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Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Stainless Hose Clamp Failures

Hose clamps seem to be such simple things - yet choosing the wrong types can sure mess up an otherwise perfect sailing day.

As we departed from Suriname three weeks ago we found that our salt water pump was sucking some air - water was still flowing, but each time the pump started it took a few seconds to prime.  That pump feeds the deck wash system and the toilet, so it wasn't a major inconvenience.  However we then found that the water maker was also sucking air - more of a problem, because it then produced fresh water with a lot of air, and the tanks were not filling as fast (it's also not good for the RO water maker system).

We eventually found the culprits - two failed hose clamps on the salt water manifold - they had cracked right through but still looked just fine. 

Back in 2001 we had replaced all of the perforated hose clamps on board with stronger and more reliable non-perforated types. It was a real chore at the time but it proved worth while as the systems became more reliable. I remember running all over Surfers Paradise, Sydney, Darwin and even Singapore chasing up my favourite Norma brand "Torro" type hose clamps. However after more than a decade in service some of our clamps are now starting to fail, where they have been exposed to saltwater drips or spray.

Of course they are all made from 316 stainless steel, with 316 stainless screws, so what is going wrong ?

It seems that our failures are not the Norma clamps - they are other brands including ABA, that have a fairly large perforation hidden inside the clamping screw mechanism.

The Norma "Torro" clamps have a more robust screw attachment and a smaller perforation in the band. To see non-perforated hose clamps failing is unusual, specially when they made of 316 grade stainless steel, however when you look at the failure  it's predictable - they failed at the perforation hidden inside the clamp mechanism.

So, we'll keep using the Norma Torro clamps whenever possible, in the "W5" 316 stainless steel grade. They are now available with Philips "cross" drive, as an option - how many gouged and bleeding fingers would that avoid ? If you want to see basic hose clamps done properly, check this link, specially the options on the last pages. I'm quite sure that other good quality brands exist - I just haven't found them yet.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Caribbean Summer - Hurrican Season

This is our first time in the North Atlantic with Crystal Blues, and also our first time to be watching for hurricanes. Here in Tobago we are below the "normal" track of these storms, and at a latitude of 11.19 degrees north we are below the 12 degrees 7 minutes north navigation limit imposed by our insurer for the summer months.

So we can cruise in Trinidad, Tobago and southern Grenada, but the rest of the island chain is off limits from June 1st to November 30th.

Friends and family back in Australia have asked how much warning we would get and how we know if we are in the path of a storm. The answer is shown here - the US Government NOAA National Hurricane Center publishes an excellent information site with data updated every six hours. Weather disturbances and low pressure systems are shown clearly, with detailed analysis and probability of storm formation in the forecast period (5 days).

If we hover our mouse cursor over one of the identified disturbances a complete analysis is provided, as shown at left here.

Of course this is only one of the forecasting tools available to us, which include regular HF radio broadcasts from experienced forecasters. However this is the one we turn to each morning and evening for an update of activity in the region.

Outside of these reports we still download daily GRIB files from the Sailmail "saildocs" server that give us a seven to ten day forecast based on standard weather prediction models. In theory these various services give us the information we need to decide on staying put or moving, if a tropical low does develop.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Charlotteville, Tobago - Just Chillin

We arrived in beautiful Charlotteville just 12 days ago - and it's everything we wanted in a Carribbean anchorage. Very friendly people, very few tourists (excellent..) plus good supplies of fresh fruits, vegetables and seafood right on the waterfront.

The local customs and immigration team are wonderfully helpful, and clearance procedures are handled in a spirit of friendship. Most importantly, the water here is clean - we're anchored in 16 meters just a little west of the town, directly off Man Of War Bay.  We can swim off the boat - if you like being chased by Remora fish - but each afternoon we meet with other cruisers on the beach for swimming, chatting and telling the usual friendly lies over a cold beer ...this is not a difficult place to just chill.

Crystal Blues Bottom Left, In Man Of War Anchorage

The locals are a big part of the happiness plot - this is one of those places where the local folk actually invite you stay longer and they really mean it - where the fisherman deliver live crayfish after breakfast in the morning, where everyone is friendly, no pressure at all mon. However, the singular gas station is always out of gas - both diesel and petrol. OK, that's a little unfair, as it is usually available at least one day a week, but hey, ain't that enough ? Of course they NEVER run short of beer or rum - or crayfish.

On average there have been 15 or 16 boats in here since we arrived. It seems the number of boats is increasing, and we're told there were 60 boats here this time last year. I'm sure the bay can handle them, though I'm not sure my French and German is up to scratch for that crowd - this is the first place we've been (since New Caledonia) where the majority of cruising folk do not speak English as a primary language.

Honestly, I almost daily curse the Australian education system that decided I didn't need to study any languages - though it graciously did give me a taste for music, something I've lately learned to cherish very dearly.

So, despite our Anglophile upbringing, we manage to share food, wine and opinions with those from other nations - principally because they all speak great English, of course. As do the Tobago locals, so we have no problems with market, transport or even buying rum. Perfect, except I still need diesel...if only I could chill a little more, mon, like the locals.

Warm Clear Water At Last
Yesterday we rented a car and drove to the other end of the island, which became a significant disappointment. Too many tourists, way too many sales folk, and no real local community spirit. If I see another T-shirt, T-spoon, sunhat or recycled coconut shell for sale I'll scream.

We were very glad to return to peaceful Charlotteville in the north, a one hour drive over winding mountainous roads. It seems that 90% of the tourism on this island is concentrated within 3 or 4 kilometers of the airport, where flights from Europe deliver white skinned Brits and many others. Long may they stay in the south - right now, Charlotteville is heaven.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

A Course For The Caribbean

Ley In The Galley As We Beat To The North West At Sunset
After three weeks in Suriname we set sail again for our first Caribbean landfall - Tobago.  It was a 500 nautical mile north westerly voyage that started with very nice light northerly winds - we had flat seas, a favourable current and seven knots of boat speed.

That all changed in the middle of the first night watch, when we snagged an illegal fish net about 30nm offshore. We were motoring at the time, the wind having died out completely, and the net brought us to a standstill while also stalling our Cummins diesel.

With lights on deck we could see the net trailing aft, now twisted into a thick rope by the rotation of our propeller. Using the boat-hook we snagged the net and pulled it to the surface, then cut it free with a serrated blade knife. The top rope of the net was at least 14mm diameter, with floats directly attached, so there was no way we could ever pass over it.
Net With Top Floats
Now drifting free, we unfurled the genoa and slowly pulled away into the night, sailing on a very slight breeze at around 3.0 knots. Six hours later I came on watch again after sunrise and prepared to dive under the boat to clear the propeller and running gear and check for damage.

Preparing to enter the water I was startled by a large fish that appeared from under the boat - a Remora of course, only this one was much bigger than I had seen before.  Once under water I found myself out-numbered by eight large Remora, with another four visible hanging on the keel, plus a larger dark colored creature that I wasn't quite sure of, circling out beyond them. OK, I've chased remora around the boat before, but these guys were bigger and had a different attitude - they wanted to chase me...

As soon as I was underwater they were at me, and by the time I got to the propeller and net I was fending them off with a knife! After cutting away some of the net the fish did get the better of me and I came back to the stern - but then realised we were badly handicapped without an engine, and went back again to finish the job.  It wasn't fun ... for every few links of net that were cut I was fending off the damn fish again.  That larger dark one kept circling and coming in behind me, with just enough aggression to keep me distracted and dodging behind the rudder and skeg. I now believe it was a small Ocean White Tip shark, the rounded fin tips and white mottling being quite obvious. A rare creature, who fortunately backed off when I directly challenged it.

Eventually the remaining net was cut free from the propeller, and floated free off the stern where the image above was taken.  I then quickly checked the propeller blades and rudder and levitated out of the water pretty fast. This sort of behavior from Remora is unusual I think, though earlier this evening another Remora chased our friend Diane, of the yacht Ceilydh, as she was swimming off the boat here in Tobago. Her husband Evan was bitten by one just a week or so back. A Caribbean hazard perhaps?

The other notable feature of this passage was the large amount of Saragosso weed that was drifting on the ocean surface - we'd never experienced this before.  Sometimes very large rafts of weed were spotted, and it was constant enough that Ley wasn't able to troll a lure behind the boat without fouling the hooks with weed.
Saragosso Weed

The remainder of our voyage to Tobago was more relaxed, though we did manage to lose an impeller on the Cummins and had to change out the sea water pump the day before we arrived. Good winds and awkward arrival timing found us off the Tobago coast fully 16 hours before we could approach the land - Tobago Customs being fussy about arrival and reporting times, so we spent the final evening lazing around offshore in almost a flat calm.  Next morning we motored in and were welcomed into Tobago by a very friendly customs and immigration team in Charlotteville.

Tobago Appears At Sunset

Monday, 1 August 2016

Suriname Cruising Services Guide

For those following in our wake, we've published a useful guide to cruising services in Suriname, adding to the collection of guides available online.

The guide can be downloaded from this blog - click on the appropriate tab above, select Suriname (or any other country) from the list, and the pdf file will be delivered from our Dropbox cloud storage.

The guides are searchable, so you can use Adobe search functions to find items based on keywords. 

The Suriname guide can also be downloaded here.

Enjoy Suriname!

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Cruising To Suriname

Image courtesy Noel Pauw - Waterland Marina Resort
Here is the Waterland Marina in Suriname on one of those lovely foggy river mornings. It's not always like this of course, and the jungle is green and growing across the river and right beside the marina site. The noise of the howler monkeys is a delightful and constant companion every morning and evening, some obviously quite close, though we never sighted them on the dock.

Image courtesy Noel Pauw - Waterland Marina Resort
We feel the Waterland Marina is the premium cruising boat location in Suriname, safe, secure and very friendly, if a little isolated. Potable water, WiFi and AC power (110v/60hz & 220v/60hz) are available on the dock. The weekly Sunday luncheon there is a spectacular social celebration of fusion food, well attended by locals and visitors.

There are other choices however, and our friends on the catamaran Ceilyhd stayed a little further downstream at the town of Domburg, where the Harbor Resort Domburg offers swing moorings on the river plus restaurant, bar, WiFi, pool and laundry at very reasonable rates. If you're happy on a mooring, then this is also a very good location, specially since the restaurant is open each day, which is not yet the case at Waterland.

Suriname is not a destination you choose for palm trees and sandy beaches. Yet this country does have beautiful places, and a colorful history, however you should visit the interior and explore the natural environment to have the best experiences.

The stand-out benefit of visiting Suriname is the generally respectful social conditions and safe surroundings. It's a kind of old-fashioned place, where people are a little shy but will happily stop and talk to you in the street. The capital Paramaribo (more info here) is a great place for provisioning, with three major western-style supermarkets offering products and produce from around the world. Paramaribo also offers a wide range of marine engineering and maintenance services.

Paramaribo River Entry
Most cruisers enter via the Paramaribo River, which is quite simple, the channel being deep and well marked - though the number of buoys differs from those shown on the charts, and our three different charting systems all disagreed on these to some extent. Large ships and tug/barge combinations ply the river entrance, with traffic controlled by the Maritime Authority of Suriname ("MAS"). Visiting yachts should call MAS as they approach the channel and request permission to enter the river. Using a rising tide it can take up to six hours to reach Domburg or Waterland, so an early morning approach is recommended. Note that the tide runs at up to 3.5 knots upstream, so pushing against the tide will slow you down considerably.

Waterland Marina, Suriname River
Both Waterland and Harbor Resort will provide all the guidance needed for the necessary immigration and customs clearances. On arrival we first visited the MAS offices to process the vessel in, then the Consular Office to obtain a visa stamp (a small fee is charged for this), then finally the Military Police office for the immigration stamp.

Outbound clearance was easier - visit the military police one day before for an exit stamp in the passports, then notify MAS of departure by VHF radio when outbound in the channel. Very simple. We recommend Suriname highly as a safe and relaxing stopover for cruising boats in the region.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Paramaribo, Suriname

Paramaribo Homes - Photo By Evan Gatehouse
Our two weeks on the Suriname River were punctuated by frequent trips "into town" - meaning the capital, Paramaribo. Suriname has a population of around 560,000 people, half of which live in Paramaribo.

Previously known as Dutch Guiana, the Dutch history is evident everywhere. It is the only country outside Europe where Dutch is spoken by a majority of the population.
Ley, In Trouble At The Fort

After dealing with the Portugese signage at our last port of call, we were back in learning mode here, trying to deal with Dutch words that seemed to have far too many syllables....that our Aussie language training had not prepared us for. Of course in the end we discovered that many of the locals also speak excellent English.

Historic buildings are everywhere in the downtown area, and along the river bank a complete historic village (world heritage listed) is preserved alongside the old Dutch fort.

Paramaribo is somewhat a frontier town - gold mining is the major export industry, having taken over from the (now defunct) bauxite mining industry, which in turn took over from the (now defunct) sugar cane industry.  Much of the gold mining is undertaken by small teams working in remote areas, and the infrastructure to support these enterprises is evident everywhere - this is a great place to buy compact rock crushers, six inch bore water pumps and four wheel drive trucks. Paramaribo also supports a reasonable marine industry, with two (small) floating docks and a larger slipway.

Celebrating Emancipation
The people are a mixture of African, Javanese, Dutch, Chinese and local Indian descent. As everywhere else in the developing world, the Chinese folk run the stores and supply chain...

However the unusual aspect of Suriname is the extent to which the cultural groups have intermingled, creating a cultural mix that seems settled and a shining example of tolerance.

One of our first experiences was a national public holiday that celebrated the anniversary of the end of slavery. Paramaribo was in carnival mode, with the usual processions plus music and dance on performance stages in the park. This was a day to be proud of, and the local ladies underlined that point with costume and hats that certainly drew attention.

Unfortunately the population is presently not well served by it's leaders, with the current president flaunting democratic process. So, whilst this is an extremely safe and welcoming nation, the economy is in disarray and the government is effectively broke. Business (and society in general) seems to have taken the failure of governance in it's stride, and life goes on, perhaps more dependent on cash transactions than in the past...

Despite the political and economic challenges, the local folk are happy and proud of their nation. The people are somewhat shy and reserved - as a visitor you need to initiate contact and develop your own experiences. Tourist activities are not always obvious in this place, but they are there for the finding. We were warmly welcomed wherever we traveled.

In a low-cost rental car we toured most of the city and surrounding areas, including frequent visits to the local private hospital when our friend Evan on the catamaran Ceilydh was hospitalised with heart attack symptoms - he's fine now, but we did have a few stressful days while the problem was sorted. The largely European trained hospital staff were competent and supportive, and Evan now knows that his arteries are in great shape!

The Stunning Timber Cathedral In Paramaribo

Friday, 22 July 2016

Removing River Gunk

Back in Sarawak, northern Borneo, we experienced significant staining on the bow from the river waters. The Suriname River brought it all back to us and we arrived at Waterland Marina with a significant brown "moustache" on the bow.

We found other boat owners were busy scrubbing with heavy duty cleaners and even kitchen scourers (yoiks) trying to remove the stains from their paint or gelcoat.

However Ley was able to erase the brown stain the easy way - with half a lemon.

Slice a lemon in half, squeeze a little to bring juice to the surface and wipe over the hull.

It doesn't disappear instantly, but it is much easier than other methods. A little sunshine also helps accelerate the process. Our neighbour tried using a lime and found that worked just fine too.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Life On The Suriname River

Crystal Blues arrived on the Suriname River exactly a week ago, on June 26. Having covered just on 5000 nautical miles in 8 weeks, we were looking for somewhere safe and calm to rest up and do essential maintenance.

We motored up river that morning, starting at the arrival buoy, well offshore, at first light (6:00am). From there we were in a narrow dredged  channel to enter the river - in fact we followed two small cargo ships into the river, the first ocean traffic we'd seen in days.

By 12:30pm we had arrived at Waterland, a very friendly and surprisingly sophisticated resort / restaurant / marina in the middle of the jungle. The marina is small, just twelve berths, but has AC power (110v/60hz), potable water on tap, a first class floating dock and a beautiful secure environment.

The contrasts that day were quite amazing - from Atlantic swells in the early morning to jungle river travel later in the day. We followed the river through the capital of Paramaribo, then further inland past the village of Domburg, when all signs of habitation disappeared. Just jungle green on both banks, until we reached Waterland, about 30 nautical miles inland (the channel is marked and deep all the way up river).

Then the final contrast hit us - within 30 minutes of arrival we were drinking cold beer in an open air bistro under a jungle canopy overlooking the river.  We prepared ourselves for the 'special' Sunday lunch here as Brazilian jazz drifted across the compound, mixed with the sounds of jungle birds, howler monkeys and two very tired but very happy cruisers. Cheers !

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Losing Track Of Time

Sailing in the middle of a very large ocean, the days do start to blend in to one and time seems to distort a little. Ley and I move into a well practiced cycle of watch keeping and boat management, navigation, weather reporting and sleeping.  Days are punctuated by meals and sleeps - the latter taking on increased importance in this slightly time-warped world. Days roll by, weeks pass, then we realise that we've been traveling for months. Crystal Blues is our own private "adventure pod", safely carrying us across oceans with very few complaints.

Last year we sailed just over 5,300 nautical miles, from Malaysia to South Africa via Sri Lanka, Maldives, Chagos, Rodrigues, Mauritius, Reunion, Madagascar and Mozambique. This year we departed Cape Town late in April and are three days (450 nautical miles) away from Suriname on the north east coast of the South American mainland. This voyage is around 5,000 nautical miles and has included visits to St. Helena, Ascension Island, and Fernando De Noronha.

We crossed the equator three days ago, with an appropriate rum drinking ceremony, about 120 nautical miles off the northern coast of Brazil, almost at the border with French Guyana. Yesterday we passed by the mouth of the Amazon River, though being far offshore we saw nothing.

As I write this we are at 04 degrees 11.43 North and 049 degrees 01.35 West, on heading of 308 degrees true, traveling at around 7.2 knots.  We're motor sailing in very light airs, at reduced RPM - the Guiana Current is giving us a lift of 1.5 knots.

This Atlantic crossing has been good to us - less than 20 hours of engine use since we departed Cape Town, though the sails have certainly taken a bashing. At every stopover we've had the sewing machine out on deck doing sail repairs, and I can see more work to be done in our next port. In Suriname we'll head up the Suriname River around 30 miles, to reach the small Waterland Resort and Marina, where we'll take a break and spend some time doing maintenance chores and local touring.

Incidentally, our log books tell me that when we reach Suriname Ley and I will have sailed over 48,000 nautical miles together, over almost 19 years. We certainly didn't plan for it, but the adventure continues...

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Sailing The Squalls

Late afternoon the clouds begin to gather, billowing upwards and outwards, encircling our horizon. The setting sun sprinkles them with golden, peach hues until some change colour to a menacing grey and then to black. Squalls line up and surround us, the sea looks like beaten pewter and the sun set is inevitably swallowed in the clouds.

 Here off the coast of Brazil, they don't seem as angry as the lightning filled thunderhead squalls of Asia. So we ride their winds, often carrying us off our course, surf down the wind built waves and enjoy the sudden showers which are still cleaning off the dirt and grime of Cape Town. Some nights they continue for hours, other times just a brief, sudden outburst and then the moon rises, the stars appear in a clear sky and we continue on our course.

This passage has been a peaceful one, with 15 to 20 knot winds from the east and south east, pushing the wing on wing sails over the gentle Atlantic swells. We have been monitoring the current charts, chasing the high flow areas and have had positive current for the whole passage. This has given us an extra 48 miles or so each day with its 2 knot push.

 Yesterday we celebrated our third equatorial crossing. It was also the first crossing when both of us have been up on watch together, scanning the GPS screen as the degrees and minutes of latitude counted down to zero. We hope Neptune enjoyed his tot of rum, laced with lime juice and ice cubes to celebrate this crossing into the Northern Hemisphere. Today we approach the half way mark in this passage from Fernado de Noronha to Surinam, 750 miles in 4 1/2 days.

We know this steady breeze will slowly disappear as we enter the ITCZ and then we will be grateful for the extra diesel we are carrying in our TurtlePac fuel bladder on deck. Only 750 nautical miles to go.

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Sunday, 19 June 2016

An Atlantic Island Holiday

We stayed 4 days at the Brazilian island Fernando De Noronha. After completing our mainsail repair we were able to tour the island, renting a beat-up buggy and exploring all the tracks and trails.

There are only two paved roads on the island, the rest being either rocks and mud, or sometimes even mud and rocks - no wonder they only rent buggys or trail bikes.

The main village is beautiful, with traditional buildings still serving as the seat of government. The church faces onto a cobblestone square. There were several Portuguese forts on the island, the main one being Remedios, on a strategic hilltop overlooking the town, the port and adjacent beaches. From the fort, Pico Mountain is the next dominant feature along the coast, a near vertical volcanic plug. In the heart of town we could sit on an ancient stone wall along a cobblestone street, in the shade of an ancient tree, surfing the free (!) internet. It wasn't fast, but it got the job done. The internet was a bargain - everything else in the place was breath-takingly expensive.

Of course everything is imported, much of the produce flown in, and the culinary and service standards are very high. This worked in our favour, as we were able to buy limes, lettuce, bananas, carrots, potatoes, green oranges, cucumber and tomato - really the best provisioning since we departed Cape Town. Three and four star resorts are dotted around the island, which is 70% assigned as a marine park and very tightly managed. Diving, snorkeling and deep sea fishing are popular tourist activities. From a cruising perspective this is one of the nicest places we've visited. Everyone was laid back and friendly.

 The anchorage, while open to the north and west, provided smooth water and stable conditions. It was a little rocky, perhaps 40% rock between large sand patches. Our stand-out memory is the gracious and obliging behavior of all the government officials - port, harbour, immigration etc. They were genuinely glad to see us, and keen to assist in any way.

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Thursday, 16 June 2016

A Birthday In Brazil

After our arrival at Fernando De Noronha we slept like babies. Ley woke early, and watched the sun rise from the cockpit, while I slept for 10 hours and eventually stumbled on deck later, to survey the anchorage and the island.

Breakfast was bacon and eggs, followed by a “birthday cake” made of toast with blackberry jam. 

We had a very slow morning, launching the dinghy and setting up the outboard motor, washing laundry and generally recovering from the passage.

A local man was fishing from a plastic kayak nearby, using just a hand line. We waved and said hello, he spoke no English, but paddled over to us and handed over four fresh (still alive) beautiful Coral Trout. What a wonderful birthday gift – Fernando De Noronha was already starting to impress us.

Later, we headed ashore to complete immigration and customs formalities, however it was now after midday and we found the port offices were closed – siesta of course! 

Plan B was quickly implemented, and we settled in to a very fine local restaurant overlooking the anchorage and serving wonderful Brazilian specialties.

The beer was cold and the wine was good, the staff provided birthday deserts for us, and we met a fine bunch of Brazilian nationals who were holidaying on the island. Several hours later, with our credit card beaten into submission, we staggered down the hill to report in to the authorities.

At the port office we were welcomed literally with open arms, and started to wade through the many arrival forms and details, though not one of our hosts spoke any English.

The Policia Federale were called, and they arrived after a few minutes to stamp our passports and clear us for immigration.  Fortunately the locals appear to live on strong coffee, and we were plied with small cups of sweet black Brazilian coffee as the process ground onward.

Once our birthdays were recognized it was handshakes and backslaps all round, congratulations and way too much rapid Portugese for us to follow.

By late afternoon we were clear of the formalities and caught a bus to the village, looking for a supermarket and hopefully a motor cycle rental.  The motor cycle didn’t happen, however another friendly local lead us to a mechanics yard where we rented a converted VW beach buggy, the standard form of transport on the island. Of course we had no local money – not a problem they said. Take the car, go now to the ATM at the airport, then come back and pay us later ….. life here is very simple, relaxed and trusting.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

South Atlantic Stopover – Fernando De Noronha

Leaving Ascension Island we had a series of small problems (read it here), including an anchor windlass failure and small tear in the luff of the mainsail.

The anchor windlass was easily repaired at sea - carbon dust buildup inside the DC motor end cap was shorting the supply to ground.

However we really wanted a stable platform to setup the sewing machine and handle the mainsail on deck.

Looking ahead at our course across the South Atlantic, we decided to pause our voyage for a few days at Isla Fernando De Noronha, a small tropical island just 3 degrees south of the equator and only a small deviation away from our planned course.

The island, and the surrounding marine park, is part of Brazil and we had had heard it was beautiful, safe and welcoming.

Only a small proportion of the passing cruising sail boats stop here, as it is kind of expensive – port fees and compulsory national park fees add up to around A$130.00 per day, for just the two of us on Crystal Blues. This was balanced by the need to complete repair work on the main sail, plus the possibility of celebrating our birthdays in style…which is exactly what happened!

The passage from Ascension was just on 1100 nautical miles, which we covered in 8 days, arriving at the San Antonio Bay anchorage late afternoon. On approach the island has a lush, green tropical feel and tourist boats of all kind can be seen working out of the small harbor.

We often find dolphins escorting us into new anchorages, but this arrival provided a completely new experience for us – the attack of the Frigate Birds!

A flock of female frigate birds circled us for half an hour, soaring on the updraft from the genoa and attacking our masthead in turn.

Their target was the static charge dissipater (lightning protector) that we have installed there – a stainless steel brush that is grounded to the hull and mast, and works to minimise static charge in the vessel.

The birds were trying to pull the wire bristles out of the fitting whilst hovering, fortunately without success.

Each time the boat rolled to a swell they would lose contact and move off, then turn and make another pass – they were being very persistent. Our friends on the catamaran Ceilydh (blog here) had their masthead wind indicator systematically picked to pieces by a frigate bird some time back.

As we approached the anchorage the birds flew off to other adventures.  We furled sails and motored towards shore, where we anchored on sand in 8 meters of clear water, about 400 meters from the harbor entrance. Perfect.

Relaxing in the cockpit, we could hear the music coming off the shore and watched dive boats returning with day trippers to the beach.

At sundown we settled in for the night, catching up on sleep, looking forward to our Brazilian birthday experience…

Friday, 10 June 2016

Hitch Hikers Guide to the Atlantic

A tiny waxing cresent of a moon is setting before midnight on our passage from Ascension Island to Suriname. Then the starlight takes over the darkness of the night.

The Milky Way sparkles, stretching as far as the eye can see and beyond. The stars out here are so bright and so close to the horizon, that at times you feel they must be the lights of an approaching ship. In the darkness we hear our new "friends" arriving.

From a distance you hear their squawking, there are no stealth arrivals here. They mainly land on the solar panels, easy on their webbed feet. They squawk and fight for position, two wanted to perch on the wind generator, another two wanted the spot aft, near our Vesper AIS GPS receiver.

Eventually they sorted out their stations and settled down on what we now call the poop deck. We've seen these birds along the coast of Australia, Africa and now on our way to South America. They soar over the ocean, up and down skimming the waves with minimum effort, wandering thousands of miles from land. We think these are the species Black Noddy or possibly the Sooty Tern.

During our night watches we hear them chatting away to each other in a croaking chirps, see them preening their feathers, squawking when Crystal Blues is slapped by a beam on wave, and finally tucking their heads under one wing and sleeping.

Come dawn they take off, without so much as a thank you. Each night birds return. Are they the same birds each night ? It is a mystery to us. The only sure thing about these hitch hikers is that each morning we have to hose down the poop deck.

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