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!

Go, Stay, Gone


Saturday 4th November 2017

Friday morning we left New Caledonia in a bit of a rush having just the day before decided that we would have to postpone our passage for another week – the weather forecasts have been tricky.

So far so good, we have calmish seas and a SE wind blowing us along at between 7 and 8kts. The passage plan has us arriving early Wednesday morning for the incoming tide across the bar. Bars are new to us and like passes have fearsome reputations and many of the harbours on the East coast of Australia have them. An area of shallow water lays across the entrance and when combined with the almost permanent large swell that arrives on the shore, can, on an ebbing tide, cause large breaking waves, not something you want to encounter on a sailing yacht.

We had been expecting the light winds we have at present but they are in a perfect direction and with the just a 1m swell we are storming along and can possibly make the earlier tide and possibly give ourselves a better land fall weatherwise if we can keep it up. Time will tell.

Full moon rise 250 miles out at sea

Our last day, ever, anchored in a pretty bay in the Pacific Islands turned out appropriately enough to be Ricks birthday. It was a lovely day, we swam and read, dugongs and turtles joined us and the winds were gentle. Since being on the boat we have pretty much given up on presents, so with our one precious pack of bacon I cooked him a fry up for breakfast and we BBQ lamb chops for supper with a beautiful sunset as a back drop.

Sunset in Baie Papaye

Then it was back to reality. A one hour motor and Sunday found us anchored again in Port Moselle. The day promised to be sunny and calm and the locals were taking advantage of the conditions, it was like being at sea. The whole fleet of motor boats from Noumea was going out to enjoy a day off in the islands leaving rocky water in their wake. We went ashore and did a bit of  essential shopping and had lunch, returning just in time to take another battering from the boats as they all returned to their marina berths.

That evening while enjoying the company of our friends from Atla we noticed the racing catamaran anchored in front of us was getting gradually closer, her anchor must have been dislodged by the turbulent waters, with no one onboard there was little we could do but put out some fenders and hope the anchor would re catch. After a rather sleepless night of continuous checking she luckily kept her distance but we were glad to move and get tied up in the marina to start our preparations to leave.

We shopped, cooked, checked the boat over and obsessed over the weather forecasts. On Monday, Friday was looking good for departure to Coffs Harbour on the Australian east coast. By Wednesday however there was the threat of a small but lively low forming in the Tasman sea.

Rick checking the steering quadrant

Thursday what had looked like a perfect passage now looked horrible for our arrival with not only the low hovering but a front forming. Frustrated, we abandoned our morning plans to visit the three offices required to check out of New Caledonia, had a delightful lunch at the Art Cafe and started considering going back out into the islands for a few days.

Then would you believe it, when Friday dawned the forecast low had fizzled and gone south and if we kept a bit north and entered the country at Southport instead of Coffs, we might miss the worst of the front. Our departure was back on and by midday we had cast off.

Fingers crossed we have made the right decision.

Census in Sawa I Lau

Sunday 24th Sept 2017

Our presence in a remote bay in the Yasawas has been recorded officially and for eternity. Last Sunday morning as we sat anchored off the Island of Sawa I Lau, with just one other yacht, a mile or so from any other signs of life we were visited by a local boat. It’s occupant greeted us with the normal wide smile and enthusiastic greeting “Bula Bula” but unusually, for the Islanders, spoke with perfect English. He asked not for the anticipated bunch of cava but if he could take down some information about everybody onboard. It turns out that it was census day in Fiji and our presence remote or not needed to be recorded.

Raya anchored off Sawa I Lau

Our final set of guest has left us, it has been a busy summer and nice as it’s been to have everyone onboard it felt good to have Raya back to ourselves. Sasha and Julia’s visit will be remembered for the fantastic snorkelling we have done, this week we finally got to see the magnificent mantas again, we were also treated to sharks, sea snakes, and a huge titan trigger fish. The last couple of swims were done without Rick who had a bit of an earache and the sight of the three of us after a long tiring snorkel, struggling, ungainly and giggling trying to lift ourselves into the dingy, whilst gradually being swept out to sea, went thankfully, unrecorded but will stick in our minds for quite a while.

Excellent snorkelling off Manta Ray Island Resort

We have played Rummy cube, attempted a game of bridge, drank far too much wine and beer, eaten far too much food and talked and talked. We were actually treated with enough wind during their stay for a couple of sails but for our stay in Fiji we have basically been a motor boat. In fact we have motored so far that on our return to Musket Cove we actually ran out of fuel in the main tank and in, luckily, calm open seas we had to top up from our reserve tank.

Team Raya on the sand bank at Musket Cove

Yesterday we came back into Vuda, ready for the girls early flight this morning. We are getting use to the tight squeeze of yachts here but the space we were presented with this time was the tightest of all. In fact after two tries it was fairly obvious we weren’t going to fit in going stern to, so Rick turned us around and managed to wedge us in with bows to the wall. The normal skilled marina boat boy wasn’t around and his replacement had no understanding of what was going on. Without the efforts of Sasha one side and Julia the other, both armed with large blow up fenders we would never have berthed unscathed.

And we are not the only Oyster squeezed in here, after bumping into only a handful of other Oysters throughout the whole Pacific crossing, suddenly we are inundated with Raya look a likes. In Manta Bay another Oyster 56 had anchored right next to us and at Musket Cove there were three other Oysters including Oyster Blew 56/23 the boat built right after Raya who is 56/22 and here in Vuda there are five other yachts, the Oyster World Rally has arrived in Fiji.

We however are on our way out of Fiji, we have a few days to clear up and prepare then weather permitting it’s on to New Caledonia at the end of the week.

Where Next ?

Monday 11th September 2017

As we start to plan the details of our next move from Fiji to New Caledonia and onwards to Australia, lurking at the back of our minds is the question of where we should go next year. From the beginning, this trip, had been about getting to and sailing in the Pacific, as we near our first continental landfall since leaving the Americas we have to face up to the fact that the Pacific crossing is almost complete.

The journey so far.

If we could conjure ourselves back to Panama we would happily do it all again. The reality, however, is that we have no magic wand and an eastward sail, more or less back the way we have come, would mean long periods against the prevailing winds, not something we particularly want to do. Another alternative is to sail up past Japan to Alaska and down the west coast of Canada and the States, for us wimpy warm weather sailors that all sounds a bit cold. We could of course just stay this side of the Pacific sailing the circuit from New Zealand or Australia to Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu. This is a tempting option, but the cyclone season is seven months long, which means we end up spending a lot of time and money just kicking our heals waiting to get back to the Islands. We are therefore facing up to the fact that we have to start to plan our departure from the Pacific and into the Indian Ocean. With access to the Suez Canal still a no-go area, the route home is via South Africa and the Caribbean.

Basic route back to Europe

This route is rather heavy on long ocean passages but provides plenty more exciting places to visit and possible diversions but making the decision to leave the Pacific is a hard one.

Rick contemplating the future.

Back in real time we are having a final trip through the Yasawas with our last set of guests, Sasha and Julia. Their first day started well with the wind behind us and strong enough for us to actually sail from Vuda to Musket Cove. Unfortunately, that evening, those same winds bought thunder, lightening and heavy rain. With all the hatches closed it was too hot to stay below so we all perched under the sprayhood counting the seconds between the flashes of lightening and claps of thunder, noting that the masts from the couple of super yachts close by would make much higher and better lightening conductors than Raya’s. In the lulls we took it in turns to check the aft pole light for signs of the Manta and made plans for the following couple of weeks.

Today has dawned hazy and serene, I still marvel at how one place can be transformed over a few short hours, last nights stormy sky and sea is today’s calm idyll. It’s an early start as we have a six hour trip north, no sailing today I think.

Sasha and Julia enjoying the calm sea.

Ready for the Islands

Tuesday 25th July 2017

Much as we like it in Vuda we are now more than ready to get away and out to the islands. We have had a couple of very hot, humid, windless days, we are being plagued by mosquitos and tiny biting noseeums and then there is still the ongoing challenge of being attached to the fixed dock, that often requires scaling a near vertical passerelle as you leave or return to the boat.

Good to have Matt onboard to help with all the provisions

Since our return from the UK we have been busy preparing things for our guests. Matt arrived yesterday and Tony and Gilly join us tomorrow. So it has been a week of cleaning and provisioning. Luckily we have had the help of Abdul the taxi driver to ferry us around to the shops and run us to and from the airport.

This part of Fiji is relatively built up, lining the road into town are houses and light industry interspersed with fields and fields of sugar cane. Sugar export is the countries primary source of income and the industries presence is very obvious in this part of the Island. Trucks loaded with canes pass us on their way north to the large sugar mill in Lautoka and smoke billows from the plant and scattered fields on the hillside, leaving a sticky dust on our decks. The development of the sugar industry has not only effected the landscape of Fiji, at the beginning of the 20th century as the plantations grew there was a massive influx of workers, most came from India and now their decendence make up nearly 40% of the countries population.

Once past the fields of sugar cane and just beyond the airport is the supermarket. By Pacific Island standards this is a good supermarket with a much wider range of food than we have seen before. Matt and I fill the trolley while Rick picks up our ordered frozen and vacuum packed meat and buys copious amounts of wine. Then it’s on to the large fresh fruit and veg market. Heaps of produce weighed heavily on the tables and stunning flower arrangements added to the colourful scene. One very full taxi returned us to the marina and the exhausting job of getting everything onto the boat and put away, begins.

Colourful Nadi market.

As always in between times I’m on the look out for exciting bird life. There is a tree with ripe red fruits next to the boat that is attracting Red Vented Bulbuls, starling like birds with a red patch under their tails and a crest on their heads. Scattered through the undergrowth are small brightly coloured Parrot Finches with bright green bodies, red heads and red tails. Then today perched on our neighbours rigging was a Pacific King Fisher. Hopefully in a couple of days we’ll be back amongst the sea birds.

Pacific King Fisher

Still Here

Sunday 14th May 2017

Although fairly confident that Raya could outrun the approaching deep depression, bolstered by Cyclone Donna’s arrival in New Zealand, yet another out of season cyclone – cyclone Ella has formed and is currently just north of Fiji, the prospect of being sandwiched between the two systems was rather unappealing. So yet again another potential weather window passes us by. We are, with what’s now rumoured to be nearly a hundred yachts, still here.

Bright but chilly in Opua

People with experience of this part of the world are saying they have never known the weather to be so volatile this late in the season. The cyclone season officially finishes on the 30th April, but with above normal water temperatures in the Western Pacific, nature is ignoring such deadlines. Cyclone Donna eventually turned into a category 5 storm the most intense cyclone ever recorded for the month of May. The island populations on Vanuatu are, with the help of aid, having to start picking up the pieces from the devastation it left in its wake and the yachts that risked leaving last week are paying the price. We know of at least eight yachts that are sitting out the stormy weather, precariously anchored, midway between NZ and Fiji or Tonga in tiny remote atolls that give precious little protection. Some boats turned around just beating Donna back to NZ, the ones that pressed on had a rough and in some cases damaging passage.

So when we complain that we had a rather uneventful week, we know it was better than the alternative. And, it had one big upside, a shipment of compact washing machines arrived in Auckland. Friday we hired a car, drove the 3 1/2 hrs to the supplier, picked one up and drove the 3 1/2 hrs back. Then came the difficult bit, getting all 55kg of it from the car, along the pontoon, on to the boat, down into the salon and then into its cupboard in the aft head. It wasn’t easy but with much head scratching and the appliance of science, we, well Rick, got it, in and running by Saturday lunch time without a strained back in sight. Miraculously it turned out to be identical to the old one, so the restraints that keep it in place at sea and the pipes fitted exactly.

Hooray, new washing machine?

Next window, Thursday/ Friday, well maybe?!?

The Fleet Waits

Sunday 7th May 2017

Hardly a wisp of wind blows across the deck, the midday sun is warm, activity in the marina is sultry and slow, a mood of disconsolate acceptance hangs in the still air. The benign weather, nice as it is, unfortunately represents another missed weather window. As the calm centre of a high pressure passes over us, its back edge will bring northly winds closing any opportunity to sail north. As predicted the disturbed systems hanging over the tropics have produced bad weather over the islands. The tropical storm spotted last week, has deepened to produce a cyclone. Cyclone Donna is a rare out of season, destructive, category three cyclone and is currently bashing Vanuatu. It’s future path appears unpredictable, the risks of leaving New Zealand on Friday were too high, so with the rest of the cruising fleet, we wait.

Everywhere jobs that have languished way down at the bottom of ‘to do lists’ written years ago, are seeing the light of day, cars are being hired for day trips and many boats have sailed into the bay to pass the time. Yachts that left for Fiji early last week are being nervously watched by tracker, SSB radio and any other means, they report back high winds and rough seas but luckily all lie east of Donna and are OK for now. The obsessive weather map watching has stopped, departure with the arrival of the next high, due at the end of the week looks uncertain and rest on the shoulders of Donna, everybody is settling in to be here a while longer.

Not that that is too awful a prospect, the nights have been chilly but the days sunny and pleasant. Today Rick is taking advantage of the calm to paint the black side vents, a job that has been hanging over us since being put aside as we rushed to leave Southampton. I’m not sure Raya has ever been so polished.

Spraying the side vents

The previous two days however, feeling a little let down by more delays, we deserted our cleaning posts and decided to get out and about. Friday we went for a walk on the local beach, encouraged by the sturdy boardwalks we walked on around the wooded coastline. The boardwalk stopped but it was a pleasant and varied track, over tree covered cliffs, mangroves and across rocky beaches, we were enjoying ourselves and we walked on. An hour and half later after a particularly steep section, we keenly wanted the end of the track, the town of  Paihia, lunch and a taxi home, to be just around the next headland. Not a chance. There is something about us and walking, normally so organised and well prepared in life, we seem to set out for strolls that turn into hikes. We only had second hand directions of what lay ahead, we didn’t even have a bottle of water, we had on too many layers of clothes for the conditions and my footware was woefully inadequate. Another hour on and we made it across the beach, the last part of the walk, just before the incoming tide cut us off, half an hour later and we  would have been forced to retrace our steps – all the way back. 

Coastal path from Opua to Paihia

Saturday with still sore feet we hired a car and drove north. The car from Rent-a-Dent was mostly dent free but small and uncomfortable, we abandoned plans for the three hour drive to the very northern tip of New Zealand and the dramatic cliffs at Cape Regina and instead stopped about halfway to check out Doutless Bay and the Karikari Peninsular. Here the scenery is very different to what we’ve been use to, flat by New Zealand standards, with wide open white sand bays and the start of the huge sand dunes that stretch up the most northern of New Zealand’s beaches. Dominating the landscape was Pampas grass, an invasive species introduced from South America, it seemed to be growing everywhere, even amongst the woodland and tree ferns. We drove to Maitai beach at the very end of the peninsular and strolled its large curved shore and then stopped in the seaside town of Manganui to eat fish and chips on the harbour front.

Maitai Bay

 Back on the boat I steal a glance at the weather forecast. If the remanents of Donna do dip south enough to hit New Zealand, we will have, yet again, stormy wet weather, this may disrupt the next high pressure system, produce very rough seas and wipe out yet another weather window, I wonder how long we need to be here to become permanent residents!

Deferred Departure

Monday 1st May 2017

Weather, weather, weather, my brain has gone to mush staring endlessly at wind forecasts, pressure charts and swell projections. Each model appears to tell a different tale and each picture changes hourly. Add in our preference to arrive in daylight and not at the weekend when customs will charge exorbitant overtime fees, finding the right time to leave, for the sail up to Fiji, is not an easy task. 

Saturday we decided against leaving today, firstly we have three lots of orders in at the local chandeliers and engineering workshops that didn’t arrive Friday. Secondly, the winds are due to turn northerly a day early, so waiting for the spares and leaving late in the afternoon might have meant not clearing the northerly flow and having to bash into the wind for 24hrs. Finally, the weather for our arrival in Fiji looks very lively, the South Pacific Convergence Zone has moved south, with 25kt winds, 3-4m seas and a developing tropical storm just east of Vanuatu. Once the decision was made we both relaxed, another window is looking to open up at the end of the week and to be honest we have been so busy of late that a few days wait will probably do us good. 

So after finishing our jobs today, laundry and downloading cruising guides for me, inspecting the quadrant and tightening the steering cables for Rick, he is treating himself to an afternoon movie while I am sitting writing this on the forward deck, in watery autumnal sunshine, seeking protection from the chilly southey wind that is blowing directly into the cockpit. The marina is in the throws of major reconstruction and today they are hammering, very loudly, piles into what will be the new wharf. At least the dredger that was in constant use amongst the berths when we were here a month ago has been forced, by the number of boats now moored up, to take a break and sits abandoned at the end of the pontoon.

Working on the new section at the marina

Boats of all shapes and sizes have congregated waiting for the sail north, along with the numerous independent yachts such as ourselves there are now thirty five boats, that are joining the Pacific Circuit Rally, gathering around us. This ‘Rally World’ is reminiscent of our ARC experience a year and a half ago, crews busy working on their boats, nervously comparing notes on what still needs to be done and running around from one information session to the next social event, we feel slightly like intruders. 

They are due to leave on Saturday so the downside of our delay is that it will mean checking out at customs, paying up at the marina office and getting fuel with a huge crowd. On top of that temperatures are expected to drop over the next couple of nights to around 8C, the winter woolies are back out and the call of the tropical sunshine is becoming louder. Fingers crossed, well rested and well prepared, the weather will allow us to escape before the crowds and get away on Friday.

Our yellow brick tracker is still running, so if you are interested, you can watch our progress at http://my.yb.tl/sailrayatracking/

The track of our cruising in New Zealand.

Fixing For Fiji

Tuesday 25th April 2017

Slowly and painfully I unwrap my legs and wrestle myself upright, I have spent the last hour and a half wedged between various bits of rigging and the outside rail cleaning the brightwork (stainless steel fixtures). Fifty six foot seems very large when armed with just a duster and a toothbrush. My stiffness was not helped by the couple of hours I had already spent crouched and bent cleaning the bilge in the bottom of the engine bay. Rick’s in a similar state having spent one half of the weekend bouncing about, mostly upside down, replacing cables and tidying wires in the dingy, the other half dismantling and manhandling a heavy washing machine off the boat and today removing and servicing the water maker high pressure pump. We are not the young flexible things we once were. Why we ask ourselves, after six months in New Zealand is there still a last minute rush.

Polishing the brightwork

Fiji everybody assures us has quite good shops and services and it’s unlike leaving Panama, sailing out into the unknown, we now know we can easily survive on very little, life at anchor is in fact a very simple affair. Still, with a possible weather window opening up early next week, it’s difficult to resist one last visit to the big shiny supermarket, one last purchase of possibly essential spares or one last download of books on to our Kindles.

Preparations have been mostly going well, stores are topped up and stowed, Rick has completed a dozen tasks that he’s been meaning to do for months, I have started cooking and freezing passage meals and routes and cruising research is well underway. However, there have been a couple of untimely breakdowns, firstly the battery of my trusty iPad has started to fail. As anyone who has spent time on the boat with us knows, I love my iPad using it for everything from downloading weather and emails, to keeping up to date with friends on Facebook and writing my blog. At sea it’s our connection to the satellite, it acts as a secondary chart plotter, it gives us vital information on tides and distances and its Goggle Earth app helps us navigate through treacherous coral reefs. We decided we couldn’t risk being without it, so, fingers crossed, it’s ordered replacement will arrive Thursday and I will find time and enough Internet to download everything we need to get us running again.

Not so easy to replace is the second breakdown, the washing machine which has seemingly been on its last legs since we left the UK two years ago, finally gave up the ghost on Friday, it’s corroded inners irreparable. It’s a compact model, it’s diminutive size essential to allow it to get through the door of the bathroom where it lives. After an extensive search it appears there is only one such model sold in New Zealand and the country is completely out of stock. So life in the islands will be further simplified, it seems the best we can do is to replace my washing machine with a bucket. Cleaning the length of the boat with a toothbrush suddenly seems quite easy.

Dead washing machine

Crowded Week

Friday 24th March 2017

Entering Auckland

As we sat waiting for the brilliant Adele to come on stage, I realised how quickly our time in New Zealand has passed. I bought the tickets for Adele Live back in November just after we had arrived. Then this concert seemed such a long time away and was a marker for the final part of our New Zealand stay. The plan now being to start slowly working our way north, back to Opua, where we will look for a weather window early May to sail up to Fiji.

Adele was of course worth waiting for, belting out her familiar songs, joking with the crowd and making the most of her extensive set, she was the true showman. Add in the buzz from the near 50,000 people seated in the Mt Smart Stadium, the chance for a good sing along and the mostly efficient organisation – we had a great evening.

Adele Live

It has been a very busy week, Sunday morning we sailed into the centre of Auckland. It was maybe not the best of days to have chosen, Auckland has the nick name ‘City of Sails’ due to the large number of marinas, one in three Aucklanders own a boat, on this pleasant Sunday morning I think most of the them were out enjoying the sunny weather. Navigation was hazardous through the crowded channel and the water choppy with wakes. We eventually worked our way through all the craft, big and small, everything from a car ferry to a guy fishing from his kayak, and tied up at the Viaduct Marina. We are stern to the dock underneath the main walkway through this busy city waterfront area. It’s a bit like being the exhibit at the zoo as hundreds of people wander past looking at all the boats. Although the smallest yacht in this part of the marina, our Southampton registration is attracting attention from the many Brits who are visiting or live here. 

Rush hour past the boat

Fun as it is to be in the middle of things, restaurants and shops a mere stroll away, the true attraction is the large chandleries and miriad of  yacht services at our finger tips. For the first time in over a year we can get things done quickly and easily, Rick has jumped at the oppotunity. Amongst other things the generator has been serviced including refurbing the injectors and hopefully sorting out the last of the problems caused by the dirty Tongan fuel. The dingy engine has also been serviced. Rick has replaced the seized dingy gear cable and the broken main outhaul and furling buttons in the cockpit.  The boxes of spares have been sorted, topped up and the inventory updated. We have cleaned inside and out, everything was ready, Raya back in tiptop condition for another season in the Pacific Islands.

Well, until last night that is, on our return to the boat, to our dismay, we noticed the fridge had stopped. Days more at the zoo were imagined, disapointed guests, friends Taryn and Greg arrive this evening, having to waste precious days of their holiday waiting around, doom and gloom accompanied us to bed. But no, this is the centre of Auckland we had an engineer onboard by 2pm, a small leak and blocked filter discovered by 2.30 and a working fridge by four. Plan A back on track.

Up the River

Saturday 4th February 2017

Motoring up a narrow river was certainly novel for us after over a year of the open sea. We had one eye on the fantastic landscape that slipped closely by either side of us, while the other was firmly and anxiously on the depth gauge.

Motoring down the Mahurangi River

Wednesday morning we said a final farewell to Gulf Harbour. It hadn’t been our favourite spot, we seemed to have been plagued by cold SW winds for most of our stay that had whistled into the cockpit and kept us often huddled below and our berths location would have been a complete disaster without the use of Ricks sister’s car. But having been there since the middle of November it had come to feel like home, our boating neighbours have been great as always, full of friendly advice and generous with offers of help, it has been useful to be relatively close to a big city and all that brings with it and of course was a safe and secure spot to leave Raya while we were back in the UK.

And it did feel great to be out at sea again especially as the day was bright, warm and sunny. There was little wind and what there was, was not in a great direction but we were unworried, we had decided to use the two hour trip as a sea trial for the newly refurbished engine. It certainly sounded great, smooth and quiet – hooray.

Robertson’s yard, where Raya will be for the next few weeks, have a mooring bouy at the entrance to the Mahurangi river, we picked it up and relaxed. Conrad would be joining us tomorrow to pilot us the final few miles up the river on the midday tide. We were surrounded by rolling hills, holiday homes were scattered through the woodland, each with fantastic views, many with inviting seating areas and steep steps leading down to rickety jetties. Flocks of White Fronted Terns fed on the obviously plentiful fish and Australasian Gannets, looking rather like large, white, ungainly ducks, drifted by contentedly on the tide.

For us this same tide was at first rather disconcerting. When at anchor or on a mooring buoy in the absence of any significant current, the normal situation for us in a bay or nontidal harbour, the boat swings to windward, so we are use to the wind coming over the bows. However being in a river estuary with significant tides the currents are strong, so along with all the other boats we swung with the cycles of the tides, it felt odd to have the wind often hitting us on the beam.

At 11.30 the next day Conrad was dropped at the boat and took the helm. We motored up the rapidly narrowing river surrounded by reedbeds and now hidden by the high water, lethal mud banks. At its shallowest the depth gauge read only 0.3m under our keel. We held our breath anxiously but Conrad confidently pushed on winding down the narrow central channel. With a sigh of relief we arrived at the boatyard and Raya was safely lifted from the water and chocked securely ready to be cleaned, antifouled and polished.

Raya being hauled out at Robertson’s Boatyard

Rick spent the next morning discussing a myriad of other jobs to be done, amongst other things hopefully  we will return to a working fridge and freezer, a regalvanised anchor and chain, replaced seals on a leaky electric winch motor and staysail furler, a couple of new stopcocks and a retuned rig.

Shuddering at the potential cost and a little worried about leaving while all this is going on, we packed our bags and waved goodbye. We have a busy three weeks ahead, first stop Rotorua.

Enroute to Rotorua, a cup of tea with a view.

Oyster Cleaners and Oyster Catchers

Monday 30th Jan 2017

Saturday morning we sat, slightly envious, watching a mass exodus of boats from the marina, boats big and small, sail and motor, classic and modern. The weather has finally improved and this is a long weekend here and everyone is heading out to the islands. Except for us, while the rest of Aukland plays we are cleaning mould from curtain rails, removing a years worth of bacon fat from the kitchen fan, tracing leaks behind a cupboard and joy of joys pulling apart a slow flushing toilet. Such is the truth behind the glamorous life of living on a yacht.

These jobs would be horrible enough under any circumstances but being on a boat everything is impossible to get at, we contort our bodies to reach into unreachable corners and twist and turn to get ourselves into far too small spaces. Happily the combination of Ricks knowledge of the boat and his screwdriver skills, with my joint flexibility and polishing talents means we now have a very clean boat, well half a very clean boat, the delights of the forward heads and cabins are yet to be tackled.

(Warning photo below not for the squeamish)

Urine and sea water combine to calcify the pipes – lovely.

When not cleaning and fixing, we are trying to take advantage of having the use of a car for a few more days. We have been getting a few heavy transporting jobs done, gas cylinders have been refilled, repeated visits to the chandlers have taken place and our provisions store cupboards are partially restocked.

Rick has revarnished the cockpit table and directors chairs, while I have spent hours booking a succession of B&Bs and hotels throughout New Zealand for our trip South. A surprisingly difficult job but now complete, except for the very last night that has so far defeated me.

Yesterday to get away from the boat for an hour or so we walked five minutes around the corner to the beach. It’s an interesting spot, nobody else seems to visit, it’s not a place to sunbathe or swim. There is a combination of fascinating geology – flat slabs of sandstone and siltstone that run down to the beach from layered corroded cliffs and huge fallen trees that have been left high and dry by the demise of there footings.


Rocky beach a short walk from Gulf Harbour

The remains of a pier run out to sea from an old disused pathway that is lined by an overgrown garden bank resplendent in blue agapanthus and flaming orange kniphofia. Oyster catches, red footed gulls and cormorants enjoy the isolation.


Oyster Catcher

Tomorow is our last day in Gulf Harbour as Wednesday we sail up to Mahurangi Bay to await our pilot, who will help us up the river to Robertsons Boatyard where Raya will be lifted out. The logistics of moving both boat and car are quite complicated, I haven’t driven for over a year so my part in the procedure could be quite challenging, an exciting few days ahead of us.

Conspicuous Consumption 


Wednesday 11th January

As 2017 begins our thoughts are returning to this years cruising plans – they are all very exciting. When we return to New Zealand we will be taking a road trip around the South Island, followed by a couple of months cruising the Hauraki Gulf and the Bay of Islands, then we sail back into the Pacific to enjoy Fiji and New Caledonia before dipping back out for the next cyclone season by sailing across to Australia.

But first we have a week left in the UK to enjoy, it has been fantastic to see everyone and having seemingly just said hello, we are now beginning on a round of goodbyes. We have to admit that living out of suitcases with a new bed to sleep in each night is becoming a bit tiring, the fantastic food that we have been cooked has caused our waistlines to increase substantially and Heaven knows what state our poor alcohol soaked livers are in.

The pressure is on, we have loads of things to still fit in, plenty more people to see and meals to eat, business to attend to and things to buy. With the demise of the value of Sterling in the last six months, we found everything in NZ to be very expensive, so while still in the UK we have embarked on a bit of a shopping frenzy. After 18 months at sea we need to stock back up on quite a few things and everything seems cheaper and, being more familliar with suppliers, easier to get here. Packing it all into four bags however, daily, becomes a greater challenge. Amongst other things to squeeze in, we have a huge roll of charts covering the Western Pacific, packs of hinges from Oyster, replacement burns dressings, watermaker spares, a years supply of contact lenses and vitally, two bottles of Rick’s favourite single malt.

One purchase, a new laptop, is causing much frustration. I am trying my best to disentangle it from all the preset auto updates, helpful targeted advertising and millions of different account passwords but it seems one is not allowed to be data frugal in this day and age. Does it not know that soon it will be without any connection to the internet at all!

On top of that the main reasons for a new computer is to attempt to download and organise the 9000 or so photos we have blocking up my ipad and to set up charting software that can be overlaid on top of google earth to help us navigate through the more remote Pacific islands. Both tasks require my full attention, attention that is continually (and rather too easily) pulled towards another cup of tea/glass of wine accompanied by friendly chatter.

Sparkling winters day in Hythe

When we have a moment, in an attempt to mitigate some of the calories we are eating, we are trying to take some excercise, joining our hosts on many and varied walks. Our walking boots have taken us everywhere from muddy fields, to rural lanes and sea front promenades, the only problem is each walk seems to inevitably end at a pub for lunch.

I think it is time to get back to Raya.


Full Up

While Jonathan was onboard he shot lots of film, from inside the cockpit, up the mast and racing along side us in the dingy. He has created a fantastic short video of our sail from Bonaire to the San Blas, you can find it here – 

https://vimeo.com/155366014. The password is RAYA.

We have had a very busy week preparing for our passage to Galapagos and meeting with old friends. One of the great things we are discovering about this trip is how many of our friends are managing to join us. We first met Peter and Junko during our stay in Japan, then we were all posted to Sweden together, they now live in Florida. Panama is part of Peter’s professional patch so they and thier girls came to see us for the weekend. We returned to the old town for dinner. What a difference from last week, after the Carnaval holiday, Panama City has come to life. The streets are full of traffic, the restaurants and bars busting at the seams and the shopping malls bustling, the old town felt young and vibrant.

Rick and Junko, dinner in the old town

Raya is also rather full, full of fuel, full of water, full of food. We are moored on the most seaward of berthsin the marina, so getting everything to the boat is a real challenge, a ten minute trek along rickety, rocking wooden pontoons, but we are almost there, every locker is jam packed and the fridge and freezer overflowing. We are unsure how good the provisioning opportunities will be over the next few months, so we are taking advantage of the large and relatively cheap supermarkets here. The cupboards are full of tins of tomatoes, beans, corn, tuna…… Behind and below the seats we have long life bread, stocks of tea bags, coffee, flour, ketchup……. the shelves are full of fruit, biscuits, nuts…….. And every nook and cranny has a bottle of wine, can of coke or case of beer.

We hear the alcohol in French Polynesia is expensive

Penny and Stephen have arrived and we set sail tomorrow for the Las Perlas Islands, a group of small islands that lie about 30 miles off the Panamanian coast. To enter the Galapagos your hull has to be completely clean. If they find so much as a barnacle lurking in some crevice, they send you twenty miles offshore to clean it, not something we fancy. So we are stopping at these islands, where hopefully the water will be calm and clear, to take a look and ensure the diver that we paid to give us a clean up has done a good enough job. Then it’s off to Isla San Cristobal the first island on our Galapagos adventure.

OMG! We are off across the Atlantic 

I am sitting here luxuriating in the stillness, we leave tomorrow and for the next two to three weeks my life will be lived on a moving platform. We are eager to get going, we have been sitting n the marina for long enough, the Caribbean beckons.
ARC World continues to defy description. We have made dozens of new friends, partied every night and fretted over everything from which route to take to when or whether to change the bed sheets. Getting anywhere takes ages as you continually bump into people all on a similar mission. The pontoon is full to bursting with people rushing here or there, boxes of groceries, delivery boys, and pieces of boats. It is crazy just how much activity is still going on on the boats. We have a guy from Oyster dangling 23m up our mast, opposite they are attaching a spinnaker pole and next door but one awaits a new boom!

  S pontoon 

The team from Oyster do a brilliant job pre ARC, they come to each boat and spend three or four hours checking through everything with a fine toothcomb and when they find a problem they help fix it. Raya thankfully and after all the money spent on the refit, expectedly, is still in good condition. They did however find a small problem at the top of the mast, a fitting had been left with a rough edge and this over the six months we have been at sea has chafed our spinnaker halyard (halyards are the ropes that pull sails up). As we are about to fly our coloured sail this could have proved problematic and Oyster have kindly been sorting it out for us.

 Further peace of mind came in the form of Andy from Stella Maris (our refit team) who stayed on board and helped us with the pre-trip checks as well. We really can’t be leaving feeling any safer than we are.

  Andy at the top of the mast. 

Our crew, Eric and Hartmut, have arrived so team Raya is now complete. Eric is a long time friend and Harmut an old work colleague, they have been signed up for almost a year and are both excited and working hard. All the fruit and veg arrived this afternoon and had to be washed to remove the chance of cockroach eggs being carried onboard. Rick and I returned from the skippers briefing to find the crew knee deep in apples and potatoes and Raya resembling a grocery store.

  Just part of the fruit and veg order 

Stowing all the food has been a challenge and I’m still not sure whether we have far too much or not enough. Both Eric and Hartmut appear to be big eaters so I rushed out and did another last minute shop. I have pre cooked half a dozen meals for the days when we don’t feel like cooking and have ingredients to knock up something exotic if we fancy it, we have tons of fruit, emergency tins and bags full of chocolate. It is possible our supplies won’t just get us to St Lucia but will get us right the way through Christmas too!

The forecast looks good as there is a stable high pressure over the Azores which has caused the trade winds to set in. The forecast is for NE winds F4-5, if that’s how the conditions are it will be perfect for us, our already heavy bulk, now full with food, fuel and water will need plenty of wind to get going.

Whilst at sea I will try to post a few blogs but as we will be sending via our satellite phone I won’t be able to send photos. If there is anything other than blue sea and more blue sea I’ll post the pictures when I reach St Lucia. Fingers crossed for a whale sighting.

Busy busy

It is Friday the 13th and our destination was the village of Terror, this is not an ARC trip for the superstitious. As we wind up the steep narrow roads our coach seemingly oblivious to the oncoming traffic the name becomes more and more literal. I was on my way to help plant trees with a group of other ARC participants joining for the morning a project to reforest a section of Grand Canaria. The Canaries despite its volcanoes and large areas of urbanisation is in fact a bio diversity World hot spot and I was doing my tiny bit to help keep it that way.

It was great to be surrounded by green instead of the concrete of the marina and despite the mist the views were good. However my tiny bit turned out to be extremely hard work, the planting area was at the top of a very steep hill and we were then presented with a cross between a hoe and a pick axe. One aching body later I had managed to plant six or seven trees and as a group we managed 190 between us.


On Sunday we went on a friends boat to see the start of the ARC+. It was nice to get out of the marina and get some fresh air and to wish our friends, old and new, fair winds as they headed off to the Cape Verdi Islands. 

The start line of ARC+

Their departure immediately seemed to put the pressure on the rest of us and now everyone is busy busy here in Las Palmas.

We have taken Raya for a run to test her engines. We ploughed up and down the shore taking the revs up as high as they would go and the good news was – no bubbles in the coolant. We have been to lectures on everything from managing emergencies at sea to provisioning, cooked the first few meals for the freezer, worked down the long list of stuff to check on the boat, done two more big shops and continued to party most evenings.

Tuesday we “dressed the boat overall” this means flying a string of the International signal flags from the front of the boat to the top of the mast and down to the stern. All boats are asked to do it to add to the overall feeling of celebration in the marina. Each flag represents a different number or letter and often has a further meaning, for instance the blue and white A flag means ‘diver below please keep clear’ or the yellow Q flag means ‘this boat is healthy can I clear into port’. I had spent a concentrated afternoon in Lanzarote stringing them carefully together being especially vigilant to make sure they were all in the specified order and would all appear the right way up. Looking at some of the other boats there seems to be some debate as to which way up is correct, but the overall effect is very colourful.


Flags are not the only thing to be hauled to the top of the mast this week, yesterday I attempted to get Rick up to check our rigging. We had practiced it a few months ago using the winch on the bow, but this time decided to try with one of the electric winches in the cockpit. This turned out to be a bit of a mistake as the angle of the line entering the winch which we thought would be just about OK, turned out not to be and instead of flowing seamlessly around it tangled up. So there we were the winched jammed and Rick hanging about ten meters above the deck, after a moments panic all was well, luckily he had rigged a safety line and with the help of a friend he was easily dropped back down to earth. Lessons learnt and to ensure we got straight back on the horse, I winched him back up by hand much more controlled but a lot harder work!

All the boats have been lent a yellow brick transmitter that will transmit our location right accross the Atlantic – our AIS can only locate us to within about 50 miles of a beacon most of which are on land. If you would like to follow us and the rest of the fleet you can do at – http://www.worldcruising.com/arc/eventfleetviewer.aspx
Make sure to select ARC 2015, not ARC+ 2015. 

ARC World

Saturday 7th November 

The tension at the far end of our pontoon is palpable. The ARC + which crosses the Atlantic via the Cape Verdi Islands, leaves tomorrow. It is not just the bustle of supermarket deliveries of last minute provisions or the practicing of man overboard routines or even the raising and lowering of a multitude of shapes and sizes of sails as they are checked and double checked. It’s something more subtle, the tone of a voice, the determined stride up the pontoon, the concentrated expressions. For them suddenly the time has come to get serious, the partying is finished.

For the rest of us on the traditional ARC, sailing straight from Las Palmas to St Lucia, things are just beginning. We watch on, trying to pick up tips for our departure on the 22nd November.

It is difficult to quite explain our pre-rally world here, a mass of people living cheek by jowl, the boats are crammed in, moored just a fender (8ins) apart. All busying ourselves with making sure we get can our boats and crew through the 2-3 week journey ahead, safely, well fed and as efficiently as possible. We are all making friends fast, everyone chatting to everyone else, mostly complete strangers, but with this huge event in common.

Our flight finally left Heathrow three hours late and we arrived back at the marina at 4am on Tuesday morning. Thankfully Rene, a local guy who offers a long list of services to the influx of ARC boats, was there to pick us up, our luggage arrived including our sail and Raya was exactly as we had left her. After a few hours sleep we woke to blue skies and a social whirl, any hope of having a break from the relentless eating and drinking of our three weeks break at home we soon realised was in vain. We have reunited with people we had met en route during the summer, met people we had only previously chatted to through our blogs or on Facebook and made new friends of all the people moored near us. Each night we end up on one boat or another having a glass of wine, swapping tales of our trips down and discussing worries and solutions regarding the preparations ahead.

Provisioning is a common topic of conversation, what and how much we think we need, where best to buy it, who delivers most promptly, where to put it all once it arrives?


Provisioning trip no 1

You need friends around, everybody helping each other out. Apparently our dingy had to be rescued a couple of times while we were away as there has been some very heavy downpours. We left it tucked under the bow of the boat to allow access to the stern by the engine guys that needed to get on and off the boat carry equipment. We discovered however that it wasn’t just above water that it had had problems, the bottom was completely encrusted with barnacles, so Thursday we drove it around to the local beach and spent a hard couple of hours getting it clean again.

As you walk down the pontoon you notice crews sitting sheepishly on deck sourounded by life jackets, first aid kits and boxes of flares. The World Cruising Club who organise the ARC has very strict safety standards and before you can leave on any of their rallies, you have to pass a safety equipment test. We had ours yesterday, it feels a bit like an exam as the safety officer quizzes you and inspects your boat. Raya of course having crossed the Atlantic and circumnavigated the globe with the WCC before has already been through all this and we inherited a lot of the required equipment when we bought her, the remainder we sorted out before we left Southampton. We were relieved to pass with flying colours, everything in place except for a bit of missing reflective tape.

We ticked off a couple of other things that have been hanging over us for a while. We have been unable,  in Spain, to fill our Propane gas bottles that we use for cooking and we have been eking out the little gas we had for months now. So we were very happy when Rene again came up trumps, returning both full yesterday. If we weren’t trying so hard to return our waistlines to some vestige of their former selves I would celebrate by baking a cake.

The engine whisperer informs us the engine is now in tiptop condition, we plan to take Raya out for a test run on Monday and fingers crossed the coolant problem will have been finally eliminated.

And yes, drum roll please, the freezer appears to be fixed! All we need now is to find time between the full itinerary of seminars and social events to fill it back up.

ARC Itinerary week 1


Monday we had a heavy downpour, unbelievably it is the first rain we have had since leaving three months ago (sorry UK friends I know you’ve just had a very wet day), it was quite a novelty. As the squall moved in, high winds swirled around the bay causing chaos as the anchor ballet fell to bits. Every boat in the crowded anchorage had a mind of its own and a wet half hour was spent fending off. The catamaran beside us was affected particularly badly , the poor guys onboard working hard not to hit us or the cliffs close on their other side. As we haven’t been in port for a while Raya was pleased for the fresh water soaking and in between guarding our flanks we gave her a good wash down. 

I am trying to build in a bit more excercise to my days, besides the casual swim to the beach or snorkeling, at anchor I am swimming circuits around the boat. This eliminates the risk from passing motorized mad people and depending on conditions, gives me a gentle or if it’s rough or the boat is swinging, a good work out. I am also doing a half hour of palates a few times a week. How often depends on it being calm enough to make it possible and quiet enough for me to feel comfortable waving my legs about on the very public bows of the boat. Wednesday morning was perfect, satin smooth sea and just a few boats spread well out in the large anchorage. As I looked about during my stretches, it occurred to me how the view from my mat, normally the sweaty reflection of myself and my classmates in the mirror of the fitness studio, has improved some what.

View from the pilates mat

After we dropped Eric and Roz Saturday we spent a couple of days hopping between bays along the south coast of Menorca we had a bit of wind and it was great to be sailing more than motoring. There were plenty of very beautiful and unspoilt coves that I’m sure are delightful out of season but in August they were heaving with yachts, it was just too crowded for us and so after one more night we moved on. Tuesday evening found us back in Cala Pinar – shaggy eagle bay, on the very northern tip of Mallorca, a convenient stopping point before our sail to the Spanish mainland the next day.

It’s now Thursday afternoon and we arrived early this morning in Sant Carles de la Rapita on the coast of mainland Spain where Raya will be coming out of the water for a couple of days. We are having three coats of anti-foul applied to the hull, a first step in the preparations for the bigger adventures to come. Hopefully it will keep us weed and banicle free until we reach New Zealand in just over a years time. Stella Maris our refit guys from the UK have a partnership here and have negotiated us a very good price, so it seemed worth the detour and we plan to take advantage of our location for a few non-boat days with a trip to Barcelona.

The twenty hour crossing from Mallorca, started with zero wind, a bit annoying as we had planned the crossing a day or two early to take advantage of the forecasted perfect sailing conditions. However as the sunset and just as we finished being scathing of meteorologists weather forecasting abilities the wind suddenly picked up and we were soon flying along in a F4 on a beam reach. 

Sunset enroute to the mainland

It was a very dark night and as I came on watch around 1am I felt completely disorientated, there was no moon and cloud obscured most of the stars and disappointingly the promised meteor shower. It took the lights of another boat in the distance, about an hour in, before I really felt comfortable that I was being an effective look out. Rick still has yet to master the art of sleeping during nights at sea, the weight of responsibility lying heavy on his shoulders, not to mention the heat below making for very sweaty conditions. 

So today is a rest day, tomorrow back to reality and top of the agenda is the cleaning of our rather smelly grey tanks, the tanks through which our waste water from the showers etc runs, delightful.

Slipped the lines, off around the world

This afternoon at 1.30pm we slipped our lines and set off around the World! The first leg might be quite a modest affair, just three hours out into the Solent and across to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. But every adventure has to start somewhere and we can now say we have visited our first island.

The storms of last week faded away Thursday allowing the last minute preparations to resume. Paul from Dolphin Sails arrived with our large awning, especially designed to give us plenty of shade when at anchor or in a marina in the sunshine. (If you are interested you can see us at Dolphin Sails Facebook page where they have posted some photos.) Harry from the Rig Shop came to have a last tweak of our rig and we finally finished stowing all the spares. We had a last minute panic when we discovered a gas leak, but Rick managed a repair just in time for our departure.

Another delay bonus was that we were around to see Rachael when she came to pick up my car yesterday and Matt joined us for lunch. Both are looking forward to joining us at the end of June and it seemed fitting that the four of us were together just before we departed.

Rick woke on this momentous morning to a pair of red feet above his head, there was a large black and white bird standing on our cabin hatch. He not only had red feet but a long narrow red beak too, it was an oyster catcher and we felt that his visit must be a good omen at the beginning of this adventure aboard our Oyster 56.

We waved a farewell to Shamrock Quay as Rick navigated down the river and I dashed around the deck putting away the mooring lines and fenders. Before we knew it we had left. Southampton water and the Solent were extremely busy, at one point we were dodging two huge tankers and their accompanying tugs, hundreds of sailing boats, a good number of motor craft and a handful of maniac jet skiers. Most of the traffic was returning to Southampton and Portsmouth, we relished the thought that everyone was going back to their home ports because it’s work tomorrow, in our direction we were leaving it all behind.

We arrived in Yarmouth at about four and headed straight for the fuel dock, we filled our tanks with 1400 litres of diesel and took a deep breath as we handed over the credit card. But this will last us quite a few months and we are now set to take advantage of the weather window of the next couple of days and get ourselves down the South Coast to Plymouth.

We are on our way!

Delayed Departure 

This blog was going to be titled final preparations, yesterday we were frantically running around trying to get all the last bits of shopping and sorting finished for our off on Thursday. Over the pass week amongst less exciting objects we have puchased two new dive tanks, a passerelle (gang plank) for getting on and off the boat when we are moored stern-to in the Med and two hand held VHF Radios. Bags of spares have been bought and packed away and Tesco has been raided for those UK specialities we can’t live without – HP sauce , Branson pickle, Macleans toothpaste and boxes and boxes of tea bags.

Surely there can’t be any more screws to organise!?! Apparently yes.

Everything was taken out of the lazarette, before being replaced in a more organised fashion, hopefully having created plenty of room for all the fenders. We felt ready to go.

But what a difference a day makes. We are now sitting in the boat feeling rather down hearted. The forecast storm has been battering us all day, we have had sustained winds of 30kts, with gusts of 50kts. There are proper waves in the marina!

Being such a heavy yacht we bounce about less than many of the other boats, some of which have looked quite precarious at times but it is still quite rolly and very noisy as the wind roars around us and the waves crash into our hull.

And the bad news is that it is now forecast to carry on blowing a gale tomorrow, so although the winds are lower on Thursday, our planned day of departure, the swell in the English Channel will be considerable. If that wasn’t enough there is another storm coming in Friday afternoon and over the weekend. So we could leave Thursday with the swell and wind directly against us meaning a very uncomfortable sail, see how far we can get and then hole up while the second storm comes through or delay our departure until more clement weather arrives. After much discussion we have reluctantly decided to postpone our departure.

Looking at the weather in the Atlantic there seems to be a whole set of low pressures lining up to hits us. We may be stuck here for sometime. Could someone please tell the weather it is May not November!!!

Furniture, Family and Friends 

It has been an emotional week, at least it should have been, but we seem to have put ourselves in auto mode, a defence many expats will recognise as you pack up and leave family, friends and familiarity behind you every couple of years. Never actually saying goodbye – “we’ll try to see you next week”, “October is just a few months away” or “try to get down to the Med to see us”. All the time immersing ourselves so much in the preparation that we never really think about the actual leaving until suddenly we are gone. We have set, weather etc. allowing, our departure date for next Thursday 7th May.

The week started with us finally, after removing all the last bits of furniture for the rental house and bringing the few remaining bags to the boat, managing to empty the second storage unit. Amazingly we managed to fit everything that was left into the main store with all the “good” stuff from Ongley. I must admit to a little twinge of sadness as we finally clunked down the door on all our processions from our previous life, everything piled high but still looking so familiar.

However this sadness was immediately tempered as we reached the boat and I unpacked a large bag carefully marked with a blue dot for ‘boat’ and labelled ‘Roz’s summer clothes’. As I squeezed everything into the limited space assigned to storing my wardrobe, memories of holidays and sunshine came into my head and it was exciting to think that in a few weeks this is what I’ll be wearing. The next set of bags contained our scuba gear, wet suits, snorkels etc. and visions of swimming in warm, clear blue seas, full of colourful fish motivated us to get on with yet more stowing, organising and fixing.

Monday we went out sailing – for a photo shoot, no less! The magazine Sailing Today are putting together a few articles telling the story of our refit and preparation, then possibly more articles as they catch up with us on our journey. I’m not really sure how I feel about this. In my other life I’m sure I would be slightly horrified but in my current numb state I just feel slightly embarrassed, just another new experience and it does mean hopefully we’ll have some great pictures of Raya. Unfortunately we had no wind, we just about managed to keep the sails full and hopefully we will look as if we were doing a bit more than the 2kts we were actually achieving.

Tuesday we started a two day trip back to Kent to visit the dentist and to say goodbye to the Mums. Both mums are anxious for are safety, sad not to be seeing so much of us but also excited for us and looking forward to following our progress. Big hugs were exchanged and last minute contact procedures finalised and after all it is only a few months until we are back for a visit in October.

In fact friends and family have all been brilliant , helping us out in so many ways, coming down to see us and the boat and most importantly being excited and interested in our adventure. Quite a few will be joining us along the way and many more will following us here on the blog.

You see it’s not really goodbye at all.

A day in our life on the river.

I wake this morning to a change in the weather, our “window on the world”, from the bed, is the hatch above our heads, for the past week it has been filled with unbroken blue but this morning there is a blanket of slate grey. The sounds are different too, instead of the slap of oars from the procession of early morning rowers passing just feet from our hull, I can only hear the fog horns from the cargo ships leaving the docks in Southampton.

Each morning as one of us steals ourself to get out of bed to turn on the heater, we miss our reliable, auto-timed central heating system, once on we quickly jump back into bed until the boat warms up. I glance out of the window but all is quiet on the river, a lone swan swims by, its feathers fluffed up in full display. Unfortunately for him this effort is in vain, as far as I can see, there are no other swans nearby so this performance is watched by just myself and a bunch of disinterested seagulls.

An hour later and the marina has woken up, the large yacht next to us is having its windscreen replaced, the sailing school boat a few berths down welcomes a group of sheepish looking students and a rib speeds past setting all the boats rocking. On the hard, as I take some rubbish to the skip, it is also busy. Half a dozen salty sea dog types are lovingly painting and polishing their crafts and there is a motor boat being put onto the crane to be returned  into the water, while another three boats line up on the working dock ready to be lifted out.

Onboard Raya, Rick has all the cushions up and is busy sorting spares into a selection of assorted boxes and filling every inch under the seating. As the only seat left is at the chart table I take out the chart plotter instructions and start work on recalibrating. The Raymarine display units ( the screens showing our electronic charts) are the only part of the navigation electronics we haven’t replaced, so I spend time deleting all the old routes and way points and setting the types of displays, alarms, etc. to the settings we want.

In the meantime a guy from Sailfish comes to check over the watermaker. When switched on we can supposedly make about 90 litres an hour of fresh water from seawater, amazing really. We have left this job to right at the end of the refit as once commissioned the unit does have to be used, ideally every couple of days or at least once a week and as we are sitting in the not so pristine waters of the Itchen river it is better to be run it while we are out sailing. Happily everything is working well. Once Rick is satisfied that he understands all the ins and outs the engineer leaves and we jump in the car to buy engine and generator spares. It is only a half successful trip but we do find a fantastic pub on the river Hamble for a light lunch.

As the day wears on the marina begins to empty of workers, most of whom don’t work Friday afternoons, and would normally start to fill with owners coming down for a weekend of boating. Today however people must have looked at the weather forecast and decided it would be warmer to stay at home, everywhere is very empty. The wind is whistling through the rigging and creating a chop on the river, the friendly black lab is hunkered down on the dock patiently waiting for his owner on one of the boats, even the ever present seagulls seem to be hiding somewhere, just the odd hardy soul sails past slowly.

Rick and I turn on the heating and settle down to some admin, he is responding to emails and researching the final few spares, while I type out a Mayday radio procedure sheet to be put next to our VHF Radio – lots of RED and CAPITAL letters.

It is almost high tide and so the tidal stream that rattles past the boat has reduced and the floating pontoon we are tied to is nearly at the level of the surrounding land, all the mud flats are covered. Our depth meter shows 5.2m, that’s under our keel so the river is now about 25ft deep, at low tide it can go down to just 6ft or 7ft. That’s a lot of water moving in and out twice a day and produces the strong currents that can make mooring so difficult here.

Late afternoon the sun threatens to appear but fails, Rick goes on deck to finish a piece of woodwork that he has been glueing and I sit down to write this blog. Opposite us more well wrapped up crews arrive for the sail school boats, a group of flirting swans take off magestically from the other side of the river and the choppy water continues to lap noisily at our hull.

All is well on Raya we have achieved quite a lot today and we have a friend arriving to take us to dinner, it’s time to break out the gin and tonic. We have been drinking Gin and Tonic with Jonathan for about forty years, but today he comes armed with ingredients for a very different beast. Hendricks Gin, Fever Tree Tonic, cucumber, lots of ice and finally a couple of twists of cracked black pepper. Surprisingly good!

Tablets, tables and ticks

As our leaving date approaches, at a seemingly ever accelerated pace, life has become a matter of trying to get as much done each day as possible. We end the day comparing notes and reporting how many things we have managed to tick off one or other of the to do lists. We are beginning to realise that we can’t leave with absolutely all the i’s dotted and every t crossed and that if we stayed until everything was done we would probably never actually go.

One big tick this week was the completion of the First Aid kit, we are now officially a floating hospital! It has been a mammoth task trying to decide exactly what to take with us and I have to thank our Doctor friend Peter and his colleagues for all the work they have put into getting everything together for us. We all feel that we have probably far too much stuff and hope that we will never need any of it, but nobody will be able to accuse us of not being prepared. I have to also say a big thanks to Peters wife Joanna who must have spent hours bagging and labelling everything up, the First Aid boxes are definitely the most organised part of the boat. No pressure with all the spares then Rick!

Another bit of excitement was getting the new cockpit table onboard yesterday, it really makes Raya look finished. We have had plenty of visitors over the last couple of weeks and with all this warm weather have been eating on deck, from our laps, off towels as table cloths and from Ricks work bench. Typically the moment we have a proper table the temperature has dropped and today we ate lunch below. Never mind it looks great and will be in full use very soon.

More ticks appeared as we ordered new prescription sunglasses, Rick sorted out his phone contract, we bought four light weight quilts and various other household bits and continued to fight through the piles of paperwork that still hang over us. Rick replaced the wire drops in the davits with Dyneema and spliced new harnesses and I have started a more detailed passage plan.

I think we are beginning to feel a bit jaded by all this preparation, feels like it’s time to go.

Sunshine at Last

We had a busy but good Easter weekend, Rachael came up from Cardiff to help move furniture into the new rental property, have a sail and generally inspect the new floating family home. It was lovely to see her and both she and Matt worked extremely hard, I can’t remember the last time we worked just the four of us together but it seems we can still pull together as a great team.

Robyn joined us for the family sail, quite an auspicious event, it must be ten years since we have all been on a boat together. Unfortunately the weather didn’t live up to the occasion, the sun struggled and broke through the clouds occasionally but it was decidedly chilly, note the interesting head wear, and there was barely a breath of wind. Luckily we had nowhere particular to be and so could go where the best of the light winds took us.

In contrast, yesterday and today we have had our first days of real warmth so far this spring. It felt good to have the sun on my face, the hatches open airing the boat and shock of shocks, to be wearing a T-shirt instead of a fleece and to swap my sail boots for deck shoes.

Definitely a day to work outside and it was the lazarette, the large locker at the stern of the boat, that had our full attention today. As every nook and cranny of the boat needs to be used to its full potential and with the lazarette being about 8ft long, 3ft wide and 4ft deep it is essential that it is well organised. We took everything out, lines, fenders, brushes, jerry cans and much more, sorted, cleaned and tested as necessary before putting it hopefully more logically back in.

As the afternoon temperature rose and with the warm days ahead in the front of our minds, we left out and cleaned the poles for the Bimini so we could test the new canvas cover. It took a couple of hours to work it all out, amusing those around us as we struggled with poles, ropes and canvas, but we got it up eventually and great it looked too, Dolphin sails have done a fantastic job.  

Only around four weeks until our departure date and sipping a glass of wine as the sun begins to set we have the feeling that everything is coming together, or is that just an illusion cast by the sunshine? Plenty still to do!

Computer Says No!

It is hard to explain just how difficult it is turning out to be, to administratively disconnect ourselves from our old life. As I gradually work my way through the process, each time I try to fill out an online form or try to sort something out on the phone it is increasingly complicated. We no longer fit the tick box world of the big companies.

To start with it is impossible to do anything without an address, anything! My sister has kindly become my own private PO Box number and Postmaster forwarding mail and scanning documents almost daily. Stella Maris will gladly except boxes full of online orders and pass on mail and friends are acting as couriers, but still I have at least one parcel lost in the ether of online delivery and a cheque lost in a closed account.

The banking and utility firms can’t cope with us closing accounts, paying off loans or cancelling insurance policies, “but what have we done wrong” they wail, “how can we temp you back”, “how can you possibly survive without us?” But ask them to do something slightly unusual and it’s always a case of “computer says no”, “what do you mean you don’t have three contact telephone numbers”, “no we can’t send mail anywhere but you’re official address, even if you aren’t there and we have spent the past hour asking you security questions” and “no my brain isn’t big enough to stray from the script on the screen in front of me”.

To compound matters our phone signal and Internet speed in the marina aren’t brilliant so things are often frustratingly slow and that, I guess, is something we will have to get use to. Despite the time and money we have spent setting up the boats satellite and network systems, the days of the efficient home hub are behind us.

It is the small independent businesses that have become our heroes, happy to bend their procedure to help someone who doesn’t fit the norm, a real person that answers the phone without pressing 65 buttons first and rarely a dictating computer in sight.

One exciting parcel that has made it to the boat, with the help of the friends courier service, is the ARC (Atlantic Crossing for Cruisers) 2015 manual. Enclosed is the ARC flag, another flag to add to our ever increasing collection of courtesy flags, signal flags and pennants. Who’d have thought a couple of months ago we would need a whole cupboard just for flags!

Competing for time and space

When we moved on board a few weeks ago we quickly made the salon and aft cabin comfortable and, on the surface at least, reasonably organised. This however has been at the expense of the forward cabin where anything we have yet to find a home for has been dumped. The bunk bed cabin has rapidly taken on the role of Rick’s boat shed. Now anyone who read my earlier blog, The Curious Case of the Never Emptying Shed will appreciate that this is a bit of a worry.

With guests soon joining us to stay overnight the time has come to get sorted. By yachting standards Raya has a lot of storage space, but a lot of it is under sofa cushions, under beds and under the floor in the bilges, so not immediately accessible. Many of the the cupboards are stuffed full of spares that came with her from her previous life and things that “looked useful” from the refit and during the move. The task this weekend was to work our way through everything, finding it a home and recording where it is on the Ipad master inventory.

With some items the first step has to be actually working out what they are and then, how often we might need them. The less recognisable and the less regularly used an item the deeper in storage they can go. Tools have to compete with food and first aid supplies with engine spares for the most easily accessed areas. And of course all of this is guess work because we won’t really know what or how we will use things until we get going.

However as is the way with these things, not much organising has actually got done, everything seems to take much longer on a boat and distractions are plentiful.

Today the forecast grey, cold day turned out to be warm and sunny, so we abandoned the mess to enjoy the sunshine by working on jobs outside.

One of these was to service a winch. a dirty and slightly daunting job with dozens of interlocking pieces, each coated in thick grease. We seem to be using copious amounts of paper towel for every job, never mind the food and spares, the question is can we find enough storage space for all the kitchen towel we will need to get us around the world.

Eventually, cleaned up and one more roll of paper towel down, the innards of the winch lay polished and gleaming on the salon table, let’s hope Rick can remember how to get it back together!

Tomorrows jobs – sort out storage and reassemble winch. Oh yes, and the heating engineer is coming back, the air-conditioning is being serviced, the riggers are hopefully sorting a problem with the mast furler, the last blind is being put in place in the salon, the Editor of Sailing Today is coming to talk to us, I have to sort out a tenancy agreement on the new buy to let house that finally completed last week and then of course we need to buy more kitchen roll.


First shake down sail

Thursday we took Raya out for her first shake down sail, well motor, as it turned out. The first step was to take her round to a dock, at 90 degrees to ours, so as to get her at a better angle to the wind to allow us to bend on the main sail. When we bought Raya the foil in the inmast furling system was broken and the main sail was being repaired at the sailmaker, so this was the first time we had got the main out of its wrapper.  It has battens, basically sticks that run vertically at intervals up the sail, and we had our worries that they weren’t such a great idea for the type of short handed sailing we were planning on doing. The main went into the foil and hoisted really smoothly but putting in the battens was a different matter. With her main up Raya snatched at her lines eager to sail off, the batterns proved to be as troublesome as anticipated and finally with the wind freshening we furled the sail without them and motored off towards Southampton Water to calibrate the electronic instruments and give the engine a work out.

To reach anywhere from Shamrock Quay, you have to sail down the Itchen River and under Itchen Bridge. Itchen Bridge is about 29m above chart datum (the lowest depth of water on the lowest tide), our mast we estimate with all its new electronics on top is about 24m above the waterline so with the today’s tide giving us around 3m of water that’s not much to play with.

As you cautiously motor towards the very centre of the bridge it appears as if there is absolutely no chance you will fit under, as you get closer it seems like you will definitely hit it, you quickly do the maths again. Yes,  we should have 2m clear above us.You know

imagefrom experience that the optical illusion of the angles means that you can’t see the gap, we have Andy on board who has done this a thousand times reassuring us but it still appears impossible that we will fit beneath, in the end you have to trust in the calculations and just, very slowly, go for it. Scarily, even as you pass under it, it still doesn’t appear that you will fit!

Relieved and once more in open water, the electronics guy (another Andy) started to calibrate the instruments, this mostly involved steering straight at buoys and performing large circles in the middle of the channel. What the passing ferries and other yachts thought we were up to I can’t imagine, but we got the job done and now have working radar, depth and wind gauges and log, the compass was not as successful and will need to be ‘swung’, by a specialist. The men aboard were heard to mutter that “the engine was sweet” which I assume meant all was good in that department as well.

Over lunch we discussed with Andy the pros and cons of batterned sails and with advice from the sail maker, the decision was taken to have the sail recut so it can be used without them. Down it came once more, then it was neatly flaked and off it went to the sail loft.

We opted not to take her out with just the Genoa and instead spent the next few hours doing some extremely useful boat handling exercises. I am fine at the helm until I start to get close to things, so a marina is not my favourite place to be at the wheel and trying to park Raya she suddenly seemed huge. It took a lot of instructions from Andy but I did manage a couple of simple parking manoeveres, sort of at the controls. Practice makes perfect and we need plenty of it!

Slightly frazzled

Life is certainly different, I sit writing this in the marina laundrette. I’m not sure that I have ever used one before or certainly not in the last 40 years. We do have a washing machine onboard but it is about priority number 623 on our ‘to do’ list and yet to be tried. It is testament to how shell shocked I’m feeling that I’m gaining comfort from being shut, alone in this small room attending to our laundry.

A busy day of milestones passed, the weather has been great with the sun shinning and the wind light. This mimageorning with the help of Andy and Chris from Stella Maris we bent on the staysail and genoa, both went on smoothly and for a few minutes as they bellowed in the gentle breeze we got a glimpse of how Raya was going to look at sea.

I collected the life rafts from their service and they were fixed in place either side of the stern and we organised to replace all our rusty old fire extinguishers.

We have, thankfully, had some warmth on the boat for the past few days by running the air conditioning on heat, thank you Chris Boulter. However, also today, the Webasto engineer arrived and the proper heating system is now functioning. On top of that, the shiny new stove, which was delivered a couple of days ago, is now ‘almost’ installed, enough anyway to knock up a bowl of pasta, our first meal cooked onboard.

To add to our already full day and complicate things, events in the real world continue, all needing our attention. We are both feeling slightly frazzled. So it was a bit of light relief, as I returned from my umpteenth errand, to find Andy and Rick, whoimage when I left, were on deck sorting out a huge pile of lines, sitting at the table doing what looked on first glance like knitting. Thankfully it wasn’t that Rick had completely lost the plot, the needles were Fids and the yarn Dyneema line, Andy was helping him splice loops for the preventer lines on the boom.

Joining the ranks of live aboards

We are now live aboards. Over the past couple of years we have read and thought so much about these mythical creatures that it doesn’t seem possible that we are now one of their number.

We had a difficult day yesterday, despite all the sorting, moving and packing that had gone before, finally emptying the house was a real challenge. All those bits inside and out that we had ignored, because we just didn’t know what to do with them, had to be faced up to.

Our final biggest problem was the rubbish, we had put as much as conceivably possible on the skip, Rick made an emergency run to the dump and our lovely neighbours who popped by to wish us farewell armed with tea and cake to help us through the day or Champagne to toast our new life, had all left with at least one black sack, but I still ended up with two bags in the back of the car.

We started at six in the morning, were organising and carrying at ten, cleaning by one, driving to Southampton at four and finally left the storage unit at eight. It was a cold night, we are still dependent on fan heaters to heat the boat and we woke with ice on the decks, but the sun was shinning and now this was our home.

We had shed a tear leaving Ongley, however as we sat drinking our morning tea on the deck of our beautiful yacht with the March sunshine gradually warming us, there was not a breath of wind. Our view, the rivers glassy surface, was only disturbed by the swans and rowers gliding by and the marine industry slowly coming to life. Had we made a mistake, of course not.

We smiled wryly at each other, thank goodness we hadn’t woken to the pouring rain.

Finally exchanged 

How is it that events in life always seem to conspire to happen at the same moment in time. After waiting so long for the sale of the house to go through, we finally exchanged yesterday, but completion is in just ten days and suddenly everything else needs to happen that week too.

We have been keeping ourselves positive about the never ending delays on the house by telling ourselves that it would mean that instead of going into rented accommodation for a couple of months we could move straight onto the boat and in turn actually living on the boat would mean that everything would get sorted out much more quickly. However now the momentous event is upon us, there is just so much to do! Not just moving from a house we have lived in for nearly eighteen years and organising it’s contents into storage, Rick’s long scheduled First Aid Course is on Sunday and we will be moving onto a yacht at the precise moment the last bits of it’s refit are taking place.

Today I am at Ongley surrounded by ever increasiimageng mountains of boxes and spending frustrating hours on the computer pleading with BT, British Gas or Sky to remind me of my passwords, because I can’t remember on their new system whether it should have capitals, underscores or whatever and whether the secret word was the last favourite pet or one of the six previous ones. In between times I’m hoovering out cupboards disturbing poor spiders that have been living harmlessly at the very back for years and cleaning mould from long hidden crevices in the fridges. In fact having spent quite a few days over the last couple of weeks doing much the same on the boat, I have noticed, that this sell up and sail lark does seem to involve a huge amount of cleaning!

In the mean time Rick is on board Raya ensuring, amongst all the other things that are going on, that we have a plumbing system in working order, that the heating is functioning (worryingly not yet) and today orchestrating the replacement of our old batteries. With each battery weighing over 50kg and eleven batteries on board we have drafted in Matt and some friends to do the heavy lifting, hopefully preserving Rick’s back for all the heavy boxes I am creating for him to move when he gets home in a couple of days.

There is one up side to all this frantic activity, I have had no time to ponder whether I have actually gone mad and that I should be just settling down to an old age of pottering around my beautiful garden and getting my fix of azure tropical seas at a luxury hotel in the Maldives!

Choosing a Name

imageAnother big step yesterday, the sign writer came to apply the name and registered port to the transom. We’re really pleased with how its come out.

We found choosing the name disproportionately difficult, much worse than choosing the names for our children, we pondered it for nearly two years.

The difficulty arises from several factors, for a start there are an almost limitless number of names that are possible for a boat, real or invented. We wanted ours to be personal to us, it needed to sound nice and to look good when written. And of course, playing in the back of our minds, is the pressure from all those marinas and harbours we had walked around saying to each other “that’s a strange name” or “fancy calling your boat that”.

On top of all this once you find something you like, to have it registered, it has to be unique within the UK. Finally it has to pass the Google search test – one name we came up with turned out to be rather similar to scratch in Spanish and another as a valley in the Game of Thrones.

We spent ages playing around with combinations of Rick and Roz or Rachael and Matt. We scrolled through lists of Constellations, Greek and Roman Goddesses and even song lyrics. We tried words for sea, waves, wind etc. in different languages including harping back to my family roots and searching the Cornish dictionary.

But of course when it came to it we settled on one we had thought of right at the beginning.

Raya was Mathew’s pet name for his sister when as a toddler pronouncing Rachael was too much of a mouthful, it seemed to fit all the parameters and when searched on Google it turns out to be an Arabic girls name meaning – Friend To All.


Stepping the Mast

It was an extremely exciting day yesterday, the mast was stepped and all of a sudden Raya looked like a sailing boat. The place where the mast attaches to the boat is called the mast step and because our Oyster is keel stepped our mast comes into the boat through the deck and sits just below the floor directly above the keel.

Tradition requires that you place the highest valued coin of the realm below the mast for good luck. So the morning started with a two pound coin glued in place on the mast step, then the real work, the process of attaching our mast, began.

It took a very large crane, a very low tide and the extremely competent crew from Harry’s Rig Shop to thread the one and a half tons and twenty three meters of our beautifully refurbished mast through the tight fitting slot on the deck.

It was then a race against the rising tide to attach the shrouds and stays to support the mast, so the crane could be removed before the mast became too high for it to hold. Everyone knew their role, Rick described it as a well choreographed maypole dance, and the crane released the mast safely.

Next came the tasks of sealing the mast, sorting out hundreds of meters of running rigging and connecting the 15 or so cables that run down the centre of the mast from the  antennas, sensors and instruments to the electronics onboard. A day and a half after we started everything was in place and working.

A great job, she looks fantastic.





Back in the Classroom

This week I’m tackling the four day STCW Medical First Aid course for onboard ship. My brain is struggling a bit with studying after so many years but I am finding it really interesting. Having been a swimming coach for ages I have had to renew my lifesaving skills every couple of years, but this course not only takes things quite a bit further, its main focus is on first aid as it applies to being on a yacht.

Even if you are close to land it takes quite a while for help to arrive to a boat and if you are in the middle of an ocean then it could take days or even weeks. So in the absence of a quick response from an ambulance crew, it teaches you how to assess and treat people over a much longer time period. Yesterday was mostly CPR and today I have been bandaging fake gashes and amputations and learning how to splint broken bones.

There has been a lot of conversation about how, what seems fairly straightforward in the classroom, would actually work in the tight confines of a yacht, with a huge sea running and a storm raging. Talking as someone who hasn’t quite got her head around how anyone even manages to produce a simple meal in such conditions, it seems incomprehensible.

So I think the key on our boat must be to work as hard as we can on prevention and then hope that any accidents that do occur happen on hot, sunny, calm days!

Back on the water.


Raya is back on the water, hooray, but not quite time for the champagne. Below she’s still in chaos, she has no mast and there are a million jobs left to do, but we are afloat.

We left Kent early this morning, battled through the traffic on the M25 and drove through a blizzard on the M3. We arrived to find Raya already in the slings of the crane and with the Stella Maris boys re-attaching the rudder.

Once securely attached, the crane drove the short distance to the launching dock and Raya touched down on the water at exactly midday. There was a slightly anxious ten minutes while the new hull fittings and seacocks were checked for leaks, but with the bilges dry she was led to her temporary berth on the working dock.

It will be great not to have to climb up a 15ft ladder to get onboard and to have running water at last to do some cleaning. Lovely to be outside even if it is struggling to get much above freezing and, without her mast, she looks like a rather odd motor boat. Good to be one step closer to our goal.

The Curious Case of the Never Emptying Shed

The principals of packing up the house in theory are easy – chuck away, give away, store or pack for the boat. Unfortunately in practice it’s very different, objects that have lurked in the deeper recesses of cupboards suddenly become centre of attention. You know they are perfect candidates for the chuck pile but part of you remembers when they were bought or who gave them to you. Should they be kept?


Okay, well would they like them at the charity shop, should they be recycled? Or is it straight into the skip? With the surprisingly large amount of stuff we seem to have acquired over the years this is quite a task, but the house is now rapidly beginning to look empty.

However, then there is the curious case of Rick’s never emptying shed. The shed, Rick’s pride and joy, has been an integral part of life at West Ongley Farmhouse. From it he has produced everything from built in wardrobes, to salad bowls, to that elusive and vital widget.

Over the past few months, hours have been spent “sorting screws”, numerous cases of tools have accompanied us down to the boat and van loads of equipment, benches and more tools have been transported to a friend, creating an Ongley shed clone.

But somehow the shed still looks full. More effort is obviously needed.

Dozens of times the wheel barrow has been filled and emptied into the skip, piles of wood have been taken by friends, more boxes have been packed and more screws “sorted”.

Yet when I put my head around the door this morning, bizarrely the shed is still full!

Painting the Boot Tops


With Raya scheduled to go back into the water next week it’s all hands on deck to get everything near or below the waterline finished.

Rick and I grabbed the small weather window at the beginning of the week, of slightly warmer conditions, to paint the boot tops.

Slightly warmer is the key phrase, I was wearing a full set of thermals, a T shirt, a jumper and two fleeces, yet was still freezing by the end of each day. Fortunately it was just warm enough for the paint to dry, one more job done.

Not Looking Her Best


As the refit progresses, Raya is not looking (or smelling) her best. Rick and the guys at Stella Maris have spent the last few months working their way through her innards, servicing, repairing and replacing as they go. Panels and lockers are lifted, the seat cushion languish in the spare room at home, wiring and pipes dangle mid-connection and the air is a delightful mixture of engine oil and blocked heads. However it is all in a good cause and soon she will be looking beautiful and will be fully prepared to look after us as we set sail.

Rick spends as many days as possible in Southampton, working, watching and learning, while I visit less often holding the fort at home and trying to work through the process of disentangling ourselves from our land based life. We have started to pack up the house, despite the lack of progress with the sale, the paintings and bits of furniture going to friends and family are beginning to disappear and Ongley is starting to look very bare. The agreed completion date was three weeks ago and yet we are still waiting for exchange, however hard I protest and stamp my feet there is nothing we can do, the house buying/selling system in England is just completely bonkers!

I try to combat my frustration by telling myself that soon we will be sailing away from all of this. Of course I know that it’s not quite true, that each port will bring its own bureaucracy, that the paperwork involved in modern life will follow us relentlessly and yacht maintenance must become our friend, but at present I choose to dwell on thoughts of idyllic anchorages, dolphins dodging our bows and warm, clear, blue seas.