Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas and New Year’s Suriname Style

The red bag arrived on January 30th. On our way back from Raleighvallen we were dropped off at the airport to make one last effort to track it down. Following a one hour wait and several negotiations with various bureaucrats “I’m sorry the customs window is closed, you will have to come back tomorrow between 8-2 etc.etc.” we were saved by a very kind agent (named Michela) who took us out to the warehouse for ‘suspended’ luggage, pulled out the red bag and handed it over to us (after filling in about five detailed forms). Hurray!

‘Christmas Day’ was thus on January 31st for us. As a final step on the 30th, Emma and Macsen carefully hung their Nana-made stockings under the spray-cover with great excitement and bundled off to bed “while visions of sugar plums (and fireworks) danced in their heads.” Mom and I then decorated the boat and arranged a huge amount of packages under a tiny fake Christmas tree on loan from the Mjolners. Emma and Macsen woke on the morning of the 31st, scurried outside and opened their stockings with great glee while sitting in their underwear in the warm sun in the cockpit. Dad and Seb then headed off to take on the last step of the (almost endless) Suriname Customs and Immigration process. Upon their return we had a champagne breakfast and proceeded to tackle the mound of presents around the tree. This is the first year that Macsen is aware that packages contain new and interesting things and we could hardly keep up with the two of them as they tore through the papers together. Very excited and happy monkeys.

For an entire week before the 31st you hear practice fireworks going off all around you in Suriname. This is a celebration that is taken very seriously and each family or community purchases huge amounts of fireworks and there is great competition along the river to put on the most magnificent show. We sat in the cockpit sipping our postprandial wine gazing in amazement at the wild array of truly spectacular fireworks all the way along the shore as far as the eye could see. And they just kept on going. The show reached its crescendo at midnight (as expected) and we popped our champagne and enjoyed them. Wonderful new kind of Christmas and New Year’s Day.

On the morning of January 1st we all bundled into a taxi and headed off to the comfort of the Torarica hotel in Parimaribo. After a lovely day by the pool Seb and I bid a tearful good-bye to Nana, Dadcu, Emma and Macsen and bundled back to the boat alone. They would all travel the following morning (very early) by plane to Tobago and Seb and I planned to leave on the Pjotter and sail with the two of us on the evening of the 2nd.

Monday, December 28, 2009

It’s A Jungle Out There

On December 26th, the six of us boarded a very rickety old propeller plane to fly inland for a 3-day tour of the rain forest. After a stunning if slightly nerve-racking flight, we arrived on a tiny grass airstrip in the middle of the jungle, picked up our luggage and headed towards a rather primitive lodge in a beautiful location called Raleighvallen on Foengoe Island in the Central Suriname Nature Reserve. Our guide was somewhat unprofessional (having slept through our introductory talk), the group size was a bit too large and the fast paced seven hour walk and climb on the first day through the sauna of the jungle was grueling (Dad, Seb and I alternated carrying Emma and Macsen the entire time). That aside it was a great experience. The jungle was breathtaking and the guide explained the various medicinal and nutritional uses for an amazing variety of plants and trees. We heard a great mixture of bird calls and almost caught a glimpse of the elusive toucan. At night, we took a walk to find tarantula spiders and then lay in bed (with our mosquito nets more carefully tucked around us) listening to the incredibly loud and eerie cry of the howler monkeys. Swimming in the river was a refreshing if slightly worrying experience as half of the group swam while the other half stood next to them and fished for piranhas! Apparently they won’t attack unless you are bleeding. The tour ended with a long and lovely drift down the river, a stop at the village where our guide grew up (sadly much of which was destroyed in the ‘80s during the civil war) and back to Domburg to the Pjotter.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Arrival of Nana and Dadcu and A Non-Traditional Christmas Celebration

My parent s arrived late on the night of the 22nd and we spent the night in the same hotel so that we could greet them first thing in the morning. They arrived safely but with a certain amount of stress as the bag with all of the Christmas things was lost along the way! This meant no Christmas stockings, no decorations and no presents!!! It was wonderful to see them again and after a solid hotel breakfast we had a relax at the swimming pool and spent the day wandering about in Paramaribo. Emma and Macsen were immediately happy with their Nana and Dadcu so we left them behind for another night in the hotel and Seb and I headed back to the boat in Domburg.

My parents moved onto the boat with us on the 24th. We agreed to temporarily ignore the fact the it was Christmas and decided to wait and celebrate as soon as lost luggage arrived. This was carefully explained to Emma who seemed perfectly happy to wait with Christmas until we could do it ‘properly’. Somehow, celebrating Christmas in a warm land felt a little different anyhow so none of us were too concerned about being a bit flexible with some of our regular family traditions. As such, we decided to join in the Christmas BBQ on December 25th with the other boats at Rita’s restaurant. There was a festive atmosphere at Rita’s, masses of delicious food on the grill and mountains of nasi and salad. Each boat brought along a pot-luck contribution and the variety was wonderful. The BBQ was attended by crew of all of the boats in the bay including some of our best cruising buddies; Mjolner, big Pjotter, Tangaroa, Victory and the Zilvermeeuw. This made it a lot of fun and gave my parents the opportunity to get to know a lot of the people we are spending time with at the moment. I couldn’t even count the number of children there but there were many and Emma and Macsen spent the evening running around, giggling and having a wonderful time as well. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Arrival - After 14 Days at Sea

After 13 days at sea, in the last 24 hours the tension and the excitement began to build. Our feelings were a bit mixed, eager and elated to see land but mixed with a little pang that our cosy days alone at sea were coming to an end. Seb and I both felt strangely nervous the entire night, perhaps a reaction to the (often unfounded) warnings about unlit fishing boats, pirates etc. coupled with nervous excitement we always have when arriving in a new and unknown country. The depth of the water went from two kilometers to 60 meters and we did keep a careful look out for fishing boats. At 0700 on December 21st, we saw land for the first time…it looked much the same as expected. Suriname has a low coast line and the skyline only became clear as we rounded our waypoint buoy around seven miles from the head of the Suriname river leading in towards the capital Paramaribo.

Dropped anchor in the choppy river alongside the Torarica hotel (where we planned to meet my parents on the 22nd) in Paramaribo with current of three knots and pumped up the dingy as we bobbed about uncomfortably. The monkeys were napping. Our plan was to go to shore for the first time together so Seb and I spent some time tidying the boat. Both of us were feeling extremely grumpy as we clattered about and cleaned and after one good blow up we decided to sit outside and talk a little about what was amiss. Expectations. We both had been nursing a romantic image of our arrival on land; running and rolling in the grass, popping champagne corks, laughing and waving while cheering people rang bells and threw lays over our shoulders. Instead, no one had noticed our arrival, we couldn’t go on land because it was naptime, we were lying in an extremely uncomfortable anchor spot (probably dragging our anchor) in the boiling sun, spending our time mopping up the last of the murky salt water in the bilge, cleaning out the fridge and gathering the laundry. Let down.

After approximately two hours of wobbling about and two cranky attempts to re-anchor we decided to move the boat further up the river to Domburg where we heard that we could anchor more safely (and comfortably). Jeroen and Babette (s/y Zilvermeeuw) happened to see us from the shore in Paramaribo and we picked them up to sail with us. Just as we headed out the Victory arrived and we sailed up the river together to Domburg. In Domburg, we finally had an arrival toast. This toast was followed by a delicious nasi dinner at Rita’s restaurant, located next to the dinghy landing in Domburg. Every night at Rita’s there is an informal gathering of Dutch sailors from the approximately 15 boats lying there. The food is delicious (and incredibly cheap), the Djogos (one litre Parbo beers) are cold, the company really ‘gezellig’ and the sphere is superb. This is more like it!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Day 14: Land in zicht!

After being at sea for almost exactly two weeks we can see the contours of Suriname! It is now 0948 UTC (0649 local time) and we will be at the entrance of the river in about an hour. Our plan is to drop anchor in front of the Torarica Hotel. Apparently they have a swimming pool and sauna... Champagne is in the fridge but we have to concentrate on these last few miles first.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Day 13: 06.41.010'N 052.49.973'W, 153nm (24h)

December 20, 1200 UTC
Distance to go: 148nm
Wind and waves: ENE 15-20kn, 2m
Sails: Reefed main and reefed genoa, wing and wing

Our engine stopped working with a very slow and lazy sounding chug,chug,blub, bluuub a couple of days ago. Given that the winds have held strong and we get much of our power from the solar panels this did not present an immediate issue but needed to be resolved relatively quickly as the autopilot and the refrigerator were zapping too much electricity for the solar panels to manage alone. Seb discussed the problem with the other boats and hauled out his trusty diesel engine manuals and went to work. It quickly became apparent that it was either air in the fuel lines or clogged diesel filters. Yesterday was a relatively rough day and to spend >6 hours upside down in the engine room breathing diesel (and occasionally sucking it out through a siphon to remove the air) is a wholly unpleasant experience. In addition to this is the mental angst of what we will do when we arrive in Parimaribo if we have no motor. This we resolved with our kind friends from the Victory who agreed to sail the approach (and if necessary tow us) together. After a lot of sweating and swearing and several attempts to start the engine after various fixes Seb did finally manage to get every last bit of air out of the fuel lines and with new filters our engine ran for 3 hours last night just like a charm. Whew!

Apart from that we are starting to cautiously plan our arrival. We are now approximately 24-30 hours away and, if all goes well, expect to arrive at the entrance to the Suriname River sometime tomorrow morning. The two kilometer deep waters that we have been sailing through have become 60 meters and we are starting to see more ships, signalling that we are closer to land. Feelings are a mixture of thrills, happiness, amazement, excitement, exhilaration (perhaps I am getting repetitive), a bit of nervousness and a tiny bit of sadness that our wonderful intimate family journey is coming to an end.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Day 12: 07.15.703'N 050.22.987'W, 141nm (24h)

December 19, 1200 UTC
Distance to go: 298nm
Wind and waves: NE 19-26kn, 3,5m (rough)
Sails: Reefed main and reefed genoa, wing and wing

Our first real squall hit us late this morning. We had seen the tell-tale signs on the horizon, black clouds and on the radar, streaks of green depicting raindrops falling on the ocean surface. After rolling away the genoa and cutter Seb took the helm and hand steered us through. The bright sun dimmed, the waves became choppier and we were suddenly in a downpour of rain. The winds picked up quickly to >30 knots. The squall had a calm and refreshing quality about it as the rain blocked out other noises and flattened the waves a little and gave us and the boat a good cleansing. Within 15 minutes the squall has passed and we sailed further in the brilliant sunshine. I hope that we are able to prepare as well for every squall we come across and that they all treat us so kindly.

The winds in general are higher at the moment and the waves are large and relatively short and confused giving us again a rather uncomfortable ride. Our speed through water ranges from 7-7,5 knots but for some reason we seem to still have 1,5 knots of current against us!!! Frustrating! If we continue at the our current pace, however, we do expect to arrive in Parimaribo sometime during the afternoon of Monday, December 21st!

Our fresh fruit stock is finally dwindling. Macsen ate an horribly black and mushy banana today, none of the rest of us were willing to touch and that is the last of our bananas. I have been amazed at how much fresh fruit and vegetables we have been eating and how well it has all kept. We have thrown little away and still have apples, oranges, cucumber, eggplant, carrots, tomatoes and kiwis.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Day 11: 08.38.166'N 048.32.687'W, 143nm (24h)

December 18, 1200 UTC
Distance to go: 427nm
Wind and waves: NE 15-20kn, 3m
Sails: Main and genoa, port tack

What is 1,2m long, 6,6kg and on board the Pjotter in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? The beautiful, big fish that Seb caught yesterday evening (with a little help from me wielding the gaffing hook). It was 1845 (UTC -3) (which is when post-dinner rush hour starts) when the fishing rod let out a loud zzzzzing and just kept on zzzzinging! Seb put the brake on but line continued to feed out. With a glint in his eye and a look of grim determination Seb picked up the rod and stationed himself on the roof of the cockpit to begin the fight. Two days ago, the last time we had a bite on the rod, Seb spent a great deal of sweat trying to land a large fish only to have it slip the hook and swim away after 45 minutes of effort. I juggled cleaning up dinner, trying to get the monkeys to bed, taking photos and films, gathering equipment and shouting tips and words of encouragement. Emma and Macsen were having nothing of going to bed and were both determined to see the fight come to conclusion. After only 1/2 hour the fish neared the boat, Seb handed me the rod and started pulling the line in by hand. "You have to gaff him by the base of his jaw" was the only instruction I got before wielding the hook through the gills and pulling while Seb heaved the wriggling mass over the high side of the Pjotter. It was a beautiful fish and seemed enormous lying there on our deck. It's sides were a iridescent blue and it had a distinctive fan-shaped back fin and tale resembling a tuna but the flesh is white rather than red. We think it was a Wahoo. It is now a lot of lovely little filets stacked in our refrigerator. We had fish sticks for lunch (very popular with E&M) and our plan for the coming two days include sushi-ed, stir-fried, curried and grilled Wahoo. Delicious!

Our second visitor yesterday afternoon was a storm kestrel. This friendly little brown bird with webbed feet and a long bill started to fly around the boat at around 1800. It finally worked up the courage to land on the cockpit railing and rested their quietly during the entire fish catch, enduring excited points and chats from a thrilled Emma and Macsen. It stayed with us until 2200 at which point it quietly flew away.

The winds have picked up again and we seem to be enjoying the typical trade winds of 15-20 knots at 150 degrees off our targeted course. This allows us to sail at 6-7 knots and we are making very good headway.

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Day 10: 09.35.065'N 046.27.017'W, 131nm (24h)

December 17, 1200 UTC
Distance to go: 563nm
Wind and waves: NE 11-17kn, 3m
Sails: Main, genoa and cutter, wing and wing

'The Washing Machine', 'Hotse Klots', 'The Klotsbak', 'Neptune's Sneeze' are some of the names coined by various boats to describe a very strange phenomenon that generally catches us about twice per day. You can be sailing along on a sunny day on a relatively calm sea when suddenly the boat starts to be thrown around on short choppy waves coming from all directions, crazy currents, white caps on the waves accompanied by loud whooshing noises. All this with no change to the wind or sky. Not scary as the waves are small but very distinct, uncomfortable and surprising. The most strongly supported theory is that these are eddies caused by interactions between warm and cold water rivers running through the ocean and reacting with one another. These rivers move not only along the surface but also move up and down in various depths. The water temperature can vary between 27 degrees on the surface to 4 degrees in the depths and the volume of water varies as a result, reducing with the increased pressure in the depths. The largest temperature difference is found between 50-100m deep (no more sunlight). This temperature difference causes various vertical currents of expanding and contracting water movements which manifest themselves in the crazy eddies we experience on the surface. Ancient mariners used to think that this effect was caused by sea monsters fighting just under the surface. Thanks to Jimmy Lengkeek for the scientific explanation. We do still glance apprehensively over the side of the boat from time to time in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the mighty deep sea dragon.

Other than the sea dragons we are sailing in relative comfort. The waves are large but incredibly long and rolling so the movement is rhythmic and comforting, rather like sailing on a dynamic English countryside. Much more comfortable than the short choppy waves that we experienced in some of our coastal sailing. We expected to have 0,5-1,5 knots of current with us for much of the journey from the equatorial current running east to west, but alas, we seem to have only current against us to date. Perhaps in the coming days.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Day 9: 10.45.743'N 044.36.550'W, 138nm (24h)

December 16, 1200 UTC
Distance to go: 690nm
Wind and waves: NE 6-9kn, 2m
Sails: Halfwinder, port tack

Winds have become even lighter and we have hoisted the halfwinder for the first time since it fell under the boat. There was a slight tear (10 cm) that needed to be taped and it was a bit of a fiddle to get it back into the snubber but it's flying again and looks beautiful. It has also added a solid 1,5 knots to our incredibly slow 3,5-4 knot average of this morning. The electric autopilot (Otto) has been in use almost constantly in the last few days as we have been on an course directly downwind. Willy the Windpilot, our wind steering system, does not seem to hold us on as steady a course as Otto and this weaving course causes the sails to flap and the boat to loose speed. Rather a disappointment as Willy the Windpilot does not use any electricity and Otto the Autopilot draws quite a few amps, 24 hours a day. Generally our electricity system is self sustaining as long as there is sun for the solar panels to charge the batteries. Unfortunately, due to the additional draw of the autopilot we are forced to run the engine for a few hours every couple of days in order to top up the charge on the battery, not a big deal but it makes an awful noise and uses diesel.

The monkeys had a long bath in the cockpit this morning and had a great time playing with Seb's fishing lures (without the hooks). The weather has become sweltering and there is no breeze to refresh us. The cabin temperature at the moment is 33 degrees. The weather reports predict slight increase in the winds by lunchtime tomorrow. In the meantime, we sit and steam and stare out at the water hoping to see a whale.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Day 8: 11.39.674'N 042.34.478'W, 128nm (24h)

December 15, 1200 UTC
Distance to go: 822nm
Wind and waves: NE 10-15kn, 2,5m
Sails: Main, genoa and cutter sail (amidships), wing and wing

Still light winds and sun so although we are slower the waves are longer and it is much more restful to travel. We saw the Victory sailing close to us early this morning, fun to see a boat that you know well at such close quarters after a week at sea. Jan-Bart and Monique have trouble with their rudder and as a result their autopilot no longer works. They have been steering day and night by hand for the past two days and expect to have to continue in this way for the duration of the voyage. This is an incredibly physically and mentally taxing thing to have to do requiring 24 hour focus. They are managing well under the circumstances and Jan-Bart even saw the upside in that he got to spend his entire watch last night outside and was able to see over 100 falling stars in the meteor showers. That is a lot of wishes. I stayed outside for about an hour of my watch and only saw about ten, still very beautiful.

After our celebration from yesterday we are now back into our daily routine. We make a plan for the day every morning and discuss the weather and sail configuration to be sure that we cover all that needs to be done and have enough activities to break the monotony for the little ones. Our days run more or less along the following lines:

0800 Emma and Macsen wake, play games and read while Rhiannon bakes whatever needs to be baked for the day
0900 Communication via SSB with Mjolner, Victory, Tangaroa
0930 Breakfast (generally yogurt and cereal)
1000 Morning activity (bath time, crafts, puzzles, games, etc.)
1100 Fruit Time (an excuse both to move into the cockpit and get some vitamins)
1200 Lunch (bread with various things on it)
1230 Emma and Macsen to bed; Seb and Rhiannon perform daily deck inspection, laundry, dishes and any general maintenance
1430 Afternoon activity (face painting, tent building, dress up, games, etc.)
1600 Afternoon Treat (another excuse to move to the cockpit this time to eat something unhealthy)
1800 Dinner
1900 Rhiannon to bed
1930 Emma and Macsen read books and to bed by 2000
2015 Evening communication via SSB with the other boats

Every now and then we toss in something new or special such as a visit from Neptune who bangs on the outside of the boat and leaves presents for Emma and Macsen. We have never seen him but he manages to time his visits perfectly to know just when they (or we) are getting bored of frustrated.

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Day 7: 12.13.031'N 040.30.433'W, 138nm (24h)

December 14, 1200 UTC
Distance to go: 940nm
Wind and waves: NE 10-15kn, 2,5m
Sails: Main, genoa and cutter sail, wing and wing

The wind has gone down a little and the movement is more restful. Our sails are out in full, including the cutter genoa, and we are heading straight downwind with the sails wing and wing. Although the wind level often dips down to 10 knots we are still travelling at 5-5,5 knots so making progress in the right direction. And...more exciting news...we have reached the halfway point!!! Yipee! It is an amazing feeling to be exactly in the middle of the ocean and nice to be moving closer to land rather than farther away.

Given that this is such a special day we have prepared a half-way celebration. Our lunch consisted of fresh-baked scones, whipped cream and jam and lemonade for Emma and Macsen. The monkeys painted fish for Neptune yesterday afternoon and left him little messages (Emma certainly in the hopes of getting some presents). Seb and I have done our best to turn the living room into an aquarium with cut-outs of fish and seaweed hanging from the ceiling. When Emma and Macsen wake up from their naps they will (hopefully) be delighted to walk into this fishy world and hunt for special presents left by the fishy henchmen of Neptune. This will be followed by our daily tasty snack time. I baked cupcakes this morning for the occasion and Seb and I are looking forward to popping a bottle of champagne (only one glass each...). Ahhhh! Yum.

The Elena crew had given us a large can of Cassoulet au Confit du Canard (duck stew) that they had purchased on a trip to France and they promised that it would amaze us. We decided that the halfway point was just the occasion for opening this treat and we cooked up a nice ratatouille as accompaniment and settled in for dinner with our champagne (our first alcoholic beverage in a week). Seb and I were both a little skeptical about eating a canned stew but it was absolutely delicious. The four of us sat in cockpit and toasted the halfway point, watched the sun set and tucked into an amazingly yummy meal. A great day!

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Day 6: 13.23.157'N 038.46.758'W, 143nm (24h)

December 13, 1200 UTC
Distance to go: 1,166nm
Wind and waves: NE 16-18kn, 2-2,5m
Sails: Main and genoa, port tack

Our world is still weebly wobbly. The seas tend to lull us into a nice rythm only to send us a choppy wave from at least 30 degrees off the norm to make sure that we are awake...wump. We try to get as much sleep as possible under the circumstances. Our clocks are set to UTC -2 and will adjust 1 hour every 3 days until we are on Suriname time, UTC-4. With our new watch system I go to bed at 1900, Emma and Macsen go to bed at 2000 and Seb takes the first 4-hour watch until 2300. My first watch spans 4-hours from 2300-0300. Seb takes 0300-0600 and then I take 0600-0900. The monkeys generally wake up again at 0800. In theory, Seb and I each get 7 hours of sleep. There are also slight opportunities to catch cat naps while on watch. Our egg timer is set to count down 15 minutes. Fifeteen minutes is apparently the time it takes between the first sighting of a tanker on the horizon until it is close to you, making it wise to perform visual checks every 15 minutes. Both the AIS and radar systems have alarms and they are set to go off when a ship comes within 12 miles.

So far we have come within three miles of five ships in the last five days, significantly less than during the rest of our passages. Two tankers on AIS, two fishing trawlers not on AIS, and this afternoon we glimpsed the mast on the horizon of a fellow sailor. It took only minutes before we contacted the sailboat on VHF and we were soon chatting about plans and perceptions of the crossing. It turned out to be a catamaran named Luar, manned by a delivery crew. They also left Mindelo on December 7 and are heading for Trinidad. They were enjoying the sunny weather and the wind. We bid good-bye with vigorous wishes of good winds, safe sailing, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Day 5: 13.052.374'N 036.36.282'W, 157nm (24h)

December 12, 1200 UTC
Distance to go: 1,295nm
Wind and waves: NE 18-23kn, 2-2,5m
Sails: Main and genoa, both reefed, starboard tack

The movement of the boat is quite uncomfortable due to the wave patterns and you really need to think where you can hang on and what you need to catch before moving or much less, opening a cupboard. The wind has also increased slightly and with reefs in both our main and genoa we are still traveling at 6,5 - 7 knots so making faster progress at the moment than expected. Life goes on on board and although Seb and I sometime feel tired of the wobbliness, Emma and Macsen seem to think it is rather fun and don't complain at all. We saw out first dolphins today. A pack of about six that stayed with us for the whole afternoon. Seb and I took turns sitting on the bow (with lifejacket and lifeline) watching them as they jumped through the waves. They were able to perfectly synchronize their movements and I have never seen such a show.

So far the weather outlook appears to promise a continuation of the weather that we have had to date. We download weather faxes, grib files (wind direction and strength) and wave information daily via the SSB. We are also extremely fortunate and grateful to get daily personal updates from Wierd's (Tangaroa) uncle, Jimmy Lengkeek. Jimmy and his wife Tineke cruised the world for six years on their sailing boat 'Gabber' and have written several books (which we used a great deal in our preparations) and it is wonderful to have such an expert supporting us. He sends us information on the weather systems over the Atlantic and the position of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) an area with very light or nonexistent winds also known as the Doldrums. And analysis from various weather sources (ie http://www.sailingweatheronline.com/) on what we can expect. He has also given us some great information on squalls, where you can expect them, what they look like and how to prepare ourselves. On a daily basis we report our 1200 UTC position and the actual weather we are experiencing back to Jimmy. Every morning at 1100UTC there is an update call via SSB with the Tangaroa, Mjolner and Victory in which we discuss our positions, weather, sail trim, fishing successes and generally review how we are doing and feeling. Emma and Sophia have also used this as a forum to sing songs to each other.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Day 4: 14.23.007'N 033.59.814'W, 147nm (24h)

December 11, 1200 UTC
Distance to go: 1,449nm
Wind and waves: NE 14-18kn, 2m
Sails: Main and genoa, starboard tack

Past the 1/4 mark last night at 495 miles, no champagne until we get to the halfway point. A depression in the north Atlantic seems to be sending us some nasty waves that are hitting just aft of our beam. This makes for a very wobbly ride but we were warned to expect this. We have still been able to maintain our schedule on board and have indulged in some fabulous meals and treats. Yesterday we made French toast, baked brownies and Seb made a delicious lasagna for dinner. This morning I baked fresh bread and we smeared it liberally with butter. We may all be a few pounds heavier when we reach Suriname but the rocking motion of the boat keeps our muscles toned.

Today is shower day for the whole family. The monkeys often have a bath in the cockpit in salt water and then are rinsed off with fresh water. We shower with solar showers that consist of a large heavy plastic sack with a spigget. This sack is black and when placed in the sun the water becomes nice and warm (sometimes too hot). These are hung in the cockpit and they provide a rather good shower. The boat does have a shower in the bathroom but we prefer al fresco. Our dishes and clothes are also washed in salt water and rinsed with fresh water from the showers or directly from the tanks. In total we have 350 litres of fresh water in the tanks, 80 litres of bottled water for emergencies (eg. tank contaminations) and an additional 250 litres of fresh water in jerry cans. We have gained a very solid awareness of our water consumption in the past six months and are amazed at what we have become used to.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Day 3: 15.07.39'N 031.38.96'W, 143nm (24h)

December 10, 1200 UTC
Distance to go: 1,592nm
Wind and waves: NE 12-15kn, 1.5-2m
Sails: Main and genoa, wing and wing

I almost broke my toe banging it against the wall when Seb called out for me to come outside. Bad things are reputed to happen in threes so after our leaky oil filter and broken main sheet and block we must have been due. Yesterday we were cruising at a comfortable (and very fast) 7-8 knots with the halfwinder when it suddenly collapsed and sank slowly into the water. Seb and I detached the snubber and pulled it in and then coaxed the huge sail out from underneath the boat where it was caught between the keel and rudder - no small task in bumpy waves. Luckily neither the relatively fragile sail or snubber was damaged. Further inspection led us to a chafed/ sheered through halyard. Unfortunately we cannot figure out the cause of the break and are reluctant to hoist the halfwinder again using our reserve halyard. As such, we are cruising along at 6 knots with the main and genoa out wing and wing. It is a little less comfortable and a bit slower but it keeps us on course and we are making good progress.

Other than this setback all is well on board. Emma and Macsen seem to have settled well into the routine and we try to keep their days (and ours) filled with a variety of activities to keep them busy. The days pass fairly quickly and it is a really cosy atmosphere and we are really having fun (more than I expected). We saw our first boat in three days last night when we came within three nautical miles of a well lit fishing trawler, amazing in the middle of this big ocean.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Day 2: 15.52.47'N 029.22.68'W, 146nm (24h)

December 9, 1200 UTC
Distance to go: 1,731nm
Wind and waves: NE 15-18kn, 1.5-2m
Sails: full main sheeted in, halfwinder as spinnaker

The wind and waves have stayed quite steady and the movement of the boat is quite rhythmic and relatively easy to get used to. The night was relatively slow as the winds went down and we went off course a little so we didn't have to continue directly down wind in light winds (slow and the sails make loud clapping noises). This morning we hoisted the halfwinder. It is symmetrical so, although it is not cut with the same ball shape as a spinnaker, we are using it as one to allow us to go directly down wind. We are thus back on course and making very good progress with boat speeds averaging >7,5 knots. Unfortunately, we still seem to have just over a half knot of current against us so that translates into a slower speed over ground of 7ish knots. Still very speedy for us and we are happy to be able to do this in relative comfort.

Seb and I are using a 3-hour on/ 3-hour off watch system starting at 2000 when the monkeys go to bed. As such we each get 6 hours of sleep in total. To date we feel relatively well rested and can catch up with a nap when the monkeys nap. Emma and Macsen are doing well and do not seem to feel restricted by our tiny wobbly world. They have just had a bath and splash about and are down for their afternoon nap. I'm off to do the daily inspection of the deck to make sure that everything is in order and nothing is broken, about to break or chafing.

We haven't been fishing yet but four flying fish have flown up onto the deck. I was able to save one of them by tossing it back overboard but the other three were found too late for resuscitation. We were able to get a good look and fold out one of the wings which appears to be shaped like a bird wing but made up of the same materials as a fish fin - a bit like a cartoon fairy wing attached to a little fish. Strange but very pretty.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Day 1: 16.17.58'N 027.03.31'W, 121nm (<24h)

December 8, 1200 UTC
Distance to go: 1,866nm
Wind and waves: NE 15-21kn, 1.5-2m
Sails: full main, genoa and cutter

After lots of hugs and kisses from the Tangaroa and the Mjolner and amidst tooting horns we cast off our lines and, with huge butterflies in our stomachs, we motored slowly out of the Mindelo harbour. Unfortunately we were not able to spend much time dwelling on what we were about to undertake as within three miles the engine alarm went off telling us there was a problem with the oil. Seb checked inside the motor case and indeed, seven litres of motor oil were now swimming around underneath it. It was almost immediately obvious that it was caused by a missing cap which allowed the oil to leak and Seb fashioned a new one, mopped up the oil spill and refilled the oil. We spent the next few hours double checking this solution and it now appears to work perfectly.

While Seb was mopping the oil (and the monkeys were sleeping), I was outside trimming sails and setting our course. We were heading out between the islands of Sao Vencente and Santo Antao and there was a strong acceleration effect causing gusts up to 35 knots. One of these gusts also brought a change in wind direction of 30 degrees and caused us to gibe. The mainsail also tried to gibe but fortunately it was blocked (as always) by a sturdy preventer. The pressure from the gibe did however break the block on the mainsail sheet and the remaining sharp edges sheared through the mainsheet. And it happened in seconds.

The block and mainsheet have now been fixed and we are cruising along with 15-20 knots of wind coming in at 150 degrees, the waves are relatively comfortable now and the sun is shining. We are following the rhumb-line course to Suriname, are making good progress and have started to enjoy ourselves. Emma and I made necklaces inside (thanks to Riet and Marcel for the materials) and Seb and Macsen sat outside making drawings. Not bad so far.

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Out of office

And now the time has come. The boat has been cleaned and inspected, weather checked, passage planning and route reviewed and discussed, water, diesel and food has been stowed. Tomorrow morning (December 7th) we will pick up the last fresh fruits and veggies and cast off for our biggest adventure yet. Although we will be officially out of office for the coming 14-15 days we will do our best to keep the blog as up to date as possible with our position, speed, experiences and state of mind (and of course the number of fish we have landed).

Photos of Cabo Verde

Photos of Cabo Verde. Click here to view the photos.

Mindelo, Sao Vincente, Cabo Verde

Arrived in Mindelo at 2130 (after dark) and made our way through the easily navigable harbour. Jeroen (Mjolner) came out in the dingy for the last bit to guide us to an opening between the many boats where we would drop our anchor. Mindelo is a much bigger and busier harbour then we expected. It has a real ‘ vetrekkers’ feeling as you can be relatively sure that any boat in this harbour will be continuing on across the Atlantic to the Caribbean or South America. Every day we hear or join-in as boats are sent off for their long voyage amidst loud blasts of the horn and the harbour is extremely social with a buzz of excitement as each persons departure day nears.

Cape Verde was a Portuguese colony and has a mixed European-African feel, a little as though I would expect Brazil to be like. The people are not as overtly friendly as in The Gambia but they are generally very kind and friendly once the initial ice is broken. Although there is less visible extreme poverty in this part of Cape Verde than in The Gambia, the poverty here feels more aggressive. This impression is unfortunately founded on our very short and busy visit to one small and likely non-indicative part of this country. Rather than spending our short time here exploring and getting to know the place, we have been spending time performing the last little fixes and purchasing the last few necessities.

That said, our Cape Verde visit has not been completely without relaxation. Took the ferry over to a lovely island called Santo Antao where we were driven around to see the island in a Toyota pickup (15 people including the crews of the Tangaroa, Mjolner, Victory and Pjotter). The island was stunning and our tour took us from the relatively barren port up along a twisty tiled road to lush green craterous cliffs, scenery as mysterious and spectacular as the Lord of Rings. We also stopped at one of the many local rum distilleries where a massive wooden cattle-operated press crushed the juice out of sugar cane used to make rum and sugar cane syrup. Strong stuff but quite tasty.

We celebrated Sinterklaas on December 5th with the same group. The celebration started with a make-up and costume session aboard the Tangaroa that turned the five children into ‘ Zwarte Pieten.’ The Tangaroa crew also put on a fantastic puppet show which pitted Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet against the evil Jan Klaasen who tried to steal Sinterklaas’ sack of ‘ cadeautjes.’ The children whooped and hollered their support ensuring a happy ending. We then trooped off to eat ‘pannekoeken’ on the Mjloner where Jeroen had spent the afternoon cooking a huge pile of crepes. The children were working quietly on drawings for Sinterklaas when Zwarte Piet (Jan Bart put on a very good performance) banged on the side of the boat, strewed ‘ pepernoten’ and instructed them all to head over to the Pjotter where they needed to search the deck for the ‘cadeautjes’ hidden there. Great enthusiasm was show for the search and opening of the presents and five very tired but very happy children were trundled off to bed. All in all a unique and wonderful Sinterklaas. The adults reconvened for a short passage route planning and weather discussion before turning in for an early sleep.

Land in zicht!

Last night at 2130 UTC on Thursday November 26 we arrived at Cabo Verde (Mindelo) after only 85 hours of sailing. Our journey from Banjul, The Gambia was quick (we averaged 6.4 knots over 547nm!) but also a little uncomfortable. We did catch a nice Dorade and were fighting something really big for an hour before it cut the line... Currently we are anchored just outside the marina.

Photos of The Gambia

Photos of The Gambia. Click here to view the photos.

Good Bye The Gambia

After a amazing 2 ½ weeks we bid goodbye to The Gambia for a 3,5 day trip northwest to the Cape Verde Islands from where we will depart for our longest sea voyage to date – across the Atlantic Ocean to Suriname. Seb and I had spent some time swabbing out the bilges and rinsing and cleaning the last residue of our watery adventure. After this we felt comfortable with our fresh water, food and diesel levels and after running the last checks around the boat we hauled anchor up at 0730 (sunrise) of November 23, waved goodbye to Lamin Lodge, and headed with the tide current out past Banjul and into the Atlantic towards the island of Sao Vincente, Cape Verde.

Water, Water Everywhere

“I think we are sinking!” is probably the last thing you want to hear from your partner when you live on a sailboat. Seb and I had been sitting quietly reading when he placed his foot down into a giant puddle that was the floor of our living room. We pulled up the floorboards to find an overflowing bilge. We rapidly began to pump out water and Seb calmly called for backup from the other boats “Would someone mind coming to help us as we seem to have a large quantity of salt water on board…” This call elicited the rapid response of Jan Bart and both Jeroens and while Jan Bart, Jeroen (Mjolner) and I busied ourselves with bailing, Seb and Jeroen (Zilvermeeuw) searched for the ‘leak.’ We were able to reduce the level of water very quickly but were still troubled by the cause. After much discussion in which the varied experience of everyone was shared we narrowed it down to a problem with the bilge pump itself. This pump is designed to automatically pump water out of the boat when the water level rises above its sensors. This system has an air release linked to the bathroom sink. Seb and I had showered Emma and Macsen using the solar shower (a large bag of water heated by the sun) and had left the bag to dry off in the sink, unknowingly shutting off the air outlet. The bilge had been acting strangely so Seb shut it off temporarily and, given that the air release was blocked and the bilge pump is located below the water line, the bilge system started siphoning water into the boat!!! A strange combination of events that we were able to recreate by replacing the bag in the sink, adding water to the bilge and turning off the automatic bilge pump. Although quite shaken, we were extremely relieved to have discovered the cause and to find that it was something very preventable. Seb called my brother immediately after clean-up and they concluded that it was an unlikely design flaw that could be remedied by installing a vented loop in the tube under the bathroom sink. Whew! I am also pleased to report that although inwardly quite unsettled, we were able to stay calm throughout the event.

Georgetown Back to Lamin Lodge

Spent the first day on our way back down the river from Georgetown just drifting slowly down the river to Baboon Island. This is the most stunning part of the river and we hoisted our half winder in what little wind there was and drifted 2,5 knots/hour (very slowly). This allowed us to get a really good look at the trees and reeds along the river and spot monkeys, baboons in the trees and crocodiles along the bank. A dreamy day spent sitting on the deck staring at the river bank, the skies for birds, the sail or our own little monkeys splashing and giggling around in their baths in the cockpit. Spent the night at anchor just above Baboon Island hoping to wake to some good hippo activity reported recently in that spot.

On the following day, after another lovely drifter, we arrived in the late afternoon at a funny pointy mound next to Bird Island. Walked to the top of the hill to watch the sunset, and stare at the beautiful expanse of the savannah, usually shielded for us by the lush vegetation along the river. A small group of children met us and asked if we would come visit their village the next morning and we eagerly agreed. A 17-year old boy named was our chief guide. Their village of 140 people lived in extended family communes made up of circles of mud and reed huts leading out onto an open courtyard where the livestock (usually goats and chickens) ran free. Our host showed us his commune and his hut which consisted of a single room with a double bed (with mosquito net) set on a mud floor, mud walls with a reed roof. The only adornment was a poster of French football great, Zinedine Zidane tacked to the wall – in a village with no electricity and certainly no television. Once again confirming that football is really universal. Once again we walked back to our boats feeling like we had just had a glimpse of something special.

As the river widened and became salty we picked up speed to make miles towards Banjul. We planned to stay for 2 days in Lamin Lodge to bring on water, diesel, fresh vegetables and fruit and hopefully to score another butterfish.

From Mandory to Georgetown

Between Mandory Creek and Elephant Island our electronic charts started to become untrustworthy so we followed the paper charts and the MaxSea electronic track from a Dutch boat, the Duende, that visited The Gambia last year and kindly provided us with great pilot information and cruising tips. Even so we have all been struck in the mud more than once due to shifting bottom. Fortunately, the river bed is soft and we have always been able to release ourselves quite easily.

Sighted our first hippos as we rounded Deer Island. We had backtracked a little after coming to an impassable bit and as we turned we saw eight perky little ears poking above the water. You don’t see much more than a snout and strip of their back if you are lucky but we were thrilled to see them. We floated about running from side to side of the boat as they moved around us diving under and poking their heads up again and making incredibly loud sneezing noises as they surfaced. .
Stopped for fresh provisions in Ka-ur. Weird (Tangaroa) and Seb stayed on the boats and the rest of us took a rickety donkey cart into town where luckily it was market day. The dirt streets were lined with small stalls each with a squatting proprietor selling their wares. We were able to procure potatoes, onions, cherry tomatoes, a pumpkin, watermelon and two kilos of limes for limeade.

The water in the river changed to fresh water around Mandory creek and in fresh water there are many more persistent creepy crawly bugs. The least pleasant are the millions of tiny black bugs that are able to penetrate our layers of mosquito netting. Seemingly harmless but irritating. When we leave our anchor light on at night, bats fly around collecting the bugs and we find little brown poops on our deck the next morning. Yuck! We’ve been going to bed at 2030 just after the monkeys as we do not want any lights on inside to attract them.

River becomes narrower above Kantuar and the foliage is more varied than the mangroves. Baobabs, palm trees and reeds filled with ibis, pelicans, storks, flamingos, and eagles and other enormous birds of prey. We were sadly lacking a good bird book for the area and I would strongly recommend anyone visiting The Gambia to include this in their luggage as the birdlife is amazing. This wall of trees is interspersed with small sandy bits that look like perfect places for crocodiles – we keep our eyes peeled and have seen several crocs and a huge lizard.

We reached Georgetown, our turning point on the river, on November 13th. For the next 6 weeks we will be only travelling west, until Suriname! Georgetown is one of the more touristy places we encountered in The Gambia. We were met at the dock by several people that wanted to ‘help’ show us around. They were extremely persistent and sometimes difficult to discourage. In the local market we bought fresh bread and canned drinks. We were also able to obtain 80 litres of fresh water for showering and washing-up. This reserve is kept in plastic cans on the deck as we are not comfortable enough with the water quality to put it into our tanks.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Communities and Crickets


After two days at Lamin Lodge, we moved a short distance up the river to Bintang Bolong, stopping for a walk and a swim on James Island on the way. James Island is a tiny island containing the eerie rocky ruin of an old fort and trading post founded by the British for trading in ivory, gold and slaves. Throughout its grisly history, it has been destroyed at least three times and has been in the hands of the British, French, Dutch and various pirates. It was finally abandoned in 1829 after being used briefly by the British to suppress the slave trade that had been outlawed in 1807.

The following morning, we brought the dinghies into shore at Bintang and were met by a lone youth who offered to show us around his village. Off we wandered together up dirt streets lined with ramshackles houses with friendly smiling people on the porches. The offered to bake us some bread and we purchased 12 very fresh baguettes and an enormous bunch of bananas. As we continued along the road we gathered children like the Pied Piper. All were interested to introduce themselves, know our names and hear where we were from. When asked why they were not in school they replied that their school was in the afternoon, half of the older children go in the morning and the other half in the afternoon. We were taken to a community run nursery school where we were met by a group of about 30 laughing and excited children (around age 6). The school principal guided us around the four-classroom school where each age group was sitting politely, only childlike in their big grins and their subtle fidgeting. Children start school at age 2 in this village and we were struck by the level of complexity of the subject matter (eg. sums and letters for <4 olds) and the incredible discipline of the children. Children are fed breakfast and lunch and a group of mothers were preparing food behind the school when we arrived. We were kindly offered breakfast but politely declined as we felt we had intruded enough. Overall we were amazed at how welcome we were made to feel and we carefully apologized for the intrusion and interruption of the lessons and left with a real feeling of wonder at how with a little care and cooperation a community with very little material wealth can build such a rich environment. Waved goodbye to the children on the shore exchanging truly happy smiles and headed back to the boats.

Second half of the day was great for very different reasons. Hoisted the halfwinder and positively flew down the perfectly flat river with more than two knots of current with us, beautiful sunshine and huge dolphins (reputed to be the largest in the world) swimming alongside. Arrived in Mandori Creek at 1730 and dropped the anchor amongst the mangroves. Birdlife was bursting from the shores and we saw storks, pelicans, several strikingly marked sandpiper-like birds, green and yellow parrots and several more high flyers that we were not able to identify. The boat was lying completely still and we drifted off to sleep as the sounds of the birds slowly became the sounds of the crickets as night fell.

Fiftyish Fish for the Fiftier


As a present for Jan-Bart’s (s/y Victory) 50th birthday, the five other boats chipped in to take him for a guided fishing adventure on the Gambian rivers. The men thus departed at 1000 in a long wooden pirogue flanked by two dinghies with baskets of live shrimp and fishing rods and the ladies herded the seven children off for a day of land bound wildlife exploration. Our itinerary brought us to see crocodiles in the wild at the sacred crocodile pool of Mama Bambo Folonko, in the Kartong Community Forest. We were amazed that our paths were crossed by loose crocs as we wandered around the ponds (with a guide). They seem to be well fed and do not present any danger, except perhaps initial shock, and the children were even allowed to touch one (although they were discouraged from going too close to the head). I suspect that this enterprise would be uninsurable in the US. We followed this with a visit to the Abuko Nature Reserve. Although a relatively small park, 250 species of birds and 52 mammals have been sighted regularly within the reserve. This was a lovely area and we had a small tour but our visit was cut short by our tiring little monkeys who themselves had finally tired of looking at monkeys (and baboons).

The men had a very successful day, catching four large butterfish, 24 various smaller fish and a sting ray and a beautifully striped but apparently somewhat dangerous snake. The Lamin lodge agreed to cook it up for us (excluding ray and snake) for a fair price and we dined royally. Butter fish is a firm white fish and has become my new favorite fish.

Banjul and Lamin Lodge


Sailed into the bay of Banjul (named Bathurst during British colonial rule but recently renamed Banjul, the Madinka word for bamboo) early on the morning of November 6th. We arrived in a small flotilla including the Atmosphere, the Tangaroa and the Victory and were welcomed by a red dingy containing Jeroen and Babette from the Zilvermeeuw. The harbour was full of rusty wrecks in varying states of decay, small wooden fishing pirogues and one large tanker. The shore was a riddled with fading and falling down buildings. I took a dingy in with Olous (Atmosphere) , Caroline (Tangaroa), Jan Bart (Victory) and Jeroen kindly helped us with the rather complicated and often excruciatingly time consuming check in process. The authorities were very friendly and the process was a little random and haphazard. Check-in took us first to a little office in the side of a warehouse where immigration officers were located; then along a dusty road to small shop to make copies of our passports and change money; then back to immigration; then on to customs which looked like a large busy hallway where our detailed forms were filed into a wooden desk which looked like it hadn’t been opened in years. Our final stop was with the port authority to get a river permit. Here we needed to climb seven stories up in an old run down building to fill in a form then walk down again to a small broom closet to pay and upstairs again to hand in our second detailed form (hand printed in duplicate) and receipt. The form ‘stamper’ was not available so we were asked to come back again in an hour or so. In total the whole process took about 3 hours which we were told was remarkably quick.

Banjul port is not beautiful and is reputed to have many pickpockets and ‘bumsters’ as the scam agents are known. Dirt streets, garbage and dust and broken down buildings were in great contrast to the sparkling bright colours of the formal and glamourous clothing of the people. While we waited, several wooden boats came alongside the boat offering everything from fresh fish to laundry and tailoring services. When we went on land we were met by a group of people rather pushily offering to show us around. One man walked with us for the entire check in process, trying to help along the way. We came to expect this when going ashore in The Gambia and while sometimes annoying it was often useful , the people are generally very nice, interesting and knowledgeable and it was certainly never threatening. The only frustrating aspect was that it was sometimes difficult to discern if they genuinely wanted to help or were just looking for a ‘present’.

After check-in we motored 5 nautical miles up a small bolong to Lamin Lodge, a rickety wooden structure located on a very peaceful muddy inlet amongst the mangroves. We headed in as a group for a candle-lit dinner (no electricity in the lodge) and enjoyed or joined our kids dancing around while an smiling wrinkled old man played the kora (harp-lute) and crooned African folk songs.

All in all a very intense and interesting day and we were all feeling rather excited to be in such a remote and beautiful place with our own sailboat homes.