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.


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 


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.

The Rock

As we approached Gibralta we had radioed ahead to Marina Bay, they had no space for us and so we diverted to Queensway Quay. What luck, it was extremely nice, the staff were friendly and helpful, the showers were good and although it was surrounded by the ubiquitous blocks of apartments the environment was pleasant, and all for only £26 a night!! On the quay were five or six good restaurants some serving full English breakfasts, steaks, ribs and chicken a welcome change from the fish, fish, or fish we have had for the past few weeks.

After a day or two of chores, chandlery, provisions, hair cuts etc… Friday we put on our tourist hats and took the cable car to the top of the rock. Here we enjoyed the view and watched the macaques, while a cloud, that would eventually veil the peaks of the rock, formed in front of our eyes. It was fascinating, a fast stream of mist rose from the Mediterranean side of the cliff, much like someone was boiling a giant kettle just the other side of the ridge and gathered into a cloud above us.

First stop was the St Micheals cave complex, they were incredible. Unfortunately, the powers that be had decided that they would be enhanced by playing a continuous light show, flooding our soroundings with a fluorescent rainbow of colors. They were wrong, the grandeur of the cathedral sized cavern with thousands of stalactites hanging like giant organ pipes needed nothing to  enhance them but a bit of white light.  

Emerging back into the sunlight, we set out to walk the couple of kilometers to the other end of the rock to find the war tunnels that riddle its heart. When Rick, Mathew and I were here about eight years ago, we equally eagerly set off downwards to explore, but got completely lost and ended near the bottom at a very tall locked gate, there was no way we could even contemplate walking back upwards, so had no choice but to climb over. I clearly remember being perched fifteen foot up, Matt who’d hopped over like one of the monkeys egging me on from one side and Rick encouraging me on from the other and I thinking to myself – I’m too old for all this. So it was with some trepidation, now even older, that I started off on the badly signed paths again. Luckily this time around we did make it to the tunnels, if with slightly sore feet and knees from our steep decent. The tunnels are certainly a great feat of engineering that have protected Gibraltar for over three hundred years, but left me, in my rather weary state, uninspired.

Saturday morning we motored out of Queensway Quay and around the corner to the fuel docks to top up our tanks with duty free diesel. We had been beaten to it by two very large boats who were just starting to fill up, now it takes us about an hour to fill our tanks, so these guys were going to take ages. Keeping a boat still, untied up, is extremely difficult, so forming an orderly queue  with another two boats that were waiting, was not a attractive prospect. We weren’t desperate for fuel, just wishing to take advantage of the cheaper prices, so we abandoned the idea and with Julia at the helm we rounded the Rock into the Med.

Not a breath of wind greeted us and the sea was glassy smooth with just a gentle swell. 


As we said goodbye to Gibralta, in the distance, we passed four or five pods of Dolphins swimming towards the straights and before we knew it we had covered the 12 nm to our anchorage just north of Sotogrande.

Here the gentle swell became a bit more noticeable but determined to enjoy ourselves we braved the cool water to have a swim and took the dingy out for a whizz around the bay. We had a lovely evening, we cooked, drank wine and relaxed to the melodious sounds of Katy Meula and Simon and Garfunkel. 

We are now moored in Puerto de La Duquesa, tonight we are visiting some friends with a villa nearby and tomorrow Phil and Julia say goodbye. Hopefully they have had a good time, just a shame we only managed a couple of hours of actual sailing with them. I have just watched as they confidently stepped up to take the lines for a boat coming in opposite us, something they definitely wouldn’t have even thought to do a week ago.

Whales in the Straits

Wednesday 17th June

What a fantastic day we had yesterday.

The story really started on Monday evening, we’d spent the day sightseeing in Cadiz and were planning to spend a final day in El Peurto de Santa Maria to enjoy the beach and sample the sherry made in the town. My first job, however, was to create a passage plan and I started by downloading the weather forecasts for places en route – Barbarte, Tarifa and Gibraltar. As I swiped through the pages my heart dropped, the predominant colors as the week went on were changing from greens and yellows – F2-3’s to oranges and reds -F5-7’s. Now we have done plenty of sailing in such winds and the boat is more than up to it but for this trip there were two differences, firstly the wind direction and swell were both from the east which meant we would be sailing right into both, which translates into a hard and wet sail. And secondly, and most importantly, we have Phil and Julia onboard neither of whom have ever sailed before and we were keen not to put them off from the first day.

We decided if we sailed Tuesday and Wednesday we could make it to Gibraltar in two hops and beat the weather. So it was all hands on deck as we prepared the boat and new crew. We went through the safety checks and the procedure with the fenders and lines when we leave and arrive in port, Phil and I created the passage plan and we tidied and stowed everything downstairs. By 10.30pm we and the boat were ready. With our alarms set for 5.30am, timimgs dictated by the tides as always, we went to our beds.

As we set off for our first stop, Barbarte, it was still dark. A surprising fact is that Gibraltar, at 6 degrees W, is further west than Plymouth at 4 degrees W, with the clocks being I hr ahead this makes for dark mornings and long light evenings.

As we motored out of The Bay of Cadiz a fantastic sunrise accompanied us. Phil and Julia apprehensive about the day ahead, Rick and I a little downhearted about the lack of wind and the prospect of another day motoring something we have had to do a little too much of recently.

Well we did end up motoring most of the way but that was the only downside of the day. We started off in fleeces and ended the day in t-shirts always warm enough and never too hot. We had clear blue skies and apart from a small swell the sea was calm, almost glassy at points. It was even calm enough for Julia and I to sit and enjoy the view on the forward deck.


We were having a great time enjoying the sunshine and the back drop of the Spanish hills and beaches, we were much closer to land than we have often been because the coastline is deep here and with the motor on (absolutely no wind!) our route was not dictated by the sails. Everything was going so well and we were making such good progress that we decided not to stop at Barbarte and push on straight to Gib. For a couple of hours we managed to get the sails up, we had perfect conditions, I’m afraid Phil and Julia may have got the wrong idea about this sailing lark.

But the real excitement was yet to come, as we approached Tarifa, Rick spotted a large dolphin off the starboard bow, it was odd for a dolphins to be swimming alone and not to approach the boat and we quickly realized it was in fact much further away and actually a whale. Then the whole pod revealed itself, about ten members we think, including a mother and calf that swam and dived in unison. They gave us an incredible show for about half an hour, at one point one was only 50m from the boat, we couldn’t believe our luck. A quick look at our Sea Mammals of the World identification book revealed them as a pod of killer whales and in fact the Straits of Gibralar is a hot spot for sightings. Almost impossible to get a good photo, below is our best attempt.


On our right we spotted land – Africa, the first land we have had out at sea to starboard since we left Plymouth, the huge cliffs and mountains of Morroco. And then the Straights of Gibraltar came into view an impossibly small gap from afar. We negotiated a stream of fishing boats returning to Tarifa and entered Gibaltar bay.

The dreaded stern to mooring was achieved without drama by Captain Ricky and the well earned cold beer drunk. Quietly we congratulated ourselves, stage one completed. We always, when explaining our route, would say glibly “we will hop down the south coast to Plymouth, across the Bay of Bicay, down the coast of Portugal and around the corner to Gibraltar before entering the Med”. Never could we have imagined what an adventure it would be and this is, very much, just the beginning.

Sailing along the South Coast

Sitting watching the sunset, after a great day, congratulating ourselves on successfully reaching Plymouth.

Monday we set sail from Yarmouth heading for Portland, there was a bit of mist but it was forecast to lift mid-morning and we had the tide with us for an early start. We shot through the needles channel at eleven knots straight into a bank of fog, not a pea souper but enough to make the going a bit percarious. Had it not been for our AIS, a VHF signal that all commercial vessels and now many pleasure boats broadcast, that shows their position, we would have felt quite exposed. But nobody else was stupid enough to be out and the screen was clear.

Then out of the gloom, screaming straight for us came a military speed boat. Trying to squeeze a course as close to our track as possible with the wind on our nose we had strayed into the Lulworth Gunnery Range and they were live firing. We were abruptly instructed to sail 240 degrees for 31/2 miles. So down came the sails and rather sheepishly we motored off. After forty minute we could turn back towards our destination and as if by magic as we arrived at the marina the fog disappeared. We had made it through the first day.

Tuesday it was on to Dartmouth, again the wind wasn’t kind to us but we did manage to sail a bit of the way and at least with better visibility we could enjoy the scenery. We gave Portland Bill a wide berth but the sea was still very choppy and it was cold, we both had on about five layers and full wet weather gear.

Now for you non sailing girls let me now explain what problems this causes. Going to the loo is a nightmare, you put it off and off and off until you just have to go. The boat is bouncing about and often healed over at an angle, just getting to the toilet is a challenge. Then wedging yourself upright by leaning against the wall you start to unwrap yourself.  First comes the fumble to get the life jacket clips undone, then off comes your Musto jacket, a confusion of zips and Velcro and then the dungarees. Now down to your normal clothes a certain urgency ensues, you wish you hadn’t left it so long. If you are lucky you are on a tack that slopes you on to the toilet, if not you have to wedge yourself on and have the added pleasure of the toilet seat snapping at your bum. Finally it’s back on with everything and you return to the cockpit at best sweating and exausted, at worst feeling seasick and swearing not to drink anything more until you reach port.

Although having a reputation of being quite tight fo space we had been looking forward to visiting Dartmouth, we have been many times before, on land, looking out at the yachts wondering how it would feel to arrive by sea and here we were doing just that and it didn’t disappoint. Even the sun came out reflecting off the hundreds of colourful houses that line the steep banks of the Dart river. We had been directed to what turned out to be a too small berth and there was a hairy few moments as Rick had to manoeuvred us out of the small space and we motored up to the end of the visitors pontoon. On the dock, at the only space available, in very big letters were the words No Berthing, Landing Only, but the Marina office was closed for the night and we were off at seven the next morning so decided to risk it.

Wednesday dawned a sparkling sunny day and the wind had veered to the East , making for a perfect days sailing. It was almost warm, the wind was behind us and we made the trip on just three tacks. We arrived at the mouth of the River Tamar at midday, this is another place with connections for us. We waved at Cawsand Bay as we past, the birth place of my Father, his Parents, his  Grandparents and their Parents, as far as I can trace them back and the location of my first remembered summer holidays. We saw the little chapel we had climbed out to perched on the end of Rame Head and we spotted the house on the cliff in need of refurbishment that we viewed as a potential retirement plan before this bigger plan took shape. We had arrived in Plymouth, our first big challenge completed.

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!

Just the Two of Us

We’ve just returned from our first sail on Raya with just the two of us aboard.

There wasn’t a huge amount of wind but there was plenty of beautiful spring sunshine and at lunchtime we stopped and anchored off Osborne beach to enjoy it.  

In the afternoon a sea breeze got up and there was just enough wind to sail back to southampton water. We may not have been the slickest team on the water but we managed without incident.

Under Itchen bridge, we returned to Shamrock Quay, where we parked, always the moment of highest tension, almost perfectly, phew!

A good day.

The Boy Likes His Boat

We are just back from a three day cruise to test out Raya post refit and work out the best way to sail her with just the two of us. We were accompanied by Oyster guru and font of all knowledge Andy Willet from Stella Maris where she has been all winter. We had a fantastic time, she sailed really well, the weather despite a dodgy forecast was superb and the crew (Rick and I) did OK. It was great to be out on the water, especially for the first time with a full set of sails and we used them all, in every configuration possible. The boy likes his boat. 

We started still tied to the dock working out a man over board stategy using the boom as a hoist, Andy manfully volunteered to be the casualty and the pulley system worked really well and we recovered him back onto the boat without any untoward damage. Chris joined us and with everything safely stowed we set off. We squeezed under the Itchen Bridge and dodging the ferries into Southampton Waters, we unfurled the sails, she handled fabulously. With the sun shining we stopped just off Calshot Spit, anchored, ate a light lunch, lowered the dingy to take  the first shots of her out in the water. Then we sailed into the Solent to practice gybing and tacking, our first time not only in such a large boat but with fully electric winches and hydraulic furlers. So for my part at least, as instructions were given, there was plenty of brain crisis as I had to decide not only which sheet or halyard to use but which button to press. We dropped Chris in Cowes and with tide and time against us we headed up the Beaulieu River and tied up at Bucklers Hard. Time for a glass of fizz, we had successfully completed our first day. 

Thursday dawned with Rick hoisted up the mast as Andy and I worked out the easiest and safest way to do it when it was just the two of us onboard. This cruise was obviously going to be invaluable, just as long as we could remember it all. An hour later and the odd sight of an Oyster heading straight at the shore line could be observed by the numerous wading birds inhabiting the banks of the river. Over the last week of spring tides we had noticed that Raya was registering zero on the depth gauge at low tide when she was clearly floating, so we decided that the gauge needed recalibrating. A lead line wouldn’t work in these waters with thier soft muddy bottoms so it was decided to do the acid test and see, very cautiously, what depth the transducer read when she actually touched the ground. At the helm this felt a very alien thing to be doing running our shinny new yacht aground, but Andy confidently assure us all would be fine, which of course it proved to be. 

Once in the Solent we headed downwind to have a look at the USS Roservelt, a huge American Aircraft carrier currently anchored off Portsmouth, suddenly Raya really didn’t seem so large after all. The police boats surrounding her stopped us getting too close and we turn around to test out the rig into the wind. An exhilarating sail in about 24knots of wind with the odd gust at over 35. With one reef in the main and the stay sail up, we screamed down the Solent at between 8 and 10 knots, With waves breaking over the bow and the port rail in the water she felt as safe as houses. To top it off we reached the Needles as the sun set perfectly over the Purbeck hills.   Andy was keen that we got in some night sailing so we continued out into The Channel until darkness fell and then turned back to face the challenge of sailing up the Needles Channel and into Yarmouth harbour in the dark. As we turned the confusing backdrop of the lights of the Solent faced us, we had seen the breaking waves over the shallows either side of the channel as we had passed through an hour ago and just to add a little spice a 200 ton tanker conspired to be at the red marker buoy at exactly the same moment as us. However we made it through and were safely tied up in Yarmouth Harbour by eight thirty, tired, cold and hungry but with smiles on our faces. 

We couldn’t believe our luck when we woke the next morning to clear skies and hardly a breath of wind, the sun warm enough to eat breakfast on deck and the air still enough to bend on our new downwind sail. Most of our sailing on our around the world trip will be with the wind behind us and so good downwind rig is essential. With at times only two of us onboard we wanted a safe, reliable system easily controlled by one person. We took the decision to leave the spinnaker at home and instead use a twin headsail system. Once we had set up all the lines we went out into the Solent and with the genoa poled out to port and the second sail  sheet run through a block on the prevented boom we were pleased, in the light winds of only six knots, to be sailing at four. The boat was stable and flat and with zero apparent wind and the sun warming us it couldn’t have been more pleasant. Finally back up the Itchen we finished our day with a bit of stern to parking, a good opportunity for Rick to practice his boat handling skills and for me to perfect my rope work. Thanks Chris for being target practice for my rather dodgy throwing. A busy few days with two exhausted sailors, but invaluable. We have come away with another frighteningly long “to do list” but nothing major went wrong and Raya performed brilliantly.