Monday, June 28, 2010

Photos of the US and Canada online

Click here to view the US photos (from Florida to Maine). And click here for the photos of Canada (New Brunswick).

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Birds and the Big City

Departed Norfolk in settled weather expecting some cold and rainy conditions on the 3-day trip North to New York. The conditions were indeed very cold and we had our first thunderstorms, accompanied by 30+ knots of wind.  Not close enough to do any damage but close enough to make us feel very uncomfortable and nervous.  And this on Seb's watch in the middle of the night. For the entire way the wind was coming from the wrong direction or was light and the waves were large and uncomfortable...the worst kind of weather for sailing. The rest of the trip was spent in two layers of foul weather gear huddled under the dodger peering through the very grey, misty, rainy space around the boat (if you were unlucky enough to have watch) or entertaining the kids inside with books, music, games and treats (yes, we did succumb to using the occasional bribe). 
Three little birds joined us along the way, one of which flew in and huddled on the stairs of the cabin for the night, its feathers puffed up into a ball.  Sadly, although they lived through the night they all died within a few hours of one another in the morning of our second day, frozen and exhausted.

At midnight on April 26th we hooked a mooring buoy in Sandy Hook and slept for four hours before starting the engine again to catch the incoming tide to New York Harbour.  The sun was just rising as we sailed past the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island and the city skyline was rather impressive from our little boat.  After dodging through the ferry boats in the harbour (NY harbour is one of the busiest in the world) we tied up in a marina in New Jersey.  The marinas on the NY side of the harbour were unprotected and were pitching boats about so we chose the less romantic side.

Our visit was to be a short one so we bundled ourselves up and headed down town.  We spent a fabulous day showing the kids the sights and soaking up the now unfamiliar city feel (neither Emma or Macsen had been to NY before).  They both had a great time going up the Empire State Building, poking about in FAO Schwartz, shopping and lunching at Saks, before we closed off the day by taking a taxi to Churrascaria, a
great Argentinian steakhouse on west Broadway. 

The following morning we threw off the lines at 0700 for a 24h sail to my brother's house in Rhode Island. Fortunately our calculations of the tidal currents were correct and we shot through Hell's Gate at 11,9 knots and out into Long Island Sound.


Friday, June 18, 2010

The Lady States: Georgia, Carolinas and Virginia

We met up with a Dutch boat called the Brandaan in Cape Canaveral and agreed to sail together from the North of Florida.  Toine and Mira and their two daughters Eline (10) and Marinthe (8) are travelling around the Atlantic for a year on their 40 foot Halberg Rassy.   They needed to be in the Chesapeake before April 25th so our rapid schedules matched and we travelled together in and out of the ICW and the Atlantic until Norfolk, Virginia, mile 0 of the ICW. 
A stop on Cumberland Island in Georgia,  well researched by Mira, brought us to a lovely anchorage.  We dinghied into land with the Brandaan family and took a path over  to the ocean side of the island through amazing gnarled and interwoven oak trees draped in Spanish moss.  Sadly, we did not catch a glimpse of the feral horses, wild boars or armadillos that roam the island but the children collected handfuls of tiny starfish washed up on the beach and we enjoyed the immense stretch of sand and the crisp cool ocean air. 
Sailing into the Charleston Harbour in South Carolina on April 17th, we experienced a unexpected and rather royal welcome.  The Blue Angels air show was in full swing and the harbour was full of boats filled with people staring at the sky.  The show was really quite impressive from the water and we gazed in awe at the speed and precision of the planes zooming back and forth (and around and around). 

Seb's birthday (April 18th) was celebrated in style with a visit to the Charleston aquarium,  a second impressive air show, a wander along the old streets admiring the churches, parks and old houses and ending with dinner and birthday cake (artistically decorated by Emma and Macsen) on board with the Brandaan crew. 

One of our favourite sounds as we drifted along the ICW was “Emma clear! Standby on channel 67.”  Emma has developed her own VHF radio-speak and we heard this at least eight times per day. Her favourite time to pull out this particular line is just before bedtime, setting Macsen off into peels of laughter.  She has taken enthusiastically to VHF communication and uses the radio to call up the Brandaan several times a day as we motor next to them.  “Brandaan, Brandaan, this is the Pjotter” pipes out over our agreed channel 77 before she launches into various descriptions of what she has seen, played with, eaten, smelled or thought;  closing each line with a proper 'over.'
Norfolk is a pretty but very industrial port city and was quite a shock after the stillness and beauty of the ICW.  Here we bid goodbye to the Brandaan as they entered the Chesapeake Bay and we headed out onto the ocean for a 3-day journey to New York.  

Entering the Intercoastal Waterway

Our hope was to arrive in Bristol, RI on or before April 29th so that we could celebrate my birthday on May 1st with my brother and his family.  On April 10th , we were still in Cape Canaveral and thus needed to travel approximately 1200 nautical miles in 20 days to make it in time.  We knew that this would be possible if we took the outside route and were able to sail at night but a number of depressions moving through the area forced us to take the intra-coastal waterway for much of the journey.  The Atlantic Intra-coastal Waterway (ICW) is an inland route that spans from Key West, Florida to Norfolk, Virginia.  Due to the shallow waters and many bridges with limited opening hours we were not able to travel along the waterway at night and were thus limited to a maximum of 50 miles per day.  

We entered the waterway in Cape Canaveral and in our first day we crossed through 2 sets of locks and under 12 bridges (10 of which needed to be opened for us).  The ICW in the south of Florida is a pretty and narrow channel with occasional shallow bits.  In the swamps along the way we saw many dolphins, alligators, eagles, ibis and many other birds and beasts.  Sadly, we did not see any manatees but the area is well known for them and there are several signs along the way to ask boaters to take care of them.   

Another attraction along the route are the many boats grounded and trying to free themselves from the ever-shifting muddy bottom of the ICW.   Techniques range from rocking the boat, putting out the anchor and dragging yourself to deeper water,  hoisting a sail, waiting for high tide and sitting and swearing until the tow-boat comes to pull you out.  It is a very good thing that the ICW is so lovely as one of us needs to be behind the tiller at all times to follow the narrow channel and avoid other boats.  The charts are frequently inaccurate (or the dredging situation has changed) and we have been grateful for the guidance from other boats who have warned us against travelling in the middle of the buoyed channel (generally the advisable route) in specific areas after having run aground themselves.  This makes for highly interesting, entertaining and slightly nerve racking days.  We ran aground five times on the ICW (each time in the middle of the channel) but were able to free ourselves without external help each time, using a variety of the techniques outlined above.

Houses along the waterway have enormous mosquito netting structures attached to them to cover up a porch, tennis courts, the swimming pool and sometimes great portions of the garden. We were glad to be in the area in the early spring and not in the warm summer months when the mosquitoes reach legendary size and number. 
Our only other city visit in Florida (other than Cape Canaveral) was a stop in St. Augustine where we spent 2-days wandering about the old streets and enjoying the superb services of the St. Augustine marina.  St. Augustine was founded in 1565, making it the oldest permanent European settlement in the United States.  The old quarter of St. Augustine offers quaint 'Spanish' galleries, caf├ęs, the oldest schoolhouse in the US and a tiny well-preserved Spanish village/ museum offering demonstrations from the blacksmith, carpenter and musketeer as well as a very good herb and vegetable garden.  This was all greatly enjoyed by the monkeys although Macsen was quite startled by the musketeer.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Interview for the Courier: Home at last - Jun. 11, 2010


(click on image above to view original online article)

ST. ANDREWS – Just more than a year ago Rhiannon Davies and her husband Sebastiaan Ambtman set sail from the Netherlands for Canada with their two young children – and they finally arrived in St. Andrews Friday.

Rhiannon is the daughter of Huw and Jessie Davies, who live in St. Andrews, and she said they had an amazing reception when they arrived in the harbour as wharfinger BB Chamberlain took her mother out to greet them. Dutch friends who have shared part of their journey have also been impressed with how well they have been treated since arriving in St. Andrews and have already made many friends. The couple, who live in Amsterdam, left Den Helder May 19, 2009 with son Macsen, now two and then only nine months old, and daughter Emma, now four, in their 37-foot Breehorn Pjotter and have visited 20 countries along the way. “We have both always loved sailing and the kids are at an age where it is fantastic to spend time with them. We agreed to take a sabbatical and combine spending a lot of time with the kids and living an adventure we had always dreamed of,” said Davies.

While they both grew up doing a lot of sailing they had never tackled long distances before – it was mostly day trips – although they spent their honeymoon five years ago sailing from St. Andrews to Rhode Island and have sailed in Croatia and Norway. They purchased their boat with the intention of eventually doing a longer trip. They were actually at sea about 20 per cent of the time, said Davies, with the rest of the time anchored in a harbour or on a mooring. Among the countries they visited were England, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, the Canary Islands, Cape Verda Island, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago. 

The couple said the children have been great and although everyone was a little queasy during the first 24 hours at sea they soon found their sea legs. The longest time they were ever at sea was the two weeks it took them to cross the Atlantic. There is no freezer on the boat for storing meat, so while at sea they would try to catch some fresh fish and landed some tuna, barracuda and wahoo for their meals. As Ambtman pointed out, you couldn’t find anything fresher. Her greatest fear, said Davies, was the weather and safety and her second was how they were going to keep the children entertained on the long Atlantic crossing — but everything worked out fine. “We were very careful about how we structured the day. We kept it quite full of activities and they had a wonderful time. Fortunately the weather was beautiful.” Thanks to modern technology they were able to keep in touch with her parents – which was a great relief to them – via e-mail and they updated their blog every day (

Everything didn’t always go smoothly, said Davies, and they had a tough trip between Portugal and Morocco because of the winds but they coped with this as well as other setbacks such as problems with the pump which left them with a flooded living room and an oil leak on the first day of their Atlantic crossing. Before they left, Ambtman said they took a weather course and additional navigational training, obtained a radio licence and learned some sea survival training. He stopped work three months before they left in order to get the boat ready for the trip.

Both quit their jobs in order to make the trip. Davies is an engineer but was responsible for global logistics for Danone while Ambtman, whose background is in finance, had been working in the internet industry for eBay. They plan to start looking for new jobs a few months before they return to Holland and feel confidant there will be opportunities. They will spend most of June in St. Andrews then plan to travel to Nova Scotia, PEI and possibly Newfoundland. They are still working on their plans after that but their goal is to cross the Atlantic again next summer so they are home by August 2011 as Emma is due to start school in the fall. “Our initial plan was to go for a year but we have had such an amazing time and we are already on our way now. We may as well make the most of it now,” said Davies. She said they expected others making such long trips would be mostly retired but they have met five other families with young children who have become firm friends and their children have had other youngsters to play with.

For her the most interesting part of the trip was the Gambia. Going up the river, she said, they came across little villages that don’t have road access and the people were incredibly friendly so they felt really safe. Ambtman said he particularly enjoyed the Atlantic crossing when there was just the four of them on the boat together in the middle of the ocean and they were so far away from land.

Looking back on the trip Davies said it was really different from what they had expected – and better. Their preference was to sail at night when the children were asleep and they would take it in turns to keep watch. “I thought it would be a real time to think and discover ourselves but we were incredibly busy. I couldn’t believe how much there is to do on the boat and raising the kids is a full time job.

“We have seen some amazing things and the kids have been flexible and they are aware of different things. We have learned an incredible amount about the boat, sailing, weather and navigating.”

Barb Rayner/Courier
Sebastiaan Ambtman and his wife Rhiannon Davies, with their two children Emma,4, and Macsen, 2, arrived in St. Andrews Friday after spending more than a year at sea.

Link to the article on the Saint Croix Courier website.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Sailing to America and Space

This was our first long sail of undetermined destination and length and our first voyage of more than three days that we had undertaken since our early-January sail from Suriname to Tobago . Our intention was to see how far we could sail before the weather forecast suggested that we head into harbour. Our minimum target was approximately three days towards the West to Great Abaco in the Bahamas and our maximum included a turn to the North after the Bahamas, destination Cape Fear, North Carolina for a total estimated trip of eight days. Unfortunately, weather forecasts suggested that a cold front was moving into the area on our 5th day and we decided to pull into Cape Canaveral, South Florida, rather than chance the northerly route.

The trip was relatively uneventful and we arrived at the Cape Marina as dark was falling on the 7th of April. We were welcomed near the entrance to the channel into Cape Canaveral by an incredibly frisky humpback whale that breached an amazing 20 times or more in the distance. The other member of our welcoming committee was an enormous Disney cruise boat with Mickey Mouse ears which unfortunately seemed to impress the children even more than the whale.

Having heard dreadful stories about US Immigration procedures for foreign private vessels we set-off early on the 8th bearing all of our official papers, including the multiple entry visas obtained in Trinidad, and headed for the Customer and Border Protection office, now part of the Department of Homeland Security. Sounded scary. We were pleasantly surprised at the relatively informal reception that we received and extremely pleased to complete the entire procedure within an hour. Amazingly, they didn't even need to visit the boat! We then had the afternoon to spend at the enormous playground near the marina. This was the first real playground that the monkeys had seen since we left Gomera in the Canary Islands in October.

On our second day in Cape Canaveral we rented a car and made the obligatory trip to the Kennedy Space Centre. The space centre has become a bit of a tourist trappy theme park but it was still quite thrilling to be there and study the progress of space travel up close. The speaker of the day was James Lovell, who captained the Apollo 13 moon flight and coined the phrase “Houston, we've had a problem.'' (A common misquotation is “Houston, we have a problem'”but apparently the problem had been solved before the communication went out, hence the past tense). The monkeys had good fun as well and have now added 'space shuttle', 'rocket launch' and 'astronaut' to their vocabularies.