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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Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Pole Dancing In the South Atlantic

Last Saturday we departed Ascension Island, bound for Suriname in South America, though the departure wasn't without its challenges.

First the anchor windlass failed when the chain was half way in, leaving 40 meters to be hauled in by hand, accomplished with a chain hook attached to our primary windlass in the cockpit.

Then one of my shoes blew overboard on a nasty leeward lurch, flying off the dodger as if it was unhappy with the wash I'd just given it. After retrieving the floating footwear, which took almost half an hour in lumpy seas, we re-hoisted the mainsail and discovered a small tear close to one of a the car attachments. Damn it !

Down came the mainsail, and we've proceeded ever since on a poled out genoa plus the staysail, wing and wing. Like all sailors we're a little superstitious, when it suits us, and we firmly believe that bad things come in threes, so nothing else will now go wrong on this passage. We hope...

As to the pole dancing, the motion of the boat is close to that kind if sexy sashay you might expect to see on stage. The spinnaker pole is holding the genoa out for the wind, and we've even experimented with our big boat hook to pole out the staysail. Proving that things do come in threes, yesterday the Man Over Board pole got into the act, failing above the float, so we spent an hour repairing that.

The voyage to Suriname will cover over 2600 nautical miles, and with the expected light trade winds from dead astern it will probably take around 20 days. Lots of time for reading books and fixing things that break. Suriname, and then Trinidad, was originally our destination for this year, though we changed that to the Azores and Europe after our delayed departure from South Africa. Later, we had a "management meeting" at Ascension Island and decided to take the easier passage, spending the next few months in Surinane, French Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago before flying home later in the year. This voyage will take us from 10 degrees south of the equator to roughly 10 degrees north, and as I write this we have only 2,180 Nautical miles to go!

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Friday, 3 June 2016

Ascension Departure Tomorrow

Sorry, No Apples
We plan to depart Ascension Island tomorrow morning, with our next destination being Suriname in South America.

Its a passage of 2600 nautical miles, which we're expecting to take a little less than three weeks. We'll cross the equator again, and move through the inter-tropical convergence zone.

In Suriname we plan to stay up the river at Waterland Marina Resort. 

So we'll leave behind our friends and acquaintances on Ascension, the most memorable of which was this feral donkey who was convinced we had food in the car for him.

We're reasonably well provisioned for the passage, specially now we have those wild bananas from the local mountain.

Ley and friend Maia have been practicing banana recipes, with flambe banana the most popular so far, possibly because of the amount of rum involved.

Food Is Where You Find It…

Lamb chops anyone? This feral sheep on Ascension Island popped out of the banana trees on Green Mountain just as we approached on our banana hunt.  Finding food is not always easy, and while we did have space in the freezer, we decided to leave the sheep behind.

We spent an amazing 10 days on St Helena Island in the company of Canadian friends Diane, Evan and Maia, from the catamaran Ceilydh, much o fthe time chasing down food. It’s a spectacular and beautiful island, steeped in history, dotted with old forts, with rock walls and cannons aplenty.  However finding fresh food and provisions there was not easy.

We would prowl the supermarkets for fresh produce, sometimes meeting with local friends and retiring to the Blue Lounge at The Consulate Hotel.  There we would connect to the most expensive (and slowest) internet we have encountered, before prowling the shops once again. 

Jamestown - Site Of "Food Scrum Thursdays"
Sometimes It's Who You Know

Information on food sources comes from other cruisers and locals alike.  On our passage from Cape Town, Di emailed  us about Food Scrum Thursdays at one of the main supermarkets on the island.  Local produce would be delivered from the farms, shoppers would queue up at the side door and the food scrum would begin.  Except when we arrived only carrots and cucumbers were on offer each Thursday!

So each day we would scout out the four main supermarkets, sometimes hourly.  6 bags of potatoes were opened one day, luckily during one of our hourly visitations.  Bags of freshly picked green beans were on offer another time.  Another day we found local lettuce - again a very small supply, reinforcing our regular supermarket sorties. Our friend, film maker Dominic, told us about a man who drives into town every Thursday morning with a boot load of bananas, and he offered to buy some for us.

Evan Harvesting Bananas On Green Mountain
Not every excursion was rewarding, but slowly we manage to buy egg plants, avocados, basil, parsley, mushrooms, green tomatoes, onions and some produce that was bought in on the supply ship, RMS St. Helena, from Cape Town.   

Our best deal was several dozen farm fresh eggs, supplied by the farmer Peter, who was delivering beer to the Consulate Hotel. Really, provisioning in these small places is about who you know.

We are now ready to depart from Ascension Island, but with a seriously depleted fruit and veggie larder.  We saw only two small vegetable plots on our drive around this volcanic island and there is very little available in the two small stores open to us.   

However, we struck cruiser’s gold on Green Mountain – wild bananas available for picking.  With limited resources we managed to get 3 small bunches of green bananas to be shared.  Maia also collected a small container of delicious wild raspberries.

Spending our last few St Helena pounds in the supermarket we sadly noticed that there were no frozen peas.  I asked the staff if there were any available  - “No” was the sad answer, so we resorted to buying mixed frozen vegetables.  At the check out we heard a voice call “did you want frozen peas?”  They found some for us in their store room .  Out cruising in remote areas,  it’s important to talk to people and let them know what you need. They will often go the extra mile for you.

Our Fruit Basket In Better Times - Now It Holds Just Wild Bananas And A Few Remaining Oranges

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Rigging & Sail Maintenance - Anchored At Ascension Island

We've covered over 9000 nautical miles since leaving Asia last year, with much of the Indian Ocean passage sailed in heavy reaching and windward conditions. From Cape Town onwards, the sailing has been mainly down wind, generating different loads and different wear on the systems.

Anchored safely at Ascension Island, we turned to essential maintenance on sails and rigging. Our standing rigging, all 1x19 wire, had been replaced in Cape Town, so our work there was limited to checking terminals and rig tension.

However the down wind sailing has taken a toll on our main halyard - with the boom run out around 45 degrees, the head board of the sail flops out to 90 degrees. This lays the halyard diagonally across the edge of the sheave in the top of the mast, leading to excessive wear. We'd already sleeved the worn halyard with Dynema sheathing,  but even that was eventually cut through by the edge of the masthead sheave.

So, on our last night at sea the main halyard parted and the sail came sliding down into the boom bag, without us even noticing, until Ley checked the deck soon after coming on watch. We tidied up the sail and reefing lines, centered the boom and proceeded under poled out genoa, losing only 3/4 of a knot in boat speed.

After removing the remains of the halyard from inside the mast, we were able to run a new mouse line down the mast, using a bicycle chain to weight the line.  The chain is flexible enough to roll over obstacles and heavy enough to keep moving downwards - once at the base it can be fished out with a hook or with a magnet on a stick.  The mouse line was then used to re-install the (shortened) halyard, which we'll now declare as "suspect", due to UV damage over the years. Fortunately we do have another (spare) halyard in the mast, for the mainsail.

UV Sail Damage

Our genoa also needed quite a bit of work. The Sunbrella sacrificial cloth, replaced in Thailand around five years ago, has worked to protect the Hydranet sail cloth when the sail is furled, and the Sunbrella itself is still in reasonable condition. However the thread used at the time has failed, only where it is exposed when the sail is furled.

So we re-stitched every seam and panel join all the way up the leech of the sail, for a distance of a about 250mm into the body of the sail. We always use Tenara thread for sail and canvas work, as it outlasts the fabric. 

However in this case the sailmaker did not have access to Tenara, so we find ourselves re-sewing seams just five years on.

Wildlife On Ascension Island

At English Bay the tourists are gathering around a baby turtle, recently hatched, crawling across the sand towards the ocean. Ascension Island beaches are dominated by turtle nests, and this is the season when the hatchlings emerge.

Of course nature moves in mysterious ways, and within seconds of entering the ocean this baby was snapped up by a cruising Frigate Bird.  Very frustrating.

Other creatures on Ascension, also protected, are perhaps less attractive to the birds. As we cruised the island the road signs reminded us to keep to the speed limit (just 40kmph) and to watch out for the local land crabs, which were on the road in quantity in some places.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Ascension Island Landing - It's Character Building

While the open ocean anchorage sets the tone, going ashore here extends the challenge to visiting cruisers.  With no harbour or breakwater, the landing platform is an exposed concrete shelf on the end of the wharf, set just above the high tide level. As you can see above, the ocean surge can easily cover that with swirling water, on almost every wave cycle when the tide is high.

On our second day ashore the swell had really increased, so we tied the dinghy to an off-shore buoy and were ferried to the landing in a US Air Force safety boat that was monitoring barge loading at the same wharf.  Everything has to be timed "just so" - approach the wall on the high and as the swell drops the boat comes alongside the ledge and you step ashore quickly, to immediately run up the steps before the next swell engulfs you.  Meanwhile the boat driver is getting away from the wall before the next swell arrives.

We're getting good at it now, and our new Tohatsu 9.8hp engine has certainly worked hard getting the dinghy in and out rapidly between each wave cycle - one person or one bag ashore per wave is the best we can manage. When the swell is really big you simply cannot get off the boat - we have friends who were here last month and eventually departed without setting foot on shore.

Dry Feet This Time, Thanks To The USAF Safety Boat