightening was a bit close for comfort

Many hours have been spent dealing with immigration and customs, in South Africa you have to fully check in and out as you arrive at and leave each port, this involves getting the correct stamps, from the correct offices, in the correct order. Luckily we have had a knowledgable and helpful taxi driver to chauffeur us around and the company of the folks on Vela another Oyster that has been rafted up to us. Not only did we jointly do battle with the authorities, we have all dodged extremely close lightening, eaten out, drank on each other’s boats and done a half day river safari together.

The St Lucia river an hour of so north from here is home to 800 hippos and 1000 crocodiles. Our tourist boat slowly meandered up the brown muddy shallows bordered by reeds and mangroves. We passed sleeping and swimming crocs, bright yellow weaver birds creating their perfect round nests on the reed stems and families of wallowing hippos. Further up the river through the trees we spotted an antelope and a group of at least thirty sleeping hippos. Appetites wetted we have booked a three day safari for the end of the month.

Occupants of the St Lucia River

With the weather easing and hopefully all paperwork completed, we plan to start the short sail south in the early hours tomorrow, with an arrival, finally, at Durban marina in time for supper.

An Unexpected stop in Madagascar

A ring tailed lemur

Reunion to Durban – Part 1

Tuesday 30th October 2018

The Indian Ocean continues to challenge us. The exit from Reunion, last Wednesday, was even more lively than expected, with high winds and horribly rough sea. In our rather rushed departure I had forgotten to take a seasick pill and I rapidly became unwell. Even my trusty tablets that I put under my top lip couldn’t stop the waves of dreadful nausea.

Having been told we couldn’t stay in the marina we had decided to leave quickly so that we could sail with the Oyster Rally boats who had very kindly invited us, and Atem the Blue Swan, to join their SSB radio net. With such a tricky crossing in front of us there is comfort in numbers and the pooling of knowledge means we would be very well informed.

Thankfully during the first night things calmed down and my queasiness gradually wore off. The wind dropped right back and on came our engine. Unfortunately, looking forward a week, with the help of our weather router, conditions for our arrival in Durban, still looked difficult. As the forecasts firmed up, it became clear to us that a stop in Madagascar to wait for things to improve might be the solution. So it was therefore that just 3 days into our journey we found ourselves anchored, with four other Oysters that made the same call, in Fort Dauphin on the SE corner of Madagascar.

Madagascar had never even been on our radar, we knew very little about it. Whales breaching and fin slapping greeted us at the entrance to the bay, which we were surprised to find, with its backdrop of mountains and several European influenced villas above the beach, looked from a distance, a bit like an Alpine lake resort.

Fort Dauphin

The view from the deck proved to be deceptive, ashore, the smells, the slightly beaten up buildings, the rutted roads, the lovely wooden canoes and the smiling faces of the people, were all very African. We were met at the beach by an excited gang of youngsters and a few adults, all keen to help bring the dingy up the beach and look after it for us. The women and children persistently offered cheap jewellery for sale, the men waved taxi keys or offered to be our guide. The throng was a bit intense but all very friendly.

Local wooden canoes

We were shown the way to the immigration office where much filling of forms and enthusiastic stamping took place before a fee of over £100 was demanded. There was slight suspicion amongst the crews that this amount was fairly arbitrary and set to fit how much they thought we would pay. Barring Galapagos, with its National Park fees, I think it must be the highest amount we have paid to enter any country, but we were stuck here, we had to pay up.

A few trips to the ATM were in order and after a data sim was purchased we returned to Raya to rest, and, what else, to study the weather forecasts. We assured ourselves we had made the best decision, we would be here a couple of days. Heck, we were in Madagascar, time to find the lemurs.

Our taxi drivers car, a bright blue, tiny ancient Renault, was only just big enough for us and our guide, who, reassuringly, wore a sign saying ‘Official Guide’ in big letters around his neck. They told us they would take us to a private reserve where we could get close to the lemurs, but to be honest they could have been taking us anywhere, our normal careful research not done, we were in their hands. We wound our way through the crowded, narrow streets and through the bustling market area, stopping at yet another ATM to get more tens of thousands of Madagascan Rand, even after our time in Indonesia, we were struggling to get our head around all those zeros.

Leaving the town behind we turned onto a smooth wide dual carriage way, rice paddies and other crops filling the narrow strip of land between the mountains and the coast. Our comfort and speed was, however, short lived, as within minutes we took an unmade road towards the mountains. It had rained heavily all night and our driver was quickly confronted by deep puddles that filled the bumpy track.

Overnight rain made the roads almost impassable.

He’d obviously tackled this before as he torturously wound his way between them, his little car manfully battling on. Villages lay every few miles, consisting of collections of huts constructed totally from the bamboo that grows everywhere here, the walls from the stiff stems, the roofs from the fronds. We passed a gash in the mountain, shockingly rock was being hewn from its sides by hand, carried to the nearest village and made into square bricks.

Yes that’s a duck wandering past stone bricks, hand made straight from the mountain

A continuous stream of people walked between the villages, mostly carrying goods either strung from bamboo sticks, or in the case of the women in baskets miraculously balanced on their heads. A man driving four head of cattle squeezed to the side of the road to let us pass, we stared out of the window wide eyed, this truly was, another place, a world away from our comfortable European lives.

Everyone uses the one road through the villages

Eventually we reached the reserve and found our lemurs. They are really lovely creatures with expressive human like faces, their bodies covered in lush soft hair and their long bushy tails used skilfully, almost like an extra limb. We saw tiny Bamboo lemurs sat high amongst the shade of the dense foliage at the top of 30ft bamboo clumps, brown lemurs athletically leaping from impossibly spindly branches in the very tops of the trees and ring tailed lemurs that peered at us from crooks in the tree trunks.

Ring tailed lemurs

But the friendliest were the white lemurs, nick named dancing lemurs they nimbly swang from branch to branch, ran up and down the tree trunks and came right up to us looking for food.

White lemur

What an amazing morning. Praying for no more rain we followed the rough road back to the bay, ran the gauntlet of locals on the beach and returned to the boat. The days weather report had arrived, it was time to move on, our unscheduled stop had turned out to be so much more than a safe place to wait for the weather systems to get in line. Despite our fears this little corner of Madagascar, at least, is delightful.

Reunion Island

Wednesday 24th October 2018

Magnificent landscape around Reunion Island

As I swap the current charts on the table for those of the Madagascan and South African coast, the wind howls into the cockpit and the boat rocks on the fetch building in the dock here at Le Port on Reunion Island. We are rafted to a lovely 62ft Swan with a blue hull, luckily the winds are from the SW and pushing us both, off each other and off the wall.

Raya rafted in Le Port, the Oyster fleet behind us, all waiting for a weather window

The weather here is very variable, the normally reliable SE trades being affected by a continuous procession of high and low pressures. The 8-9 day crossing from here to Durban is unlikely to be straight forward, the forecast changing from day to day. On top of which the last day into Durban we will cross the infamous Agulhas Current. Running south down the South African coast it is not a place to be if the winds turn to the SW, which in unsettled weather they, suddenly, often do..

Finding a good weather window to make the crossing is difficult, the Oyster World Rally Fleet that should have left last week are still firmly tired to the wall. A few months ago we decided to ask weather guru Chris Tibbs to help route us for the passage. He confirms that once this front has past over, tomorrow there is a window opening up, so we are preparing to leave.

If we had known how nice Reunion Island was we might have planned a longer stay. High volcanos, one of which is still active, form the base of the island. Lush with tropical rain forest, near vertical cliffs, formed from numerous rivers, cut through the landscape. It was as if we were driving through a geography lesson on V shaped valleys.We followed the steep road around tight hair pinned bends admiring the views. The sides of the hills were streaked with waterfalls.

Waterfalls streaked the hillside

While we had the car we also went down to the beach for a late afternoon paddle and sundowners overlooking the surf crashing onto the reef a few hundred meters off the coast at La Saline la Bain. The lagoon inside the reef is one of the few safe places to swim in Reunion, as well as being famous for its magnificent interior it has a less favourable reputation for having the highest number of shark attacks per head of population in the World. Most marinas have no swimming signs posted around the dock, but we’ve never before seen them say no swimming : beware of sharks.

Nice spot to watch the sun go down

With brilliant French supermarkets the freezer is full of not just passage meals but pastries and bread, the fridge has soft cheese, ham and salami. Raya is shipshape, Richard who accompanied us from Cocos Keeling, has been safely waved off at the airport, and customs officers are due in the morning to stamp our departure papers. Africa here we come…..

Or do we? Tuesday night suddenly the weather doesn’t look so good, the last few days into Durban are now looking difficult. This means we either need to make a stop after three days in Madagascar or slow our speed down perhaps even heaving to (stopping mid ocean) to wait for an improvement in conditions before we cross the current. The Oyster fleet already a week behind schedule decide they will leave, we on the other hand have no time pressures and conclude that perhaps we should enjoy Reunion a bit longer.

Unfortunately, this morning the Marina has different ideas, with the arrival of the World ARC boats due in the next few days they refuse to let us stay. This is very unusual, normally a port would make every effort to accommodate you, realising the weather is our ruler. However it seems in the Indian Ocean the rallies are King, individual boats having to fit in were and when they can.

Back to plan A, a departure in a couple of hours, we’ll have to work things out as we go.

Angel trumpet shrubs brighten the mountain villages

Monkeying around in Mauritius

Wednesday 17th October 2018

After so many weeks either at sea or on quiet islands, emerging into the bustling town of Port Louis was completely disorientating. A cacophony of noise from the huge building works on the Waterfront assaulted my ears. People and more people, cars and bikes blocked my every move and the mishmash of roads that looked nothing like the grid layout on my map , hid my destination. Finally locating the supermarket, dazed I fought my way through the crowds. Doing my best to translate the French labels, I scrabbled together enough items to get us through the next few days.

Sailing into Port Louis

Luckily it didn’t take long to adjust and on Mauritius’s plus side, we have found nice cheese and baguettes, an ATM that gives us money on our first attempt and in the restaurants the food has been good and the wine served in thin stemmed glasses, a real luxury.

At the weekend we hired a car to explore a bit further and visit some of the tourist attractions. Escaping the traffic and chaos of the town’s took a while, Mauritius turns out to be much more built up than we expected. The busy roads, crowded pavements and ramshackle buildings of much of Port Louis and the towns of the interior are a world away from the serenity of the expensive resorts that line the rest of the coast, our previous experience of the Island. The real Mauritius is a truly multicultural society. Christian churches sit next to ornate Hindu temples, while pray call from the mosques fills the air. Over half of the population is of Indian decent, but there are also a large contingent of Africans and Chinese all muddling along together.

We first travelled north to the Botanic gardens, famous for its pond of Giant Amazonian Lilies and 80 varieties of palm trees. Created over 260yrs ago, avenues of mature trees link the formal lilly pond to the more naturalistic ponds of lotus flowers.

Victoria Amazonia Lilies and Lotus flowers and seed pods.

Sunday we headed South to explore the mountains of the Black River National Park. First stop was the sacred lake at Grand Bassin, mythically linked with the Ganges it is one of the most important Hindu pilgrimage sites outside of India. The proof of its popularity are the huge car parks and walkways that lead to it. The air was thick with the scent of incense and although nobody seemed to mind us wandering amongst them taking photos, we felt rather like intruders. Dressed in their colourful Sunday best, families had come to be blessed in the holy waters, making offerings of fruit, vegetables and flowers and then visiting the temple and praying to the brightly decorated deities that sit at the waters edge.

Ganesh the elephant deity

We drove further into the park stopping at view points and waterfalls. Unfortunately the dry season had turned the waterfalls into trickles and with cloudy skies the no doubt often spectacular views to the south coast were misty and flat. Troops of monkeys that had collected to scavenge from the tourists leftovers became the main attraction.

Monkeys high up in the Black River National Park

Descending through sharp hairpins the mountain road led us down to Chamarel and it’s peculiar dunes, La Terre de Sept Couleurs. The seven colours have been created from basalt rock rich in Iron and Aluminium. Ferrous oxides giving the reds and browns, aluminium oxides producing blues and purples.

The Seven Coloured Earth

Back onboard Raya we spent a couple of days in limbo, waiting for the ok on a spot in the marina in Reunion Island, our next stop and where Richard leaves us to fly back to the UK. The Oyster Rally a week ahead of us is occupying most of the space, but with the arrival of the World Rally boats to Port Louis, things are getting pretty tight here too. Berths for individual yachts such as ourselves are becoming few and far between. And with the weather not looking good for a departure to South Africa any time soon there is becoming a bit of a yacht bottle neck.

Thankfully yesterday Regine the Oyster Rally coordinator kindly negotiated us a spot tied up with the Oyster fleet, we leave for Reunion this afternoon.

Turbulent Indian Ocean

Finally Internet, see two blogs below

Friday 5th October 2018

We have just reached the halfway mark of our sail from Cocos Keeling to Mauritius. The Indian Ocean continues to be lumpy and uncomfortable, tossing Raya back and forth as she speeds onward. Bigger waves roll in every ten minutes or so, looming over us then picking us up, when we reach the crest for a moment we sit perched high above the ocean, before with much spray and noise, we surf downwards to await the next ride.

Waves up to five meters high persisted for most of the passage.

Our friend Richard who joined us in Cocos Keeling has fitted in well with our routines and so we are now all getting a bit more sleep, even with the rolly conditions. The half moon however that lit our way for the first few nights, has waned and with quite a bit of cloud obscuring the stars our night watches are very dark. Sunrise is as always welcome.

A pink sunrise

We have seen very few other ships, a few tankers have passed us but most only spotted on the chart plotter as AIS targets, just a couple pass close enough to spot on the horizon. Even the dolphins have been keeping their distance it is unusual to be at sea for this long without spotting at least a few.

In contrast there have been plenty of flying fish, one morning Richard cleared 26 that had accumulated on the deck over night. During the day we watched them skimming the waves all around us. On one wave, right next to us, about 50 small fish all took to the air at once. Catching the sun as they leapt, fins beating rapidly, for one magical moment they looked just like a band of fairies appearing from the deep.

So each day goes on, we eat, catch up on sleep, read and gather for the 4pm crossword. We’ve had good winds and we are sailing fast, there is much debate as to whether we can maintain these high speeds and make it to Port Louis the afternoon before our estimated arrival on Friday 12th. The next few days, with a forecast drop in the wind and possible drop in speed, will be the deciding factor. Unfortunately if we lose pace then we will have to slow up for the rest of the voyage to avoid a night time arrival.

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Thursday 11th October 2018

On day eight calmer weather did arrive, the sea settled, the sun shone and the fishing rod came out. Luckily we still had a reasonable breeze and could keep our speed up. The fish however were disappointedly not biting. A fish supper would not only have been delicious but would have helped our dwindling fresh food supplies. Almost everything I bought in Cocos Keeling has not lasted well, the fridge is looking extremely bare. We have all been fantasising about our first meal ashore, with chips of course and a large glass of wine.

Boys putting out the fishing rod, no bites this trip sadly.

The Indian Ocean hadn’t finished with us yet however, two days out from Mauritius and the winds built again along with the swell. It was back to bracing against the tipping from the waves, each task taking twice as long as it should. We have found this Ocean particularly fickle, winds often gusting from 18 to over 30kts every few minutes and the sea state varying, seemingly randomly, from slight to rough.

For the second half of the passage we saw many more tankers and cargo boats, all thankfully happy, on request on VHF, to let us maintain our course. About 200nm out we began to cross the shipping lane for boats coming up from the Cape of Good Hope heading towards East Asia. A sharp lookout was required.

And then the squalls came. Ominous black clouds would appear on the horizon, the wind would drop and back. The arrival of a downpour would be accompanied by a blast of high winds that only gradually returned to their presquall direction and strength. Each squall required us to reef the sails and frequently change direction, the cockpit and crew were frequently soaked, sleeping off watch almost impossible, if we hadn’t laughed we would have cried.

Squalls rolling in over the Indian Ocean

To add to our woes, a seam on our Genoa started to split, the sails have, like us, done a lot of miles. Luckily they are very strong and held together with a network of spectra, miraculously the sail maintained its integrity and didn’t appear to effect our performance.

A split in the Genoa

But we made it, in more or less one piece and are now tied up to the wall near the customs office in the capital of Mauritius, Port Louis. Although not our favourite crossing it has been our fastest, arriving 12hrs earlier that expected and averaging 7.8kts. The usual ‘ got here beer’ was delayed slightly by the extremely efficient check in procedure. An hour of form filling later, it was three very weary and slightly wobbly sailors that clambered over the railings to the restaurants conveniently located right next to us.

Second ‘got here beer’

Cocos Keeling

Thursday 27th September 2018

Coral garden Cocos Keeling

Sitting atop a sea mount rising from the sea bed 5000m below, Cocos Keeling is 600nm SE of Java and over thousand miles NW of Australia, it is the very definition of the middle of nowhere. Two stunning coral atolls comprising of 27 white sand islands, topped with palm trees and of course surrounded by turquoise seas.

The anchorage off Direction Island

For such a remote spot we have discovered it has a lively history. The inside of the Southern Atoll has provided, in the aptly named Refuge Bay, protection for passing ships for centuries and we in that long tradition are anchored in its lagoon off Direction Island. It was first put on the map by a whaler from the Scottish Clunies-Ross family, who in the early 19th century settled here, bringing in hundreds of Malay workers with whom he set up a successful coconut plantation.

At the beginning of the 20th century things began to change. As telegraph communications become more important, in 1901 a cable was laid from Perth in Australia to a repeater station on Direction Island and then on to Singapore and Mauritius providing a link from Australia to London. With the coming of the World Wars the islands strategic position became even more clear to the Australian government and in the 1950s, it would appear rather underhandedly, the Governor of the the time John Clunies-Ross was accused of practicing slavery, shamed and bankrupted. Cocos Keeling became part of Australia.

Oceana House the grand family home still stands on Home Island. After years of neglect it was bought by an Australian couple Avril and Lloyd and just in time its expansive teak panelling, wooden floors and ornate terraces are beginning to be restored.

Home island, a very wet 2nm dingy ride away from the anchorage, has that sleepy island feel that we have found in many isolated ocean islands. It is home to the majority of the Muslim Malay population and with only short distances to travel in their small town they get around slightly incongruously in golf buggies. There is a small museum, a supermarket, island administrative buildings and a brand new cyclone shelter. But our destination is almost always, the pavilion, here overlooking the beach and lagoon is an internet hotspot, every couple of days we sit, dripping from the journey, catching up with our emails and downloading the weather.

Connecting with the rest of the world

West Island, that forms a large part of the western lagoon edge, houses most of the Australian residents, a further supermarket, a cafe and the airport. Saturday our friend Richard was flying in from the UK to join us on the leg to Mauritius and Reunion. With the demise of our Bimini and sprayhood earlier in the year, we also had a large box of replacement canvas work, very efficiently supplied by Dolphin sails in the U.K. to pick up. Add on the fact that fresh groceries had arrived on the island that day, which I with seemingly the rest of the population, rushed to snap up before stocks dwindled, meant it was three very ladened sailors that made the convoluted trek back to Raya. First step was to take a shuttle bus from the town to the ferry dock, then it required two ferry crossings from West Island to Home Island, one for people and one for cargo and then being too loaded down for the dingy, we had to arrange a water taxi back to the boat. It took a while but we made it and Richard is unpacked, the new sprayhood up and the fridge full.

As we wait for the rather windy weather to calm down before we head off on the two week passage to Mauritius, we have been enjoying this rather special place. As well as learning about the islands history we have been following trails through land thick with palm trees, socialising with the World ARC boats that have gradually being filling the anchorage and snorkelling ‘The Rip’.

The Rip is a channel cutting through the coral at the end of Direction Island, the current runs at about 3kts and it is full of large grouper, trevally and white tip sharks, all enjoying the fast flow of nutrients. The coral walls either side provide overhangs, crevasses and bommies crowded with smaller fish. The dingy firmly in tow it made for a great, if rather quick, drift snorkel.

Inhabitants of the Rip

Today the wind is stronger than ever, the fetch across the lagoon forming white horses, we have put on our swimmers to make the crossing to the pavilion and are temporary connected to the world.

No Pain, No Gain

Thursday 20th Sept 2018

Hanging on, precariously against the messy seas and high winds, a masked booby taking a rest from the buffeting of these gusty conditions, perches on our dingy. I, in a similar state, sit huddled in the corner of the cockpit, his presence breaking the monotony of my night watch. The predawn sky gradually lightens to reveal another day of rough seas. The best thing that can be said about our passage from Lombok to Cocos Keeling is that it’s been fast, we covered the 1141nm in just a few hours over 6 days.

Masked Bobbie resting on the dingy

You would think that after 25,000nm, the milestone we reached a few days ago, that we would be better at reading weather forecasts and that we would realise that 12kts really means 8kts ie not enough to sail by, which is what we had for the first two days and that 20kts actually means well over 30kts, producing the rough seas that plagued us for the rest of the journey.

It’s not that these rough seas were scary, even as large waves loom over us, Raya copes with these conditions as if they are all in a days work but it is really uncomfortable. Eating and other essential tasks become difficult and sleeping is near on impossible. On our off watches we roam the boat, steadying ourselves between handrails, dragging a quilt, trying to find the best place to sleep in the current conditions. Some times diagonally across the main bed works, or perhaps wedged into a bunk bed with a lea cloth or maybe the best spot is in a nest of pillows on the sofa. Often there isn’t anywhere that works and it’s just a matter of closing your eyes and trying to get what rest you can.

The captain clinging on while he catches up on some sleep

The big waves also brought us less welcome visitors. Flying fish flew on to the deck and into the cockpit in shoals, their frantic flapping leaving scales all over the place and making them impossible to pick up and throw back into the sea. One hit Rick square on the head, others bounced off the Bimini which must amazingly be 4 or 5m above their watery home, while others we found caught in the halyards on the mast.

We left Marina del Ray last Thursday for an anchorage away from the islands and pearl farms that surround Gili Gede to make for an easier get away the next day. We wanted to tackle the strait between Lombok and Bali in the lighter, early morning, breezes. It was still a challenge to avoid the worst of the overfalls but the 5kt current whisked us quickly out from Indonesia into the Indian Ocean.

The Indian Ocean, we really are on our way home now. With only seven or so weeks left before the cyclone season hits this area and with nearly 5000nm to cover we will for the first time on this trip be sailing for as much as we are at anchor. As we watched the turbulent water around us, discussed whether it was worth fighting the elements to make a cup of tea or sat through a chilly, drizzly night, the prospect of weeks at sea didn’t really appeal.

However this morning the sea had calmed a little and with just 10nm to go we spotted the last of the Oyster rally fleet leaving the atoll of the South Keeling Islands. Our spirits rose as we chatted on the radio to our friends on True Blue who gave us their top tips for enjoying our stay. And as we rounded Direction Island and entered the lagoon we were greeted with clear, calm, turquoise seas and three small black tip sharks. We were promptly checked in by the friendly Cocos Keeling police, washed our salt covered decks and drank our ‘got here beer’. This life’s not so bad, as they say, no pain, no gain.

Motoring in to the lagoon off Direction Island

Lombok, Marina del Ray

Thursday 13th September 2018

As we secure the last few lockers, finish a raft of maintenance and cook enough meals for a week at sea, around us the marina has emptied of Oyster rally boats and then refilled with boats from the World ARC.

Raya and 20 World ARC yachts.

Making the best use we could of the few quiet days between the rallies, we managed to refuel, get the laundry completed and take a trip into town to provision. Town is the capital of Lombok, Mataran, which is 20miles and an hour and a half drive away.

This was not a prospect we relished with memories of the hot bumpy rides we have had so far in Indonesia. Saturdays journey started with a short boat ride over to the mainland and here we immediately realised Lombok was a bit different from the other islands. The ever present scooter drivers were actually wearing helmets, our driver put on his seat belt and the road was smooth, newly laid tarmac. The views from the window however were chaotically similar. The first third of the journey we wound around the turquoise coast dotted with a few small resorts and passed through ramshackle villages and farms.

Farm buildings for cattle and goats

We entered a more built up area, a beggar sat on a stool in the middle of the road, perilously close to the traffic, school children filled the pavements and horse and carts risked life and limb cantering between the cars and scooters. We crossed a tumble down bridge in the middle of being replaced, mosques appeared around every corner and as we entered the city rice paddy fields incongruously filled the land between buildings

Schools out, half days on Saturday

We turned into a large car park and suddenly the noise and bedlam of Mataram disappeared. The large, western style shopping centre, shiny, quiet and modern felt like it had been dropped from outer space. It took a moment to get over the culture shock and then it was straight to the supermarket to stock up for the next couple of weeks.

Water taxi delivered us and our shopping back to the marina

With all the boats on the dock there has been a friendly atmosphere, everybody helping each other out. We were recommended a restaurant over the hill. A short walk, with a steep section over rubble and mud, followed by a badly crumbling path but it was well worth the effort. Perched on a slope, draped in bougainvillea it was completely charming, the food was good and the prices reasonable. Just don’t forget your torch for the walk back!

Crumbling path to the restaurant

And so our Indonesian foray comes to and end, we have after a few days of delays our exit papers and tomorrow we will set off on the first leg across the Indian Ocean. We should reach the remote atoll of Cocos Keeling in 6-7 days time.

Volcano Adventures

Friday 7th September 2018

pBrightly painted wooden boats sit underneath the volcanoes on the dark black sand

We have arrived in a Gili Gede, an island in the South West of Lombok and are tied up in the half completed Marina del Ray. After over a week of day hop sailing, covering 300nm and 2 months with just the odd drop of rain. It feels good to not be rushing off at the crack of dawn, to be able to sleep with the anchor alarm turned off and to get some fresh water to wash down the decks.

All the islands from Java to Timor make up a volcanic arc that sits on the boundary of the Australian and South East Asian tectonic plates. Being on the extreme western edge of the so called ring of fire, a geologically active area that surrounds the pacific, it has active volcanoes and suffers from frequent earthquakes. Unfortunately demonstrated by the strong recent quakes in the north of Lombok Island that sadly killed around 500 people. Thankfully we haven’t been effected and nor has the south of the island where the marina is located, so we continue on as planned feeling that the best way to support the island is to visit and spend our tourist pounds. We sail past hundreds of cone shaped peaks, some rising to over 3000m straight from the sea.

Gunung Sangeang

Leaving Komodo our route took us along the north coast of Sumbawa. Nestled between the mountains and the sea, in the shadow of the huge volcano that is the Island of Sangeang , sits the village of Wera. A centre for traditional boat building it appeared that the whole village was on or around the black sand beach, either building, repairing, playing with or sailing boats. The boats are beautiful pieces of craftsmanship, made entirely from wood and ranged from the kids built toy boats, through the common long boats, up to a 30m long fishing boat. As we walked along the sand, regrettably again dodging piles of rubbish, we were mobbed by hundreds of children and encouraged by the obviously proud boatmen to photograph their handiwork.

Traditional boat being built in Wera

Continuing our journey we spent one night in Karanga. As the early morning haze began to clear it offered us a backdrop dominated by Gunung Tambora, the volcano that in 1815 erupted with such force that it filled the air with clouds of dust. This dust spread across the planet and was so thick it partially blocked out the sun, plunging the world into “a year without summer”.

Unfortunately a swim in the green seawater lake nearby, in the Caldera of Saltode Island, wasn’t possible, the anchorage was too rough to risk leaving Raya or dinging ashore. We moved on to the island of Moyo and managed a snorkel and a visit to the beach but the continuing choppy seas thwarted our plans to eat at the resort across the bay.

It was time to find a calmer anchorage and a more tranquil spot couldn’t have been wished for. Hidden behind a sand spit at the marvellously named Potapaddu Bay we found still water.

Raya anchored in the calm of Potapaddu Bay

We had a pleasant snorkel on the coral wall on the outside of the spit and as the afternoon wore on fishing boats started to appear from the village. Eventually they overcame their shyness and came across to say hello and see if we had any gifts. And we did. We had read that the villagers of Sumbawa were very poor but Wera had been too crowded to start giving out things and at Karanga it was a bit rough. The half dozen boats that crowded around us here were much more manageable. We gave away T-shirts, fishing hooks and line, toys and the ever in demand pens and paper. However the most popular gift was perfume. Penny had bought with her two boxes of tiny perfume samples and when we demonstrated what they were and let them smell my wrist, their expressions of delight was a picture. For your Istri (wife) we told them, giggling they added them to their stash of goodies .

With only a few days left of Penny and Stephens holiday we needed to push on and our next challenge was the narrow strait between Sumbawa and Lombok. We had another early start to try to get as far through the passage as possible before the winds filled in. We stayed as close to land as we could winding through the small islands and reefs, Mount Randi towering over Lombok in the distance. As we entered the channel for real, Penny was first to spot the overfalls, with 20kts of wind against us and 5kts of tide with us we knew eventually we would have problems and a line of white on the horizon was fair warning. We avoided as much of the turbulence as we could but eventually decided that 3hrs more of this discomfort wasn’t worth it and dived into a deep bay to spend the night before venturing on early the next morning.

Mid-morning we enter the protected natural harbour at Alang, heading for the lovely beach at the Ekas anchorage. We were glad we had entered in good light the bay was full of fishing platforms, apparently they are farming lobsters. An intense half hour ensued as we gradually worked our way through the hazards.

The beach here is named Heaven Beach and despite a rather difficult dingy landing, there is a surf break here, we had a pleasant stroll. High on the cliffs sat a small resort that was a one hour drive to the airport, so it seemed a good place to drop Penny and Stephen.

Heaven Beach, Ekas, Lombok

While they enjoyed a day of spa treatments before their long trip home we pushed on to Gili Gede. Again we had to face a tough sail, this time the channel between Bali and Lombok. For two hours we fought against a 5kt current but although frustratingly slow at least this time the waves were behind us.

We arrived at the marina in high winds to a chaos of Oysters, the Oyster rally were preparing to leave. We dropped the anchor for the night, it would be easier to tie up in the morning after most of fleet had departed. Ashore we had a quick catch up with our Oyster friends, we may see them again briefly in Cocos Keeling.

Komodo,

Friday 31st August 2018

Wednesday morning we got up at daybreak and armed with just water and our cameras we went to find our guide to go dragon hunting. Komodo National Park is home to the infamous komodo dragons, a giant lizard of the monitor family they can grow up to 3m in length and weigh up to 90kg. They kill their prey in a particularly grizzly way. Laying in wait they ambush their victims by hiding in the undergrowth, they attack using their large clawed front feet and sharp shark like teeth. If their prey escapes this first onslaught the dragon retreat and watch, their saliva contains a rich mix of bacteria, so most bites become fatally infected. The dragon stays close by until the casualty slowly fades and becomes too weak to defend themselves, at which point the dragon strikes again. They are carnivores and will attack large water buffalo, deer, wild pigs, smaller dragons and occasionally humans. It is recommended not to explore the islands without a guide.

Male Komodo dragons collected around the Rangers housing

Having picked Penny and Stephen up from the airport Monday afternoon, the next morning we left Labuan Bajo and wound are way through the countless reefs and islands that make up the west coast of Flores. We anchored down a narrow creek, Loh Buaya on Rinca Island. There is a Rangers station here where you can pay your park fees and join guided tours to see the dragons. We booked in for an early morning walk the next day and then settled on deck to watch the chaos of tourist boats that crowd into every available space, everyone in search of that komodo dragon moment.

Tourist boats fill every available space

As the sun dropped and the bay thinned out, a dingy safari revealed the Island was home to much more than the dragons. We spotted the bright turquoise of a kingfisher perched in the mangroves, a large heron waded in the shallows, birds of prey soared above the hills, a couple of deer wandered through a clearing and monkeys foraged and squabbled on the sandbanks.

At 6.30 the next morning as we followed the path from the dock to the Rangers station, more monkeys skitter across our path, a large water buffalo wallows in a small almost dry water hole and deer graze under the trees. Water buffaloes struggle during the dry season as there is little water around and no fresh grass . The whole island was in fact very dusty and brown, the only green provided by the trees growing in the valleys. Dried river beds snaked along beside our path and scorched hills towered above us.

Penny and Stephen on the parched hills of Rinca Island

We met our guide and armed with only an ineffectual looking forked stick, he leads us off in search of dragons. This turned out to be easier than expected, despite assuring us that they didn’t feed the dragons a group of about seven lolled, labrador like, in a cluster outside the Rangers housing. This of course guarantees that everybody gets to see a dragon and is an easy place to snap some photos, but it is difficult to accept they are not encouraging them to stick close by in some way. Luckily, during our 2hr walk, we also saw a young male stomping through the undergrowth and a female guarding her huge nest. Easily visible were two hollows, one a decoy nest, the eggs, up to about ten, were laid in the larger hollow which was about 3m long and 2m deep and were covered with soil and leaves to protect them during the 8 month long incubation period.

Female dragon guarding her nest

Returning to Raya the creek was beginning to fill up again, we motored off to find a quieter bay and do some snorkelling, as the National Park is also renowned for its crystal clear waters and stunning coral. We have had some marvellous snorkelling in Indonesia and off the north coast of Komodo Island and again off Banta Island the reefs didn’t disappoint. Especially impressive here was the amazing variety of soft corals and brightly coloured sponges. In the exceptional visibility and midday sun the extensive coral garden at Banta was stunning.

Coral gardens off Banta aisland

There is however a continuing problem with plastic rubbish on the beaches and in the sea. It is a tragedy that some of clearest waters we have experienced are also the most polluted.

Labuan Bajo

Sunday 26th August 2018

Sitting in a calm bay, with hardly a ripple to disturb us, this anchorage is perfect to spend a week catching up on paperwork, doing some regular maintenance and preparing for our next guests, my sister Penny and husband Stephen. We have arrived in Labuan Bajo, a once small town on the west coast of Flores. It has grown rapidly over the last ten years or so, to support the tourist trade centred around trips to nearby Komodo Island with its giant lizards and the amazing diving that is available in the clear waters and coral drop offs. It has an airport, crowds of backpackers and hundreds of tour operators.

Traditional style phinisi awaiting the next group of tourists.

We originally sailed to a bay south of the town and near the entrance to the harbour. The Puri Sari Beach Hotel opposite the anchorage has set itself up as the go-to place for visiting yachts, helping with everything from laundry to organising transport into town. They have a small pool you can use and a nice restaurant. However we found the bay rather busy, a constant stream of passing tourist boats churn up the murky water, the dark sand beach and water are strewn with rubbish and there is no dock for easy crew pick up.

So we have moved a few miles north to Wae Cicu Beach, a pretty curve of sand backed by more resorts but there is less traffic, there are dingy docks available and the water is clean enough for a cooling swim.

Raya anchored in Wae Cicu Bay

Ashore an unfinished road curves steeply up and down the coastal hills. The streets are full of overloaded trucks with precariously perched cargos, a selection of cars most of which are way past their best, rickety buses and a million scooters dodging between it all. A trip into town is a hair-raising experience. I hold my breath as I watch a tiny girl trying to cross the road, a group of old ladies stumble as they tackle the uneven, half completed pavements and to further confuse things a school band marches across the junction. Noise, heat, dust and a strong smell of drains.

Downtown Labuan Bajo

Despite all this we rather like Labuan Bajo, it has a friendly feel and everyone has been incredibly helpful. The market, a bit out of town and off the tourist map, was very ‘local’, large bags of rice and other unidentifiable grains line the entrance, a buzz of flies comes from the fresh fish stalls, rows of clothes and plastic goods fill makeshift shops and the fruit and veg stalls are bursting with goods. I swoop on a pile of broccoli, a rare delicacy for us and fill my bags with melons, mangoes, tomatoes and much more.

We have also managed to find some high quality diesel and someone set up to bring it out to us. Fabio, a ‘cool cat’ with long hair and flashy sunglasses, with some helpers came to Raya, his boat piled high with Jerry cans, he pumped 500l through a filter and into our tanks

Unfortunately, it would seem that was not the only thing they delivered, the next morning I found a small snake on the galley floor. After much girly squealing Rick came to my rescue and trapping him under a bowl tipping him overboard. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a rather good swimmer because today he reappeared, washed out of a deck drain on the swim deck as we cleaned the stern. Rick caught him again and this time flung him with the boat hook about fifty metres away. We watched incredulously as immediately he swam back to us. We then tried to get him to stay in a bucket so we could take him into shore but he was getting rather cross and aggressive, unsure of his identity we sadly felt we had no choice but to dispatch him more permanently.

An unwelcome and determined visitor

Still squirming slightly and convinced snakes would appear from every crack, it was back to work. We’ve got a lot of sailing to do over the next few months, Raya needs to be in tip-top condition.

Balancing precariously, replacing the rusting SSB aerial connector

The Great Cap Giveaway

Sunday 19th August 2018

Dipping further off the rally radar, we have had some lovely quiet days in a couple of anchorages in the NE corner of Flores. The dry northern coast of mountainous Flores is very different from the jungle clad islands we had visited to the north. Ever increasingly high hills turn monochrome as they disappear into the haze that cloaks the centre of the island.

The 48hr sail south from Hoga was slow in the light winds and where normally we would have motored to keep our speed up, we persevered under sail to save fuel, fuel of the right quality is difficult to find here. Slow, however, turned out to have its advantages. Even with a good look out, in daylight, we barely avoided the hazard of, seemingly drifting, small fishing attraction devices or FADs. How many near misses we had during the hours of darkness is best not contemplated.

6ft high bamboo FAD

As we approached our first stop Bari Bay, the wind completely died and we had, eventually, to turn the engine on. As we motored in calm seas, accompanied by dolphins, we came upon a fleet of small fishing boats. The frantic waving of one fisherman alerted us to his net that stretched across our path to another boat half a mile away, it’s top marked by tiny almost invisible floats. We immediately turned off the engine but stopping a sail boat takes time and even in full reverse we only just made it..

It was therefore with relief we put down the anchor in pretty Bari Bay to rest overnight. The village here is very basic and with midday low tides making things difficult, we decided not to go ashore for a visit, this however didn’t stop the village visiting us. Our first callers were four teenagers who paddled out to say hello and ask to come aboard for the enevitable selfie. As with all the kids we have met here they have a few set phrases in English – ‘how are you?’, ‘my name is’, ‘where are you from?’. They are always extremely polite and delightfully excited to be picturing themselves, with us, in various poses around the deck. For the past few months every rally meeting and every information pack has contained a peaked cap, we had gathered quite a collection. So Rick found four and gave them one each, ‘cool’ they smiled.

Word obviously got around, as gradually more children paddled their canoes out to us. Despite the language barrier I can happily report that ‘can I have a hat please’ was easily understood. By dusk our large cap selection ran out.

The kids from Bari Village loved the caps we gave them

The next day we were again motoring in very light winds avoiding more small fishing boats. The glassy seas a perfect palate for the flying fish that draw lines with their tails as they take off to skim the water for sometimes hundreds of metres. The route took us between the reef systems that line this coast and we were glad yet again of the satellite photos from Google Earth that clearly identifies them, making avoidance a lot easier. We slipped through a small break off Bodi Island and dropped the hook in a beautiful anchorage on its west coast.

With its white sand beach, shallow lagoon and turquoise, crystal clear water it really was stunning. We swam off the boat, snorkelled the reefs and wallowed in the shallow lagoon with a cold beer.

Anchored off Gili Bodo

The island itself is uninhabited, so as we sailed into the bay we were surprised to see smoke rising from behind the hill. As the light began to fade and the wind direction changed, rather disconcertingly, lines of flames started to appear over the ridge and spread down towards the beach. Luckily as it smouldered through the night the wind took the smoke away from us and it appeared to burn itself out.

Flames spreading across the hill side

The next day with the flames gone, we were excited to see monkeys on the beach. They walked along the tideline presumably in search of food. We jumped in the dingy to get a closer look but at low tide the shore was unreachable across the surrounding reef. Even with the telephoto lens capturing a photo of them was impossible. More easily photographed were these amazing feather stars in deep crimson and brilliant lemon that we found while snorkelling on the edge of the reef.

Colourful feather stars

Hoga Wall

Monday 13th August 2018

We have just snorkelled off a coral wall, the edge of the encircling reef around Hoga Island in the Wakatobi National Park. Wow! Thousands of reef fish of all shapes, sizes and colours. A mix of healthy soft and hard corals, nudibunch, feather stars and dazzling giant clams.

The edge of the reef – Hoga Island

The prize of snorkelling this reef however has been hard won.

Last Tuesday we started to raise our anchor from the deep waters at Banda Island. Not the quietist of windlasses at the best of times, this morning it started to screech and strain horribly. We let the chain back out, a day of boat maintenance was obviously in order.

For the rest of the day Rick, with me as his plucky assistant, disconnected, stripped and cleaned the windlass motor and gearbox. It, encouragingly, looked in pretty good condition, one oil seal had disintegrated, could this be our problem? Could we find a replacement?

Unbelievably for a small town, with seemingly nothing recognisable for sale except cheap Chinese plastic goods, the hardware store turned out to be an Aladdin’s cave and actually had the exact required part.

Innards of the windlass motor and gearbox

With the windlass back together, the noise gone, we went to bed happy. The next morning however under the strain of trying to pull in 80m of anchor things didn’t look so good, every 30m the motor would overheat and cut out. Our time in Indonesia is limited, there are so many places we want to see. We could of course let the anchor out easily enough, so we decided to carry on with our plans. We gradually coaxed the anchor up and set off for Hoga, we would tackle the problem again with a different view from the cockpit

I, and a lot of the rest of the fleet, had had a cold while in Banda, miraculously Rick seemed to have avoided it, unfortunately, a few hours into the journey Rick started to feel unwell. It was a long 48hr sail, with Rick trying to maintain a brave face and me doing as much as I could of the watches. Luckily Friday he began to feel better and by midday we were anchored off Hoga Island.

No rest for the wicked however, having worked out a plan of how we could raise the anchor on another of our winches if necessary, Rick had one more thing to check. He hadn’t looked at the drive shaft that runs down the centre of he windlass, so back he went into the cramped anchor locker.

Not the most comfortable place to work

The shaft was almost completely seized, after a bit of encouragement from a hammer, another oil seal replaced and a good clean up, he put everything back together yet again. We had originally anchored in the cruising books suggested spot, through a pass in the reef, into a lagoon. However it was on the windward side of the island and gave little protection in the brisk SE winds and at each high tide the fetch was breaching the reef, making things a bit uncomfortable. So nervously we tested the windlass, the chain came up quietly and efficiently we breathed a sigh of relief, then motored back through the pass and anchored off the reef in a less windy position.

The edge of the reef clearly visible

The reef drops straight down from one to thirty metres, we are anchored very deep yet again but the coral wall here is spectacular. With my ears still a bit suspect from my cold we haven’t dived but at low tide we have drift snorkelled along its edge, the variety of corals and fish just 100m from the front of the boat is amongst the best we’ve seen anywhere.

It’s difficult to explain the feeling of wonder as you dip your mask into the water and the coral garden comes into view. With the sun high and bright in the sky the colours are at there best, pinks, purples, blues, whites and yellows shine back at you. All the normal reef characters are here from tiny turquoise damsel fish, through white and blue puffer fish. Multi patterned yellow angel fish, royal blue and yellow striped sturgeon fish and incandescent blue, fork tailed, redtooth trigger fish. A shoal of black sturgeon with a pink tail and sheer white fins passes by and a pair of black and white striped, yellow finned oriental sweet lips pose for a photo. I hear Rick yelp, he has almost bumped into a sea snake, at a metre long it is by far the largest one we have ever seen. The wall drops straight down fading into the depths. A 3ft grouper emerges briefly from the blue and larger shadows suggest life beyond our vision.

A clown fish, the sea snake, a colourful puffer and two sweet lips.

A small dive resort sits ashore, a large dive boat overnights one day and our friends onboard Il Sogno, another oyster 56, joined us yesterday, but for most of our time here the only people to be seen are the few locals in their motorised dug out canoes. We donate swimming goggles and buy bananas but decide not to attempt the mile and half choppy crossing to the village. Stocks of fresh food are getting low however, time to move on.

Spice Islands

Monday 6th Aug 2018

We are anchored beneath a volcano in 30m of dark water, surrounded by traditional fishing longboats, opposite tired but substantial colonial Dutch buildings. We have arrived in Banda, the centre of the spice Islands.

Api volcano dominates the view

Sitting isolated by hundreds of miles of deep ocean, a unique but fairly indifferent tree evolved here, the nut these trees produce was to generate great fortunes and inevitably in turn to be the cause of wars and atrocities. Nutmeg was first introduced into Europe when traded between the Venetians and the Arabs. As spices increased in popularity and there value grew, the emerging powers within Europe sent exploratory expeditions out to the Far East to try and find the source of these prized and exotic flavours.

Nutmeg was tracked down to the Banda islands and eventually in the 17th century the Dutch won out as sole controllers of its trade. They created the Dutch East Indies Company, the VOC, and earnt a reputation for extreme intolerance, the native Banda population was almost exterminated until the Dutch realised that they still needed the skills of the islanders to successfully grow the nutmeg trees. The English very upset to be missing out on such a lucrative trade attempted to raid Banda many times with only limited success, holding on to just one of the small outer islands, Run.

Run however turned out to have greater value than expected as from here not only did the English manage to spread the nutmeg tree to other parts of the World eventually reducing the Dutch stranglehold on the spice but also in a treaty drawn up in 1667, Run, was among islands swapped by the British with the Dutch for a strange new land called New Amsterdam. Not happy to keep the obviously Dutch name the British renamed it New York. From this has grown the local story that the tiny island of Run was swapped for the Island of Manhattan.

Evidence of the islands violent past is everywhere from the ruins of forts topping many of the islands hills to original cannons littering the streets in Banda Niera. It is not often that we tie the dingy off to a 400 yr old bronze cannon!

Not a normal dingy dock, we are having to use this old cannon as a cleat.

Nutmeg is a complex fruit and every bit of it is put to good use. The sour tasting flesh is sweetened to create jams and syrups, the bright red mace that lines the nut shell is used in sweet and savoury dishes, as well cosmetics and of course the inner nut produces the spice we are familiar with.

Fruits of the forest, a cut nutmeg fruit with an almond on the side

At one time in Europe just one sack of nutmeg could buy you a small house, today although not quite that valuable its still the main income for these islands. We took a boat to the largest island in the group and passing through another brightly painted village, the houses perching on the side of the hill, we walked up to a nutmeg plantation. Nutmeg prefers to be out of the midday sun and so is grown in the shadow of magnificent stately almond trees. In the plantation they also grow cinnamon and cloves, the latter is dried in the streets in the sun and the pungent scent fills the air.

Ancient almond trees cast shade over the nutmeg forest.

Back in the main town Banda Niera, there is an eclectic mix of buildings. There are a fair sprinkling of crumbling grand colonial buildings, now mostly hotels or museums, In the Cilu Bintang Hotel we drank a cold beer on the columned terrace, sitting on beautiful period chairs, surrounded by all the trappings of its wealthy Dutch past. Outside scooters scurry back and forth down the ever narrowing lanes that lead into Arabic style souqs or tightly packed areas of small colourful sometimes Dutch influenced houses. On the sea front, homes appear more ramshackle, docks and boats competing for space. And encompassing all this are the steep volcanic hills rich with lush greenery and the once priceless nutmeg trees.

One for the dodgy dock collection

The main volcano, Banda Api, erupted just thirty years ago and two large streams of lava run down its steep sides. We were told there was good snorkelling where the barren black rock reaches the sea but as we approach through the deep dark water this doesn’t seem likely. So it’s a surprise when we put our heads under the water to find the best coral we’ve seen since Fiji. Banda gets the thumbs up.

A Right Royal Welcome

Monday 30th June 2018

Selaya Fishing Village

This must be how royalty feels. Each village has been lavishly decorated with flags, their streets flanked by dancing warriors with crowds waving from their doorsteps.

A right royal welcome to Selaya

The villagers have all entertained us with music and dance troupes, the boys armed with spears and swords perform a traditional war dance, the girls, heads demurely tilted, sway with fans or tassels. The cruisers, or yachters as we are call here, have been invited on to the floor, our clumsily efforts paling in comparison. Food has generously been prepared, mostly fish and interesting dishes made from seaweeds, a speciality of the region, all deliciously spiced as is the way with Indonesian cuisine. I drank a ginger tea, that thick and sweet, can be best described as a cup of liquid ginger cake.

The effort each village has obviously put into our visit has been humbling and we feel we have given little but our presence in return.

An evening of entertainment at Wab Nagufur Beach

Of course along with all entertainment comes speeches from the local dignitaries and people high up in the ministry of tourism, often full of self importance keen to be seen by each other doing their bit. The villages have gone to great lengths to supply English speakers to translate and the message is ‘please tell other people to come and visit our islands’. Tourism is currently centred on Bali and the rest of Indonesia is keen to share in the spoils.

There is certainly plenty of traditional Indonesia to explore, the colours every where are incredible and the people welcoming. If there is enough infrastructure, transport, accommodation, freedom of movement is another question however.

The children especially are delightful, bright smiling faces greeting us at every turn. Most have a few phrases of English and are excited to use them. With over 30 boats in the anchorage, parking of each dingy is quite a challenge especially with a two metre spring tide added into the mix. We returned one evening to the dark dock all wondering how we were going to reach our dinghies which were now three metres down below the quay. No problem, adults armed with torches had assigned one small boy to each dingy, who on request paddled it to the steps so we could get on. Such small attention to detail by the locals continued to make us feel special.

Hundreds of smiling faces

By the end of four days, however, our enthusiasm for coach trips over pot holed roads and sitting sweltering through official pronouncements of welcome were beginning to wane. So Saturday we took a last trip into the larger town of Langgur, cajoled a couple more million rupiah out of the ATM, stocked up with what we could find at the market and prepared to set off.

Finding anchorages here is not easy, coastal waters are very deep right up to the surrounding reefs and information from those that have gone before is sparse. From the charts and google earth I picked out a likely spot about 40nm in the direction towards our next rally stop, with the potential for shelter and a chance to swim and snorkel. A few other yachts were heading the same way and between us we felt we could narrow down the choices of bays. The one I had picked, turned out to be full of fishing and seaweed growing rigs and exposed to fetch. On the north side of the same island, Palau Walir, another boat found a quieter spot and we all converged there.

Finally we could swim, the water was 26 degrees, a reef sat just a hundred metres from our stern and there were no crocodiles or deadly jelly fish.

Colourful beneath the water as above

The reef was best snorkelled at low tide where as the beach was only reachable when it was high. Unfortunately the turquoise water and white sand was spoilt by more of the rubbish we are finding everywhere in Indonesia. The beach was backed by coconut trees and there was evidence of a small amount of copra production reminiscent of that in French Polynesia. The odd long boat came past and we found a small traditional dug out canoe full of fishing nets. The rubbish is obviously not being produced in this bay but must arrive on the tide from other more populace parts. How the country starts to tackle this enormous problem is difficult to say but if they want to preserve their beautiful surroundings and the life in their seas that they depend on for food, and attract tourists, it is something they are going to have to do.

Traditional dug out canoe.

Dèbut in Debut

Wednesday 25th July 2018

It has been a long time since the Call to Prayer has acted as our alarm clock, we have arrived in Debut, Indonesia and sit anchored in sight of three mosques. The Call here is much more tuneful than we remember from our time in the Middle East and adds to the exotic atmosphere we have immediately felt.

It is a beautiful day, the light is soft, the bay calm and in the cool morning air we sit, for what seems like the first time in months, without being battered by high winds.

It was, after eight months, strange to be leaving Australia. But we didn’t have much time to dwell on the matter, with the wind behind us, Raya was in her element, we flew out of the Torres Strait and into the Arafura Sea. After the first day it was rather rolly, with often flogging sails, in a lumpy sea but it was good to reacquaint ourselves with the challenges of longer passages after day sailing for so long.

Small dolphins joined us a couple of times to play at the bows and with the moon setting in the early hours we had the best of both worlds, half the night was moonlit, the other full of stars. We had been warned that their would be a lot of fishing activity, especially at night and to keep far offshore where possible. Huge, unlit, fishing rigs can be very nasty if you don’t spot them in time.

Bamboo and wood fishing rig tied up in Debut

Luckily we didn’t knowingly come close to one, we did however nearly get caught in one of the large nets that are trailed up to a mile behind small fishing boats, their ends only marked by tiny flashing lights. Others were not so lucky we know of at least three boats that got caught.

On Sunday, as dusk fell, we began to realise we were surrounded by brightly lit boats. These delightfully, rustic craft, amazingly anchored in over 40m, shine lights down into the ocean to attract and then catch squid. In the growing darkness an intense glow appeared on the horizon, we checked the chart more than once for a possible city but the shore was over 30 miles away and from what we could see was sparsely inhabited. As we came closer we concluded it was in fact a city, a city of hundreds of squid boats.

Fishing boat city

We arrived in a Debut, after working hard to slow the boat and time our entry, at around 9am on Monday morning. The route into the port was unmarked and uncharted. Luckily we had come prepared, marking the chart with waypoints I had taken from satellite images of the reefs while we still had internet in Australia.

Once anchored safely we managed to celebrate with a ‘got here’ before a continuous stream of officials began arriving at the boat. They arrived by traditional long boat, their approach announced by the lawn mower putt putt of their engines.

Quarantine offers arriving by long boat

It has taken us two days to process all the paperwork, fight through the confusion surrounding the data and phone systems and equip ourselves with, at 10,000 Indonesian Rupiah equal to only 50p, literally millions in local currency.

We did get the time to wander around a few of the streets close to the dock. The colours here are vivid, the prettily painted houses and brightly coloured flowers are all backed by lush greenery and the blue of the sea.

Main street down to the wharf at Debut

This is only the second year the rally has started their Indonesian travels in Debut and the sailors on the yachts are pretty much the only outsiders that ever come here. The town is in festival mode, friendly faces excitedly gathering at the dock offering to help us in anyway they can. And in this world where the smart phone is king, everyone is desperate to have a selfie with the visitors.

Tomorrow the official celebrations start, local dancers will greet us, there is a trip to a fishing village and dignitaries all the way from Jakarta are hosting a welcome dinner.

Loved this local wooden boat in construction at the bottom of the garden.

End of Oz

Tuesday 17th July 2018

We have arrived at Thursday Island at the very most northern point of Australia. Towards the end of the week we will check out at customs and head for Indonesia, our Australian East Coast adventure completed.

You can find our track at http://my.yb.tl/sailrayatracking/

The anchorage at TI, as Thursday Island is known, is rather bumpy, so the fleet of the sail2Indonesia rally have congregated a mile or so southeast off Horn Island. As soon as we stepped ashore we knew we were back to Island life. The dodgy dock was crowded, the roads and pavements were full of pot holes and the supermarket, well let’s just say we need to reset our expectations.

Getting the shopping into the dingy was a bit of a challenge for us and the guys on Alexandra.

The last few days of sailing up the coast continued to be good, although with the ever narrowing shipping channels winding their way through the reefs and islands, a good look out was required at all times and with the frequent changes of direction, sail changes made for a busy trip.

On the first night we stopped at a recommended anchorage off Morris Island. Just a tiny speck on the chart and not much bigger in real life, we were doubtful that it could give us any protection and prepared ourselves mentally to sail on through the night. Little more than a long sand spit about half a kilometre long, with just one palm tree and a bit of scrub there was no let up in the SE wind but surrounded by a large reef the swell disappeared, so we dropped anchor and got some rest. We had caught a large Spanish Mackerel in the morning but all plans of sharing a fish supper with our fellow cruisers was quashed, the wind deterring us from lowering our dinghies.

The next day, Wednesday, we set off on the 24hr sail up to Adolphus Island, just off of Cape York it was a good launching point to time our arrival through the tide driven currents of the Torres Straight.

Anchored in splendid isolation in Blackwood Bay, Adolphus Island

We still had no internet so I still had no Navionics on my iPad, I was dependant on the guys on True Blue and Matt on his computer in the U.K. to work out the tide times for us. With their help Raya was whisked along by a 3kt current into the anchorage at Horn Island.

Anchored with the rally fleet off Horn Island

The promise of a bigger supermarket and a couple of restaurants, meant yesterday we took the ferry to Thursday Island. It’s a great system with the ferry Captain also being the bus driver. Once the ferry docks, everyone moves to a mini bus and is dropped around the small town and island as required. To return, you just call for the bus who picks you up and delivers you back to the ferry. With the security of the driver of both being the same person you know the ferry can’t leave without you.

Being only 10 degrees South of the equator we are deffinatly back in the tropics and we had to remind ourselves to slow down in the humid heat. With only one main street and the sea front, we easily found our way around and although bigger and a bit smarter than Horn Island, it still felt a very long way away from the Australia we had left behind in Cairns.

Harry the local croc lounging on the banks of the anchorage

In Captain Cooks Footsteps

( After nearly a week we finally have a couple of bars of 3G, see delayed post below. )

Flinders Islands

Monday 9th July 2018

We are anchored with three other boats off an incredibly beautiful, remote group of islands, the Flinders Islands. As far as we can tell there are no other people or buildings for a hundred or so miles in any direction, just a little band of yachts sheltering from the brisk winds as they sail north to set off for Indonesia. We did get a visit from the Australian border forces plane however, requesting over the radio the registration and cruising route from each of the boats, security seems tight on these northern extremes of the Australian Coast.

We know all the boats here, cruisers we have met all through our trip, so it’s very sociable and as there isn’t a phone or internet signal, invaluable, as we swap notes on weather and tides from our various satellite and long range radio connections. I am feeling particularly information bereft as my trusty and much used Navionics App for some reason will not allow me to use my downloaded maps offline. I am missing it’s clear presentation and tidal and current data, but there seems nothing I can do without a network connection.

The sun did, mostly, come out for our last day in Cairns and we set off for Lizard Island some 140nm north in good winds and blue skies. We had rigged the pole for the downwind trip and it felt so good to have the engine off for the whole journey. It did rain a bit during the night but generally it was a very pleasant sail.

Downwind sail rig whisking us at 8kts northwards

Mrs Watson’s Bay on the north east coast of Lizard was full of boats, with, finally, a functioning island resort sitting to one-side. The beach is of fine white sand and the water clear, a track leads up to the highest point of the island about 350m above us. This lookout is famous as the spot where Captain Cook, having already gone aground just off Cape Tribulation, climbed to try to find a channel through the hundreds of reefs to open sea. Due to his meticulous note keeping, his trip up the Australian Coast is well documented and celebrated at many of the stops we have made, plaques and statues abound as each community claims their connections to the great man.

It would have been easy to spend a couple days, unfortunately Lizard Island has a reputation for bullets of wind, extreme gusts that scream between the hills and straight into the anchorage. With winds building we needed to find a more protected spot, we only had time for a quick walk, the next morning before sunrise we headed to the Flinders Islands in the lea of Cape Melville.

The Barrier Reef runs for over a thousand miles parallel to the mainland, creating a passage all the way up the Queensland coast. This may have trapped Captain Cook but produces a low swell haven for us, the sailing over the last couple of days has been amongst the best we have experienced in Australia.

Flinders Island also has a history from Cooks time, fresh water springs, during the rainy season, bubble up between the boulders at the far end of the beach to the west of Aapa Spit. They have provided precious fresh water for thousands of years to the indigenous visitors and more recently to the British ships that were charting this coast. Graffiti left by the sailors still adorns the rocks nearby.

200 yr old graffiti, no luck deciphering it however

It made for a pleasant walk down a sandy corridor with the mangroves that line the shoreline on one side and the rust coloured boulders and cliffs on the other.

Graffiti walk on Flinders Island

Pretty yellow flowers and bright green fruit hung from what otherwise looked, being devoid of a single leaf, like dead trees and creeping along the sand were the purple pink flowers of bind weed. We could hear a few birds but the island appeared strangely free from animal life.

Beautiful flowering trees

We had spotted more activity in the water, seeing turtles and what we thought might be dugongs, in our pole light off the stern, one evening we saw a sea snake, the boat next to us saw a strange white coloured shark and the mangroves looked like a perfect home for crocodiles. Despite the welcome increase in temperature our travels north have found, nobody has seemed game for a swim.

Salties, Showers and Swashbuckling

Sunday 1st July 2018

We don’t really feel we are seeing Cairns at its best, unbelievably it is still raining. We dash around, heads down, trying to get from one place to another without becoming too wet.

Today, to escape cabin fever, I risked the drizzle and went out to stretch my legs on the waterfront boardwalk. When we arrived last week, we had one day of sunshine, this area was teaming with people, visitors and local families wandered along the paths entertained by buskers and street performers, today the paths were almost deserted. The attractive artificial lagoon sat empty and forlorn, a few groups of backpacking kids huddled under trees damp and dazed from the previous nights revelries, rain coated Chinese tourists shelter under umbrellas putting on a brave face determinedly continuing to snap photos, even the pelicans seem to have had enough of the weather.

Pelicans on a rainy Cairns beach

Despite the rain we carried on with our plans to hire a car. Tuesday we used it for a last scout around the chandleries and for a final stock up on provisions for our trip to Indonesia. Every locker onboard now groans with goodies.

Wednesday we treated ourselves to a day out, driving up the coast to Mossman Gorge and the Daintree River. The coast road sweeps dramatically around bays and over headlands but the normally blue sea looked green and murky under the grey skies and the beaches damp and windswept in the drizzle.

On the upside the weather had kept many people away, so our visit to Mossman Gorge was relatively uncrowded. The gorge sits in the southern end of the Daintree Forest, one of the Worlds oldest continuing forests. Having escaped ice ages and volcanic destruction it is thought to have been around for 135 million years. A few of the plants are of ancient origin and found uniquely in this area.

The atmosphere inside the forest is extremely humid, creating a marvellous earthy scent, the sound of cascading water and an intense green surrounds you. Despite all evidence to the contrary this is the dry season and the Mossman River flowed gently through the boulders, tumbling over small waterfalls. All around however, signs and markers warned of the rivers potential power, after torrential summer downpours it becomes a dangerous raging torrent whisking away everything in its path and frequently breaking its banks.

Mossman River

In the afternoon we travelled further north to a much more tranquil River, the Daintree. We had a river trip booked for 4pm in one of the smaller tourist boats. Boatman Daintree River Tours run trips at dawn and dusk when the birds and animals are more easily spotted along the banks. Unfortunately so dismal were the conditions I think most of the wildlife were sitting sheltering inside the densely forested banks looking out at us instead. However our prime objective was to see a crocodile and luckily Scarface, a large male, was obligingly sitting on his favourite patch of low tide sand.

At 4 1/2 m Scarface is possibly the largest Salty on the river

Being a small craft we were able to meander up narrower creeks, Murray our extremely knowledgable guide filling the void left by the lack of animals with fascinating information about the passing trees and shrubs. Who knew that the mangroves here survive their tidal salty homes by growing vertical aerial roots that act a bit like snorkels helping with the uptake of oxygen as the tide ebbs and floods. To cope with the excess salt, as well as filtering as much salt as possible through their roots, they sacrifice a proportion of their leaves to gather salt, the leaves turn brown and drop off taking the salt with them.

Aerial roots of the Mangrove trees

As we rejoined the river, Murray spotted a giant billed heron flying near by. A secretive bird, a sighting is much sort after by the birding community, which explained the excitement from our fellow passenger who set his camera, bedecked with a huge telephoto lens, into action. The heron settled on a nearby tree and we moved in for a closer look, to our surprise it let out a croaky growl, a sound as far away from bird song as you could imagine. Over a meter tall they spear fish in the shallows but have been known to eat small snakes and even baby crocodiles.

A rather damp and ruffled giant billed heron

Back at the marina it was time for the Indonesian Rally briefing, the blue sea and skies of our destinations, looking even more alluring against the backdrop of rain out of the window. The presentation was followed by a pirates party and the Indonesian Rally participants were joined in the Cairns Yacht Squadron bar by the crews from the Oyster Rally. Feeling rather betwixt and between, we wandered from one group to another and had a very enjoyable evening.

Swashbuckling with Oyster friends Heather and Bob

There are signs in the forecast for less rain next week, we plan to leave Thursday, it would be nice to see Cairns in the sunshine before we go..

Fast Forward to Cairns

Sunday 24th June 2018

All us girls know that dark chocolate with a nice class of red wine is a sublime combination but enjoying them with the backdrop of a burnt sienna sky, the black silhouettes of a mountainous coast and Venus twinkling above, while anchored off a small island in calm seas, well that makes for a very special moment. Regrettably with the highs come the lows, a few hours later, in the depths of the night, the wind changed, a lively fetch developed, sleeping was difficult and life onboard became much less appealing.

Looking back at the mainland from Orpheus Island.

We had picked up the pace slightly to arrive at the Marlin Marina in Cairns a few days earlier than planned. Our Bimini has started to collapse, any small pressure on it is causing it to split. Rick had put on a couple of patches to try and make it last a bit longer but we have a new rip and another area threatening to give way at any moment. As our main protection from the sun, it’s an essential piece of kit, so we took the decision to try and get a new one made in Cairns.

So for the 150 miles, from Magnetic Island, we decided to continue with day sails but instead of sailing one day, then enjoying the island the next, we are just stopping to sleep each night. Our first stopover in Pioneer Bay on Orpheus Island turned out to be not only bouncy but chilly too. We read that Tuesday night it fell to 6C in Townsville, less than 60 miles to the South of us, the coldest night they’d had since 1995!

Consequently it was a cold start to our next stage and we were very pleased, as the morning progressed, for the sun to start warming us up.

Warming up in the sunshine as we continue to sail north

It’s a very striking coastline, with the high mountains of the Great Dividing Range dropping dramatically down to the sea. A lot of the land here is managed by Aboriginal communities and for the past couple of weeks we have seen numerous controlled fires in the hills. A method used for thousands of years, it clears the land of scrub encouraging a variety of grasses to grow, this in turn attracts Kangeroos a traditional food source. It turns out however that this ancient knowledge of when and where to burn is also invaluable in discouraging wild fires and increasing diversity of all the flora and fauna in the area.

Our next anchorage was in Brammo Bay on the NE corner of Dunk Island. Yet another deserted resort sat perched on the beach, one more victim of cyclone damage and lack of investment. There is however still a regular ferry service bringing day trippers and campers from the mainland to enjoy the beautiful beaches and trails that crisscross the island.

Thursday after ten hours of motor sailing we arrived in Cairns. The Bimini is on order and as this will be our last marina for quite a few months, preparations for the onward trip to Indonesia are in full swing. Unfortunately the weather has turned cloudy and wet, dodging showers has been the order of the day.

Street art in the rain, at the Lagoon on the Cairns waterfront

And we are not alone, the Oyster World Rally is gradually arriving, Raya’s sister vessels surround us.

Oyster World Rally arrive in Cairns

Island Hopping Northwards

Monday 18th June 2018

Splendid Isolation of Bona Bay

This past week we have been slowly making our way northwards between the Whitsundays and Townsville. We have managed to find quiet anchorages inside the deeply indented mainland and off the dramatic coastal islands that are close enough together to avoid tiring one night passages. Magnificent giant boulders still feature all along the coast, some so precariously balanced they look as if just a small puff of wind would send them tumbling down the hillside. Luckily the weather has been very calm, the lack of wind often producing exquisite, undulating, glassy seas.

Windless days and glassy seas

As we sail we are continuously reminded of just how huge Australia is, with towns and small communities dotted sparsely amongst the miles of empty countryside. Our first stop, just ten miles north of Airlie Beach was one such place, in the large eastern lobe of Double Bay we were surrounded on three sides by a vast uninhabited forest, with only the one other yacht anchored deeper into the bay and the couple of bars of 3G evidence we were only a few miles from civilisation.

We moved on to Bona Bay, in the lea of Gloucester Island, a resort was located a couple of miles south on the mainland but again we sat in splendid isolation. There was a great beach here and the low tide revealed a large expanse of sand and a huge field of pebbles.

Pebble beach at Bona Bay

Thursday found us, after another calm passage, tucked behind the daunting mass of Cape Upstart in Shark Bay. The whole 4 mile length of the bay was lined, behind the trees, with shacks, rough and ready telegraph poles running an electric supply to each. However there was no sign of any occupants.

The water in these bays is murky and in combination with its name we are not tempted in, but again we enjoyed exploring the beaches. Getting ashore at low tide, with a rocky boundary proved difficult but after a bit of searching we spotted a small creek cutting through the sand and guessed correctly that there would be a sand spit at its end to beach the dingy. We wandered up the creeks length to where it disappeared into the mangroves, but the pressence of biting sandflies (or was it the muddy banked possible crocodile country) put us off exploring further.

A small creek entering Shark Bay

Returning to the dingy we took advantage of the flat sea to go out of the bay and around the head of the Cape. Normally pounded by ocean swell it was a rare treat to be able to explore around the massive rocks and crevasses that drop down steeply into clear water and visit the small beaches tucked away near the Capes end.

Enjoying the calm waters, exploring in the dingy.

We now find ourselves in Horseshoe Bay on the north side of Magnetic Island. Named, as many of the places are here, by Captain Cook as he sailed up this same coast in 1770, due to the effect the island had on their compasses. We kept a keen eye on ours as we approached but didn’t have any similar issues. However the journey was marred, not by us getting misdirected but by the loss of two of Ricks favourite fishing lures. The first was taken by what must have been a very big fish, who bending the rod almost double, pulled out most of the 200m of line on the reel before chomping through it to get free. The second loss was more irritating. A small fast tinny crewed by a couple of local idiots drove straight towards us and despite my best efforts jumping up and down miming the fact we were trolling a line out the stern of the boat, they crossed behind us way too close taking our hook, lure and line with them.

Magnetic Island being just off the coast of Townsville and a tourist destination, is much busier than our last few stops, however that does mean bars, restaurants and a grocery store. It also has a few trails, one of which leads a short way through the forest to a lagoon apparently home to a range of different birds. Unfortunately all we found along the path, was yet more large spiders, a flighty kangaroo who made us jump out of our skins as he bounded through the undergrowth and a very boggy end as the trail petered out, the lagoon sitting tantalisingly close just through the trees.

A trail to nowhere

Tomorrow we continue our island hopping, arriving in Cairns at the end of the week. Where hopefully we will find our passports stamped with our Indonesian visas and the rally information packs. The next adventure begins.

Waves, Caves and a Million Eyes

Saturday 9th June 2018

We are lounging in the cockpit trying to take a bit of downtime. We are berthed in the very swish Abel Point Marina in Airlie Beach and all around us is a hive of activity, we feel rather lazy. The boats either side of us are being cleaned and polished to within an inch of their lives, a continuous stream of people are being shepherded along our pontoon on to the various day trip crafts moored at the end, a fun run is taking place on the harbour boardwalk and behind us a small army of crew members work flat out on the 230ft Super Yacht Felix, keeping it in a perpetual state of perfection and readiness.

Super Yacht Felix , they had been polishing the hull all day

Yesterday we had waved Eric and Roz off to the airport, pleased that for the past week the sun had come out and the wind dropped enough for them to experience some of the high moments that a cruising life can provide.

Sunday we continued our journey around Hook Island arriving in Stonehaven Anchorage in time for lunch. There were a few more boats here but we easily found a mooring buoy even if it did mean sharing the musical tastes of our neighbours. We escaped ashore, again clambering around the amazing boulders, Rick climbing high and back into the island.

The volcanic past of these islands is evident everywhere in the rocks. Some are obviously solidified lava, dark in colour they are pocked with air holes and full of stones and debris picked up as the molten flow ran down the hillside. Many are striped with Ferrous reds and oranges, others having been eroded by the sea reminded us of giant apple cores or, as in the case below, giant waves frozen in time.

The rocks at Stonehaven Beach

Luckily the partying crew next door allowed us a quiet night and early the next morning, in our continuing search for good snorkelling, we moved the short distance out to tiny Langford Island. We were again greeted by a dozen or so bat fish but sadly even from the boat we could see that most of the coral was gone, we debated whether it was worth going in to investigate further. The arrival of a dozen jet skis made our decision easy, we moved on to Blue Pearl Bay on Hayman Island.

Another beautiful bay lined with stunning rocks we took the dingy out to enjoy them close up. Castle rock that forms a small headland is a renowned snorkelling spot but yet again most of the coral was gone. Despite this we did have an interesting snorkel, a few patches of coral on the shore side of the boulders, presumably protected from Debbie’s onslaught, survive, small reef fish clinging on in what remains of their home. There were plenty of larger fish too, including a large grouper and a generous amount of parrot fish. Nearer the shoreside rocks we came across a massive shoal of schooling three inch long silver fish. It’s amazing swimming through the mass of beady eyes all intently watching, a million individuals that swoop back and forward in unison, all the time somehow managing to avoid touching you.

Our next stop was, for contrast, deep inside the 2.5nm long Nara inlet, at only half a km wide we were encased by the high green hills.We couldn’t have wanted for a more tranquil spot, in fact Rick took advantage of the calm conditions, and the extra hands onboard, to drop the main sail and inspect the inmast furler.

Looking down the length of Nara Inlet

At the end of the inlet, off a small pretty beach, a track leads up to a cave that contains aboriginal paintings possibly 2000yrs old. Artefacts found in the cave floor show that it has been used for at least that long by the Ngaro people who have lived in the area for at around 9000 years. On the side of the track and on the platform outside the cave information boards explain the details and the importance of the simple designs and the stories that accompanied them to spread the history and culture of their people.

Aboriginal cave paintings in Nara Inlet.

After a final night back in Cid Harbour, we headed to Airlie Beach and the Abel Point Marina. The wind was, for a change, in the perfect direction, so Eric and Roz took turns at the helm sailing us across the Whitsunday passage on a broad reach at nearly nine knots. A fitting finale to an all too brief return to these lovey Islands.

Fossicking in Debbie’s Wake

Saturday 2nd June 2018

Fossicking is a word we have heard and read frequently while in Australia. Probably derived from the same word in Cornish, where it’s definition is, recreational prospecting for precious metals, stones and fossils. In Australia and New Zealand it has been extended to mean rummaging outside for more or less anything. Unfortunately the great fossicking available, especially on the northern beaches of the Whitsundays, is yet another example of the devastation caused by Cyclone Debbie as it ripped through the area last year. The coral that should be brightly coloured and full of a diverse range of sea life, filling the bays, sits bleached, high and dry washed up onto the beaches.

Cateran Bay on Border Island continued to be delightfully calm, the guide informed us that there was good snorkelling and it had a great beach for fossicking, we took the dingy ashore to investigate. We found a beautiful bay of sand, colourful rocks and yes plenty of coral fragments and shells to rummage through.

Fossicking on Cateran Beach

Our largest find was a huge giant clam shell and the most intricate a delicate but lethal looking crab claw.

Fossicking Prizes

With so much of the coral washed up onto the beach the snorkelling didn’t quite live up to the cruising guides build up, but was pleasant enough, with, once you eyes became attuned to the rather murky water, plenty of fish swimming around the few remaining patches of coral and large boulders. Late afternoon back onboard Raya we spotted two manta rays that had come into the bay to feed. They didn’t come quite close enough for us to jump in with them but we enjoyed the show of their swooping silhouettes just under the water and their wing tips tantalisingly breaking the surface.

Friday we moved on. It was another rough ride as we motored up and over the top of Hook Island and into Butterfly Bay. Extending far into the hillsides, it was obviously protected somewhat from the ravages of the cyclone, the coral here was much healthier and varied. Amongst the many soft corals were stag horn corals, brain corals, plate corals, even some cabbage coral, not so many fish but we did find a huge live giant clam that was nearly as big as me.

The beach was similar to Cateran, full of colourful, volcanic boulders, we spent a great hour or so clambering about enjoying the splendid scenery around us.

Clambering on the rocks in Butterfly Bay

Taking advantage of the increasingly settled weather the next day we moved on to the more exposed Luncheon Bay and the effects of the cyclone where depressingly obvious. The beach was meters deep in coral fragments and the scene underwater stripped back to bare rock.

Beach at Luncheon Bay buried under tons of coral fragments.

In an attempt to keep the interest of the visitors the tourist boats are feeding the fish. Before we had even picked up a one of the public mooring buoys in the bay we were surrounded by bat fish, shaped like angel fish, these eighteen inch giants jostled for our attention in the bright sunlight.

As we snorkelled along the bare rocks, large shoals of fish crowded around us looking for food and as we returned to the boat the bat fish were waiting, snapping up the bread we fed them.

Large bat fish in Luncheon Bay

We left the bay hoping that it wouldn’t be too long before some coral managed to find a way to reestablish itself and return the shoreline to what must have been a magnificent reef.

Evading the Elements

Wednesday 31st May 2018

Late Friday as we stood shivering on a dark night, soaked to the skin, with the wind howling, lightening flashing and thunder crashing all around us, we hoped this was a final fling for the bad weather we’d had for the past fortnight. After hours of heavy rain with the dingy slowly filling we had to face the enevitable drenching to raise it before it was completely submerged.

Although in the marina we have unusually been using the dingy to get around. Being on an outer pontoon the dingy dock at the supermarket and the ferry wharf at the airport are much more convenient than using our feet. And, joining Raya by dingy is far more exciting than catching a taxi, our friends Eric and Roz were arriving in the morning. Having flown half way around the World, leaving the glourious English spring sunshine behind them, this cool, wet and windy period was not what we had wanted them to be greeted with.

Unfortunately the elements continued to be unsettled for the next few days, brusque, cool winds and frequent showers keeping our eyes skyward watching for breaks in the clouds because as soon as the sunshine did break through, it was lovely. We enjoyed a stroll on the beach, a sunny lunch or two at the resort and a few walks.

Roz admiring the view

On the high tide Tuesday we filled up at the fuel dock and left the marina. As we rounded the northern end of the island, losing its protection, we motored straight into washing machine seas. Luckily it was only an hour or so before we entered the Solway Passage, here were much smaller waves but the water was lively in other ways. As the tide rushed through its narrow gap, a strong current helped us reach over 10kts of boat speed. As other streams of water joined the system, strange calm patches amongst areas of overalls and ominous whirls pools formed. A bit scary to look at but not really a problem for Raya to pass through.

We headed to the famous Whitehaven beach. On our first visit to this beach, over thirty years ago, this expanse of fine white sand blew us away, the many photos we still have keeping our memories fresh. This time, with our level of beach appreciation somewhat higher and with the advent of the day tripper, it didn’t seem quite so special. However as we walked away from the crowds and five miles of white sand, with grains so fine they squeaked beneath our feet, spread out before us, it’s beauty was more evident. A ray darted from our path in the shallows, helicopters and seaplanes buzzed over our heads and now protected from the wind the late afternoon sun felt pleasantly warm and on our faces.

Five miles of white sand on Whitehaven Beach

At the top of the beach a ghostly barrier of bleached and broken trees marked the start of the interior woodland, presumably damaged by the onslaught of Cyclone Debbie last year, they appear to have been bulldozed off the beach to maintain the picture perfect vista that has become the ‘poster boy’ image of the Whitsundays.

Piles of dead trees lined the top of the beach

With yet another blast of wind forecast today we have moved on. We poked our nose into Tongue Bay but again it was quite crowded, the freshening winds were gusting down the hill in front of us and despite looking protected on the chart a swell was creeping around the headland.

We sailed on and have found a beautiful spot in Cateran Bay on the north shore of Border Island. The sky is finally cloudless and we have, currently at least, evaded the wind and swell, two beaches and a snorkelling spot beckon.

Anchored in Cateran Bay, Border Island

Cid and Hamilton

Friday 25th May 2018

As we rounded Hughes Point in Cid Harbour and motored into Sawmill Bay, suddenly and for the first time in six days, the wind dropped. The stillness and quiet was wonderful, even the sun was making an appearance.

Anchor down in calm Sawmill Bay, Cid Harbour

The calm conditions were fickle however, any slight change in direction of the wind allowed it to edge around the peaks and down the valleys hitting us with lively gusts and sporadically longer periods of blustery weather. But the sun stayed with us and our surroundings were beautiful.

Beautiful Cid Harbour

With the sea finally flat enough we dropped the dingy and headed for the beach. A short 1.5km trail led over the hill to Dugong inlet. Starting with a set of ramshackle steps at the northern end of the beach it led up into the wooded shoreline. Large Hoop Pines and tall White Cheesewoods dominated the rainforest canopy above us and bright orange fungi, growing on decaying fallen branches decorated the floor. Butterflies fluttered in the air and tiny lizards skittered across the path.

As we began to descend down the other side of the hill the bird song and the rustling from the forest floor, the sounds that had accompanied us for the first half of the walk, gave way to the incongruous thump of Rap music. On Dugong beach a group of young backpackers were enjoying a few days camping. After a brief stroll on the sand we left them to their partying and returned back to quiet of Sawmill Bay.

There is another trail from this beach, leading up to the Whitsunday Peak but with an estimated 4hrs to complete the 5km distance we guessed it was a little steep for us.

Bright orange fungi grow on the wood that litters the forest floor.

Tuesday it was time to move on to Hamilton Island Marina to prepare for the arrival of our friends. This required us to sail south for a change, heading straight into the 25kts of wind, luckily it was only 5miles away. As we poked our nose out from the protection of Whitsunday Island the wind hit us like a brick wall and the choppy sea crashed over our bows, we were glad of Raya’s 30tons and hefty engine. As soon as we cleared the headland we tucked into the coast as close as possible and an hour later were happily tied up in our berth.

We have been enjoying the restaurants, drank Mojitos by a pretty but rather chilly pool and browsed the resort shops. The atypical weather persists but there is a glimmer of hope with an improvement in the forecast for next week. We are looking forward to sharing a sunny exploration of more of the islands and even a bit of snorkelling, so fingers crossed.

Main pool at Hamilton Island Resort

Windy Return to the Whitsundays

Friday 18th June 2018

Thirty one years ago we made our first trip to Australia and for part of that holiday, with a friend, we chartered a bareboat in the Whitsunday Islands. Our first sailing holiday it remains in our memories as a very special time and ever since we started our sail north up the Australian Coast we have been eagerly awaiting our return. However the cool 30kt winds, messy seas and rain that greeted us was not what quite how we remembered things.

Cold wet arrival in the Whitsundays.

After leaving Mackay our first stop was the twin islands of Keswick and St Bees, in the far south of the group, both islands are surrounded by reportedly excellent diving and snorkelling spots. After an uncomfortable few hours sail we headed for what we hoped would be an anchorage sheltered from the wind. There was slight protection but it was really bouncy, we moved around to the channel between the two islands only to discover the tide racing at about three knots and the wind still howling. Conditions were not going to be good for snorkelling even if we did put up with the bad conditions in the anchorages we decided to move on. A couple of hours later and ten miles north we were much more comfortably anchored off Bampton Island.

A combination of a drop in visitors after the 2008 economic downturn and a procession of destructive cyclones has taken its toll on the Whitsunday Resorts and many stand empty and disintegrating. Bampton Island Resort was like a ghost town, ragged tape and boards blocking entry beyond the beach. One villa was obviously occupied by squatters or perhaps a caretaker but they didn’t come out to talk. It was a beautiful spot but with just the occasional yacht passing through it must be a lonely existence.

Derelict Bampton Island Resort

Decaying alongside the villas, was an aircraft runway, a once lovely beachside pool and a small overgrown fresh water lake. As we stood absorbing the desolation here we got the feeling of being watched. We were, and our observer was a large kangaroo well camouflaged in the long grass, Seemingly unperturbed by our presence he stood about 100m away just staring. Could they have had a small zoo here, he looked healthy enough, we hoped he wasn’t alone on the island.

Kangeroo watching our every move

With no let up in the weather and the threat of rain Wednesday we moved on. After studying the chart and cruising guide the next sheltered spot was in the lee of Shaw Island. A few other yachts sat hunkered down in the bay but the island itself appeared uninhabited. The only sign of life were a group of buildings on the opposite shore, on Lindeman Island, as darkness fell no lights came on, no boats had been and gone, this was obviously another deserted resort.

I’m sure in better conditions it would be lovely here occasionally the sun broke through turning the slate grey sea to turquoise and the dull hills bright green but the wind was relentless, the water too choppy and the showers too frequent for us to be tempted to launch the dingy to explore. We read, cooked, played games, watched movies while the weather continued to bash us. Another high pressure ridge is stuck sitting over the North Queensland coast and however many times I look hopefully at the forecast, the winds appear to be here to stay for quite a while yet.

A ray of sunshine creeps through the clouds highlighting Yellow Rock off Shaw Island

Carving Out Three Years

Sunday 13th May 2018

Middle Percy Island, confusingly north of not just South but also Northeast Percy Islands, has a long history as a safe anchorage for cruisers heading north up the Australian East Coast. An A frame hut, complete with BBQ facilities and tables and chairs, sits at the back of the beach in West Bay and stands testament to the friendly welcome extended by the Island to visiting yachts. Absolutely every available space on the walls, ceiling and rafters is home to momentos left by previous sailors.

Every inch of Percy Island Yacht Club is covered in mementos from passing yachts.

Having had a good look around we returned to Raya, Rick itching to add a board to the collection, me unfortunately itching from the dozen or so sandfly bites I had accumulated. Delighting in having an excuse to work with wood instead of engines and plumbing for a while, he quickly produced a fitting record of Raya’s visit. It was especially poignant as we hung it in the A frame on Thursday 10th May, exactly three years since we let go the lines and left the dock in Southampton.

Marking our stay in West Bay

Another interesting feature of West Bay is its secluded lagoon. Only accessible by shallow draft boats at high tide, it sits hidden amongst the rocky shoreline a completely protected haven for those boats that can get in and then take the ground at low tide. We took the dingy in and found not only a catamaran happily sitting on the sand but also a working boat precariously tired to a dock. Part of the Barrier Reef National Park, the Island is managed by it’s only inhabitants, the occupants of the homestead sitting up amongst the wooded hills. The boat is their connection with the rest of the world and the lagoon offers perfect protection from all extremes of weather.

Homestead transport hidden within the protection of the West Bay Lagoon.

The Homestead is attempting to be as self sufficient as possible, raising goats and chickens, growing their own fruit and vegetables, producing honey and generating their own power. If they have any excess produce they are happy to sell it to yachties. We started off on the track that lead across the island towards the house but about halfway, not really needing any supplies, we got lured down a more intriguing, smaller path. The ground around us was covered in ferns and scrubby hebes and the canopy above our heads full of squawking crows, through the trees could be glimpsed inviting blue sea. Our intrepid adventure however, was easily stopped by a large web stretching across the path, it’s brightly coloured creator very much at home and only millimetres from Ricks head.

Giant Golden Orb spider

Early Friday morning, we headed to Mackay. The large tidal range here, at over 6m during spring tide, doesn’t just enable boats to enter secluded lagoons, it also means there are strong currents helping or hindering each passage and anchoring requires some mathematical juggling. In the marina even the provisioning needs to be timed with the tide, full trolleys and steep ramps don’t go together well. Still after three years each new place surprises us with its own unique challenges.

Pontoon ramp at low tide

Soldier Crab Creek

Tuesday 8th May 2018

Light blue soldier crab

After a couple of days of high winds and torrential rain, this morning we could see blue skies between the clouds and the barometer had fallen slightly. A firm ridge of high pressure has passed over the Queensland coast and we have sort shelter in Island Head Creek.

We enjoyed our couple of days off Second Beach on pretty Great Keppel Island, a popular spot, there were quite a few boats dotted around, however when we chose to go ashore the beach stretched out pristine and empty. With only a small surge coming in we decided to try out the new dingy anchoring system Rick had been working on in his head to stop the dingy continually being caught in the surf. Attaching a long second line to the head of the anchor Rick balanced it on the bow, he pushing the dingy as far off shore as he could and particularly beyond the breaking waves, and then tugged the line pulling the anchor into the water. The long line was then secured around a rock high up on the beach ready for us to retrieve the dingy on our return, hopefully without getting wet.

With half an eye firmly on the dingy we headed for the rocks at the end of the beach. It was nice to stretch our legs, the nearby islands complimenting the view. As we walked along the tide line we marvelled at how amazingly clean the beaches are in this part of Queensland. And the dingy stayed exactly where we had left it bobbing quietly and dry beyond the surf.

Rock climbing Second Beach, Keppel Island

Notorious for the swell that creeps into the bay in anything but calm conditions we knew that this was not going to be a good place to be for the weather coming in on Sunday. So early Saturday morning found us heading 60nm north to Island Head Creek. We had visions of returning to murky water and muddy banks, we couldn’t have been more wrong. It was a stunning spot, blue water, sand banks and high, craggy, green hills surrounded us.

The quiet was absolute, despite the numerous different types of birds we could spot through the binoculars. Great egrets and other waders searched for food in the shallows, large flocks of terns and gangs of pelicans rested on the sand flats, an osprey harried a group of gulls for their catch and a couple of oyster catchers, easily identified by their bright red beaks, pecked at the sand. We could see absolutely no sign of human activity, no huts, no other boats, no radio masts, no phone signal or internet, and as the sunset, no artificial lights not even the loom of a nearby town. Gradually the stars appeared, first in the still orange of the western sky Venus emerged, then in the east Jupiter began to shine brightly. As the darkness further encased us a remarkable dome of stars filled the blackness above, so close you could almost reach up and touch them.

Unfortunately the weather wasn’t going to allow us to appreciate the beauty of this splendid isolation for long. Sunday morning brought strong winds and heavy showers, a complete rainbow formed so close I couldn’t actually photograph the whole thing.

A complete rainbow arched across the creek

Gradually the winds built and the silence was replaced by the howl of gust through the rigging and the slap of waves on the hull. As Sunday moved into Monday sustained torrential rain joined in the mix and continued throughout the day. A few other boats came in to take refuge, the rain obscuring them and the high hills around us.

Although we were in a safe spot, the anchor holding tight, bad weather is always tiring. We decided to stay here another day to regroup, allow the ocean swell outside to reduce and give ourselves the opportunity to go ashore.

Sand banks Island Head Creek

Island Head Creek is in a military training zone, walking on the beach is apparently tolerated but going any further inland is forbidden, we headed for the expansive sand banks adjacent to us. It was a strange place, think, small desert dropped into a river delta. The birds, alerted by our engine, disappeared as we approached and at first sight the sand banks appeared deserted. Then I spotted a tiny crab, his shell a vivid lilac blue. As I beckon Rick over, I realised the entire bank was alive, there were a million of them scurrying beneath our feet.

Armies of light blue soldier crabs marching up the beach

This really had been a perfect anchorage, protecting us from the weather, charming us with its scenery and delighting us with its inhabitants. Unfortunately with no phone signal here or I suspect at our next destination, Middle Percy Island, this blog will have to await publication a few more days.

Rosslyn Bay

Thursday 3rd May 2018

We have spent the last week at the friendly Keppel Bay Marina in the appropriately named Rosslyn Bay Harbour. I did suggest that the name similarity deserved a discount but none was forthcoming. A discount would have been welcome, as we approach the popular cruising area of the Whitsundays, marina fees are creeping up and in this part of the world staying anywhere other than a marina is often not an option.

The island anchorages are sometimes protected from the wind but it is very difficult to find anywhere that escapes the Pacific swell. This swell also plagues the mainland beaches. Add in the difficulties of crossing bars to enter the few creeks and rivers, the struggle of finding somewhere to get ashore that has access to services and the problems we have with everywhere being rather shallow for our 2.4m draft and marinas have become our safe havens.

Life in a marina is not all bad, especially one as nice as Keppel Bay. At 3am last Friday morning, as we motored away from Lady Musgrave, we crossed latitude 23.50 S, the Tropic of Capricorn. Arriving in the marina a few hours later we rejected the traditional ‘got here beer’ for a slap up ‘got here breakfast’ at the cafe and it really did feel like we’d arrived in the tropics. The birds all appeared to have gained a new set of colourful feathers and exotic voices and bright tropical flowers lined the waterfront path. Even the air felt and smelt differently.

Looking out from Double Head across the marina to a Rosslyn Bay

To add to its charms the marina also has a nearby beach, a few local walking trails and a courtesy car for short provisioning trips to Yeppoon and a visit to the farmers market. This far away from the big cities and hordes of tourists, gone were the containers of olives and feta marinated a dozen different ways, there were no stalls of artisan bread and displays of rather dubious local art were conspicuous by their absence. Yeppoon’s Saturday market, the local town’s farmers market, had just local farmers selling cheap and seasonal fruit and veg.

Yeppoon in fact had all the facilities we needed including a very helpful post office where Wednesday we very reluctantly posted of our passports, to go in with our visa applications to the Indonesian Consul.

Looming over the marina and the nearby beach, is Double Head. Through the bush and ferns are two steep, but luckily short, paths to follow. One took me up to a look out with in one direction a great view out to sea and the surrounding islands, in the other across a crevasse, an exposed 60 million year old geological phenomena. Fan Rock was created by magma escaping through weak spots in the earths surface, the molten lava slowly cooled from the outside inwards, causing the rock to crack into hexagonal tubes that fan out from its centre producing a structure that looks almost manmade.

Fan Rock

As we have travelled north my walks have become increasingly deserted and on occasion I have begun to feel slightly vulnerable. Vulnerable to what I’m unsure, wandering muggers, deadly spiders, rambling rapists, venomous snakes,? What I was not expecting, as I rejoined the steps down from the look out, was to be accosted by a band of Jehovah Witnesses smiling and eagerly thrusting out their pamphlets towards me. Who exactly they thought they would find to convert on this lonely hill was a mystery but they were always going to draw a blank with me.

Deserted Kemp Beach

With a few days of calm weather in prospect, today we have moved out to Keppel Island. There is a bit of swell rocking Raya to and fro, lines of squally rain track across us and there is only minimal phone signal. However in between downpours the water is blue, on the pretty islands around us, numerous beaches beckon and the forecast is for plenty of sun tomorrow.

Turquoise Lady Musgrave Lagoon

Friday 27th April 2018

Raya anchored in Lady Musgrave Lagoon

The turquoise that is produced by shallow, clear water, over white sand, under a tropical sun, is bewitchingly beautiful and after spending the summer in the coastal waters, rivers and creeks of Eastern Australia, Tuesday entering the lagoon off Lady Musgrave Island on the southern tip of the Barrier Reef, felt like coming home.

It had been a good trip over, the brown water of the Burnett river magically changing to blue as we headed out to sea. There was, the now normal, beam swell setting us rocking but it was calm enough for us to feel that we could, between us, land a fish if we caught one, so we put out a line to troll behind us. We weren’t however expecting our catch to be quite this big, it did take quite a while to land this giant!

Fishcakes for supper for the next three weeks.

Just after midday Lady Musgrave Island appeared as a dark slither on the horizon, then we spotted the white of breaking waves on the outer reef and as we neared, the wonderful turquoise of the inner lagoon.

The pass through the reef was narrow but clearly marked. Its been a while since we have navigated through areas of coral so we entered slowly and carefully motored around anything we spotted on the seabed until we found a large enough space of clear sand to anchor. There were a surprising number of other boats anchored but the lagoon is over a mile long and there was plenty of room for everyone.

Lady Musgrave Reef on Google Earth, a jewel in the dark ocean

Early the next day we took the dingy ashore to have a look around the island before it got too warm and the tourist boats arrived. We were glad we had put on our sand skippers, the beach was strewn with fragments of coral. As we strolled along the water edge we spotted oyster catchers, egrets and some small green turtles. Pretty Australian firs and screw pines marked the edge of the beach and protected the Pisonia trees that grow in the interior of the island. The Pisonia tree has very broad leaves that are a favourite nesting location for Black Noddies. When we rounded the corner onto the western side of the island the extent of their numbers here was revealed. Suddenly what must have been a thousand birds burst from the trees filling the sky, creating a noisy natural spectacle above our heads.

Thousands of Black Noddies take to the air.

We returned to the boat and cooled off in the calm sea. With the only ripples coming from our own movements we floated gently and let the warm turquoise sea envelope us. Looking back Raya floated resplendent, reflecting in the glassy surface.

Then as the sun became higher in the sky we went over to the southeastern reef to snorkel on a couple of bommies. The visibility, was surprisingly, a little murky but we were just happy to be back amongst the colourful fish and varied corals.

Even the tiny Damsel Fish added to the days turquoise colour scheme.

As we dined on steak from the bbq, with a salad of ripe Australian tomatoes and a glass of full bodied Australian red wine, we agreed it had been a very special day.

Unfortunately the weather again dictated that we leave before we were really ready. As we left the next day through the pass, the water was crystal clear and we realised we should have been snorkelling this side of the reef, but too late, we had a night passage to contend with. Keppel Bay Marina in the aptly named Rosslyn Harbour, about 110nm NW and back on the mainland, will be our shelter from the strong winds forecast for the next few days.

Dramatic Skies

Monday 23rd April 2018

We lie anchored a couple of miles up the Burnett river watchful of the depth gauge. It’s high tide and reading 2.3m under the keel. If this were a spring tide we would be on the bottom at low water but today we have a neap tide and in theory we shouldn’t drop below a metre. We are inexperienced at playing the tidal range rather than using the absolute chart datum, we wait with baited breath as the river gently ebbs.

We are here because tomorrow we are off to Lady Musgrave Island and her surrounding reef and hopefully back to clear turquoise water. Needing to enter the atoll in good light we require an early start. All the motor sailing we have done lately means we were low on diesel. Not wanting to fuel up at five in the morning we left the marina for the fuel dock at lunchtime and now sit ready to go.

Last week continued with a flurry of maintenance jobs and more cleaning, if we say it ourselves Raya is feeling very spick and span. For the time being at least, Rick’s ‘to do list’ is nearly fully ticked off.

Besides all the hard work, one thing that will stay in our memories of Bundaberg is its incredible skies. The combination of flat surroundings and changeable weather has led to dramatic vistas day and night. Wednesday around midnight, woken by the light coming through the hatch above him, Rick was treated to a spectacular display as distant lightening illuminating far off clouds . The next day as I walked out along the coastal path, with rain threatening, I think almost every type and colour of cloud was present in the huge sky above me.

Dramatic Bundaberg skies

And streaked with the last of the morning haze and dotted with building fine weather clouds, across an intense blue, again Friday the sky was amazing. We had hired a car for the day and driven a short way down the coast to Elliot’s Heads. After the dark reddish beaches around Port Bundaberg it was refreshing to suddenly find some white sand. At the estuary of Elliot’s river extensive sand banks are exposed at low tide, stretching right across the wide river mouth. Clear, warm streams of sea water run in the tangle of gullies that form between them. It made for a perfect hour or so of walking and paddling.

Paddling at Elliots Heads

Invigorated from our beach walk, we shunned the normal tourist stops at the Rum Distillery and the Hinkler Aviation museum and instead opted for a stroll through the Botanical Gardens. In delightful contrast to the coast, a shady boardwalk wound us through stately palms and across large ponds full of water birds. It seems that even in the smaller towns Australia does an extremely good job with these gardens.

Back onboard a flock of noisy kookaburras arrive to perch up in the rigging and the tide continues to recede, we play a game of Mexican train as the setting sun turns the sky a burnt orange. Still we have half an eye on the dropping depth, but less worried as our decent slows. As the tide turns we still have the theoretical 1m below the keel, we take to our bed, we have an early start in the morning.

Pottering in Port Bundaberg

Wednesday 18th April 2018

The moment we walked up the steep marina ramp we knew we were somewhere different. The sweet perfume of grass confronts us, a smell previously so familiar but rare to us now. In front of us are neat fields of uncut grass, the seed heads shimmer and wave in the breezy sunshine. And it was not just the scent of our surroundings that felt foreign, it dawns on us that here for the first time in a long time, the land is completely flat. Even the normal hills and mountains, that are forever on the horizon, have gone.

The occupants of the marina are different also, instead of being almost exclusively full of local boats there are plenty of cruisers here, including one Irish and three UK yachts. It is back to sundowners and ‘where to next’ conversations.

Having arrived in Bundaberg a week or two earlier than planned, we have no pressure to achieve anything in particular. So when we discover that the chandeliers can organise to get our rusty anchor delivered to the hot dip galvanising unit, we jump at the opportunity.

That looks a bit better.

Rick settles in, with relish, to potter around the boat, fixing all the little things he has been meaning to get around to for ages and in some cases since we left Southampton. He boxes in the new freezer compressor, services the Davits, washes the sails, properly wires the nav lights, cleans and sorts the dingy………

I tackle the ever present paperwork, work on the navigation for the next part of our trip and clean. How is it there is always so much cleaning to do?

The marina runs a courtesy bus the 15km into town each day, so Monday we hop on and head for downtown Bundaberg. The road in reminds us of a tidy Fiji, fields and fields of sugar cane line each side of the road. This is the sugar capital of Australia and famous for its large distillery producing Bundaberg Rum. In recent years crops have diversified, what at first glance we assume is a vineyard turns out to be rows of tomatoes vines, we spot a field of melons but not the macadamia trees that are also in abundance here.

Bundaberg City was mostly just an urban sprawl, with most buildings being of indifferent late twentieth century architecture, we search in vain to find any character. We wander uninspired for a while before abandoning our quest and heading for the supermarket. The branch of Coles here is large and as always full to bursting with fresh food. We stock up and take a taxi back to the boat.

I have continued to ‘power’ walk each day when I can. I’ve been enjoying the exercise as well as the side effect of getting to explore the local area. Leading from the marina there is a riverside path that run’s out towards the sea. Unlike the pathways I have been using all the way up the coast from Sydney, here I am alone in my lycra and trainers, just meeting the odd dog walker or angler.

On the surface it’s rather a featureless walk with the wide brown Burnett river one side and the dead flat meadow like fields the other. However, of course, the more you look the more you see, the sky is huge and ever changing, the river has small bays of dark sand and at low tide there are mudflats full of birds.

Dark beach at the mouth of the Burnett River

Around our pontoon are the normal groups of cormorants and flocks of gulls, on the mud flats I spot a tall elegant white heron, which google tells me was probably a Great Egret and perched on the marker above him what I think is a type of Kite.

Amongst all of these are the huge, ever present pelicans. We took the dingy for a run up the river and while on a crocodile hunt amongst the mangroves on the far bank, (probably still a little south for crocodiles but thought it was never too early to get some practice in) overhead a flock of pelicans, Jurassic like with their oversized beaks, gave us a magnificent demonstration of formation flying.

A flock of Pelicans always remind us of pterodactyls.

Barred From Mooloolaba

Thursday 12th April 2018

We wake this morning after 12hrs of solid sleep, a little further north than expected. The decks are covered in salt, damp clothes fill the laundry basket and two shattered plates languish in the bin. Our attempts to enter over the bar of our planned destination of Mooloolaba thwarted, we sailed through the night and all the next day in uncomfortable and tiring conditions to reach the Marina at Port Bundaberg.

Still at last, lovely sunrise over Bundaberg marina

Tuesday had started with us happily wending our way through the sand banks that litter Moreton Bay, the sun was shinning and the sea was calm. We were taking advantage of a small window of good weather to move 35 miles north to Mooloolaba. We had been looking forward to a few days in Mooloolaba and not just because it has such a brilliant name, other cruisers reports had all been good, the town was close by and it had a great beach just a stroll from the marina. Also it was to be our gateway to explore the Sunshine Coast and the Noosa Everglades.

The entrance to the river and it’s marinas has another of the notorious East Coast bars and is currently being dredged to try and combat the effects of shifting sand across the river entrance. We spoke with the marina, who assured us it would be fine and we downloaded the map that charted the new depths that had recently been posted in the Notices to Marinas published by the Queensland authorities, we timed our entrance towards the end of the rising tide. However we hadn’t reckoned with the swell. As we approached what the charts had as the beginning of the shallows, with an apparent high tide depth of 4m, the swell picked us up and then dropped us with a thump onto the bottom, we ventured a bit further this time we stayed on the sand long enough for another wave to hit us and cause Raya to give a loud, rig rattling, shudder. We reversed quickly and spoke to the dredge master working in the channel, a lot of sucked teeth, he seemed very unsure about our 2.4m draft, depths were obviously not as reported. Probably with a bit of local knowledge or at least some lat/long calibration which strangely was not on the downloaded new Mooloolaba bar chart, we might have tried again. But after a bit of deliberation and watching other boats with much less draft than us struggle, we decided to push on.

Unfortunately pushing on meant an over 200nm sail further north to Bundaberg.

It felt like a long trek north around Fraser Island

I quickly put together a new passage plan, there was another entrance about 6hrs on but we would arrive after dark and it was quickly rejected. The weather forecast was for winds to strengthen and with it the seas to get rougher, not a delightful prospect. And this is the problem with sailing in this part of the world, with weather windows so tight and safe havens so far apart, often needing critical timings and conditions for entry, Plan B’s are always going to be difficult.

The first few hours were fine as we sailed away from Mooloolaba. We smiled in response to a surprise comment on sailraya.com, received from someone who spotted us sailing past. However as the winds steadily increased in strength it turned into a laborious 24hrs, in troubled, often beam seas. Sleeping, eating and everything in between became hard work and the cockpit began to be splashed enough to make everything damp and salty. At least it was warm and not raining we kept telling ourselves. With the odd gust up to 40kts, Rick gradually reefed and further reefed the sails until, still sailing fast, we only had up a small amount of main sail and a reefed stay sail. To add to the fun I was kept entertained during my 11-2 night watch by a dozen or so fishing boats, some with AIS, some without. At one stage one came so quickly towards us I was concerned he hadn’t seen us . Luckily we have good deck lights that light up the sails and make us very obvious. I flicked them on and he turned away.

With such messy seas we had to sail right the way around the 25nm long sand spit at the end of Fraser Island, so for a frustrating few hours we were actually sailing away from our destination. We arrived at the marina just minutes before they left for the day, two very tired and happy sailors. Our traditional ‘got here beer’ was enough to knock us out and by 7.30 we could stay awake no longer.

On the upside we are now far north enough to be in the region termed the Southern Barrier Reef which is rather exciting and after spending yet more money on our continually ailing freezer, that would normally give out after such a bouncy sail, I am pleased to report it is still working, hooray!

Freezer cold – hooray

Nearly Ready for the Tropics

Friday 6th April 2018

For a few hours on Tuesday afternoon, it felt almost like we were back in the Pacific Islands. The sun was shinning, the sea was calm and turquoise, two large turtles swam around the boat, it was deliciously quiet. We realised that we were well and truly ready to be back tropical island hopping. However we have at least another month to wait before the cyclone season clears, as was well demonstrated by Cyclone Iris, that last week reformed and continues to hang around the Central Queensland coast.

Last weeks forecast for the Whitsunday Islands five hundred miles to our north

Easter weekend in the Broadway continued to be manic, despite the showery weather everyone was determined to make the best of the holiday. We did brave the choppy waters to go ashore and stretch our legs but plans to cross the narrow wooded South Stradbroke Island were thwarted firstly by the lack of a clear pathway and tales of snakes buried in the sand but mostly by the sight of our anchored dingy being swamped by the wake of every large motor boat that stormed past.

The beach at South Stradbroke Island with the Gold Coast high rises in the distance.

The East Coast of Australia is constantly at the mercy of the Pacific Ocean swell. This makes for the great surfing conditions it is famous for but also makes entering rivers and ports difficult. Entry and exit across the shallow bars that form at these openings has to be timed carefully, especially in the rough conditions that are around at present. So it was that 3.30 am Tuesday morning found us, with the dangerous surf warning cancelled and slack low tide upon us, heading for the Gold Coast seaway and open ocean. Conditions were still rather lumpy and with up to 3kts of current against us we were yet again having to motor sail to keep speeds high enough for us to enter Moreton Bay at high tide. At least the forecast showers held off.

We rounded the top of Moreton Island and headed for the Inner Freeman Channel. At first the sea calmed, the shallower waters turned to hues of turquoise and the tall dunes of this sand island, shone white in the sunshine. However the nerves were jangling, we knew we had a shallow area to cross and although every chart I could lay my hands on said at high tide we would have no less than 2m under our keel, the sight of white, churning choppy waters ahead was frightening. Luckily a small local fishing boat was in front of us and led the way through the narrow channel of deeper water and with a huge sigh of relief we were in Moreton Bay.

We dropped the hook off of South Tangalooma and despite a few other yachts, after the industry of Boatworks and the bustle of the Broadway, it was incredibly peaceful. The sea wasn’t crystal clear but after the inner waterways and muddy creeks it looked lovely. Sitting in the cockpit, behind me I heard a familiar sound, the hufffff of a turtle surfacing for air. We had two large loggerhead turtles feeding around the boat. It was as if they had come to say welcome back.

Moreton Bay is nearly 75miles long and twenty miles wide and separated from the ocean by North Stradbroke and Moreton Island to South and East and by numerous sand banks to the north. It is a shallow area of water and is not only home to turtles but dugongs, dolphins and visiting whales.

Unfortunately it was just a one day break in the weather so the next morning we had to head back into a marina, promising ourselves that as the weather improves, hopefully next week, we would return. A cracking sail took across the bay to the Manly Boat Harbour. On the Western coast of Moreton Bay just south of Brisbane, a convenient place to visit the city.

Sitting on the muddy, meandering Brisbane river, the city is a vibrant combination of a glass clad high rise business district and fun green spaces. The South Bank Parklands with its big wheel, Pagoda and jungle walk and the fantastic man made city beach was buzzing with visitors, many here for the Commonwealth Games being held close by on the Gold Coast. We jumped on the City Hopper Ferry and zigzagged down the river before walking through the crowded central district into the quieter Botanical gardens.

Brisbane ferries and Highrises.

While we wait for the finer weather, it’s back to the marina for the last few bits of boat maintenance. Nearly ready for the next stage of our journey, tropical Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef.

Rain, Repairs and Reunions

Friday 30th March 2018

I’m sitting below in the stuffy atmosphere created by high humidity and closed hatches. Excyclone Iris is just NE of us and is bringing squally winds and heavy showers. Up and down the coast of Queensland the ocean beaches are closed due to extreme high tides and dangerous surf conditions.

We are anchored off South Stadbroke Island back in the protected inner waterway of Broadwater just north of Southport. It’s Easter weekend so again the area is crowded with craft big and small. It doesn’t really feel like we are anchored as not only are we being continually buffeted by the wake of passing speedboats, we are also not facing into the wind. A two knot tide is flowing past us and we are laying with the current rather than with the wind, this in turn means the rain is coming straight into the cockpit and if not closed down through the hatch.

Mad motor boat drivers coming from all directionsi

Last weekends confinent on the hardstand in Boatworks, turned out to be better than expected. The frenetic whirling sanders, polishers and drills and the continuous loud engines of the lifts, that set such a stressful pace to life, all fell quiet. The noxious fumes from the antifouling and painting of dozens of boats dissipated and with no contractors busy around Raya, it was easier to relax. On top of this we had a car. Boatworks not only have good toilets, showers and laundry facilities they also have curtesy cars and we managed to get a set of keys for the weekend.

We used this rare opportunity to hit the nearest shopping centre. While Rick investigated the DIY Warehouse and tool shops, I went into the supermarket and filled a trolly with as much heavy stuff as I could fit in. We restocked all our dried goods and cans, cases of wine and beer and bags full of cleaning agents. Rick bought the biggest adjustable spanner in the universe. Never again would he have to struggle so hard against recalcitrant seacocks or any other ginormous nut for that matter, how have we got this far without one?

Ricks new spanner

Having a car also made it easy to join some friends for a bit of a reunion. Phil and Lynn who we linked up with on the Gold Coast last November, had a couple of other mutual friends, Kieth and Dianne, from our time living in Bahrain thirty years ago, visiting from Spain. We all met up at Sactuary Cove, a typical glitzy Gold Coast Resort, golf courses, gated communities, a marina and dozens of restaurants. We couldn’t work out why all the car parking spaces were so small, until it dawned on us that the people living in the resort mostly get around by golf cart. Real cars, such as our Boatworks Ute, were banished to the car park on its outer edge. Finally seated it was great to catch up with each other’s news, the food lost in the exuberant chatter.

Dinner with old friends

Tuesday morning, finally, Raya was lifted back into the water. The relief from the overheating fridges and freezer, that are water cooled, was almost audible and the comfort of having our sinks and showers back, a delight. A downpour however evidenced a blocked cockpit drain, we poked and rattled and finally blew it out with a hosepipe. One of the rags used by the antifoul team to prevent dripping from the drains during painting is the prime suspect. Luckily the problem was found sat at the dock not while waves were breaking over the boat as we battled a storm at sea.

The tide dictated that we leave early on Thursday morning despite the showers. We motored down the Coomera River observing the huge waterfront houses, so large and ornate were some that they were best described by a phrase coined by an American friend as Starter Castles. In the whole hour we saw nobody actually living in them, sun loungers were stacked and blinds were drawn. The rain turned into a deluge and by the time we had anchored we resembled a pair of drowned rats.

Motoring down the Coomera River in the torrential rain.

As Good Friday comes to an end, the weather has improved a little, the tide has turned and the stream of motor boats has stopped for the night. No doubt tomorrow they will be back but for now all is tranquil.

High and Dry

Friday 23rd February 2018

We are feeling rather frustrated. After we and the antifoul crew have worked our socks off, dodging showers and running from pillar to post, to ensure Raya is ready to return to the water at 3pm today, we have just been told that they have messed up and our berth in the marina is not available. So here we are stuck high and dry, 15ft in the air until Tuesday.

Ready to be lifted back onto the water

I think it’s fair to say it’s not been one of our most restful weeks. Things started well with a drama free overnight passage up from Coffs Harbour. There was little wind, the large swell, lingering from last weeks storm, undulated gently across a calm sea. Stars shone brightly in the dark moonless sky and as we are gradually creeping back north, the night watches have become pleasantly warm.

The easterly swell did make the Gold Coast Seaway entrance a little lively however and things were not helped by having to share the constricted space with a fleet of racing sailing dinghies, several returning small fishing boats and a group of mad jet skiers. We headed expectantly into the calm of the inner channel – the Broadway, only to find it full of more jet skiers and dozens of fast motor boats. It was Saturday and everyone and their dog was out enjoying the sunshine. The anchorage, just north of Southport Marina where we five months ago had checked in to Australia, is charmingly known as Bums Bay. It was also very busy, especially the blue buoyed area directly in front of us, that turned out to be a jet ski practice course!

We were tired from our trip, we put on the anchor alarm, turned on the cabin fans to block the noise outside and went to sleep. We only had to cope with all the activity until Monday morning when on the high tide we would make our way up the Coomera river to Boatworks, Raya was to be hauled out for her yearly once over.

Sunday morning dawned fine and bright and soon the crowds began to reappear. We had anchored next to our friends from Paw Paw and decided to go ashore together to escape the noise and increasingly choppy waters for a few hours. It’s nice in our transient life to revisit places occasionally, having a bit of local knowledge from our previous stop in the area. We returned to the waterfront Thai restaurant for lunch and walked back along the expansive Main Beach.

Walking on Main Beach with Elaine and Roy from Paw Paw

At seven the next morning while doing his normal pre-trip engine check, Rick noticed a leaking coolant pipe. While lifting the anchor I discovered the anchor down switch wasn’t working and with a very tight schedule on the tidal river we had the potential of the perfect storm – an overheating engine, no ability to anchor and quickly swallowing waters. Our normal cautious selves nearly abandoned the trip but we really wanted to make our hard won appointment with Boatworks. With the judicious use of tape to slow the leak, I steered us through the shallows of the river while Rick worked to sort out emergency use of the windless so if necessary we could drop the anchor. Two hours later with a sigh of relief we tied up to the dock and prepared Raya to be lifted.

We were last antifouled, just over a year ago and were hoping the hull might be in decent condition but it was definitely in need of redoing.

Dirty hull!

Our time on the hard was tight, particularly with plenty of rain in the forecast, it was full speed ahead. As Rick fixed the leaking coolant pipe, checked the seacocks, replacing one, greased the prop and investigated the windlass. Complete Antifoul services, cleaned and repainted the bottom, cut and polished the top sides and replaced the cutlass bearings. I organised for the life raft to be serviced, battled to keep the water cooled fridges from over heating, started filling the numerous forms required for entry into Indonesia and ordered new lenses for my damaged varifocal sunglasses – who knew that eyelashes could be so abrasive.

Watching the life raft being checked

So here we are clean, shiny and ready to go back into the water but with no berth to go into it looks like it’s going to be a further few days of washing up in a bucket, lovely.

Charming Coffs

Thursday 15th March 2018

As Ex Cyclone Linda continues to ease and turn SE away from the Australian Coast, we sit under clear blue skies with just a light cooling breeze, the only sign of the strong weather to the north of us is the sound of crashing waves on the northern breakwater.

We have been tied up in Coffs Harbour Marina, since Saturday, enjoying the forced break as we wait for Linda to pass by. Well known amongst cruisers as an entry port into Australia, people have been surprisingly dismissive of Coffs Harbour being anything more than a place to go through customs or a stop off conveniently placed halfway between Sydney and Brisbane. Fair enough the pontoons and docks are a bit rickety, there is quite a bit of noise from the work going on to build up the breakwaters and to get into the town centre is a forty minute walk.

But we like it here, the place has a charming small town feel, an active fishing fleet occupies one half of the inner harbour and the green of Mutton Island dominates our view to the east. Mountains form the backdrop to the town and traffic noise is minimal. Walkways spread out in all directions and three great beaches are within easy reach. The marina itself has a friendly quaint quality, with most activity best being summed up as pottering. There are all the essential services, restaurants, laundry, showers and brilliantly the local Coles supermarket will deliver your groceries right to the side of the boat.

Climbing to the top of Mutton Island, a nesting sanctuary for migrating wedge tailed shearwaters, gives a great overview of the area.

View of the harbour from the top of Mutton Island.

The town of Coffs Harbour started to grow when it’s long jetty was built. Projecting into the harbour it enabled large ships access to the timber cut from the rich forests that cloaked surrounding hills. As roads and railways spread into the area and shipping timber by boat became less profitable, the focus switched to the growing of bananas. Although the largest crop produced now is blueberries and the economy is dominated by fishing and tourism, this area is still known as the Banana coast.

We were hooked on our first morning, we sat at the yacht club eating breakfast overlooking Park Beach, the sand stretched a mile or so to the north, the sun shone and the surfers played, the week of waiting ahead didn’t look so bad after all.

Rick enjoying the view

Wanting to get a few jobs ticked off, Tuesday we set out for the shopping centre in search of new trainers, wine glasses, pillows……

We took the path that runs along the back of Park Beach. Shaded from the midday sun by trees, the bright blue of the sea and sky invaded through the gaps. We love theses glimpses through the tree trunks, the tantalising hidden promise of the world beyond.

Turning into the town we came across the bowls club, the greens sat right on the road and we stopped to catch our breathe and watch for a while, the teams were surprisingly good and as the final bowl smashed all other contenders out of the way, it was almost exciting. The shops were disappointing as they often are, no suitable footwear or homewares, but we did find a box of Mexican Train. A game we have enjoyed on many other yachts, we snapped it up, another way to pass those evenings when anchored in paradise.

Keeping up my campaign to lose weight and get a bit fitter, I walked the couple of kms to take a look at the beach to the South and was rewarded yet again by a spectacular view.

Miles of beaches run South from the harbour

As I paddled back along the calmer inner Jetty Beach, groups of school kids arrived to have surf lessons. Rick is hugely jealous, this is not how he remembers PE at his school. What a great life these Ozzie kids lead.

The water was warm and waiting for the schools to leave at lunchtime, we were tempted back down to Park Beach for a swim. The onshore wind was flattening the waves from behind, the surfers were struggling but for playing in the shallows it was perfect.

Enjoying the tumbling surf

In between the fun we have been keenly watching the weather, firstly to make sure the storm didn’t decide to turn SW and arrive on the coast too close by to us and secondly once it had past to find a narrow window to sail up to Southport. We need a twenty four hour period when the large swell produced by the storm has reduced but before the northerly winds set in. Tomorrow looks like the day, thanks Coffs we’ve enjoyed our stay.

Newcastle

Saturday 10th March 2018

Newcastle city centre

Our short stay in Newcastle was extremely pleasant. As well as a convenient stop on our way north it is the home of our friends from Toothless. Their cruising life is on hold for the time being, Toothless sits moored in Lake Macquarie awaiting her next adventure. Having chatted on email and Facebook we realise that the last time we actually met was over eighteen months ago in Tahiti, it was a shock to see the boys so grown up, school bags in their hands and shoes on their feet. Our timing was particularly lucky as Chris was home for a few days in between legs, he is back competing in the Volvo Around the World Ocean Race. All our tales of extremes at sea pale into insignificance compared to what these guys, and increasingly girls, go through as they battle their way across the oceans. It was great to catch up and the main bit of local knowledge Chris and Megs imparted was to make sure to turn left not right out of the marina.

Like it’s English namesake was a hundred years ago, Newcastle, Australia is a large coal exporting port. At the estuary of the Hunter river, it’s northern banks house the docks and wharfs for the massive tankers that transport the coal and other goods around the World. On the southern side sits the marina and the city centre and sure enough directly outside and to the right of the marina the city is quite run down. However, this situation looks about to change, building is going on everywhere. Hoardings, adorning the building site fences, promise not only a brand new light railway network but also glass covered corporate office blocks, upmarket apartment buildings and wide open manicured public spaces. And sure enough as you walk left towards the city centre, that is what you find.

Wednesday, leaving Rick head in the computer, ear to the phone trying to sort out arrangements to lift Raya out of the water when we get back up to the Gold Coast, I joined the lunchtime joggers, cyclists and other walkers on the the foreshore walkway. Everywhere we have been in Australia these superb public paths and surrounding spaces are a revelation, such a great resource and although not crowded, all are extremely well used. I pass the many waterfront restaurants, glossy offices and apartments neatly fitting with the old buildings of the city centre, I was heading for the beach that we spotted as we sailed in.

Foreshore walkway

I walked on until I found the ocean, as the pathway entered the sand dunes this sign greeted me.

I hesitated for a moment, until the sight of dog walkers, mothers with buggies and strolling retirees, assured me that this was probably just a case of the Port Authority covering its back. Still I carefully watched my step as I walked through the dunes out to yet another magnificent almost deserted beach. The surf crashed in and with the lifeguards red flag flying the only people around were a few brave kite surfers. It was fantastic.

Nobby’s Beach, Newcastle

Back in the marina, in the laundry as is often the case, we found some more friends, last seen in Sydney, fellow Brits Dianne and Graham had arrived to ready their yacht Maunie to be shipped back to Southampton. We joined up for dinner at one of the waterfront restaurants, tales were swapped and too much wine was drunk. We spent Thursday recovering and preparing the boat to set sail, the marina was hosting a fishing competition at the weekend we needed to free up our berth by midday Friday.

We knew conditions weren’t ideal, the wind wasn’t bad but the swell was bigger than we would have liked, however, it was the current that was to be the killer. The Australian East Coast current that had whisked us Southward so quickly last November was now against us. Being bashed by the waves as we did 8-9kts through the water but achieving only 5-6kts over the ground towards our destination was really depressing.

On the upside we did get a great sunset, our first for a while.

Sunsetting behind the big swell

Sayonara Sydney

Monday 5th March 2018

After almost three months, on Friday we sailed out of wonderful Sydney Harbour and started our treck north. We have until mid July to cover the nearly 2000nm up to the very northern most tip of Australia, experiencing as much as possible of the East Coast on our way. This is, we realise, the start of our journey home. We can’t quite decide whether to be excited or downcast by this fact but it’s hardly relevant we’ve a long, long way to go yet.

Thursday evening we picked Sheridan and Daisy up from the Fish Market dock, for an early start the next morning. We were headed up to Broken Bay and into Cowan Creek. We motored for the final time under Sydney bridge. The iconic views and frenetic ferries were all very familiar to us now and it didn’t really sink in that we were leaving this fantastic city behind us.

Sayonara Sydney

Until, that is, we left the protected harbour waters and were back out in the ocean for the first time since our arrival last December. I was glad of the seasickness tablets I had taken, it was a grey and lumpy sea that met us and at only ten knots not enough wind for us to sail, we were in for a rolly trip.

Luckily it was just a short hop and within a couple of hours we were motoring in the calm waters of Cowan Creek. We returned to our favourite spot of Jerusalem Bay, glad to see the Ospreys were still soaring above us, a little less pleased to see the hundreds of jelly fish that again drifting past on the tide. After so long in the city the silence was wonderful and the surrounding bush enveloped us like a comfort blanket.

Jerusalem Bay, early morning calm

The Cowan Creek area is part of the large Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and Saturday morning Rick dropped Sheridan and I at some makeshift steps in the rock and we climbed up to the join the Great North Walkway, a trail that runs, for a short part of its length, through the bush above the bays shoreline. With tree roots to climb over, tree trunks to dodge and rocky outcrops to negotiate, it is just rugged enough to seem like an adventure. The spaces between the eucalyptus and pines gave us glimpses of the bay and as we walked further the deep creek that feeds into it. Rich woodland smells filled the air, bird song and the piecing sound of cicadas filled our ears but the only physical sign of animal life were strange deep holes in the ground. Could land crabs be living up this high or were they home to something more sinister?

Sheridan on the Great North Walk, in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.

The day was fine and we met quite a few groups of walkers out enjoying their weekend and when we returned to the bay our quiet spot was busy with small fishing boats, kids jumping from the high ledge in the rocks and jet skiers churning up the calm waters.

We however were moving for a few hours to Looking Glass Bay around the corner, after a too brief a visit Sheridan and Daisy had to get back to Sydney. The plan was for us to have lunch at the one populated area of the park, Cottage Point and then for them to get a taxi back to Sydney, a 40min drive away. This turned out to be rather more difficult than anticipated. When asked, the owner of the charming Cottage Point Kiosk where we sat eating, with a sharp intake of breath said “oh, you won’t find it easy to get a taxi out here”. The problem was compounded by no internet and a phone signal that could only be found up three sets of very steep steps and a climb up the hill. After a rather breathless and anxious hour or so, with the help of numerous kind locals, who even offered lifts, we finally had no less than three taxis vying for our trade and Sheridan and Daisy were on their way.

Guests dispatched Rick and I returned to Jerusalem Bay for one more calm day before setting back out to sea. Having yet again had to motor, today we are 45nm further north and back in the City, this time the centre of Newcastle. We are safely tied up in the Yacht Club Marina awaiting another set of friends. The crew of Toothless who travelled on and off with us from Europe to Tahiti, live locally and are joining us for sundowners.

Frustrations

Wednesday 28th February 2018

Nice to see the evening sunshine finally glinting off the tower blocks.

It was with relief yesterday that we finally saw some sunshine. All day Sunday and most of Monday it didn’t stop raining. Boats are not great places to be for extended periods of rain, a feeling of damp pervades everything and as so much of life is spent outside, with all hatches tightly closed, it feels rather confined below. Evidence of how bad things got was the appearance of the Scrabble box.

In fact it’s been a rather frustrating week all round, after a promising start to our return to Sydney things went rapidly downhill. The electronic charts I had organised before we left for Perth had not been ordered, the sprayhood we had sent off for repair was untouched and even with the new engine alternator we still needed to replace the batteries.

Never mind we thought, that evening we had tickets for a performance of Carmen at the Opera House. Unfortunately that was a little disappointing too, the production wasn’t in the expected flamboyant style we were hoping for. The set and costumes were ‘realistic’ ie rather drab and the main character Carmen, who in our minds should be sexy, larger than life and command your attention, was, well, rather mousy. The music was fantastic however and it would be difficult to beat the view from the bar.

We decided to delay our departure from the marina for a day so Rick could sort out the batteries and for the electronic charts to arrive, which all went to plan. The sprayhood however couldn’t be fixed until the end of the week, we put it back up unrepaired, a job to go back on the list. So half satisfied we headed out to Blackwattle Bay. Typically for this week, our favourite spot in the middle of the anchorage, with plenty of depth, was taken. We had arranged to pick some friends up here, we needed to stay, so we anchored out on the edge. This turned out to be problematic in the changeable weather. If we positioned ourselves so there was enough depth when the NE winds pushed us towards the shore then when the wind changed to the South we ended up outside the bouys that marked the anchoring area and were politely ask to move by the marine police. If we anchored inside the bouys for the southerlies then when the wind went back to the North we swung worryingly near to the shallows. Unusually, the wind has reversed three times this week, so yes we have reanchored three times also.

We persisted with this anchorage because our good friend Sheridan arrived in Sydney to see her daughter Daisy for a couple of weeks and they, plus some more friends, came for lunch on Friday. At the far end of Blackwattle Bay is the large Sydney Fish Market, we all met up there to select some goodies for lunch. Fish and seafood of all kinds adorn the extensive market stalls, there is a posh deli, a wine store, fruit and veg shop and a bakery. Particularly around lunchtime it becomes jammed packed with Chinese’s visitors, so actually getting what we needed was a bit of a bun fight but eventually we returned to Raya bags full and put together a great spread.

This wasn’t so good for the start of our new healthy life style. Heidi who has visited Sydney many times, informed us that we weren’t alone in our issues with weight gain, the food is so good here that this phenomena is quite common and has been nicknamed the Sydney Stone. Lettuce and water for lunch today.

With another wind change we have re-anchored yet again, but the central nature of this spot and the easy access to shore make it worth while. We pick Sheridan and Daisy up tomorrow and if the weather finally decides to play the game we hope to sail the few hours up to Pittwater on Friday.

Fascinating Freo

Tuesday 20th February 2018

With our time in Western Australia rapidly coming to an end, Friday we took a day to visit Fremantle. In the south of the Perth Metropolitan Area, at the mouth of the Swan River, it has been a main port for nearly 200 years and retains much of its original 19th century architecture. We found an eclectic mix of historic buildings, museums, craft markets, art galleries, trendy bars and restaurants.

As we entered the city we noticed the clocktower of the townhall had squares of yellow paint near its top, at first we thought it must be having some renovations done but as we walked down High Street we saw more seemingly random yellow daubs and then stripes curling up from the pavement and onto the buildings. Slightly perplexed we walked on until up the steps of the roundhouse at the end of the street we turned and all was revealed. It is the work of Swiss artist Felice Varini who creates 3D optical illusions in public places all around the world. Designed to be viewed from just this one spot, the yellow lines and squares come together to form a set of eliptical rings that appear to float miraculously above the street. It is mind boggling to imagine how the artist could even conceive such an amazing idea and impressive that the Fremantle council took the risk with one of its prime tourist spots to allow it to happen.

Amazing street art in Fremantle

Still glancing back over our shoulders we wandered into an art gallery at the top of the steps displaying beautiful underwater photos, the photographer had done some wonderful things with his images of coral, tropical fish, sharks and rays. Not having the ability to paint whole streets but thinking that we had, maybe not quite of the same quality, but very similar photos, perhaps we could create some of our own Freo inspired artworks.

In complete contrast we then spent an enjoyable hour at the shipwreck museum learning about the early Dutch explorers and more specifically the story of the Batavia. Part of the Dutch East India Company she was wrecked off the WA coast in 1629 amid tales of mutiny and murder. The museum has on display a large section of her hull, salvaged in the early 1970’s along with many arifacts, including cannons, domestic items and part of her cargo, a large stone arch destined for Jakarta.

The next day we were lucky enough to be included in a gathering of Taryn and Greg’s friends for a Peeking duck night. Greg and friend Pete had spent the previous evening preparing the duck. Part of this preparation required the skin of the raw duck being unstuck from the carcass to allow it to crisp more easily. An ingenious solution to this problem led to the bizarre sight of Greg inflating the duck using his scuba tank and regulator. The technique proved its worth the next evening when, after a fun few hours decorating the terrace, we all sat down to delicious Peking duck.

Peking Duck night

And then before we knew it it was our last day, we opted, before we started our packing, for one last swim in the Indian Ocean.. The surf was relatively small, the water warm and the colours as incredible as always.

Thanks Taryn and Greg for a great break

Yesterday evening we flew back to Sydney and this morning its back to business on Raya. Rick has his head in the engine room replacing the alternator with a new one sourced in Perth and I’ve just returned from the supermarket with some basic supplies. In my bags there is a heavy emphasis on healthy foods, our stay in Perth did nothing for our already expanding waistlines. However all the walking and swimming we enjoyed has motivated us to start eating less and exercising more. Watch this space……….

Super South West

Friday 17th February 2018

What a startlingly beautiful stretch of coastline. We have spent the last week exploring the Margaret River Region in the far South West of Western Australia. Under wide clear skies and impossibly bright sunshine, the colours are breathtakingly vivid. Long white sand beaches, blue and turquoise seas, rocky outcrops and rolling surf.

The stunning beach at Injidup

The area is sparsely populated so these stunnng bays are often deserted even though they are less than an hours drive from the charming seaside town of Dunsborough, where Taryn and Greg have a beach house. The only crowds are seen at the calm town beaches and at the many surf breaks along the shore.

Surfers Point near the mouth of Margaret river is home to pro surfing competitions and attracts surfers from all over the world. Kite surfing is also hugely popular, with the reliable afternoon sea breezes often providing perfect conditions. It is entertaining to stand and watch their antics as they ride the waves with ease, professing how if we were just a bit younger we would, of course, be out there with them.

Watching the kite surfers at Yallingup

Resisting the temptation to jump in we instead went rock climbing, enjoying the smooth granite boulders and the pretty oranges of the sandstone. We have always loved watching waves crashing onto to rocks and it’s been a while, our sailing life has us searching out much calmer seas.

Our favourite spot was Canal Rocks where the granite has eroded to produce ‘canals’ that fill and empty with a cascade of white water from each ocean wave. A large Ray, defying the strong currents, swam into the whirling water, as did, rather worryingly, a young girl, who without the rays swimming ability was washed violently back and forth before managing to grab the side and climb to safety. We chose an easier route using a bridge and some stepping stones to cross the canals and then clambered as high and as far out onto the rocks as we could to take in as close as possible the exhilarating view.

Taryn out on the edge of the Canal Rocks.

Another great place is the natural spa near Injidup. Here you can scramble over giant boulders to reach a protected rock pool where it is safe to enjoy the power of the crashing waves. All is tranquil until a large wave hits the outer rocks, this sends gallons of water gushing over and through the crevasses between the boulders, creating power showers and turning the calm water into a bubbling whirlpool.

Taryn and Rick enjoying the natural spa bath

This region is not just about beaches however, running the length of the coast are numerous vineyards all plying for your trade at their cellar doors. Taryn and Greg took us to their favourite, Vasse Felix. Set in green manicured gardens, modern sculptures greet you on the lawns and between the trees, the modern art theme continuing with a small gallery inside. At the tasting bar we tried eight of their wines, we resisted the $80/bottle of delicious Chardonnay and plumped for a more economical full bodied red to accompany our lunch. The wine was good, the views delightful and the food, exceptional.

A few days later we ventured a bit further south to Boranup Forest. The day was unusually cloudy and as we entered the forest there was a short shower. With the rain came a burst of smells, the scent of eucalyptus, mixed with the tang of damp moss and rich earthy leaf litter. The forest is full of giant Karri trees reaching 90ft tall, they regularly shed their bark in long narrow strips revealing striking trunks of orange, salmon and greys. We were surprised to discover these giants were members of the Eucalyptus family. We are coming to the conclusion that all the trees in Australia, whatever shape or size seem actually to be eucalyptus trees.

Boranup Forest

On our final day we drove down to Smiths Beach, where feeling the name was telling us something, we finally braved the surf. We ate a picnic amongst the colourful dune plants and then went for a swim. The water was surprisingly warm and although we had picked a calm spot, the waves were fun and still strong enough to dump Rick as he stood knee deep taking photos. As he tumbled concentrating on holding tight to the camera, he was stripped of his expensive and vital prescription sunglasses, luckily they miraculously ended up at my feet.

The Smiths at Smith Beach

With a final farewell to this beautiful coast, yesterday we returned to Perth. A few more days to enjoy before our flight back to Sydney.

Perth

Friday 9th February 2018

A five hour flight across this huge continent and we arrived in Perth to the welcoming faces of Taryn and Greg. It feels fantastic to shower in a spacious bathroom, with limitless hot water, it’s novel to cook in a proper oven and prepare a meal on the large work tops and most of all go to bed without the responsibility of thinking about the weather, the anchor or whatever else might cause us to sink in the night.

Our stay in Perth seemed to immediately become centred around interesting conversations while drinking great local wine and delicious food. All keen cooks we are having good fun creating meals, sourcing the ingredients from the plethora of specialist butchers and farmers markets that appear to be everywhere here.

The whole of this area, stretched as it is along the coast, is dominated by the Ocean. On our first morning we drove from Taryn and Greg’s house in leafy Wembley the ten minutes to City beach. A brisk SW sea breeze created copious white horses in the deep blue of the sea and with the beach stretching seemingly forever in both directions, we walked down to dip our toes for the first time in many years in the Indian Ocean.

City Beach, Perth

The daily arrival in summer of this cooling sea breeze is nicknamed the Fremantle Doctor relieving everyone from the often uncomfortably hot weather. Temperatures in Perth can regularly sore over 40C, luckily for us Western Australia is experiencing a mild summer with temperatures nearer to 30 C. The use of the word mild in this context sounds very odd to us, in England it is used to describe warm winter conditions. However, which ever word is used, we were glad of the perfect temperatures and enjoyed a lovely lunch of fresh ingredients deliciously combined, while admiring the views.

The following day Taryn and I went to visit the Botanical Gardens in Kings Park. High on a hill it provides excellent views of the city centre and the Swan River. Full of native plants, we wandered chatting, enjoying the calm as we followed a pathway through the trees and shrubs. Our favourite tree in the whole park had to be the beautiful Weeping Variegated Peppermint tree, but also impressive was the famous Boab tree. At 750 years old and right in the middle of a new highway project it has been carefully rescued and transported over 2000 miles south to its current position in the park. I was also rather taken by the grass trees, common to this part of Australia, but strange to us.

Trees in the Botanical Gardens in Kings Park, Perth

In complete contrast to our peaceful day was our evening at the Perth Fringe Festival. Staged each year in February, we joined the throng in the centre of town to enjoy some street food and then a show. Club Swizzle is a slightly outrageous cabaret group, performing comedy, music and acrobatics, we had a thoroughly entertaining and sensational evening.

We had arrived in Perth with one complaint, we had been in Australia for three months now but had not seen one kangaroo! Greg born and bred in Perth sorted that out for us, sending us off to Pinnaroo Memorial Park, a large cemetery planted with native plants and attracting local wildlife.

Kangaroos in Pinnaroo Park

Kangaroos ticked off we repacked our bags, we are off on holiday from our holiday, heading 3hrs south to Taryn and Greg’s beach house in Dunsborough.

Mountains of Maintanence

Sunday 4th February 2018

Rick has spent much of the past week working in a variety of confined spaces, contorting his stiff joints around corners, down steps and inside small holes, undoing tight bolts and jammed screws, sealing leaks and changing oil, pulling out rusted in impellers and testing batteries. We are tied up back at the Cruising Yacht Club Marina and working our way through a long list of jobs before we leave for Perth tomorrow.

Fixing a fuel leak on the generator

With the generator oil changed and a drip from the fuel pipe sealed, next on the list was changing the engine impeller, unusually for Rick this job defeated him, not able to squeeze into the right position to apply all his strength he just couldn’t get it to budge. What was needed was an engineer who knew all the tricks of the trade and someone perhaps, dare I say, a little younger and more flexible. Fortunately we found one such person that could pop in that day and after much huffing and straining he finally freed it and put in a new one,

Not wanting Rick to suffer his aches and pains alone, Thursday I somehow managed to trip on the pontoon. My fall was particularly ungainly as my main concern was to ensure the backpack I was wearing, that contained as well as groceries a years worth of contact lenses, didn’t end up in the water. Gratefully no one was around and I could escape with, if not my body, at least my pride intact.

So it was that Friday morning found us hobbling up the hill to the station, Rick with tired knees and a stiff back, me with grazed knees and bruised ribs. We were off to catch the train for the 2 hour journey out to the Blue Mountains. Near the top of my list of things to do in Sydney it had been pencilled in for a while, so despite the jobs still to be completed and our rather battered bodies, we decided to carry on with our plans.

The views were incredible. The high plain of sandstone has been eroded over millions of years to create a large canyon like valley. Cracks in the rock and intermittent layers of claystone, coal and shale, that are more easily washed away, have caused the sandstone sides to collapse forming vertical cliffs and striking pillars.

Pillars of rock known as the Three Sisters

We made the mistake of starting our day at the crowded Scenic World. A tourist attraction offering cable cars, skyways and the steepest railway in the world. It would have been a good introduction to the area had it not been full to bursting with coachloads of tour groups. It wasn’t until we escaped along the Prince Henry Cliff Walk that we could really appreciate the full grandeur of the views and the tranquility of the eucalyptus forests. If we were to do this trip again we would start with this dramatic walk giving ourselves more time to enjoy the waterfalls, cascades and trails further along the escarpment.

Walking along the Prince Henry Cliff

However as we had paid for the tickets we returned to Scenic World and took the small train, descending almost vertically into the valley. Protected by the surrounding cliffs from the harsh drying winds and extremes of hot and cold, the valley has its own unique microclimate and is home to a rain forest. We wandered along a boardwalk through tall trees, thick vines and thousands of wonderful large tree ferns, peering up through the canopy to the sheer rock above us. Thankfully there is a cable car back to the top and a hop on hop off bus to return you to Katoomba and the train home.

Wonderful tops of the tree ferns

Back onboard it was back to work. When sailing towards the marina last week the starboard primary winch suddenly started to make a horrible screeching noise. Rick, happy that he could work in the open and especially not on his knees, carefully took it apart, cleaned each of the 27 components, regreassed and oiled as appropriate and put it all back together again. Still the winch screeched. With stoney face and a certain amount of muttering, off it all came again, eventually he traced the noise to the gear coupling to the motor. He was in for another afternoon working in a tiny space, balancing on one leg, bending around the toilet and stretching past cables to remove first the ceiling panels, then the motor. The motor is very heavy and unfortunately his assistant has more brains than brawn and couldn’t reliably take the weight while he battled with the bolts. As luck would have it, in between being engineers mate, I was defrosting the freezer and with the available freezer baskets and books of varying thicknesses we managed to construct a tower to support the motor as it was removed and reattached. After a top up of oil and a thorough clean of the coupling, thankfully it ran perfectly.

Servicing the primary winch motor

Today’s big task was to take down all the canvas work, so it could be sent to the trimmer for a few bits of repair and two zip replacements. We are so use to being cocooned by the sprayhood that it is very odd to sit with a 360 degree view totally exposed to the elements. Luckily the day is pleasant and with just the watermaker to pickle, the bathrooms and kitchen to clean, the decks to tidy, etc. etc….. tomorrow we off on holiday.

Australia Day

Sunday 28th January 2018

Friday was Australia Day, so this is a holiday weekend, the weather has been sunny, the winds light and seemingly the whole of Sydney, in celebratory mood, has anchored next to us. The sound of partying is all around, the loud beer drinking lads on the brash motor boat in front of us, the excited teenagers leaping from the 8m rock on our left and the screeching kids upset by the bursting of their bright pink, floating flamingo. Paddle boarders and kayakers pass close by, families fish from the wharf and swimmers risk life and limb dodging the dinghies and tinnies that whiz between it all.

Spring Cove Saturday afternoon.

Why, you may ask, knowing it would be even more crowded than last weekend have we chosen to anchor here again. Well sometimes with no particular demands on our time we just need a place to be, a place to stop and past the time until the next errand or adventure. Store beach and the other bays in Spring Cove we know have good holding, are protected from the NE winds and the worst of the harbour chop and have clean water for swimming and our watermaker. The ocean breeze provides a welcome break from the heat and car fumes of the city centre and when the crowds depart, as they reliably do, it’s really rather lovely.

We had spent a few days at the beginning of the week back in the Blackwattle anchorage, using again the safe docks for the dingy and the closeness to all the facilities to top up the fridge and visit the chandlers. Rick successfully serviced the generator, I failed to find a repair for the spare iPad. We took another day to be tourists and walked through the centre of town to the Royal Botanical Gardens.

An enchanting place that despite being surrounded by the bustle of the city is an oasis of calm. The huge specimen trees create a barrier to the traffic noise and the pathways winding between them cleverly lead your eyes away from the tall office blocks to colourful flower beds, spacious areas of green and the blue of the harbour beyond.

Huge fig tree in the Royal botanical gardens

The most dramatic sight was the green wall. A living art work, which at 50m long and 6m high takes 18,000 small plants to fill. Constructed of narrow tilted shelves, each plant pot sits in its prescribed spot, in a intricately choreographed design spelling out the word pollination, the theme of the current display. Just keeping them watered correctly requires over 1000m of pipes and a misting system. The back room of greenhouses providing the mixture of plants all at the right stage of growth must be an exemplar of organisation.

Green wall in The Calyx

Also this week we have, yet again, been touched by the generosity of the people we meet on this trip. First were the couple off Maunie, another British registered yacht, seeing each others blue ensigns we of course got together. They introduced themselves as they dinged past and we invited them over for sundowners. Such is the way with cruisers, having discovered that we were sailing on to Indonesia and South Africa, while they, for work reasons, had taken the decision to ship their yacht home, arrived arms full with valuable charts and a cruising guide to the Indian Ocean.

A few days later we were lucky enough to celebrate Australia Day with a group of Australians. Friends, of friends, of friends in England, Gerry and Carol kindly invited us to join them for lunch at the Manly Skiff Club. We ate, drank and enjoyed lively conversation about everything from the intricacies of night watches to the Australian love of travel, from the politics of Donald Trump to the current controversy of Australia Day itself. Celebrated annually on the 26th January it marks the anniversary of the arrival of the first fleet of British ships in 1788. Promoted as a day to celebrate Australia’s diverse cultures, the indigenous population and those supportive of their cause have begun to label it as Invasion Day and there is a growing movement to change the date.

However looking around us and from the chat at the crowded Skiff Club, as far as we can tell, it is mostly seen as a day at the end of the school holidays for everyone to take a long weekend and enjoy the Australian great outdoors.

Whoops

Sunday 21st January 2018

Nooooo! Was the plaintive cry, as clambering from the kayak to the swim deck, our beloved much used camera slipped from Ricks shorts into the water and sank almost immediately out of sight. Being too deep to dive down after it and with the evening sun low in the sky, too dark to scuba, our hearts sank too. Why hadn’t we invested in one of those snazzy strap flotation devises, why hadn’t I downloaded all last weeks photos, why hadn’t we passed the camera up by hand as usual!?!?

We pulled ourselves together and swung into action. With the boat swinging back and forth in the brisk breeze I tried to keep my eye on the spot it went in, Rick dug out our marker bouy and dropped it at our best guess of the cameras location. With nothing more to be done until we had more light the next day, we consoled ourselves with a gin and tonic trying hard to enjoy the setting sun.

The next morning we were glad to see the orange buoy still bobbing nearby. Rick kitted up in his scuba gear and descended through the murky water, miraculously after just five minutes he was back camera in hand.. It is waterproof and rated for depths of up to ten metres we were anchored in about nine, but was that ten metres for just an hour or could it survive being at that depth overnight? Apparently yes it could, it seems to have suffered no damage at all from its extended visit to the seabed.

Well done Rick, operation rescue camera completed successfully.

We continue to spend our time criss crossing Sydney Harbour as weather, provisioning and activities dictate. We started this week in Blackwattle Bay. The southerlies from the weekend continued to keep the temperatures cool, so being in the city centre we took the opportunity to be tourists for a couple of days.

We wandered around the maritime museum which displays Australia’s rich maritime history. Then went outside to look around the 1970’s submarine they have on display. Basically just one long corridor from front to back with bunks squeezed in between a maze of piping, pressure gauges, pumps and engines. The mind boggles as to how 69 men lived so dreadfully cramped together for so long. We had first visited the HMAS Onslow about 15 years ago, now ocean going sailors ourselves different questions come to mind; How did they cope with all the heat from the massive engines? How did they make water and how on earth did they manage to fix that joint buried behind a metre deep tangle of pipes?

Not much more spacious were the conditions on the Endevour, the ship that in 1770 James Cook first sailed to Australia but at least the crew onboard her could escape on deck. The ship in Sydney is a replica of the original and actually still sails, in fact she is off to New Zealand next month, we’re certainly glad we don’t have all that rigging to contend with.

The Endeavour moored in Darling Harbour.

Wednesday we walked to the Rocks, an historical area with many original sandstone buildings and cottages from the first development of Sydney by the early settlers. Historically it was a rough area occupied by convicts and run by gangs, even up until the 1970’s it was so run down it was nearly demolished. Now properties are snapped up by wealthy Sydneyites and being next to the cruise liner dock, it is a busy tourist area full of museums, old pubs and art shops. Luckily there was no ship in the day we were there and we found plenty of room to sit, enjoy views of the harbour and eat a very nice lunch.

The promised improved weather moved in on Thursday and we moved out to Manly. We were there to pick up a friends daughter and a couple of her friends for a day on the boat. We filled up with goodies for lunch and picked them up from the ferry terminal.

We love the Push-me Pull-you ferries that run every half an hour between Manly and Central quay in the city.

We all had a great day, chatting, eating and drinking, in fact so pleasant were the beach anchorages. Rick and I decided to spend the weekend off Store Beach. A very popular spot but the crowds don’t seem to appear until around midday and all disappear again around 6pm and so even at the weekends there is plenty of time and space to enjoy a swim, take out the kayak or lose a camera.

Anchored off Store Beach

Middle Harbour

Monday 15th January 2018

With Sydney’s record breaking temperatures hitting the World news last week, here on the ground, we are surprised not so much by the hight of the mercury but by just how changeable the weather is. One moment we are baking at over 30C the next day the thermometer is struggling to break 20C and winds go from nonexistence to blowing a gale within hours but we are beginning to see a pattern emerging.

As a high pressure system sets in, warm northerly winds that are enhanced by afternoon sea breezes lead to pleasant clear days. When the temperatures rise and a low trough threatens, thunder storms break out. These can be quite violent with high winds, hail and dramatic lightening. As the low passes through it drags in southerlies which having come up from the Antarctic are cool and can often be very strong. Then it’s back to high pressure and the cycle starts over.

This week we have been anchored in a Cove in Middle Harbour. Middle Harbour is a branch of waterways to the north of the main harbour that is similar to those at Pittwater and Cowan Creek. Hidden away up a creek we had until yesterday been mostly protected from these vagaries of the weather.

To enter the inner part of the harbour you have to pass through a lifting bridge. The Spit bridge carries one of Sydney’s busy routes north and opens briefly at four or five set times each day. Promptly at 1.15pm last Monday afternoon we squeezed through the surprisingly narrow gap and motored upstream to find a quiet anchorage.

Passing through Spit Bridge

A couple of miles on we found a great spot off Sugarloaf Bay in Castle Cove and settled in. After two days anchored off the busy Manly beaches and a few rather rocky nights at the marina, it was bliss to be absolutely still. The scent of eucalyptus trees that covered the banks wafted in the air and the drone of cicadas filled our ears. We planned to spend a few days here, carrying on with maintenance jobs, catching up with some admin and just enjoying the calm.

On our first evening however we discovered we had some noisy neighbours living in the hills. Just before dusk and around dawn each day, we’d be deafened by an cocophony of squawking. Large white birds were fighting and flapping in the trees above us, we took out the binoculars, they had lemon coloured crests and markings on their wings. A few taps later and a Google search revealed them to be Sulphur Crested Cockatoos and all the fuss was as they jostled for the best roosting spots in the hollows that form in the older eucalyptus trees.

Unfortunately the cockatoos were too far away, especially in the fading light to get a photo, unlike this Pied Cormorant, who not wanting to give up his place in the sun, let us very slowly approach within a few metres.

Pied Cormorant sunning himself

With such flat water we could break out the kayak and in the dingy go quite a way to explore. About two and a half miles further on we discovered tiny Echo Point Marina and decided to stop for lunch. In a perfect location surrounded by parkland with views over the water, the food was excellent and the service friendly. However as seems to be becoming a theme in Australia, getting ashore was not as straight forward as it first appeared. A dingy dock sat right outside the restaurant but as soon as we arrived, an agitated waiter appeared to warn us that the marina would charge us $30 to tie up the dingy and it would be better to go across to the beach and walk around. No big deal but just another small signal that even at a marina, with money to spend, visiting yachties aren’t particularly welcome.

Castle cove has just a few houses that overlook it high in the hills. But the harbour itself is more crowded and a popular city suburb. The houses are all built on the almost vertical banks on three or sometimes four levels. Running up to the road above or the shore below they have very steep steps, some have installed small lifts. As in Pittwater each shoreside property has its own jetty and pretty boathouse, in fact the boathouses are often nicer than the large properties above them.

Pretty boat house in Powder Hulk Bay

Back onboard Raya we slowly ticked off more jobs. Flags, charts and generator spares ordered; tick, tax returns filed; big tick, hot water tank coil replaced; hooray and raw water filters cleaned; urgh! The engine raw water filter was full of jellyfish!

Jelly fish swimming in the engine raw water filter!

After a pleasant week hiding from the worst of the winds and watching the thunders storms in the distance, the weather cycles finally caught up with us. A band of strong chilly southerly winds has been passing over New South Wales and Sunday blustery gusts started to blast into the cove, as our anchor chain stretched out, our picturesque spot began to feel rather small and the rocky edges rather close. We moved out into the bay only to have our anchor chain wrap around something on the bottom. This drastically reduced our swing and bought us far too close to a large motor yacht. Accompanied by horrible shudderers and graunching we slowly and as carefully as possible lifted the anchor back in. We returned to the centre of Castle Cove and spent a unsettled night with a close eye on the anchor alarm.

This morning we decided to stick to our plan of returning to the city and motored back through a very rough Sydney Harbour to Blackwattle Bay. It is still blowing a gale but one of the good things about cycles is that you can rely on them to keep turning, calmer conditions and warmer northerlies are forecast to return Wednesday or Thursday.

Fast Yachts and First Swims

Monday 8th January 2018

With the outskirts of Sydney peaking at 47C yesterday we have finally been for a swim in Australia. We seem to have been in marinas, up muddy creeks or surrounded by jelly fish. The winds have often been chilly, the sea rough or the water full of other craft. The forecast for a heatwave on Sunday persuaded us to head out of the city to the beaches just south of Manly Harbour. Here the temperatures were a cooler 32C but hot enough to persuade us in. And fantastic it felt too, why we asked ourselves had we been putting it off so long.

First dip for a while

We had started the week anchored off this very same beach , not swimming, a chilly southerly was lowering the temperatures and creating a lively chop. We were here instead to say farewell to our friends from Moonshadow who in the morning were sailing north to Brisbane from where they are shipping the boat back to Mexico. We have had a lot of fun together over the last few months, we will miss them.

In time honoured tradition the New Year has brought our thoughts around to the year ahead. In the hope of beginning to tick a few things off the “while in Australia’ list we booked in for a few days in the marina at the famous Cruising Yacht Club of Australia.

The CYCA organise the Sydney to Hobart yacht race and is the home to many of the racing yachts we watched leaving the Harbour on Boxing Day. With top speeds of 25kts some are already back and with each boat protected from the sun by a tent shaped canvas awning it felt a little like been moored in a campsite.

Raked masts and protective awnings of the CYC racing fleet.

With our port of registration, Southampton, clearly printed on the transom and the British ensign flying, here halfway around the world we are use to ‘pontoon voyeurs’ coming up to look at Raya. This time however nobody had eyes for us, they were all coming to view our neighbour – Ichi Ban, the star and overall winner of this year’s race.

Getting back to the tasks in hand we launched into the long screed of jobs that need doing before we set off from Australia later in the year. As is always the way with new places the first few days can be frustrating, the chandlery seemed very expensive, cooking gas refill appeared impossible, potential repairs to the sprayhood zips unsatisfactory……… At over $120 a night we wanted to keep this visit brief but we will be back in February to leave Raya tied up while we fly to Perth. Hopefully by then the research we have done and the leads we have secured this time will start coming together.

One benefit to being in marina is that we can tell people exactly where we are, it was lovely to have had visits from three sets of friends and family. And, being in a marina full of racing yachts that have no antifoul on their keels means that divers equipped with cleaning tools are every where. We slipped out of our berth with two months of barnacles and growth scraped from our bottom.

Ashley comes to tea

Fabulous Fireworks

Monday 1st January 2018

HAPPY NEW YEAR

Well the Sydney New Year celebrations certainly lived up to all the hype. They culminated in a spectacular fifteen minute show, with fireworks, every colour of the rainbow, filling the sky. The bridge featured at the heart of the display, with five barges spread either side along the harbour all lighting up in unison. Despite the many boats in front of us we had still had a fantastic view.

As anticipated on the 30th our spacious anchorage rapidly started to becoming more crowded. A party atmosphere was gradually building so we dug out our string of signal flags and ‘dressed’ Raya.

Raya dressed with flags for New Years Eve

All the activity in and outside the anchorage made it very bouncy, getting into the dingy was difficult, we did go to lunch in pretty Mosman Bay and visited a few friends on neighbouring yachts but mostly we sat and were entertained by the bedlam around us. As more and more boats tried to squeeze in, the light winds made everyone wander around their anchors. Badly anchored boats dragged, swung into each other and twisted around each others chains.

Many times we thought that no more boats could possibly fit in but we needed a new definition for crowded, as still more boats arrived. There were the occasional cross words and frequent standing on the bows, hands on hips, expressions implying “you must be joking that is way too close” but on the whole everyone was good naturedly accepting of the situation.

On the afternoon of the 31st we were joined by the Yollata crew, a family we originally met in Marquesas nearly two years ago, now land based they came to stay on Raya for the night. We had originally planned to raft with Moonshadow and all party together but the crowded and rough conditions made that too difficult but we did all get together for a great supper. A few too many champagnes later it was back to Raya to see 2018 in in style.

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Celebrating in the Sun

Friday 28th Dec 2017

Christmas in the heart of Sydney

Celebrations started with Christmas Eve sundowners on Raya. There were only eight yachts in the small Blackwattle anchorage so we went around and invited everyone for a glass of Pimms. Not really a Christmas drink but with temperatures at almost 30C, it seemed more appropriate than mulled wine. We ended up with 17 people, from 6 different countries, squeezed around the cockpit table. The chatter was lively as the Australians were quizzed on their local knowledge, the Americans explained the logistics of shipping their boat home in the New Year, the French told us about life in New Caledonia and the Danish and Swedish described their plans for their traditional Scandinavian Christmas Eve feasts later that night.

On Christmas Day we went across for a delicious rack of lamb with our American friends John and Deb on Moonshadow. And in a continuing spirit of cultural exchange we introduced them to traditional English Christmas Crackers and they us to Deb’s family Christmas onion pie. We returned to Raya full and happy in time to catch family and friends as they enjoyed Christmas morning in the UK.

Good sports John and Deb wearing their cracker paper hats

Boxing Day it was back on Moonshadow to go out to watch the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. The thrilling lead pack of 100ft Super Maxi yachts, using every inch of the course, powered by at about twenty knots just meters away. But the real action was the mayhem of spectator boats that fought for the best view of the fleet, especially local boat Wild Oats XI. The water was churned to a lather by the crowd and the mad power boat drivers, whose only purpose seemed to be showing off how fast they could drive through the throng, John deserves a medal for keeping us and Moonshadow safe.

Local favourite Wild Oats battling out through Sydney Heads

Spectator fleet

Having eeked out our freshwater all week, Wednesday we said goodbye to Blackwattle Bay and motored out to the cleaner waters of Manly Harbour. Once the watermaker got going we enjoyed a shower and did a couple of loads of washing. A nice seaside town Manly felt open and bright after the inner city. Getting ashore, however, was not as easy and required scrambling over railings at the top of a long vertical ladder, onto the high ferry dock. Once on dry land we walked the 1/4 mile over the headland to the ocean side and Manly Beach. A long curve of sand stretched into the distance, we were struck by the wealth of public facilities available. Half a dozen volley ball nets sat at the top of the beach, good quality BBQ grills awaited takers, surfboard hire with deck chairs for parents were spaced at convenient points along its length and lifeguards, warning signs and their equipment were every where. On the inner beach there were even shark nets to protect the swimmers. What sharks we asked ourselves?

Manly Beach

Also ashore was a supermarket so we stocked up for our NYE celebrations. Not wanting to risk carrying all the bags down the steep ladder Rick bought the dingy around to the harbour beach and we loaded up from there. Disaster nearly struck when the crate of beer didn’t quite make the transfer from dingy to Raya, only a dramatic dive from Rick, mindless of the the potential for man eating sharks, saved the bottles from sinking 12m to the sea bed.

Then it was time to up anchor and move on to reserve our spot for the fireworks. We have just arrived in a rather bouncy Athol Bay, below is a photo of our unbeatable view. Unfortunately it is inevitable that wherever we place ourselves, another million boats will appear in the next couple of days to spoil the vista, fingers crossed a huge motor yacht doesn’t sit itself right in front of us.

Our Current View for the fireworks, let’s keep our fingers crossed nothing too big comes in to block the view.

Too Hot for Christmas

Christmas trees are everywhere, decorations adorn the streets and the presents are wrapped but however hard we try it’s just all wrong. With temperatures in the 30’s, light summer evenings and no turkey to cook, our brains can’t except it’s Christmas.