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Archives for February 2010

The Pacific Ocean welcomes careful drivers

I'm gonna come back here one day with a dirty great sign Saying "The Pacific Ocean Welcomes Careful Drivers" and affix it to the last buoy in the channel. After I've got my Zarpe (excuse spelling). Then leg it.

For "Wench" Read "Winch" throughout

A Zarpe is the port captains clearance paper. For my generation who've grown up with the benign regime of the EU and open borders and aeroplane's they're a bitch. To go from country A to country B generally speaking you need to see customs, see the port captain the port captain will have a form listing the crew of the vessel  an give you your "Port Clearance" or Zarpe. Stating where you've come from and where your going too with whom.

WENCH: Definition, a piece of Marine
equipment used to pull ropes anchors
chains etc.
Fig 1, a wench in operation

Then you go to immigration and get stamps in your passport. Country B will want to see your Port Clearance, and woe betides anyone who's crew list is different on arrival, is arriving in the wrong country port or whatever. In some cases if you change crew you must go see Port Capitan and or Immigration with the crew list and get signed on or off. If changing boats sometime both captains are required and you'll be stamped off one boat on to another. My old passport has three Trini(dad) stamps for my first visit. One for in (on S/ V Ramprasad) on for out (on Ornen) and one marked D/T (direct transfer?) to Ornen indicating my change of boat.

Getting off the crew list and not on to another boat is made nigh on impossible in some countries. The only way to do it is buy buying an air ticket out and showing it to the immigration officials. This is frequently a bugger, since it makes waiting for a ride on another boat bloody expensive. Obviously if you can't get off the crew list then the boat can't leave or its crew list will be wrong.

Sometimes people will transfer to another boat which is staying for a bit even if they're nothing to do with it. This simply defers the problem. Many boat owners do not like this cos you never really know how your going to get rid of the person on your crew list.

Well some particularly bloody minded countries like to further complicate matters by Zarpeing you internally to the country, last time I was here we didn't realise we had to clear out of Colon, go through the canal and clear into Balboa. Mind you even the Blue Water Rally forgot initially.

Bloody bureaucratic bastards. The process in the Caribbean frequently takes longer than the actual sail between the islands.

 Caribbean customs officers have
 made it into BBC2's Room 101

Anyway we've had weird weather here. Was a lovely strong offshore breeze for the first few days. Yesterday the proper doldrums weather kicked in. It was windless, it was hot it was so incredibly sticky. I chose yesterday to go shopping (AKA getting lost) around Panama City. Went back (eventually) to the knock off board short shop I went to last time. Bought 36 waist. When I left the UK my 38 inch shorts were tight. Think I sweated off half a stone yesterday alone.

We were supposed to go out to the old town for a Jazz open mike night last night. Glad we didn't. We went to the bar at sunset for a couple of beers. As we came back the wind came up big time. Dinghy ride out was incredibly wet, waves coming straight in the anchorage. A very crowded anchorage. We weren't dragging, I think its bloody hard to tell when every boat is bucking like a hobby horse kid on a sugar rush. But we were scarcely close to several boats who either were or would give no warning if they did drag. If you want a lubbers comparison it was like the sort of ebb and flow of people at a borderline riot/demonstration. With 20 ton boats.

Click to Embiggen

Dinghies everywhere, rushing back to their boats. Easier said than done. Finding your boat in the dark is a skill. When the anchorage has changed and the dinghy ride is like a Brighton Beach launch on a bad day and either your boat has dragged (I.E. its anchor has lost its grip on the bottom) or those around you have finding your boat becomes a challenge in its self. To extend the demo analogy imagine the dinghy as the parents and the yacht as a lost child - in the midst of the pol tax riots. Remember here there yacht is their home, centre of their universe with all their worldly goods on it in many cases and the analogy won't seem so extreme.

 To add to the back ground of mayhem you have shouting between boats, which is usually inaudible, conducted as it is in 5 languages. Powerful searchlights stabbing out briefly illuminating boats. Sometimes a boat dragging badly will be illuminated from several directions as it goes backwards through the anchorage.

This happened right next to us. An Island Packet (American Heavy cruising yacht not something out of Master and Commander), scrapped down the side of a boat next to us, maybe 20 meters away. 10 meters behind us a tinny little yellow yacht was plunging its bow in then 15 feet in the air. Its chain out of the water to almost our transom.

At this point the Island Packet crew, and one of the crew from the boat 15 meters ahead of us managed to get aboard their wildly bucking boat, get the engine on and start hauling anchor.

Imagine a lost child at the poll tax riots
yacht owners in a dinghy in a messed
up anchorage have the same way
about them as the child's parents would 

Given they'd gone past the boat they'd hit, on one side and looked like coming back up the other (thus pulling the stationary boats anchor up too) and left the lurching boat close ahead of us short crewed we had a spectre of both boats entangled crashing into us so we cut and ran. Getting our anchor up involved passing right along side the boat ahead. Within feet. Both boats plunging up and down similar distance. At one stage we thought we'd hooked they're chain but in the end we we're up and clear.

Even as we cleared the anchorage it was clear the wind was dropping off again. Several other boats were milling around too. The radio was alive with similar incidents, some on going. Rayla's anchor was pulled out by the yacht that dragged past her, other rally yachts took the decision, like us, that even if they did hold there was as much of a threat from other people dragging and came out  to anchor offshore with us.

The night was rolly, the wind dropped but the swell didn't morning saw the yellow boat who'd been close behind us  anchored out at see with us again. We've moved back in to the re- arranged anchorage. With a bit more space. Where we were yesterday it's difficult to imagine where we'd have fitted. There's a cluster of boats all very tight, no sign of the gap both us and the yellow boat were occupying.

 All in all there was little damage for the amount of carnage. Bear in mind that I know one boat here has no steering at all it due to arrive back today. One of the cats has an engine out I.E. it can't do 'owt but circles. We all got off quite lucky. One boat did loose their dinner to the ravenous cabin floor. After they'd got the hell out of there, they opted for a liquid dinner of fruit juice with a rum stock.

More pleasant way's to spend the evening but no harm done. Given we're all rusty, we handled the whole thing bloody well I think.

 1: I hope to hell Jacky doesn't spot this post. Or I am in serious trouble,

Position: 8° 54.7' N, 79° 31.5' W | Posted: Thu 25th February 2010

Darién Gap

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

OK I was wrong, last time I was here I described Panama as the crossroads of the world. Canal between Atlantic and Pacific spanned by the Bridge of the Americas connecting north and south America.

It doesn't work like that - cos of the Darién Gap, to my surprise there is no highway to South America from here. The Pan American Highway has a gap in it. This should prove interesting viewing on BBC2 as Ewan McLightsaber and Charlie Boreman are planning another trip called long way up. Right the way up the Americas.

Position: 8° 54.7' N, 79° 31.5' W | Posted: Mon 22nd February 2010

Island Kea II Transits

Island Kea Locks down to the Pacific at Miraflores Locks

We're in to the Pacific! We when up to Gatun Lake through the Three locks at Gatun Tuesday night , overnighted in Gatun Lake tied to a buoy. Through the lake and cut in grey sky's and no GSM signal. The sun came out as we crossed the continental divide and entered the smaller miraflores lake. Friends from the rally were on the observation platform at Miraflores locks waving. The webcam was working too and due to my leet haKor skillz I had Kieran's server ripping the feed above is the result. RSS and facebook users might want to go and look at my website at this point - using something that can do flash.

We are the right hand boat of the pair just behind the large tourist ferries. As you look at it from the camera.

Position: 8° 60' N, 79° 35.6' W | Posted: Fri 19th February 2010

Web Cam -

Tomorrow we should transit the Panama Canal, well half tomorrow and half Wednesday.

Panamax from the Lifting bridge at Gatun

Unlike the open ocean the Panama Canal has webcams at both Gatun Locks (Atlantic side) and at Miraflores on the way down the other side of the isthmus. photo/ camera-java.html 

This is not confirmed yet, will update this and twitter facebook etc when it is but I expect to go out the flats tomorrow at 4pm which I would hope to be at the webcam at Gatun at 6pm. Local Time (GMT -5) Last time it was much later.

Now you spend the night in Gatun lake 80 meters above the Caribbean sea and motor through the canal the next day.

Now last time we arrived at Miraflores locks at 14:00, but I've been told 11:30 is more normal.

Look out for us here http:// you can see Island kea in Numerous photos, we'll probably be with 2 other yachts. Checklist for IKII identification.

  • White Hull
  • 2 Spreader Rig
  • Blue sprayhood (Dodger if your a yank) - will probably down leaving a windscreen
  •  NO Bimani - rare
  • Blue Stripe on hull
  • Large windows on deck with white netting on them.
  • Wind Generator and Davits aft.
  • Center Cockpit. - I.E. Cockpit is higher up and further forward than most boats.

Like this but with a new mast!

Position: 9° 22.2' N, 79° 57' W | Posted: Tue 16th February 2010 |

Test Sail

It looks like we made it. As a "Test Sail" 1148Nm is a little excessive. Almost any uk boat won't make that in a year. Could well be the 2nd longest passage till Australia. Maybe even longer. Been blogging, there's the initial surprise of departure, some musing is on the finances of the supper- yachts with updates, some random paint and cornish- pasty- for-a-head Star Trek radar bassed tom-foolery and a rather more personal piece about my desire to listen to "I am the one and only", by Chesney Hawkes whilst rolling down the trades - with video. Don't worry no Chesney in it, just men at work).

Test Sail 

Anyway the test sail has been very successfully. The fridge is working and the beer is cold. Which is I am sure you'll agree the main thing. The new stick has a larger number of good modern ball block than its predecessor. The narrower main sheet with better lead is lower friction. The roller furler (though we're treating it with kid gloves) appears vastly improved, generally we're sailing very well.

Most impressive of the new and untested kit is Wendy, Wendy is for when de wind blows. Its a Hydrovane self steering gear. Autopilots are usually called George. George is dead. George has a sister Georgina. Dead. So Wendy has driven most of the last 1000 miles. Thank god. Only probem is when the wind drops and we motor, it don't work. Wind vanes definitely have a character, Sam's windpilot on Ramprasad got christened "Wallace" mid Atlantic and the name has stuck.

I made a prediction about the Alternator. About the first thing I did 2 years ago when I met Island Kea was help Steve with the alternator. Matt's boat the Grip, when I joined it in Oz had a buggered alternator. A few weeks back when staying on the Pearl with Igor and Caroline, charging problems. I'm detecting a pattern here. Doh, I hate it when I'm right. Anyway we've not investigated properly, we're due in tomorrow, the alternator is down a large hole full of wirling death, hot exaust pipes, the generator etc. Best left till the harbour.

  • The Mast
  • The Hydrovane (Wendy)
  • Engine
  • Genny
  • Most of the million other sytems and stuff.
  • Autopilot 1 (George)
  • Autopilot 2 (Georgina) 
  • Water Maker
  • Alternator is playing silly buggers.

Please note positions on this blog should be transferred 49' North and 68' East to actaully agree with my current location, but when I upload it it should be correct.


Position: 9° 22.2' N, 79° 57' W | Posted: Sun 14th February 2010

Volume up, tone down low, rubbish on the radio

Its 8 am, trade wind sailing the boats asleep, Chesney Hawkes, I am the one and only. I'm taking it back. Ok so I don't have a copy of that, will have to get one. I can almost see the camera angle orbiting the boat, power ballad style.

Right Click here to download

So I haven't the one and only, but its a fabulous feeling watching the miles roll by with the iPod tuned to "Radio Tom" and the volume right up.

Radio Tom all cheese all the time. This phenomenon was originally spotted by flat mate Sherm, who coined the phrase to describe the fact that I have a large collection of MP3s all of which are permanently loaded into one all mighty playlist and locked to random. Most choosing is with the next button.

Try watching the video left with various cheezy, tunes on. This morning that I can remember Radio Tom included:

  • Made of Stone  - Stone Roses
  • She drives me crazy - Fine Young Cannibals 
  • Rubbish - Carter USM
  • Babies - Pulp
  • Go your own way - Fleetwood Mac
  • Down Under - Men at Work
  • I touch myself - Blondie
  • Walk Like an Egyptian - Bangles
  • Eat for 2 - 10,000 Maniacs 

 In fact down under was actually playing while me and the iPod are in the movie. I would lip sync it with the sound track, 1: Movie maker is being a git, but fairs fair its not supposed to run on windows 7 at all I had to beat it into submission. 2: I'm not that good at video editing, 3: and most importantly I couldn't sing in time if my life depended on it.

 This movie editing is making me slightly queezy the boats moving all over the shop "rolling down the trades" and the boat in the video is moving another way entirely..... Doh. I've given up trying to put that fade in the middle every time I do it crashes.

Position: 12° 58.6' N, 74° 13.8' W | Posted: Fri 12th February 2010

Is there anybody out there?

Remember the James Bond stealth boat? Well we've got one too its called a fiberglass yacht. GRP doesn't reflect much radar, it goes right through. Yes the masts big a and tall and metal but its narrow and rounded too. No nice angles to reflect off of.

Put it in waves and it becomes well nigh invisible.

To compensate for this yachts carry radar reflectors - at simplest just 2 bits of interlocking metal, like the dividers in a box of wine. Hung from the mast, nice angled holes to reflect. They all pretty much work the same, concave metallic surfaces to reflect radar.

Island Kea II has a "Sea Me" electronic radar reflector. That detects when its being painted by a radar and re-transmits to enhance our return, or that's the theory not sure how good they are in practice.

[Bald bloke] Number One?  What's that blue swirly thing off to the right of the annoying kid's head?
[Beardy Bloke] Klingons Sir, and that's the starboard bow, not right of that guy's head.
[Cornish Pasty for a head] Sir we are being targeted!

Bloody Hell pasty face is right I am being targeted, the little light on the sea me is flashing on cos its detecting a radar operating*. Its got a bleeper as well, predictably, thank god the bleeper has an off switch. Can't see nowt about and were under sail so I'm not firing up our radar for a poke around cos it eats electricity. That and our little yacht radar's got a 48 mile range, god knows what a ship can do.

Errr and any resemblance to Star Trek the Next Insemination is purely co-incidental. Oh and any comentads replying in Klingon will be in deep doggy do do.

* or possibly the low battery warning on my mobile phone, one of the 2 definatly.

Position: 14° 48.2' N, 70° 97.2' W | Posted: Wed 10th February 2010

Superyacht theory

Antigua was stuffed full of massive yachts, and I don't mean loads of big Oysters, I'm talking BIG. A guy who goes to Steve and Katrin's local was engineer on a 140footer. Island Kea was one of the smallest boats in the marina despite her 49ft. Large swans and Oysters + super yachts (technically over 100ft megyacht 200ft).

Not much activity seen on most of these boats, just hanging around pushing the prices up. Did work out why this should be. new-porsche-logo.jpg
Image pinched off

So if your super rich and you pay your self you get taxed. If its for the business it isn't, frequently if its part of the business it can be used as a tax deduction. So pay yourself and buy a boat, you pay tax on your salary. Have your business own a yacht that you used for free may even save them tax, you won't pay a penny. That and you compensate for having a small penis. Better than a Porsche!

I swear Oyster are gonna get someone killed. Island Kea II is to my mind about the upper limit of a safe 2 person boat. Oyster are selling 55, 60, 80 ft boats to couples. An Oyster 57 in the rally had a problem and the guy was knocked out and the boat brought in by her and the kids. Now if all the hydraulic electric gadgets work that's fine. But they frequently don't. A 57footers sails cannot be handled manually, you are so taking a risk with a boat that huge. Luxury easy to operate. But if something goes wrong, no let me re-phrase when something goes wrong, because it will I'd rather be in a smaller boat. Marabu, a 58footer manual, fully old school hank on jib. Took about 5 strong people minimum to drop the jib in a breeze I suppose me Sam and the best 2 sailors on board could have managed it if we had too. Him her and kids plain couldn't do it. Did I mention 2 of the Oysters had broken booms?

I hope I'm wrong but I'd not sail as a family on a boat that big, its dangerous, one day its all gonna go wrong and someone will find out the hard way. Getting Island Kea's Genoa off mid Atlantic was tricky, Sailors who've come in recent years or done little serious racing just don't man-handle sails they're all used to roller furling. We needed to change the sheets, chafe. Caroline got lifted off the deck and her leg twisted by the rail. Try that on an 80 footer with your kids.

FOR SAIL*: Antiguan Courtesy Flag,
Genuine reason for sale

 S'pose an update's in order. Well if you read "Yet another Atlantic Crossing" you'll notice that we broke both the autopilot rams 2 years ago. Well the new one was faulty but fixed and has been working fine. However the other was not repaired till last summer, where it was taken off and fixed. No it wasn't, this is Antigua, ironically the pirates of the Caribbean still pillage yachts from the safty of their boat yards in Antigua. They took the good one off and "fixed" that instead. This had already come to light and they then went back and fixed the right one. What we suspect happened is  that they put the spares ordered for the old one in the new one, similar but different. Oh and they put the good one back on the boat, with no hydraulic fluid in it...... Doh!

So yes the good one died 2 am the first night, about half an hour after my last blog. Almost certainly due to the "repair" it wasn't supposed to have. It has left its juices all over the place. The second one that was not repaired when it should be but was later, took a lot of fitting gurgled and died. FAIL.

I helmed for 8 hours yesterday, praise be for the Hydrovane, a wind powered axillary rudder fixed to the back of the boat. New, untested, likes a bit of wind and takes some tweaking to get it to work. So far this morning its been absolutely fine, its done nearly all the steering since the wind filled in at the end of  my watch last night, midnight. I hate having to steer ALL the time its bloody miserable and someone else has to get up to help with every little thing.

Katrin was using the satellite broadband today I borrowed her mail to update twitter, I'll see if I can rig a bandwidth friendly way of uploading these missives later. You'll have to learn latitude and longitude to read the twitter post.

 * you saw what I did there, good wasn't it!

Position: 15° 21.9' N, 66° 20.8' W | Posted: Tue 9th February 2010

Its alive

 A yacht without a mast is very sad thing. Its a frustrating thing as well.

Redonda in the sunset

The last 2 days have been transformational. After wondering when the bits for the headstays would arrive through out the day. By about 5pm the lock was already on the boatyard gate when a classic Attenbourgh moment occured. The entirety of Antigua rigging with the forestays complete with furlers all shining in the setting sun carried on their shoulders Much like the BBC wildlife documentaries on ants, with Stan the owner acting as soldier ant, in a Bedford rascal. By 7 am yesterday every body was back, I was asleep (obviously) but the sound of a winch above your head sends vibrations through the soul of a sailor so I crawled out. The tension went on the rig and the sails went up, oh God here we go again, staysail is too big. Of goes Stan with his "Little Tank", ordering the worker ants to do this that and t'other. The boom got on before I got up. Jib was on second try no jib sheets. We've not got 'em, they've not got 'em. Here we go again... No, Stan has authority and before he's left with the staysail, he's sent off for rope, tape measure and "don't forget to measure all the way round the staysail" I'm impressed. Even I hadn't thought that through.

Sheets, then better ones, extra main Halyard etc appear. Staysail is back up and ready to fly by lunctime.

Its just gone midnight. The following day, Island Kea is tooling along at 6.5kn with a reef in both main and genoa. Despite perfect vis and, the bureaucrats best efforts Antigua is but a half imagined glow on the eastern horizon. Off the port quarter 25 miles gone is the grey haze capped lights of Montserrat. on the other side 20 miles to leeward Nevis. Redonda's unlit and uninhabited peak, lost in the wake, nothing in front but stars. Test sail at and tune up lunch yesterday went well.

Peter Retrieves his Sunnies

Followed by drinks with Stan and a farewell to Caroline and Igor off the Pearl and Peter and Camilla off Allegro which became became an accidental but highly successful recommissioning party (Peter arrived this morning with mask and snorkel to dive for his sunnies) the fact Antigua's dropped below the horizon is frankly remarkable. The boat the mast and Neptune all got there shares of bubbly, we did a second test sail round to Jolly Harbour converted our last EC dollars into 4 bottles of water 2 loaves of bread and 17 beers. The remaining 30c we just wasted.

All that was left was to clear out, in my Passport was a departure card for a flight that left a week back. Gulp. No problem, but God the port authority woman, I missed most of this but the last 15 minutes I had too watch. Imagine someone who can't convert dates into number of days, rings the wrong marina after being told repeatedly and says what's the Name of your boat please every 60 seconds or so.

WirrrClumk the time card clock, with original manufacturers key and key fob in the top so you can tamper with it to your hearts content, slices off another minute of your life. Imagine a hammer horror swinging pendulum of bureaucracy, dull, blunt.

WrrrrrClunk another minute closer to death and 20th Jan to 6th feb is still not two months.


Position: 16° 45.6' N, 62° 44.5' W | Posted: Sun 7th February 2010

Trouble Ahead?

What my weather forecast showed about
the time they must have passed. These
grib files, in my opinion under read. 

It appears the rest of the rally is now in Panama, but they took a pasting along the way. Several bits of broken boats, reports of force 9 and really bad seas, "like blocks of flats" broaches knockdowns and the like. Not what I'd want to look forward too.

Hopefully the weather will have moderated by the time we get there. "There" is the coast of Columbia.

It has a repo, first time I went around there I remember Ornen doing 9 knots. 53 tons of blunt ended shirmp trawler does not do 9 knots. Or leastwise it shouldn't.

Steering was lashed on with string too I remember. Mind you I lashed it. When I tie something it usually stays tied.

I don't remember it being too bad last time. But I went back and did some research. I was surprised by the snow I could see. at the bottom it does mention "Jackie horribly sea sick, supposed to be light winds and we have 30kns" Hang on its supposed to be 35 knots now and if in reality its 20 knots more than that......

Lets hope. Nasty storms and huge waves with lots of new kit is either a good test or a bad idea not sure which. Good idea if it all works, bad if it doesn't.

I tend to use to download my weather files its rather neat actually.

Position: 17° 12.7' N, 61° 46.5' W | Posted: Tue 2nd February 2010 |

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