So Long and Thanks

Saturday 6th July 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home!

Friday 28th July 2019

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

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

Gradually putting on more clothes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raya arrives back in the UK

Traditional Christmas

Monday 1st January 2019

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

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

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

Traditional pub lunch with Tony and Gilly

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

An abundance of presents

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

Dash and Stormi

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

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

It’s Cold Outside

Saturday 15th December 2018

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

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

Umhlanga Rocks beach and lighthouse.

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

Umhlanga Pier

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

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

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

It’s cold outside!

Surprise Visit

Tuesday 18th July 2017

We are rapidly coming to the end of a very short but enjoyable trip home. We celebrated Ricks Mum’s 90th birthday on Saturday and Matt’s graduation on Tuesday. 

Well done to Matt and all his class mates

The decision to fly back to the UK was only taken a few weeks ago and we managed to keep it secret enough for the big ‘Ta Da’ entrance at Rick’s Mum’s party. But our presence was a close run thing.

Never again will we transit through the US. Our first hurdle came when we discovered that even to pass through the airport we needed an electronic visa. The process of application for the both of us took us about 21/2 hrs, that was 15mins longer than we were actually in the country. This short transit time was set out by the airline itinerary, we assumed it would be ok. Had we known that the US has no international transit system we would have thought again. It took us over an hour just in the immigration queue, we ran to the baggage reclaim, picked up our luggage and sprinted to the next queue, customs check, another mad dash and we were in the queue for the lifts, then with one final spurt we arrived puffing and stressed at the British Airways check-in desk 20mins before the plane was to take off and five minutes after the flight had closed. Lawrence at the desk worked wonders and with a few calls got us on to the flight. Our running however was not over as we then had to re-enter US customs with the enevitable queues and get to the gate. Flagged on by a BA member of staff we reached the plane a few minutes before take off. 

Unfortunately our luggage was not so lucky and didn’t make the flight, so another fretful night was spent imaging the big party entrance marred by us flouncing into the proceedings in our travelling clothes. But British Airways, efficient again, ensured our bags were couriered to us, they arrived just in time for a quick whisk over with the iron.

Ricks Mum was, of course, delighted and we had a lovely family day.

Nana gets some help blowing out the candles

Since then we have whizzed around the South East of England visiting family and a few friends. The warm and mostly sunny weather has been a real bonus, we haven’t been in the UK during summer for three years and we have enjoyed gardens in full bloom, green countryside and pleasant evenings taking advantage of the long hours of daylight.

There is always some new bit of technology that confuses us on our return, this time it was ‘caution’. Every now and again our hire car would announce ‘caution’, we couldn’t work out what was triggering it. Ten miles later ‘caution’, fives miles ‘caution’, twenty miles ‘caution’ , it became rather irritating and we assumed it must be being triggered by a proximity alarm, but there seemed to be no consistency. A few hundred miles later we finally worked it out, it was warning us as we approached speed cameras, ‘caution’ suddenly became our friend.

The ten days went very quickly and we are now heading for the airport, our waistlines larger and our luggage full of English tea, boat spares and new deck shoes. Although saying goodbye to everyone is always difficult, I’m glad to say the excitement of our trip through the Pacific is still fresh, we are looking forward to being back on board Raya and back out to the islands.

Conspicuous Consumption 

HAPPY NEW YEAR

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.

 

Family Christmas 

24th December 2016

We are on the final run up to Christmas, both of our kids are here, my sister and husband arrive in a few hours. We are lucky enough to be celebrating in the beautiful home of some very generous friends as they ski in America. The accommodation has come ready decorated and is complete with open fires and wood burning stoves, even a turkey is to be delivered by the local farmer.

After the first few days of culture shock it was weird how unweird life back in the UK quickly became. As we drove through our home county of Kent to our old neighbours, the roads were so familiar and unchanged we slipped into autopilot as if we had never been away. We could easily have driven a few meters further, around the corner, turned into the drive at West Ongley and walked back into our old house. As I strolled with Gilly and her lab Molly across the fields, I knew each step so intimatly that I could imagine Coco our Great Dane bouncing towards me through the heavy mist, as if the last couple of years had never existed. The arrival of a weather warning by email, for a possible cyclone forming over Fiji, felt like an alien object amongst the stream of Christmas wishes and arrangements.

Christmas has definitely been all around and it is lovely to be celebrating it with so many good friends and all our families. For us Christmas really started with a weekend with Rachael in Bath and a visit to the festive market that lies in the shadow of the magnificent Bath Abbey. A week later we parked in Rochester for a quick visit to the bank, sandwiched between the 11thC castle and the 12thC cathedral, we gazed up at the intricate and powerful stonework and realised how much we take theses ancient buildings for granted, having grown up locally they have been the backdrop to our lives. We imagine how incredible to a Pacific Islander or for that matter a New Zealander they would seem.

Bath Abbey

But we can’t seem to keep away from yachts and the sea for too long, when we heard Ramsgate Marina was putting on a big show of Christmas lights we went with Ricks Mum to take a look. Nearly every boat had been decorated with many having strung lights from the very top of the mast.

Christmas lights at Ramsgate Harbour


  

And of course the ‘things to do in UK’ boat list is as long as ever. Happily we have had word that the engine injectors and pump have been put back on and the engine is running sweetly and the calendar of visitors for next year is growing.

However for the next few days we shall just be focused on a family Christmas, fingers crossed that the turkey arrives today and that we can master the Aga well enough to cook it.

Happy Christmas.

A Bit Rusty

Friday 9th Dec 2016

As we emerged from the terminal at Heathrow a blast of sub-freezing, predawn London air hit us with a sharp sting across our faces, we gulped it hungrily, we were home. Sunrise revealed a beautiful cold frosty morning and we were treated to a couple of beautiful bright but chilly days, unfortunately this is England and soon the cloud and drizzle has returned, however the warm and generous welcome of our friends and family has beaten off the cold. Well that and the coats and boots we retrieved from the storage unit.

We have been revelling in the comforts of home, taking long deep lazy baths or showers with limitless supplies of hot, high pressure water, then there’s warm centrally heated houses and roaring log fires, not to mention fridges full to the brim, proper tea with english biscuits and crusty brown bread.

We are surprisingly still suffering from jet lag, we begin to fade towards the end of the afternoon becoming positively comatosed past about eight. We must apologise to everyone for our glazed expressions over all the delicious suppers we have been served over the past week. Of course at four in the morning we find ourselves wide awake and starving hungry, such is the life of a traveller.

Venturing out into the real world I opened my ‘stirling’ purse, disturbing it from over a years slumber at the back of the chart table. Bursting with plastic cards – bank cards, credit cards, store cards, membership cards,  it is testament to how complicated life use to be. In the centre section the coins were stuck together in a rusty lump but it wasn’t just the cash that was rusty, we are having to gradually drag ourselves, creaking, back into the modern world. Our long absence perfectly demonstrated by my squeal of childish delight the first time I paid for something using contactless payment. Or take the use of our phones, it is not so much a matter of remembering how to use them, as remembering actually to use them, the ease and immediacy of communication is a real novelty. Driving has been surprisingly tiring especially in the dark and drizzle and the less said about our confused expressions as we stared blankly at the new slick, high tech, parking ticket machines in the shopping centre, the better.  

The  Christmas season here is in full swing and despite joining the hordes in a rush of retail extravagance we feel totally detached. The annual cyclic nature of our old life has been replaced, with no sense of the passing seasons and as we continually travel forward to the new experiences of our next destination our path has become linear.

Despite the culture shock of our return we have been comforted, that in the company of our friends, it is as if we have never been away and I’m sure it will only take a few Christmas songs in the car, a few hours of present wrapping and the smell of Christmas ham simmering to get into the festive mood.

Fog and Farewells 

We are sitting in the BA lounge at T5 in Heathrow awaiting our flight which has been delayed from 7pm by two hours. Heathrow is fog bound and many flights have been cancelled or delayed. Add to that the baggage belt coming mysteriously to a halt and chaos ensues in the departures hall, but now we are finally all checked in and have a glass of wine to sooth the pain. Thankfully the cruising chute was accepted as part of our luggage allowance so if they ever get the belts going, hopefully, it will arrive in Las Palmas at the same time as us.

The last three weeks has whizzed by, we have had a great time and the hospitality of our friends and family has been second to none. But as we packed and organised our final bits today our minds have already moved on, back to Raya and the many tasks we have to get through over the next few weeks.

Just yesterday as I walked with my sister Penny, through Richmond Park, the oranges of the trees glowed through the autumn mist and the next phase of our travels seemed a world away – which of course they are. On 22nd November we head off accross the Atlantic from Las Palmas, with luck making landfall about eighteen days later in St Lucia in the Caribbean. The next week the kids arrive and we spend Christmas cruising down through St Vincent and the Grenadines and on to Grenada. We then have a few weeks to enjoy the island before crossing the Caribbean Sea to Panama, through the canal out into the Pacific, where our first stop will be the Galapagos Islands. We then undertake our longest passage, over three thousand miles to Marquesas the most Easterly Islands of French Polynesia – just typing the word Polynesia sends a ripple of excitement through me. In our heads the vision of being anchored off a pristine white coral beach, with blue warm sea, in a stunning Pacific atoll, is one of the inspirations for the trip. We spend about six months island hopping accross the Pacific, before, this time next year, dipping down to New Zealand for a few months to avoid the Cyclone season.

Put like that it seems quite straight forward, the enormity of the adventure has yet to dawn on us, but we have very much approached the journey so far one step at a time and hopefully will continue to so.

The next step, crossing the Atlantic Ocean, is quite a big trip by any standards and as we say farewell to everyone in the UK we realise that most of them are much more anxious about it than we are.The last six months has given us great confidence in the boat and ourselves and the encouragement from other sailors, who have been accross before us, has been fantastic. It feels very much just like the next challenge, perhaps when we join the frenzy that is pre-ARC Las Palmas our emotions will change, but at present we feel calm and are focussed on the pepetual long lists that yachting seems to demand to get the boat ready to leave.

Before we can start that however, we have to get back to Las Palmas and onboard Raya. The flight is still up as departing at 21.14 which will mean arriving at about 2am. Hopefully our transport will be there to meet us, big enough to fit all our luggage inside and then when we get back to the marina our security card will still get us in the gate.

Back in the UK

We woke this morning to a very different view, looking out over a friends lovely garden and stunning English countryside, with the sun shining on an early autumn day. It smelt great too – when before had we even noticed the smell of an English garden. We walked through the countryside to the pub, picked apples to make a crumble and watched the rugby on a proper TV. Yes it seems we are back in the UK. 

  

We felt surprisingly bereft at leaving Raya tied to the dock in Las Palmas. We checked the bilge pump, the electrics and all the lines were secure as possible, about a hundred times but still nervously looked back as we walked away up the pontoon. This will be the first time, since we moved on board, that we have left her for more than a night or two but once we were at the airport the excitement of seeing friends and family took over, we have a busy couple of weeks ahead.

As we flew up the Portuguese coast and then across Biscay the sea far below looked calm and inviting. Four and a half hours on the plane, against five months of adventure by yacht, those two facts are somehow difficult to equate. 

Arriving in the UK did feel strange, so familiar and yet slightly foreign, as did wearing long trousers, socks and jumpers. We went straight out into the Friday night traffic on the M25, but we were in no rush and the sun as shining for us.

Now we are here we are revelling in all those small things we have missed. Having a shower with high water pressure that you can stand under for as long as you like is a real treat and today we have actually had a bath. Watching proper TV with choices of programmes is a pleasure and the prospect of unlimited internet is exciting. Real ale, cider, sausages and sunday roast all sound delicious and the greeness of our surroundings is lovely.  Shops where everything is recognisable and written in English will be a relief and last but not least there is the delight of toilets where you can flush the toilet paper.