Monday, 30 May 2016

Ascension Island Welcoming Committee

Crystal Blues arrived at Ascension Island last Wednesday, May 25, after a 750 nautical mile passage from St. Helena. For the last three hours we were escorted by a pod of large bottle nose dolphins, doing the usual surfing on our pressure wave.

They certainly lifted our spirits, which had flagged somewhat when the main halyard parted in the middle of the previous night - the mainsail lowered itself gracefully into the sail bag on the boom and the boat sailed on. In fact we were blissfully unaware until Ley did a check on deck soon after she came on watch. One more item on the maintenance list...

The biggest thrill of the passage came from Ley's fishing activities - trailing a lure astern, she watched as a big marlin (body more than 2 meters long) took the lure and leaped clean out of the water. This is potentially a very bad thing. There is no way we could land a fish that big on the stern. Fortunately his aerial activity pulled the hook from the lure, and we presume he is wearing Ley's hook as a piece if lip jewelry. Punk fish. It certainly didn't slow him down - as Ley hauled in the line he hunted back and forth behind the boat looking for the lure, and ended up right at the stern tracking us. Ley says it was the most frightening fish she's seen - so much aggression.

Ascension Island is a "young" volcanic island, barren and rocky for the most part. However the highest peak carries a carpet of trees and plants that take the edge off. We anchored off the capital of Georgetown, in Clarence Bay. This is an open road-stead anchorage, exposed to the north and west. The prevailing south easterly wind keeps our bow pointing towards the beaches and mountains ashore, which we'll explore in the coming days.
Barren Lava Fields - NASA Chose This Place To Test Drive The Apollo Mission Moon Buggy

Monday, 23 May 2016

Flying Fish Pie ?

No, we really aren't that hungry! We did have a recipe for Flying Fish Pizza once, but they smell so bad we tossed the recipe.

Every morning I walk the deck, looking for problems, wear points, chafe etc. and invariably I'll find two or more of these creatures on deck, though 14 in one night (!) is the record for this paasage. Beautiful looking, but stiff as a board. Trails of fish scales lead us to them, and often they'll bounce off the windscreen before flopping down onto the deck.

Crystal Blues departed St. Helena late on Friday - it was St. Helena Day, a public holiday and a day of great celebration on the island. Marching bands, speeches by the new Governor, special church services, community sporting challenges and a joyful parade through the capital of Jamestown kept us entertained.

Ley was part of an 8 person team competing for the fastest time to climb inside a mini minor (an original one). The wining team comprised mainly kids under 12 - not fair ! We sailed out of James Bay late in the afternoon, and after the sun set in front of us we watched the fireworks explode over Jamestown directly behind us.

St. Helena Day - The Car Jam.  That's Ley and Di In The Front.

We're now more than half way to Ascension Island, a 720 nautical mile passage north and west up the Atlantic. The weather is (thankfully) definitely tropical, hot cloudy days with cooler evenings and the water temperature has almost reached 25 degrees. We have a good weather forecast and should be anchored in Ascension by Wednesday evening.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Things That Work For Us #8 - Ultrasonic Antifouling

Ultrasonic Antifouling - Two Years On, The Results Are Excellent

In May of 2014, we installed a new Ultrasonic Antifouling system, hoping to reduce or eliminate the problems we had been having with barnacle growth on the hull and inside our water inlets.

At the time we reported on the system installation, and covered some of the basics of barnacle breeding, with the help of marine biologist Glen Burns - read that story here.  We also covered a high tech barnacle removal tool - the story is here.

I should explain that we like to sail for at least two years between each haul out, where possible. This saves us quite a lot in boat yard and paint costs. So Crystal Blues was last hauled and painted with anti-fouling paint back in October 2014.

We applied four coats of our favourite antifouling paint, Jotun Sea Force 90, rolling it on over three days. We added a fifth coat to the leading edges of the keel, rudder and skeg, and around the waterline. That paint system is now 19 months old, and we've covered over 9,000 nautical miles since it was rolled on - quite some distance for us.

At this point the biocides in the paint system are just starting to let us down - the slime on the hull needs to be wiped every month, and green seagrass is now starting to grow where sunlight penetrates the water depth.


Back in Cape Town I paid the local divers to clean the hull - the water there was way too cold for my 3mm wetsuit - and they reported that it was in very good condition, finding only three (3!) barnacles.

Here in St. Helena, where the water is a balmy 23 degrees, I dived to clear some fouling on our folding propeller, and found that the hull needed a wipe, but no barnacle scraping at all.

This is a major improvement for us, as previously we fought a constant rear guard action against barnacle growth on the hull and in our sea water intakes. The raw water intake for the refrigeration, aircon and genset systems had been specially problematic, frequently clogging with extensive barnacle growth. Since installing the ultrasonic system we haven't had a single incident of barnacle clogging.

I'm sold - the package is compact, doesn't draw much power (half an amp at 12 volts) and requires absolutely no maintenance. The only thing I have to remember is to turn it off at the DC switchboard before I go diving under the hull - it does generate some audible harmonics underwater that are quite painful when you get close to the transducer location.

Follow this link for details about the system we have installed, which is sold by Ultrasonic Antifouling Ltd in the United Kingdom.

Things We Love To Hate - Jabsco Pressure Tanks

Not often are we frustrated enough to openly criticize a product, but here is one of those cases.

Crystal Blues was fitted with Jabsco water pressure tanks to smooth the delivery and extend the life of the pumps. and the tanks do both of those things well.

The problem is in the failure mode - basically the product self destructs in a little over 10 years, rusting out and dripping water from the entry point.

In fact the Jabsco pressure pumps, which we like and trust, are lasting longer than the tanks (which have no moving parts).

Any water leaks inside our boat are completely unacceptable, and so are products that leak consistently.

These tanks really should be made of plastic, marine grade aluminium or 316 grade stainless steel. Mild steel just isn't good enough.

We've been through four of these since we bought the boat, and will not buy another until I find one made of a more stable material.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

The Governor's Place - Plantation House, St Helena

Recently opened for tours, Plantation House is the Governor's official residence on St. Helena.

Originally built by the British East India Company, it is beautiful residence in the hinterland above Jamestown, with broad ocean views.

Nearby in a dense woodland are the graves of husband and wife plantation workers with some interesting graphics on the headstones...

Beside the beautiful rooms, the library, the Jaguar car in the garage and the obligatory tennis court, Plantation House is also famous as the home of the worlds oldest living creature -  Jonathan the tortoise.

One of several gifted to St Helena by the Governor of the Seychelles, Jonathan's age has been calculated using historical photographs and records, and he is thought to be 187 years old. He is a little slow on his feet these days, and slightly cantankerous as well, but is still a significant island attraction. Long may he reign.

The Emperor Napoleon & Fine Wine In St Helena

St Helena's most famous resident was Napoleon Bonaparte, exiled here by the British after his final defeat at the battle of Waterloo. He was sent to a converted farmhouse known as Longwood, a damp residence in the wettest part of the island, which he constantly complained about. With his small entourage he lived there until his death in 1821.

Longwood House is now owned by the French Government, along with several other key locations associated with Napoleon's time here. We took a guided tour of the restored house, accompanied by a knowledgeable local guide. It is kind of spooky to be in the room where he died, then where he lay in state, then where his autopsy was conducted.

I was more interested in the wine cellar, now a simple gallery of paintings and drawings from the period.

There is some controversy surrounding his death, with some claiming he was poisoned, while the autopsy concluded that he died of stomach cancer - as did his sister and father.

Whatever the cause, he certainly enjoyed fine wine - he had a standing monthly order for 18 liters of Vin De Constance, an intensly beautiful desert wine made in the hills above Cape Town.

Our good friends on the catamaran Ceilydh gifted us a 500ml bottle of the wine, which is still in production and is still winning awards. We shared the bottle with the Ceilydh crew after dinner in the anchorage, accompanied by sauteed and flambeed local bananas, saluting the Emperor and acknowledging his very fine taste in wine.

When he passed, Napoleon was interred in a beautiful valley that is also now a significant monument owned and administered by the French Government, despite the fact that his body was removed and re-interred in Paris some 20 years after his death.

The entire saga of his defeat, imprisonment, eventual death and associated controversy has made the Emperor Napoleon one of the islands biggest tourist attractions. For many it is an emotional pilgrimage - we visited Londwood House, and the grave, with French cruising sailors who were very moved and grateful to see something so significant in their national history.

The Emperor Napoleon's Tomb In St. Helena

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Tropic Birds Of St. Helena

We saw our first Tropic Bird on passage from New Caledonia to Australia, way back in 2003. I probably haven't seen more than a dozen since then.

That was until we arrived here in St Helena, where the island's cliffs provide homes for hundreds, probably thousands of these beautiful creatures.

Each afternoon as sundown approaches we sit on deck and watch the Tropic Birds zooming around the cliff face, some times in small groups, always at high speed, dragging those impossibly long tail feathers.  What flying speedsters they are.

Sail Repairs R Us

Our "big colored sail" is an asymetric or MPS - great for reaching and shy running off the wind.

It is, however, a bit of a monster - in fact it's a real handful for just two of us to handle when the wind gets up.

It exploded during the passage to St. Helena from Cape Town, in about 18 knots of breeze, telling us it is near the end of its useful life. We know that it's at least 20 years old, so it certainly doesn't owe us anything more.

However we really need it to get north to the equator and the ITCZ, as winds have been very light south of the line.

So Ley set about repairing the monster a few days back, giving the Sailrite Ultrafeed machine a workout after I hot-knifed the torn edges.  It has now been restored to its sail bag ready for a second life.

The nylon material down low on the sail, near the tack, is clearly more UV damaged and stretched than the main body of the sail. We'll keep our fingers crossed, and try to get the thing down on deck if the wind gets over 12 knots.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Donkey Love In St. Helena

Hopalong, Ley, Greedy and Neil, Out For A Stroll
Traveling the island we spotted several paddocks where donkeys grazed. These lovely creatures are descendants of the working animals that carried produce, crops and goods all over the island before powered vehicles became popular here.
Ley & Hopalong - Image By Dianne Selkirk

Flax was a major export product here until about 40 years ago, and the donkeys carried the flax from the fields to the mills over very steep terrain.

Many survived here as lonely "pets", semi abandoned on rural blocks, until a new community group decided to take action and rescue those that were most in need.

So the St. Helena Donkey Sanctuary was born, supported by locals and expat visitors alike. Land was donated, even the local government chipped in a little funding, and slowly animals were handed over to the group and their life improved.

Vetinary care was provided, hooves were healed and their health came back. The animals were gradually socialised and began to play a role in local life again.
Children from local schools visit the sanctuary, along with tourists, like Ley and I.

Every Saturday morning the sanctuary invites visitors to walk the donkeys, who are brought in from the fields, fitted with halters and leads in preparation.

With a group of friends Ley and I took part in this delightful walk, leading a four legged friend from the sanctuary yard along local roads for several kilometers. The main walk was along a spectacular ridge line to a rural church, with views across the island to the ocean both north and south of us.

Ley was paired with "Hopalong", so named because of a deformed front off-side foot that looked pretty sad but didn't stop him keeping up on the walk. It also didn't stop him leading Ley in the wrong direction whenever he spotted something of interest along the road. As she says, horses (and donkeys) just look at her and decide who the boss is - they are!

I was leading "Greedy", a gracious 30 year old lady who is the last remaining animal that carried flax as a working donkey. Greedy came to the sanctuary in a terrible state, almost completely bald, bleeding from fly blown sores and tick bites. The sanctuary team have brough her health back, and she is in fine condition now - specially given her age.  What stories she could tell...

Donkey Love - They're Not Stupid, Just Stubborn!
OK, so she doesn't like to walk real fast, happy to doddle along at the back of the pack, but she and Hopalong made a happy pair, completing their regular Saturday excursion at their own leisurely pace. Ley and I were also both pretty happy with that.

Following the walk the animals are brushed down, their hooves are cleaned and treated, and lotions and creams applied to stop flies and parasites. The stronger animals are being trained to carry saddles and young riders. They seem proud of their role, stepping out quite happily with (very) nice leather saddles that were shipped in from South Africa with funding from local government here. The original saddles were crude wooden affairs that also carried loads of flax - not good for the back at all.

After our donkey walk we had a picnic in the sunshine, high on the ridge line, contemplating the very happy outcome for these lovely creatures. Tourism in St. Helena is nothing if not quirky!

Atlantic Ocean Barber Shop

One of our favourite pics from the recent crossing to St. Helena - the wide and blue Atlantic Ocean makes a great back drop for a barbers shop.

South easterly swells running in from behind lift the stern first, then run under the boat and the bows rise as the swell passes.

After seven days at sea, here I am enjoying a beard trim in a most dynamic environment.

Living With The Saints

Crystal Blues In James Bay - Photo By Dianne Selkirk
After a week being tourists here in St Helena we're starting to relax - this is an unusually laid back and special place.

Thousands of miles from anywhere, with a population of just 4000 souls, visiting St. Helena is like a compact lesson in world history.

From slave ships to the Emperor Napoleon, every corner of the island has an amazing story to tell.

We've spent many days ashore exploring this beautiful and complex island, parts of which are virtual rainforest, while in other areas it's as dry as desert.

The locals are a gentle mix of the many races that have landed here in centuries past - English seamen and soldiers, Malay and Chinese workers, African slaves and many others.  They speak an "island English" that takes some learning, a fast and unique verbal music.

The capital of Jamestown is a compact and quaint village, laid out along a deep ravine that runs from James Bay up into the hinterland.

With no air services (yet), the island relies on regular visits from the RMS St. Helena, a mixed passenger / cargo ship that supplies St. Helena, Ascension and Tristen De Cahuna islands. The ship really is part of the life cycle of this place, the only means of travel off the island, and the source of all imported foods, machinery and general goods.

With no wharf or sheltered harbour, the ship anchors off the town and everything is landed by lighter barge and ferry boat, a complex process. Exports (typically frozen fish and tourists) travel the same way, along with local passengers - or "Saints" as the locals like to call themselves.

Every local can tell you when the RMS (Royal Mail Ship) will next arrive, how long she will stay and even what she might be carrying - supplies in the stores here move in and out like the tide, based on the cycle of the RMS St. Helena.

RMS St. Helena Departing For Ascension Island Last Saturday

Our friends Dianne, Evana and Maia on the catamaran Ceildyh have now been here over a month, and were able to give us an expert guided tour. Through them we also met many locals and expats who are living here temporarily - some for work, one writing a book and others producing a film - there are many stories to be told.

The locals include a talented range of musicians and singers, who alternate performances in local bars and meeting places. Last Friday I was invited to play with one group at the Mule Yard, a regular Friday night gathering on the waterfront in James Town.

Yes, it really was the mule yard - before motor vehicles arrived here, donkeys, mules and bullock drays did the hard work carrying goods up into the hills - more on that later.

Mule Yard Live Music With My Beat Box From Manila

Monday, 9 May 2016

St. Helena Arrival

Crystal Blues arrived at Jamestown, St. Helena, late on Saturday afternoon. The final few miles of the passage were a joyful reach in flat water along the rugged northern coastline, before mooring to a buoy in James Bay under cliffs that are over 600 feet high.

This is a tiny (population 5000) outpost of the British Empire, and our stock of English currency took a hit as we paid Harbour fees and immigration entry charges.

Our passage from Cape Town covered over 1700 nautical miles in 12 days and conditions were good for most of the voyage. Despite the favorable conditions we did blow out our big asymmetric sail, and also managed to bend one stanchion. Repairs will commence soon...

Waiting for us in the bay was the Canadian catamaran Ceilydh, with Maia, Dianne and Evan on board. We carried eggs, cabbage and apples from Cape Town for them, and today they provided a tour guide service for us across half the island - it's great to be back with good friends. We'll be here for a week or so, before moving further north west to Ascension Island.

Friday, 6 May 2016

New Coloured Sails

This morning conditions had settled enough for us to fly our latest set of small colored sails, hoping to add some boat speed to our meager 5.0 knots.

Despite our prayers they didn't do much, which is doubly sad because our really big colored sail is no more - it exploded last night at around 02:00 hours and gave us a very busy time retrieving the pieces.

Jeessh - one minute I was sailing along beautifully at around 7.0 knots and then BANG. On deck I saw that the bottom meter of the sail, just above the tack, was still connected to the bow, but the rest was flying like a big ugly flag, and shredding itself further in the rigging. Oh, and then it started to rain, so we had a miserable time retrieving the mess.

So now we're down to using just old fashioned white sails, which limits our speed and means a slightly delayed arrival in St. Helena. Apart from that incident all has continued to be fine and comfortable on board. The air temperature has climbed into the "acceptable" zone, I gave up on shoes and socks yesterday, and today I'm wearing shorts for the first time in weeks. Water temperature is up to 23 degrees C., so we have officially arrived in the tropics.

We have also officially arrived in the Western Hemisphere, crossing 0 degrees of longitude that mark the Greenwich Meridian - we're exactly due south of London. This is a first for Crystal Blues, and it does take some practice to stop writing East in the log book. For over ten years we've gradually watched our "easting" decreasing, now we're watching the "westing" grow each day.

At14:00 hours UTC we have just 147 nautical miles to travel to St. Helena.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Blue Velvet Ocean

Today we felt a just a taste of what we hope is to come - sunshine and blue water. This afternoon the wave tops were more orderly, almost friendly even, the threatening nastiness left well behind.

A cobalt blue tinge appeared when the sunlight hit the water, and even a few sea birds graced us with their presence. Things are definitely looking up.

Our friend Chrome, back in Cape Town, has been talking to the swell gods about the nasty, quartering, South West swell, but he says the surfers must have got there before him! Nothing he can do now - we'll live with it, the frequency and severity is reducing.

In the afternoon we jibed over onto a more northerly heading, keeping us closer to the rumb line to St. Helena. The blessed winds have stayed with us, still at 18 to 20 knots, so we continue to make good time on our simple "mainsail only" no fuss rig.

On this starboard tack the galley works better, certain cupboards don't empty their contents on to the admiral when she opens the door, so the karma is good. So is the food - tonight I had venison (African buck) skewers with grilled vegetables, while the chef had Haloumi with her vegetables. We'll stay on this line for a couple of days I think, until the wind reduces on Wednesday and we have to seriously think about the big asymmetric sail to keep the boat moving.

Crystal Blues is at 23 degrees 17 minutes south, 002 degrees 58 minutes east. Course over ground is 313 degrees true, and speed over ground is 7.2 knots. Only 659 nautical miles to St. Helena.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Another One Bites The Dust

Day 7 of our passage north west and we find ourselves prompted by yet another song title - yes, another one bites the dust. This time it's our HF/SSB radio that is refusing to function.

So with Ley's help I've removed the control head, stripped and checked that (we had previous issues with a sub-standard repair), then removed the transceiver and double checked all the connections.

No obvious issues found so far. Tomorrow, when the swell abates a little, I'll move into the back of the boat and check the antenna tuner and it's connections.

Crystal Blues is more than half way to St. Helena now, with (just) 825 nautical miles to run. Sea conditions have grown big again, with an objectionable 2.5 meter quartering swell hitting us on a 7 second period. This makes movement, day to day activity and even sleeping a little strenuous and tiresome. Ley is continuing to produce gourmet food, so we're eating very well. However we are definitely looking forward to some tropical sunshine and warm weather - four days of grey sky's and rainy conditions have taken the shine of the south Atlantic !

The shine has also been missing from our solar panels - on this north westerly course, with the winter sun already well to the north of the equator, our sails are blocking the sunshine even when the clouds are not. So we're getting very little energy from the solar system, and the Northern Lights generator is doing extra duty.