Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Nada es Imposible

Over  the last 27 months we have traveled 25,000 nautical miles, visited 28 countries, completed two Atlantic Ocean crossings, sailed into the Arctic Circle and survived one near sinking in the Gambia, one hurricane in Nova Scotia, one lost propeller blade in the San Blas Islands, one terrifying run-in with heavily armed customs agents off the coast of Cuba, one storm that chased us between Newfoundland and Iceland and one man overboard in the Faroe Islands.

But what have we really experienced?

Real life on board Adjusting to a life with very different and sometimes uncomfortable guidelines, living in a small space, thinking up creative solutions to entertain ourselves in this very small space, never having any time alone,  fresh water management and the resulting change in hygiene habits,  procurement of  food  in out of the way places,  strict policies to avoid bugs on board, never ever ever ending boat maintenance,  an ongoing worry about safety on board and a nagging fear that something horrible will happen or something critical will break down.

Wonders of nature.  Mountains rising up out of the clouds, craggy cliffs and caves,  startlingly blue water, awe inspiring waves, incredible sunrises and sunsets, the wonderful variety of shapes and colours that the sky and sea can produce and the thrill of ‘land in zicht!.’  Hearing a hippopotamus grunting next to the boat,  the storm kestral that kept us company in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, a huge humpback whale gliding in the water a few meters away, exchanging a smile and a wave with a group of dolphins frolicking off the bow…
Memorable Arrivals.  The English coast in the distance after our first overnight voyage, passing the waypoint buoy off the coast of Suriname following a 14-day Atlantic crossing, the statue of liberty as we entered New York Harbour, my parents welcome in St. Andrews New Brunswick,  the Lange Jaap in the distance as we sailed the final miles.
Amazing  people The boy in Gambia who lived in a mud hut but had a poster of Zinidane Zidane on his wall, the Irish musician adventurers who had sailed both the Northeast and Northwest passages , the Russians that were attempting the same adventure on a rubber raft, the unassuming Spanish man in Cape Verde with a huge homemade boat and a flying dinghy, Laura Dekker the youngest solosailer in the world, the many kind people in Newfoundland who offered us so much support, the warm welcome at a wedding celebration in Fair Isle, a uniquely open and supportive cruisers community and some really extraordinary friendships that I know will last long after this adventure is over.  
The Family Unit Being a snug little entity of our own,  completely relying on and trusting each other seeing the thrill of new experiences reflected in the eyes of the people you love most in the world,  Seb’s grin when he reeled in his first fish, Emma’s proud face when she swam under the dinghy, Macsen’s squeak of delight as underwater wonders appeared before his diving mask, long hikes in the wilderness, playing in the snow together for the first time,  drinking hot chocolate in the cabin when it is cold and raining outside, never missing a moment, being so close and intimate and generally feeling that when we are together nothing is impossible. 

What an experience! So pure and so real.  We have now come full circle and we bid farewell for now to our life on board with very deep sadness looking forward to our new lives knowing that we will always have this wonderful adventure.    
Pjotter standing by…

Monday, August 29, 2011

On Solid Ground

After spending a few days decompressing on Texel we headed into Den Helder.
  Seb’s family surprised us with a committee of family and a few close friends on Saturday, August 20th at the 'Museumwerf Willemsoord' in Den Helder to welcome us home.  After over two years, 25 000 nautical miles, 28 countries and two relaxing days on Texel we sailed our trusty vessel the last six nautical miles to Willemsoord.  What a feeling!  A wild and wonderful mixture of excitement, happiness, relief and curiosity coupled with a good dose of fear and sadness.   But seeing all those familiar faces waiting on the dock temporarily took away all awareness as we jumped off the boat to start hugging and catching up. 

It has now been exactly a week, a whirlwind week, since this wonderful welcome.  On Tuesday at 0630 a huge truck arrived at our house to deliver a ridiculous amount of boxes full of things that we haven’t used for over two years.  We spent the rest of the day sorting through and with our new minimalistic outlook we were able to pack up half of it again to be given away.  Whew! Now we just need to take care that we don’t start accumulating again. 

And how does it feel? Well, really comfortable and quite normal and nice so far in these early days.  Busyness has kept us from focusing much on what we have left behind but I expect this will change once we are settled. We’ve had dinners with family and friends, coffee chats and catch ups and have plowed through a lot of unpacking, administration and general organization.  Life on land requires a whole new kind of management.   Some things of course are simpler.  We can shower every day, do laundry in our own machine, throw the dishes in the dishwasher after dinner and the only weather window I need can be found on the buienradar.nl to see if there are 10 minutes without rain so that I can bike to the grocery store. 

Seb’s most emotional moment was seeing the Lange Jaap lighthouse in the distance on the approach and then seeing his father standing on top of the Fort Kijkduin waving a Dutch flag as we sailed towards Texel. Mine was on Sunday afternoon when we went together to pick up the last things from the boat.  I looked around and pictured my little family scrambling about in the little cabin and thought about the coziness and freedom of living on board and of all the incredible purely happy moments that we shared. I silently said goodbye to that wonderful way of life and thanked our Pjotter for taking such wonderful care of us.

And what are you planning to do now?  Emma starts school at the Europaschool on September 5th.  Macsen starts kinderopvang at Basja on September 7th.  And Seb and I are having long discussions about the short term future and how we want our life to be.  (Discovering things together, being unique, being together and being totally dependent upon one another, things are realer, more important and you don’t get caught up in the small things.  ) Among other things we want to keep it simple, keep an awareness of the environment and scarcity, keep an awareness of cultures and the world, keep sailing and keep our closeness as a family.  Oh, and we need to find jobs or something valuable to do with the rest of our time.  Time will tell how successful we are with these pursuits.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Licht in Zicht!

At 3am this morning, August 18th, we caught a glimpse of the flash of the Lange Jaap. This is the beautiful big red lighthouse of Den Helder with a light range of 30 nautical miles. Seb grew up in Den Helder and the Lange Jaap has been a large and visible symbol of home for him for his entire life. Rather emotional to see it again from our Pjotter after 27 months away. Just one of several highly emotional moments that I'm sure we will experience over the next few days.
We expect to arrive on Texel, an island in the North of the Netherlands, at around 1100 this morning. Our plan is to stay there for two days and then to sail the last six nautical miles to arrive in Den Helder on August 20. Full circle.
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Monday, July 18, 2011

Fair Isle

Fair Isle is the most remote inhabited island in the United Kingdom.  Located in Northern Scotland between the Orkneys and mainland Shetland it boasts approximately 55 permanent inhabitants.  The entrance to the well protected harbor was a little precarious but we made it through and tied up to the dock.  There is a bird observatory just next to the harbor and we popped in there to check if we were docked in the right location as we were the only boat in the harbor.  We were told that we were welcome to join for dinner but needed to let them know early in the day. 

Fair Isle is a beautiful, windswept cliffy island with sheep clinging to the cliffs just like in the Faroer.  ‘Don’t they ever fall off?’  we asked one of the islanders.  ‘Oh, yes, all the time’  she said.  ‘ Look, there’s one on the beach over there.’ We took a long walk and bumped into a father and son who had flown in in their plane.  They were staying at the South lighthouse and managed to cadge us an invitation to dinner.   Stunning vistas and friendly people at the lighthouse. 

On our second day on Fair Isle we were informed that there would be a wedding that evening and all people on the island (including ourselves therefore) were invited to attend.  We pulled out our fanciest duds and headed up to the church a little dubiously, wondering if we were really invited or if they were just being polite.  We were warmly welcomed by the happy couple, the family and the rest of the islanders.  The musicians that were booked to play that evening were unfortunately unable to fly or boat in due to the weather conditions (a common occurrence).  This did not phase anyone as there were so many musical people present that a rather professional sounding group was assembled and they played throughout the evening.  Emma made a friend in the daughter of the school principal.  Seb and Macsen wandered home about 2330 and Emma and I stayed and danced and played until 0200! She has never been up this late in her life.
What a wonderful balance of resourcefulness, creativity and patience people need to have to live in this wild and beautiful place.
We leave Fair Isle with the very strange knowledge that this will most likely be our last stop before arriving back in the Netherlands.

Faroer Islands

We studies the charts and did lots of calculations before making the trip to the Faroe Islands.  The Faroe Islands are an archipelago between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic approximately halfway between Norway and Iceland, north-northwest of mainland Scotland. The islands are an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark.  These islands are also known for having some of the most complex current and tidal flows around and between the islands and good preparation is mandatory to navigate safely, comfortable and with some speed. 

We had a beautiful trip through the  Westfjord and around to the capital Torshavn, mostly with the current with us varying from 3-5 knots.  Huge cliffs loom above us as we navigate through the fjord, each one populated with little white flecks that a peek through the binoculars reveal to be sheep.  Apparently the local farmers scale the cliffs every spring to carry the sheep up to these grazing grounds. 

Close to Torshavn, we ready the boat to take the sail down in very calm waters.  We experience the tidal effects in the extreme when suddenly the water became choppy due to a tide rip and Seb lost his balance and fell backwards over the safety railing…overboard!  Fortunately he was wearing his lifevest and a lifeline otherwise he would have toppled overboard and in the choppy, freezing cold waters it would have been very difficult to pull him back on board.  It was a shock that reminded us of the importance of sticking to the rules (always wear a lifevest and lifeline if you go on deck) even in seemingly benign conditions. 

Once again, in Torshavn we were met by the unique kind of friendliness that only an island can offer. The local captain asked us to join him on his next cruise to help him man the boat for a group of tourists.  One of the Sea Shepard boats was motoring around the harbor.  When asked by one of the tourists what it was doing the captain replied “They are trying to stop us from killing the whales” She replied, “Oh, I thought they were taking care of the sheep.”  We chuckled. 

We rented a car in Torshavn and spent a few wonderful days cruising along the rocky coasts, taking long rambling walks and marveling at people mowing their rooves.  It is very popular to have a grass roof in the Faroer and these do need to be maintained. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Húsavík to Sedysfjordur was a slow, wavy, upwind and motoring for 200 nautical miles. We arrived at about 1am on August 1st and tied up in a misty, foggy and almost dark night. The darkest we had experienced since halfway from Newfoundland.  The fjord was clouded in fog and the weather was rainy so we were not much impressed with the surroundings.  The addition of sunlight the next day showed the pleasant town in a much gentler light and we headed out to find the swimming pool.

The weather was beautiful as we left Iceland, drinking hot chocolate topped with whipped cream in the cockpit as we motored out of the fjord.  Relatively fast and uneventful trip to the Faroer Islands with wind against but rapid enough.


Húsavík was the first place in Iceland to be settled by a Norse man. The Swedish Viking Garðar Svavarsson stayed there for one winter around 870 A.D. The name of the town means "bay of houses", probably referring to Garðar's homestead, which may have been the only houses then in Iceland.  We were drawn to the town by the promise in the pilot that Husavik is located near Europe’s best whale watching. 

We tied up to the public dock in this charming town, a cosy harbor full of interesting (primarily wooden) boats surrounded by beautiful hills covered in bright blue and purple lupins (apparently a highly invasive non-indigenous plant but beautiful). 

In Húsavík we spent a relaxing week either in the swimming pools or exploring the wonderful walks in the hills. But the best think about Húsavík was the boat full of Norwegians (the only other visiting boat in the harbor) with whom we spent almost every evening at a picnic table on the dock between our two boats sharing stories, laughing and philosophizing deep into the night.  These men were really adventurers, waiting for the ice to clear for a trip to Greenland, and they had many wonderful stories.  We became particular friends with a man called Edvard, a writer with a lovely deep voice and a wonderful way of taking you deep into his stories so that it felt as though you were experiencing them with him. 

Edvard interviewing Rhiannon for the Norwegian radio

Arctic Ocean

On our way to a little island called Grimsey on the North of Iceland we were honoured by a visit from Neptune of the North. He joined us to celebrate our crossing of the polar circle (66 33 44N) and entry into the Arctic Ocean. Macsen was a little scared of him but remained polite throughout his visit. The appropriate libations (Laphroaig) were liberally poured overboard in thanks for our safe passage.
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Some Laphroaig whiskey for Neptune of the North

Saturday, July 16, 2011


No visit to Iceland is complete without a frolic in the snow…even in late July.  The 75km long Isafjardarfjup is the largest fjord in the region.  Craggy mountains, precarious sea cliffs and plunging waterfalls ring the wonderful uninhabited Hornstrandir peninsula.  It consists of 570 square km of tundra, fjord, glacier and alpine upland protected as a national monument and natural reserve.   There are 4 smaller fjords snaking out from the Isafjardarfjup and we chose the most remote one to anchor the Pjotter.  

After a day spent wandering through the tundra and frolicking with the monkies in the snow Seb and I sat in the cockpit enjoying a glass of wine.  It was about 11pm and Seb and we were still marveling at the 24 hour daylight when I saw a brown shape moving along the side of the fjord. A peek through the binoculars revealed a lovely browny-black Arctic fox weaving its way through the shrubs.   So there we were, completely alone, anchored in the middle of the field, surrounded by cliffs covered in wild flowers and snow,  enjoying wonderful weather (relatively speaking), and watching this little furry wonder going about its business.  Not a bad spot to find yourself in on the 5th anniversary of your wedding day.