Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall. After a six-year adventure sailing from Dartmouth to Australia, we are now back in Britain.

Monday, 31 December 2012

Exploring Saint Lucia - and Graham finally relaxes

Graham admits to having been feeling slightly out of sorts since we arrived in Saint Lucia. It's partly due to the heat, the change of food and, probably, all the rum punches and Piton beers but he came to realise that it was a mix of anti-climax after the challenges of the trans-Atlantic and the absence of a clear agenda ahead.

Since the beginning of the year we've been working to a distinct and pressing timetable - well several timetables, really, each with its attendant to-do list. We've both been focussed on tidying the loose ends of our respective jobs, getting the house ready to rent and, of course, preparing Maunie for our voyage. Once we left England, we were still very much on a time-critical plan to get to the Canaries in plenty of time for the ARC and the voyage across to Saint Lucia was obviously one of pushing the boat and crew as hard as we could to make good time. So, once the post-ARC parties finished, we were left in a very sunny place and it's taken us until today to realise that it's ok to relax and have a holiday!

At JD's Mangrove bar in Marigot Bay 

Peter and Heidi

So the holiday bit has now started - with some gentle exploration down toward the south of the Island. On Friday Heidi and Peter from Stormvogel joined us for a day-sail down to Marigot Bay - a beautiful but fairly touristy bay where, so the story goes, an entire British fleet escaped detection by the French navy  by camoflaging their rigging with palm leaves. A good lunch was rewarded by a nice beat back up to Rodney Bay and Peter in particular enjoyed being back under sail; we obviously did't let him anywhere near Maunie's engine!
For the last couple of days we've headed south again, this time to a pair of pretty much deserted anchorages. Mind you, out here nowhere is entirely deserted as, out of thin air  a little dinghy with a big outboard carrying one occupant (wearing his most engaging smile) will appear. "Hello Skipper, welcome to Paradise! My name's Sunshine". Last night's Sunshine was terribly keen for us to use his 'mooring ball' (actually a small plastic bottle on a rope of indeterminable quality attached, one hopes, to something relatively heavy on the seabed). His 'special price' of $EC 80 (about £20) was greeted by laughter of disbelief by the Maunie crew (more expensive than a night in the marina) and we anchored for free instead. Can't blame these 'boat boys' for trying to make a living and I'm sure some people fall for the routine but we've already become quite adept at saying 'no' firmly and politely.

So yesterday morning saw us snorkeling from the boat before breakfast with a wonderful range of brightly coloured reef fish all around us and different types of coral below. It marked the start of Graham's delayed relaxation process. We watched the local fishermen at work in their pirogue (a narrow wooden open boat with a large outboard motor) - they had 5 men aboard, three of whom suddenly jumped overboard. These guys acted as spotters, looking for the shoal of fish, and they'd shout as soon as they saw their quarry; the boat would then circle around them, laying out a long net. The swimmers then climbed back aboard and helped haul in the net.

 After breakfast we sailed on about 7 miles south to the Pitons - Saint Lucia's famous volcanic peak which rise spectacularly from the sea. The excellent Doyle's sailing guide advised that Benny of Harmony Yacht Services would be helpful via the VHF radio and so he was, organising his son (Benny Jnr) to meet us and lead us to one of his well-maintained and free moorings right below Petit Piton so we could have Sunday lunch at his  wife's excellent beach-front Harmony restaurant. Having organised this in advance we could happily fend off 'Peanut' and 'Happy Man' in their dinghies with the magic words "We've sorted everything with Benny" which made them disappear without argument.

Motoring towards Petit Piton 

Maunie moored up at Harmony Beach

Lunch, Creole Fish followed by flambeed bananas, was as simple as it was delicious; it was a shame we were the only diners (the World recession is definitely hitting small places like Harmony out here; upmarket hotels and the super-yacht market seem unaffected).
Relaxing Sunday was completed with a lovely sail back up the coast to Rodney Bay and our familiar anchorage off Pigeon Island. We had planned to return to the eccentric Jambe de Bois for another night of Jazz but there was a twist in the tail just in case we were getting too relaxed. Our normally brilliant anchor struggled to get a grip on the seabed so we hauled it up again to find a huge ball of discarded fishing net and rope wrapped around it. It took  Graham about half an hout to cut it off (it's now sitting in a smelly pile on the foredeck awaiting a trip to a shore-side skip) by which time it was nearly dark. We eventually anchored safely just ahead of 'Roysterer' and Penny and Peter kindly invited us aboard for an excellent supper.

We're staying here for New Year's Eve (more importantly, it's Dianne's Birthday) as, apparently, the combined fireworks from all the beach-front hotels and bars are tremendous. At the moment we're at Jambe de Bois enjoying a birthday breakfast and using their wifi to catch up on emails.

Happy New Year from us both and here are a few more photos:

 Queen Mary 2 anchored off the port of Castries

Two cultures not quite meeting

Saint Lucia's Santa arrives

Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas in Saint Lucia

After the prize-giving on Friday (check out the photo of Graham, Di and Rich receiving the prize on the World Cruising Website - http://www.worldcruising.com/arc/eventgallery.aspx?path=arc&path=arc&rtid=12 ) lots of the boats left the marina. Sadly Rich had to fly home yesterday so we're back to a crew of two; nice to have some extra space, though! We moved out to anchor near Pigeon Island and are meeting up with another four or five crews for Christmas lunch tomorrow.
Today was 'boat maintenance in exotic locations' – Di had a good tidy of the boat, washed clothes and found our Christmas decorations and Graham spent nearly three hours replacing the flushing hoses in the forward heads. The originals had become hard and brittle with age so needed the jubilee clips to be extra tight to stop leaks and this was the cause of the cracked valve during the crossing.
Jobs done, we dinghied over to a great waterfront cafe (just a shack really) for a late lunch (we were here last night for a brilliant jazz gig with local and US musicians), just in time to see a huge rain squall arrive to give the washing an extra rinse on Maunie.
Between Christmas and New Year we'll cruise down the west coast of St Lucia to the Pitons (two volcanic peaks that look spectacular) and we're planning our next destinations. We'll keep you informed of our progress!
We hope that you have a lovely Christmas and a very Happy New Year
Graham and Dianne xx

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The ARC Prize-giving

There are a few sore heads round this morning after last night's ARC prize-giving bash. Prizes were awarded for the fastest yachts in each division (sadly not Maunie but we came in 113th overall, in spite of the big time penalty for all our motoring).

We did win the prize for the best log photo sent from the sea - Fergus' brilliant shot of Rich diving off the stern of Maunie when we were becalmed - so were delighted with that. 

Today will see the beginning of the exodus of boats heading elsewhere for Christmas, Lots of the family boats are heading to Bequia but we plan to stay in Saint Lucia - at anchor probably - since we haven't yet explored the rest of the coast.We need to restock with food so are hoping that the supermarkets won't be as madly crowded as they are at home in the days leading up to Christmas. Rich flies home tomorrow so we'll have a last meal out, with Peter and Heidi from Stormvogel, tonight

Seasonal greetings from the Maunie Crew!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Exploring Saint Lucia and Towing Stormvogel (again!)

We are slowly acclimatising to island life! Yesterday we felt that we had to break out of the marina (though it's very nice as marinas go) and planned to go and anchor out in the bay. Unfortunately, after a month or so in the cockpit locker our normally reliable outboard engine refused to start; Graham diagnosed a problem with the fuel feed and a local 'expert' hoisted it  onto his should to take it away to fix it. Slight anxiety that we'd never see it again but Roger returned a couple of hours later with a working engine.

So we anchored out just under Pigeon Island at the north west tip of the island and dinghied ashore to explore the old British fort.

The hot climb was rewarded by wonderful cocktails in a little beach bar before we returned to Maunie and began our Stormvogel watch. We knew they would be arriving in the early hours and sure enough heard Peter radioing the finish line boat at about 01.45 so we weighed anchor and motored over to meet them as they crossed the line.

Stormvogel's gearbox was broken and the ARC team had not been able to organise a night-time towing vessel so we had already emailed Peter to say we'd offer our services. Veteran readers of this blog will know that we towed them into Porto Santo when their engine flooded with seawater so we'r old hands at this tugboat game now. As soon as they crossed the finish line we tied up alongside them and motored both boats into the marina when the ARC berthing team had reserved an 'easy' pontoon berth. It all went without a hitch so were able to gently put them alongside the pontoon to tie up, with several people having got out of bed to welcome them. The rum punch and beer party carried on for a couple of hours! It was great to see Peter, Heidi and Hendrick again and to hear, first hand, what they went through on the night of what we are now calling 'the incident'. Stormvogel's steering binnacle, held together with duct tape,bears witness to the ferocity of the storm; fortunately the injuries, particularly to Hendrick's leg, were not too serious.

So this morning has been 'slow'! Rich managed to get up at 8.00am to go diving (not sure how) and, having refueled Maunie and returned to our pontoon, we're not making a lot of progress but just enjoying the chance to relax. We'll have a final crew meet up tonight or tomorrow (Fergus and family fly home in the evening) then have the final prizegiving party tomorrow night. After that we'll head out for a different anchorage and are now planning where to spend Christmas. Before then, we'll need to restock on provisions; the local supermarket can be accessed by dinghy and our fruit and veg is delivered to the boat by Gregory in his splendid vessel:

Best wishes from the Maunie Crew

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Some photos from the Atlantic Crossing

Here are a few photos from the crossing; they are mostly Fergus' - his waterprrof camera was well used!. Hope they give you a flavour of our experience.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Maunie's about to cross the finishing line - under sail!

Good morning all
We're currently 2 miles from the finish line, looking at the beautiful and very lumpy profile of Saint Lucia as the sun rises. We were delighted when the wind finally crept in at about 1.00 am boat time, not much but enough to give us 3-4 knots of boat speed and, what relief, to stop the engine.
We've made our first VHF calls to the ARC Finish Line boat and are now ghosting towards the line (in the wind shadow of Pigeon Island). Another ARC yacht, Galetea, is  about half a mile ahead of us and another, Finnrose, finished about an hour ago. We are determined to finish under sail even though we're only doing 2 knots at the moment; it gives us time to drink in the view.
It's just amazing to see land for the first time in 3 weeks. Last night we could see the lights of Martinique first, then Saint Lucia and our arrival at dawn is perfect. We're all really excited to be here, though also a little sad that the voyage has come to an end. Maunie has looked after us brilliantly, as we knew he would, and our Safe, Happy, Fast mantra has served us well (event though we haven't been very fast for the past 2 days).
From a skipper's perspective, the crew has been awesome. We've worked hard, managed the challenges, eaten like kings and laughed a lot. What's more, Rich stopped taking Stugeron 6 days ago and hasn't felt seasick since!
So we'll send more updates and photos when we get a moment but we're now bracing ourselves for a world that consists of more than 4 people and 38 ft of yacht.
Finally, thanks to all of you for following our voyage and sending your comments. It has meant a lot to us to know that you're out there.
So, for the time being, this is Maunie of Ardwall standing by. Out.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Maunie's last 24 hours at sea?

It's slightly tempting fate to predict an exact arrival time but we now have less than 100 miles to go so an arrival at dawn looks likely.
Aboard the good ship Maunie, it's brilliantly sunny, very hot and there is STILL NO WIND! Unbelievable that we've had so little breeze for the past 3 days. Still, we are making the most of the conditions. The Maunie Mid-Atlantic Swimming Team were over the side this morning for a refreshing dip and we've been hard at work since, cleaning and polishing the boat. We've been pretty good at keeping on top of things every day but it's been good to get her sparkling again, ready for inspection in Rodney Bay.
Di's just preparing lunch and the engine power has allowed us to run the spare fridge as a freezer so the pasta & pesto will be accompanied by ice-cold water (the water in the tank is about 24 degrees so not very refreshing to drink). Fergus has the honour of the last Mother Watch tonight and this time tomorrow we'll be enjoying a cold beer or three. We can't quite believe that the voyage is nearly over and we're all slightly wary that the sudden arrival into the hurly-burly of the Rodney Bay marina and the ARC parties will be quite a shock. It'll also be interesting to see how our land-legs are after 3 weeks at sea, too!

Saturday, 15 December 2012

A Motoring Maunie on Day 19

As predicted we're now in motorboat mode. We had some gentle sailing for a few hours yesterday afternoon but the wind evaporated and we've been at slow engine speed ever since. Still the sea is calm so we aren't lurching about uncomfortably and the stars were superbly bright last night (the moon is just a tiny crescent, from the bottom, so looks like a Cheshire Cat grin).
Rich cooked the last of our fresh steak last night in a delicious Italian beef stew and we sat in the pilothouse watching War Horse on the laptop whilst Constance the electronic autopilot kept us pointing towards Saint Lucia.
Today has dawned hot and sunny so we stopped the engine and the three chaps jumped over the side for a swim. Wow, really warm water! We were surprised to find dozens of little rubbery Klingons adhered to the hull around the stern where obviously the half wet, half dry environment suits them, whatever they are. So Graham cleaned them off and also washed the grey diesel exhaust residue from the transom then joined Fergus and Rich for swimming around the nearly stationary boat (we did have a long floating safety line trailing behind!). It was a great feeling, though an odd perspective on the boat that's been our home for the past three weeks, and we tried not to think about the 5000m of water below us.
Since then we've been motoring steadily towards our goal. The good news is that we've been watching our fuel consumption very carefully and are pretty sure that we'll be able to motor the whole way if that's what it takes. As we write (188.00 UTC on Saturday) we have 215 miles to run so we'll get to Rodney bay in the early hours of Monday morning. Fergus' family have already arrived there so for their sake and to avoid finding our way into the marina in the dark we'll probably slow up a little to try to get there round dawn (we'll probably stop for another swim!).
Whilst we're getting excited at the prospect of landfall, we are feeling really sorry for Peter, Heidi and Hendrick in Stormvogel. This unlucky boat has been beset by another problem; Peter let us know about 3 days ago but we didn't broadcast it. He has now informed the ARC organisers so his misfortune is now common knowledge.
In the Force 9 gale that stuck us, Stormvogel also got hit with full mainsail up and the engine running (they had no wind). Next minute they had an out-of-control sleigh ride with accidental gybes and all sorts of difficulties. All the halyards (to hoist and lower sails) are at the mast, unlike Maunie where they are led back to the safety of the cockpit, and they had a nightmare getting the main down. The mainsheet (the rope controlling the mainsail at the end of the boom) wrapped around the steering binnacle, tearing out the compass, plotter, engine controls and autopilot controls. Worse still they got a rope round the propeller and their son Hendrick was injured by the flailing sheet. The engine was still running so it appears that it has trashed the brand new gearbox; Peter dived over the side and cleared the rope from the propellerwhen the weather calmed but the gearbox won't turn. Hence they are sitting in no wind, waiting for it to fill in to sail in later next week.  We'll wait for them in Rodney Bay - I think they are going to need lots of support (and beer).
So it's a shame that the ARC is ending in not such a fine way but it has nevertheless been an amazing experience. We'll confirm our ETA in tomorrow's and will post lots of photos when we have shore-based wifi. Meanwhile, we have another 8lb Mahi Mahi to cook for supper.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Day 18 - a Perfect Day on Maunie, until the wind died

Hello from 14 degrees 52 N, 54 degrees 55 W, 350 miles from Saint Lucia. Bright blue sky, deep blue water, absolutely no wind so there's a smooth sea with just a gentle rolling swell.
Yesterday was pretty much a perfect sailing day for us – the Parasailor was drawing well – and Maunie was surging along as though she knew that she had to make the most of the wind whilst it lasted. To give you an idea of what it's like running under a spinnaker, there's a video we posted on YouTube a couple of years ago as we were sailing back from Ireland – search 'Maunie of Ardwall and Perfect Day' on YouTube to have a look.
As the sun set we sat in the cockpit for supper, marvelling at the night sky. It was probably the best star scape we've had all trip, with no pesky rain clouds to spoil it. Unfortunately the same absence of clouds signalled our imminent arrival in the Dead Zone – huge wind hole that now stretches between us and Saint Lucia. At about 1.00am ship's time Graham joined Di on deck, having sensed the change in motion, and the Parasailor was swinging from side to side, with not enough wind to fill it. We decided to drop it before it became entangled so Fergus got up and we packed it safely into its bag, possibly for the last time in this voyage. The wind had dropped to less that 5 knots so we started the engine and have been motoring at our most economical speed (just over 5 knots) since.
The forecast suggests that we'll be in this kind of no-wind situation for the next 60 hours or so (ie pretty much all the way to Saint Lucia) so our worry is whether we have sufficient fuel to motor all the way. The main fuel tank is pretty empty (we've been burning about 8-10  litres every day to run the generator and also motored through the last calm) but we have 20 litre plastic cans stowed in various lockers and in the bilges, plus an emergency reserve tank of 60 litres which we aim to leave untouched for emergencies.  This morning Rich and Graham did some in-flight refuelling on the side-deck, emptying 55 litres into the main tank, and we'll repeat the process with the remaining cans (another 65 litres) this evening. We estimate that the engine is using 2.5 – 3 litres per hour so those cans should give us around 45 hours or 230 miles, on top of the 40 litres that were left in the tank before the refuel. So without touching the reserve tank, we should have a range of around 300 miles (and have 350 miles to go). It's all a bit of an inexact science as the fuel consumption is very much affected by the sea state (waves slow the boat and consume more power) but we just hope we'll find some breeze, even if it's only enough to motor-sail to increase our speed.
The radio net this morning reveals that the boats just arriving at Saint Lucia still have wind, leaving the tail end of the fleet – perhaps 30 boats -  wallowing in windless conditions, some with fuel stocks that will only take them half-way to the finish. Terribly unfair, but there we are; we'll just make the most of it.
One final discovery on board. You may know that Maunie was originally dark blue but we repainted her cream with a blue stripe last winter, partly because the hull was very scratched and faded and partly because dark hulls get very hot in direct sunlight. The wisdom of this change is very evident today – you just can't put your hand on the blue stripe, it's so hot, whilst the white hull is cool to the touch. Rich, in the aft cabin (where the blue stripe is widest near the stern), says it's like a radiator!
We'll keep you informed of our (slow) progress. If we have to (and manage to!) motor all the way, the GPS predicts an arrival on Monday afternoon. Fingers crossed we'll improve on this.
Stop Press! A LOVELY squall has just arrived ! We now have full white sails up with wind from the north so the engine is off. Hurrah!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Day 17 aboard Maunie - this is more like it!

We seem, finally, to have found the weather promised in the brochure! Yesterday we sailed all day and night with goose-winged white sails, effortlessly making around 7 knots with Winnie firmly in control of the steering; what's more we had sunshine! The transformation of life on board was dramatic – we were able to open hatches and get some fresh air through the boat (she'd become pretty damp below decks), finally dry our washing on deck and generally relax. Crew members spent the time in different ways: Fergus is writing a novel, Rich caught up on lost sleep, Di reorganised things in the cabin and Graham took the forward sea toilet apart to replace a broken valve. Cruising is often described as boat maintenance in exotic places but he was successful and we now have both heads operational again.
Today it's really sunny and warm so, after an excellent cooked breakfast / brunch we hoisted the Parasailor and are currently making 7 knots, with 470 miles to go. Perfect! If we maintained this kind of speed we'd reach St Lucia on Sunday morning but the weather forecast is still telling us that we'll pretty much completely run out of wind on Friday night or Saturday morning. So we'll just concentrate on making the most of the available wind whilst we have it (so will probably fly the Parasailor overnight if it looks as though there aren't any rain squalls in the offing).
We have enough diesel aboard for about 350 miles of motoring at economical speed (about 5 knots) but we don't want to use it if we can help it; it'll be an interesting team decision as to what to do if we do become becalmed. Running the engine for 2 days isn't an attractive prospect but, equally  rolling in a swell with the sails slatting is no fun either. We're all quietly hoping we'll find a magic seam of breeze to keep us moving.
The photo was taken by Fergus about a week ago – the last time we flew the Parasailor in the sun. He climbed the mast to check the rigging and to fit a spare spinnaker halyard. He's a keen climber so it makes a real difference compared to us normal yachties going aloft. We tend to cling, limpet-like to the mast, whilst climbers put their confidence in the climbing harness and and safety line so can use their hands to complete the task much more quickly. It's certainly not easy being up the mast of a moving yacht as the smallest roll can see the masthead moving through 15-20 feet so it was pretty impressive that Fergus managed to get some great photos from up there.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Maunie Day 16 - 'Go North for Wind'. We did and found a Force 9

Hello from the Maunie crew on Wednesday morning. At last we are in bright sunshine so the rigging has lots of extra lines attached to dry wet clothes and foulies.
Last night was quite an experience, and not one we're very keen to repeat. We headed slightly north in search of stronger breezes, urged on by Steve our weather chart interpreter. Most of the day was under grey skies but with the Parasailor up so we were making good progress. Towards the end of the afternoon we switched back to white sails and below decks was a scene of domestic activity with Dianne making a carrot cake and Graham a Mahi Mahi fish pie. Said pie was almost ready to serve when we realised that the friendly Force 5 following wind was increasing  and the radar showed a huge orange mass of rain for about 6 miles all around the boat. Thoughts of food vanished; Graham & Fergus went up to join Rich in the cockpit whilst Di held on down below to keep an eye on the radar as the boat started to surf and lurch.
Rich was in good control but we clearly had too much sail up with the wind speed increasing to 28-30 knots, we were sailing at 8-9 knots (very much our maximum hull speed) with a huge wake behind us, in driving rain. In a series of carefully rehearsed manoeuvres, we first furled the yankee then brought the boat up into the wind to reef down the mainsail, ending up with 3 reefs to make it about one third its normal size, and no foresail . Maunie felt much more manageable then but was still charging along as the wind continued to increase. For about an hour we had winds of 38-42 knots (a severe gale Force 9) with a peak gust of 49 knots but again Maunie showed her true colours and took it all in her stride. Watches were reduced to 90 minutes as the helmsman needed full concentration but as the night wore on the rain finally abated, the wind reduced and Winnie the Windpilot could take over the steering. Samples of fish pie were eaten when we could get below (and very much enjoyed) and the carrot cake at 4.00am was a treat (described by Rich as 'nectar'!).
We're still slightly puzzled as to what kind of weather system engulfed us; it certainly didn't appear on the forecasts. Clearly it was very localised because boats only 50 miles away were reporting erratic or even no winds but a couple we chatted to on the SSB radio had reported similar but less intense conditions close to our position. It is possible, we suppose, that we were engulfed by a huge thunder cloud which then travelled in the same direction and at the same speed as we did so we didn't escape it.
So we're now still under white sails making good progress towards our destination 640 miles away. The weird weather of 2012 appears to have a final trick up its sleeve for us, though. The 72 hour grib forecast suggests a new low pressure system will form pretty much on our track then move northwards. We hope that it'll form behind us but even so, the winds to the south and west of it will be very light and, yes, there'll be more rain! So we are just concentrating on keeping Maunie trimmed for optimal speed in the current conditions and are hoping that the forecast will be as wrong as it was last night!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Day 15 on Maunie - strange golden globe spotted in sky

Hello from the Maunie crew on day 15 of our transatlantic meander. Yesterday saw us, at last, return to some predictable and relatively steady wind so we flew the Parasailor from 11.00am until sunset. We did consider leaving it up overnight but, after the previous night's squalls, decided we didn't want another drama getting it down in the middle of the night and  so returned to goose-winged white sails. It turned out to be a wise decision as we were overtaken by several very wet rain squalls with wind speeds of up to 30 knots. At one stage the lightning was so intense that Rich described it as looking like a WW1 battle and Di put the laptop in the oven (it acts as a 'Faraday Cage' if there's a lightning strike to protect the contents)
This morning, for the first time in two days, we have some sunshine! It gave us the chance to complete the clothes washing process started two days ago but Graham had no sooner hung things out to dry when a huge rainstorm arrived to give the clothes an extra rinse. Also on the domestic front the breadmaker has delivered an excellent loaf after two failures (both bread mixes brought from the UK so we guess the hot storage conditions did for them) and yesterday's Dorado / Mahi Mahi will become a fish pie this evening).
As you may have seen from the Fleet Tracker, we're currently heading slightly north of west, trying to get into more stronger north-easterlies so we have the Parasailor up and, guess, what, it's raining again. The rain has brought around 24 knots of wind so Fergus is enjoying a combined upper-body workout and sauna at the wheel whilst the rest of us below are just getting the sauna. The boat is rocking and rolling as we surf down the waves at nearly 8 knots so all entertaining stuff! Whilst on watch this morning, Di grated the carrots ready for another carrot cake but with the weather this afternoon may put the baking on hold!

Monday, 10 December 2012

Day 14: The Maunie Team, what a team!

The great thing (usually) about long sailing voyages is seeing how the team dynamics of crew develop. On Maunie we're very lucky to have four very competent and experienced sailors aboard but over the days we've developed into a very good team; people work to their strengths and support each other even when off watch, coming on deck uncomplainingly when needed . Yesterday was, in many ways, quite a challenging day but the teamwork saw us through it.
Things started fairly positively with the wind filling in and allowing us to fly the Parasailor from lunchtime with good teamwork to set it safely. Almost as soon as it was up, we caught a fish – a European Barracuda about 70cm long -  and new team roles came into place. Rich despatched it with a shot of vodka to the gills, Fergus gutted and filleted it, Graham skinned it and Dianne cooked a delicious fish curry with it in the evening.
Our challenged began in the late afternoon when the wind began to drop a bit and a towering black cloud approached us from behind. Suddenly the wind was almost gone, with a terrible,confuse wave pattern that left us yawing wildly, the Parasailor threatening to tie itself into a knot. The foredeck crew, Rich and Fergus on this occasion, leapt into action and started to lower the sail just as the most intense rainstorm hit us. The snuffer 'sock' which pulls down from the top of the sail to gather it into a 15m sausage, somehow inflated when wet into what Rich described as a giant condom so Dianne and Graham in the cockpit were treated to the hilarious spectacle of him pummelling what looked like an inflatable elephant into a bag half its size. The sail was finally tamed and the mainsail hoisted, all the while in the heaviest rain imaginable – the rain was very cold, too, falling from the top of the very tall cloud, but we used it to full advantages for hair washing.
Conditions calmed down as night fell but the big wind shifts meant we had to gybe a few times, an operation involving removing and re-rigging the spinnaker pole for the foresail and the preventer rope on the mainsail, so lots of foredeck work with torches and safety harness taking about 20 minutes each time. Finally, in the middle of the night Fergus, on watch, alerted the skipper that there was a green navigation light to port and it appeared to be closing towards us. We identified the boat on AIS, called her on the VHF a few times with no response and had to take avoiding action – we would have been on collision course otherwise – amazing in the middle of the ocean to meet another boat, let alone have to alter course to avoid it!
So the Maunie crew are pushing as hard as we can, though we're still not in particularly brilliant wind conditions. Meanwhile, the Maunie shore crew are keeping us up to speed with what's happening on the Fleet Viewer and Steve Gamman continues to check the weather files from mid-Wales.  "Go North", he says, so we're trying to do that now.
As I write the team roles have changed again – we've just caught an 8lb Dorado so it'll be fish for supper again
Best wishes from the Maunie Team

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Day 13 - Light winds in a heavy Maunie

A big sense of frustration aboard the good ship Maunie last night. Yesterday's breeze gradually faded away in the afternoon and, in spite of the skipper's best efforts on the wheel for 4 hours, the Parasailor spent more and more of its time deflated as the boat rolled in the gentle swell. As the sun set we were down to less than 2 knots of boat speed and the sail was threatening to wrap itself around the rigging so we dropped it and started the engine again.
At 05.00 this morning, (boat time, 07.00 UTC) Rich and Graham rigged the pole and set the white sails goose-winged in about 11 knots of breeze, shut down the engine and we wallowed sedately at 3-4 knots. Sailors will know that the wind dead aft isn't great at the best of times and a heavy yacht like Maunie really needs 15 knots or more on this point of sail. The added frustration for us is that, with the benefit of wonderful hindsight, we took the wrong decision when we first had to motor two nights ago. We elected to go south-west because the forecast further north was for thunderstorms and very unpredictable winds; those boats in that zone did suffer heavy wind squalls from all directions and an uncomfortable few hours but they then broke into cleaner and stronger North-easterlies much faster than expected and now have good 18-20 knot winds.
Ah, well, that's sailing for you and we're now just focussing on boat speed. The forecast suggests that the wind will strengthen as the day wears on so we'll hoist the Parasailor as soon as we're confident it'll stay filled. The positive of last night was a clear sky full of stars with a quarter moon, with no rain so the deck watch attire was t-shirt, shorts and lifejacket. This morning is cloudy so the temperature is just nice and we're all on deck having breakfast and Fergus is now excitedly reading off boat speed numbers that we've been dreaming of – 6.4 knots. Go, Maunie, go!!

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Day 12 and Maunie falls into the hole!

The wind hole that we've been trying to avoid acted as a something of a magnet to Maunie so, despite our best efforts, we fell into it at 18.00 last night and took the decision to motor through it for about 14 hours (the Fleet tracker will show a very straight line where we had the engine and autopilot running). The wind hole was also full of very heavy rain – Rich described it as his wettest sail ever! Listening to  the SSB radio net, lots of other boats motored between 12- 15 hours though the hole.
Eventually the weather cleared and we emerged this morning into sunshine and, thankfully, a reasonable (but not quite strong enough) breeze so we hoisted the Parasailor at 10.00 UTC and we're currently trundling along at about 5 knots, enjoying the silence after all hour of the engine noise. The hot sun means that the bimini sunshade has been rigged over the cockpit and we think that the beanbag will be rigged on the foredeck after lunch, with a strict rota of usage between us!
There are positives to be found, of course, even when the sailing doesn't quite go to plan. The level and relatively steady boat last night allowed Graham to deliver a tour de force Steak Night dinner – excellent rib eye steaks with roast potatoes, carrots and beetroot – which left him melting in front of the cooker but was received very well by the crew. We also ran the watermaker for a few hours so have plenty of piping hot water (heated by the engine) for a substantial clothes wash today, plus crew showers; now that we are out of the rain zone it's hot but the stifling humidity below has reduced a little.
As the stocks of meat in the fridge dwindle, we're back to fishing for our suppers. Yesterday afternoon we hooked into something very large; the reel screamed as the monster fish took about 100m of line out and we just couldn't wind it back in. Just as well, probably, the 14ft Tuna (it must have been at least that) chomped through the line after 5 minutes. Hopefully we'll land something smaller soon.
It's been great to receive your emails – Steve Gamman has been delivering weather routing info (ie "You're going to sail into the hole!") and a lady from our neighbouring village, Holford, sent us a message, having read about our trip in the Kilve News and started to follow the blog. We can't read any comments posted onto the blog out here (but will catch up with them in Saint Lucia) but any emails to maunie (at) mailasail.com will get to us.
Best wishes from the Maunie crew

Friday, 7 December 2012

Day 11 and Maunie hits light airs

Yesterday evening's half-way celebrations were fun. The crew were invited for drinks and nibbles in the cockpit at 6.00 and a bottle of Sharpham Park sparkling wine (produced on the banks of the River Dart) was very  much enjoyed. A slightly surreal video night followed with the laptop and speakers propped up in the companion way - we watched the excellent Sam Neal film 'The Dish' whilst reaching at 6 - 7 knots with the Parasailor. The evening ended with a very tasty pasta bolognese produced by Dianne.
The forecast suggested that the winds would continue to decrease during the night so we decided that it would be fine to revert to one person on watch. Unfortunately Neptune had other ideas and at 01.30 delivered a Force 5, gusting 6 so it was an all-hands-on-deck moment to get the Parasailor down safely. Rich and Fergus made a great team on the foredeck whilst Graham concentrated on keeping a safe and straight course and Dianne eased the sheets and guys. The sail change was challenging but completed perfectly - what a crew!
For the rest on the night we made good progress under foresail alone and this morning have all the white sails deployed as the wind has swung round to the SSW (so we are beating towards it). Unfortunately the wind is dropping away and we are currently only making about 3 knots!! Still, it's a good chance to get the washing done now that the heavy rain of this morning has gone. The longer-term forecast suggests that normal-service trade winds will return tomorrow so the Parasailor will be back up soon.
Safe, Happy, just not very Fast

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Day 10 and Maunie's half-way there!

Today sees us pass an important milestone (not literally, it'd sink) – we're covered 1436 miles so far (as at 13.00 UTC) and the chart plotter tells us that there are 1443 to go. So, we'll have a little half-way celebration later.
Having hoisted the Parasailor yesterday at 13.30, it's still up and powering us along nicely in a rather more gentle breeze than we're used to. Flying such a big sail at night brings some challenges, particularly if we saw some rain squalls on radar and had to bring it down in a hurry, so we changed our watch-keeping regime to have two people on deck at all time. Graham and Di did the 8.00 - midnight and 04.00 – 08.00 watches, Fergus and Rich the midnight – 04.00 and then were back on deck at 8.00. It was a goodnight's sailing with only a couple of rain squalls that we managed to avoid and the Parasailor behaved admirably in up  to 22 knots of wind. As the night wore on, the wind veered to come from the SSE so, after days of making our way south we found ourselves going very slightly north again. However a big adjustment of the sail settings meant we moved onto a beam reach (with the wind coming perpendicular to the boat, from the port side) and we made a better direction and kept up 6-7 knot speeds. The sail is brilliant – really easy to control and we're getting more confident with it all the time. Work on the foredeck to hoist and lower the sail, move the spinnaker pole etc, is rehearsed before hand and a 'mast-man' coordinates the work on the deck with the handling of lines in the cockpit so that there are no foul-ups. We're pleased to say the last few manoeuvres have been pretty slick and faultless.
Looking at the forecasts, unfortunately it seems that the wind hole ahead of us is bigger and slower moving than we hoped so we don't think we'll be able to dodge it (without turning due south for a 2 day detour); the 'Yanmar Spinnaker' (diesel engine) may be called into action tomorrow just to get us through the calms. There is also a lot of rain and thunder predicted so it looks as thought Maunie will have a fresh water rinse to get rid of all the salt on her decks. In the meantime, though, Rich is on the helm, wringing every ounce of speed from the boat and getting an excellent 6.3 knots in only 12 knots of wind. Pretty good for a heavy boat like Maunie and a credit to the crew who are all pushing the boat as hard as we can.
Finally, Rich passed a personal milestone of his own yesterday, completing 'mother watch' (cleaning and cooking in a lurching boat) without feeling ill. The combination of pills and some amazing anti-seasickness glasses seems to be doing the trick.   

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Day 9 on Maunie - the Yeo Valley Big Pot is flying!

Hi everyone
Our 'keep meandering southwest' strategy has seen us move down to around 17 North so we are feeling very tropical now. There has been fairly solid cloud cover today but the sun has just broken through and it's getting very warm down in our cabins. Last night's supper selection was a fairly challenging one for Fergus, who claims to have no culinary skills but is, we are discovering, a potential Master Chef. Lemon Chicken breasts, marinated in lemon juice, honey and soy sauce were accompanied by baby roast potatoes and carrots steamed in butter, white wine , garlic, cumin and rosemary so it was quite a performance to pull off in a rolling boat – as Greg Wallace would say, "Cooking doesn't come any tougher than this!" and the results were delicious. We've decided we wouldn't like to meet a Canarian chicken on a dark night; they must be the size of turkeys – two breasts provided more meat than we could eat between us.
We had another steady night with just the odd rain shower but no squalls and today there are definite signs of the wind easing. This morning's forecast suggests that we might just slip south of the worst of the light winds and we hoisted the Yeo Valley Parasailor at 13.00 today; we're still in Force 4-5 NE to E winds so it's delivering a good turn of speed. We'll make the call later as to whether we'll fly it through the night, depending on wind and squalls.
The watermaker has been on so the water tanks are full and the crew have enjoyed showers and hair washes. We'll leave clothes washing to a sunnier day. The warm air is making our fresh fruit and veg ripen very quickly so we ate the first of our bananas, bought very green in Las Palmas, and are down to our last few tomatoes and pears; less exciting meals, based on pasta and tinned foods, will be the norm once we've used the last of the fresh meat but we're itching to get the fishing line out again.
Looking ahead, some boats may decide to put their engines on to motor through a day or so of calms (there is a time penalty for this on the corrected finish times) so as to get to Saint Lucia as quickly as possible. We've decided we want to do the crossing under sail alone (unless we get hopelessly becalmed) so the Fleet Viewer position may change quite dramatically over the next few days. We'll keep you informed of progress.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Day 8 on Maunie - pushing hard

Hello from 18 degrees 55 N, 30 degrees 52 W. It's 10.15 am ship's time; we put the clocks back an hour a couple of days ago and will repeat the process 3 more times before we reach Saint Lucia. Confusingly the ship's log and all the radio nets work on UTC / GMT so the brass clock has "add 1 hour for log" written on its glass to remind us.
Last night was a great sail, still broad reaching in a Force 6 so another 24-hour record has fallen as we achieved 174 miles. The three watch-keepers have worked brilliantly to keep Maunie running at optimum speed, hand-steering for most of their watches. We have just downloaded the latest weather forecasts and it looks as though we have another 24-36 hours of good winds before it all goes a bit light. We are still hoping that our 'head south a bit more' strategy will work for us and it will be interesting to chat to the other boats on the SSB in half an hour to compare notes. (Post-script, the net has just finished and one boat about 150 miles due north of us had a very tough night with big waves and a gust of up to 48 knots! Most are going for the 'head south' strategy as well).
The rotation of watches continues with the variety and (sometimes) challenge of 'Mother Watch' occurring every 4th day. [Di writes] Being 'Mother' yesterday had its moments! With clocks going back, it of course gets dark earlier (and out here, that's sudden). So, I was tempted to start my cleaning duties early but of course that meant a very warm routine. At the same time, the boat was rolling even more so making the task a bit like balancing on one of those wobble boards (but a larger version) at the gym, on a conveyor belt and cleaning without falling over. Only a few swear words were heard!
Whilst we have a meal plan, we are flexible around the conditions. So we opted for a relatively simple pasta with a 'boat-made' sauce. The downside to varying from the plan is that some additional ingredients must be fished out of the main storage boxes as normally we plan ahead and will have already transferred the long life ingredients for the meals over the next 3 days into more accessible 'day boxes'. So a bit more time was taken in gathering the ingredients but I'm pleased to say that the main course was a success. The diners at Restaurant Maunie were a little subdued, I'm afraid to say as, after the previous night's watch, we were all a bit tired (or that's what they told me!!) Part of Mother Watch is to check on the food stocks. You may recall that our fruit and veg is stored in the fore cabin. On checking the fruit, I found several of the pears had ripened suddenly so built those into a healthy pud.
(Graham writes) – Di's supper was lovely last night and the fresh pears and creme fraiche pudding delicious. The sudden warmth down below certainly makes Mother Watch even more of a challenge so we're now trying to plan meals that don't involve pans simmering on the hob to add humidity to the whole affair.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Day 7 and Maunie's flying!

As one of the smaller boats in the ARC, Maunie is also one of the slowest, only no one  seems to have told her that; last night was fast and furious.
If you are following us on the Fleet Tracker, you may have spotted a distinct kink in our track – we're heading further south, aiming to be below 20 degrees north by the end of today. We are hoping to keep below the disturbed and light winds ahead of us so all being well the extra miles will pay off. Proper racing boats have shore based forecasters producing optimal weather routes for them whereas we're interpreting (in a distinctly amateur way)the general weather charts and grib files as best we can – with helpful additional input from Graham's father in Scotland.
Our change of course also meant a change in sail plan. We have stowed the pole for the yankee and now have both sails on the same side on a broad reach (with the wind over the helmsman's left shoulder). It's generally a faster point of sailing for us but is more challenging on the steering, particularly when rain squalls drive in as well, so Winnie now needs a regular human helping hand to keep us on course. The night watches were therefore fairly busy, especially as we encountered a long line of rain squalls which saw the windspeed increase from a comfortable 18-20 knots to a handful 35 knots. Graham was on deck several time in the night to assist and Dianne got particularly wet from both waves and heavy rain. She also had quite a shock when a flying fish landed in the cockpit at her feet!
So it's a bit challenging  and we're all fairly tired but it's great to be sailing so fast – we've covered 169 miles in the past 24 hours, our best day yet with an average speed of just over 7 knots. Let's  hope we can keep it up for a couple of days – we continue to be Safe, Happy and, now, Fast.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Maunie Day 6 - Zen and the Art of Going to the Lavatory

Hello from the Maunie crew on Sunday, with 820 miles covered so far. All is well here – we have bright sunshine and a great Force 6 wind behind us so are making good progress. The SSB Radio Net was quite a chatty affair at lunchtime – Graham was duty net controller so injected a bit of enthusiasm into event and it was good to hear how other boats are getting on. One had heard from home via email that all the race boats that started two days ahead of us have hit a patch of relatively light wind so the rest of the fleet is closing in on them at the moment.
Non-sailing readers have commented that the sailing jargon (which we try to avoid as much as possible) can be a little confusing so today's blog will try to address the second most common question asked by non-sailors (after "how do boats sail towards the wind exactly?") which is "how do you go to the loo at sea?".
With some difficulty at times, is the quick answer. Old sailing ships used to have a special cut-out on the aft rail so that crew members could perch there, watching the ship forge ahead whilst leaving what we, for the sake of modesty and decorum, will call turtles floating in the wake behind. With the passage of time and increasing standards of decorum required (heavens, there might even be ladies aboard!) basic toilets (again of the long-drop variety), were fitted in the bow or head of the ship, flushed with a bucket of sea water, and so to this day a ship's toilet is known as the heads, wherever it is installed aboard.
On Maunie, we have the luxury of two heads, one up forward on the port side and the other back aft on starboard which allows the user to choose the best according to the weather conditions; more of this later. Of course, gentlemen could always stand on deck and widdle over the side but this is Strictly Forbidden; every year coroners in coastal towns add the initials FOO to the post mortem records of drowned yachtsmen and fishermen. FOO stands for Flies Open on Arrival. On a rolling boat you need both hands to steady yourself on deck so if one is holding something else then it all gets a bit risky.
Holding on in the heads compartments below deck is just as important, particularly as the motion of the boat is unpredictable just as you're trying to go through a few private motions of your own. Fundamentally you really need three arms as you try to brace yourself whilst removing the relevant (and often many-layered) sailing garments and placing your derriere on the loo seat. Oh, I should mention that the loo's a lot smaller than the household variety, just to add further challenge to the activity. Once installed, the process that you intend to complete (releasing the aforementioned turtles to the wild) requires a degree of bodily relaxation that is completely at odds with the limpet-like grip that you are forced to apply to all available hand-holds and foot braces. If the boat rolls heavily at the wrong moment there is a serious risk of being propelled out through the door, trousers around ankles, to the great amusement of your crew mates.
Further challenges still await the unfortunate sailor. Assuming that he or she is successful in the turtle emancipation, the level of the water (and other constituents) in the toilet bowl will rise and then swirl dangerously with the boat's every move. At this point the user requires a third or possibly fourth hand to pump the handle beside them to begin the process of delivering the turtles to their natural environment. Yes, dear reader, it all goes into the sea (though a perilously small-diameter pipe); whilst we have a holding tank for use in harbour, the best solution to pollution is dilution so we're not taking our turtles with us. This, by the way, is a good reason not to go snorkelling for turtles in crowded yacht anchorages.
We're now onto the final stage of this frankly stressful process where the the amount of toilet paper used must be commensurate with the task in hand (sorry) but not sufficient to block the narrow pipe to the sea. Finished and exhausted, the weary sailor will dress, whilst using both hands to steady himself, wash his hands in a stream of water which oddly falls at 45 degrees from the tap and emerge from the heads safe in the knowledge that the process will need to be repeated all too soon.
Bet you thought sailing was just fun, fun, fun.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Day 5 on Maunie - sail changes

We are making steady progress in a WSW direction in very different weather conditions from those being experienced at home. Dianne had a very quick sat phone call to her sister Norma in Hambleton, Lancashire, last night and heard about temperatures of minus 10! It would therefore be childish to tell you about our weather here – ah well, we have 25 degrees, sunshine and we're all in shorts and shirts!
Last night's Dorado supper was delicious – we brought along some bake-in-the-bag bags so marinated the fillets in butter, garlic, white wine, lemon and herbs and they worked really well (and didn't fill the boat with fish smells during cooking). Dianne did sterling work in the galley and the serving-up was a team effort in the rolling swell.
The wildlife continues to entertain us – we spotted a large turtle on the surface a couple of days ago then yesterday evening had around 20 dolphins with us for about half an hour, with plenty of out-of-the water action. Cue lots of photos of splashes and no dolphins.
This morning we spent some time trying different sail configurations. The wind was too high for the Parasailor but a bit low to get good speed with just the foresail so we hoisted the mainsail again and now have the yankee poled out one side and the mainsail on the other. It has given us good extra speed but Winnie sometimes needs a helping hand when the gusts come in. During the day, most of us are on deck or in the pilot house, reading, writing or just relaxing but the nominated watch-keeper is in charge of running the sailing side of things, keeping the logbook up to date and watching for other vessels. On the Fleet Tracker we probably look as though we are surrounded by other yachts but we can only see one at the moment. At night, it's a bit different, with just the watchkeeper on deck for their 3-hour watch. Each passes the time differently – an iPod is popular companion – but if the sky is clear, the moon and stars provide wonderful interest.
On the domestic front, all seems well. We're running the generator for about 3 hours each day to recharge the batteries and heat the water for washing ups and showers. The watermaker is a brilliant addition to the boat, as the tanks are still completely full after 5 days. It makes 30 litres per hour, producing very pure but rather tasteless water, so we have some isotonic powder (laughingly described as 'Summer Fruits') to provide some taste and minerals to our water bottles. The big challenge for the washer-upper is carrying the washing up bowl of dirty water up through the boat to be passed to someone on deck to empty over the side – this walk of death has disaster written all over it in the bumpy conditions but thankfully so far has been completed without major spillage.
Whilst it could feel quite lonely out here  - as mentioned, we only very occasionally see other boats – there are lots of communication channels here. The daily SSB Radio net is a chance to chat to other boats around us and, of course, we're loving the messages from home via email.