Southern Ocean Crossing Update

We left St. Helena on Thursday, 26 of February, with our planned destination of Trinidad 3700 nautical miles away. Leaving with us was the boat s/v Sanctuary with our friends Guy and Christine on board. Guy and I have been talking about racing for some time, but we ended up leaving two days before them from Cape Town, and then had to divert to Luderitz for repairs and were unable to compare our boat’s performances. We had to get out a few miles away from the island, as it was blocking the wind, before we could raise sails. Sanctuary has the same engine as our boat, except they have turbo, so his motors are faster. He blasted past us and raised his furling mainsail without having to turn into the wind. A few moments later we had raised our sail and we were both off for our little race. We started on a starboard tack, but once we got past the island effects it was clear wing-on-wing (downwind) sailing was required so we set Tahina up that way. Our battened mainsail has better roach, and it was soon clear we had the advantage. We sailed blithely in front of Santuary an hour or so later as we were going on a more southerly course. They were positioning for the possibility of a stop at the island of Ascension. A couple of hours later, it was clear we were in good spinnaker conditions, so we put ours out. Sanctuary had blown out their spinnaker earlier in the month and as a result we had a 10% or so speed advantage. We have been flying our spinnaker almost continuously – day and night – for the first four days with following winds and seas. Squalls have been scattered and so we have managed to dodge them or they have been too mild to worry about. After four days, we have made 707 miles and averaged about 177 miles per day. We will probably be entering some lighter winds as we approach the northeast corner of Brazil late this week or early next week. Sanctuary decided to go ahead and stop at Ascension, so we aren’t traveling with them now. We are doing well, and with the few sail changes we are not working too hard. We are spending a lot of time reading, playing games, and taking care of normal chores while on watch or off. Both Karen and I are well, and we have plenty of food. We just found out our friends on s/v Solace – who arrived a few days ago in Trinidad – have changed their plans and are leaving their boat there before we arrive. They ave some urgent business in their home country of New Zealand. They were the primary reason we were headed to Trinidad, so we may change our destination since we had no other real reason to stop in Trinidad. That’s all the “big” news for now. Blog posts will be infrequent while we are in transit. We are in regular communication with other boats and our emergency contacts.

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Great Stone Top Hike

Frank on the hike

Frank on the hike

On Sunday I was invited on a hike with our friends from s/v ThreeShips – Chris and Fiona. They had chosen a hike on the southeast corner of St. Helena called Great Stone Top. They had been in St. Helena for nearly 2 weeks and had done 4 other hikes already. This promised to have some interesting terrain they said, but not too challenging. I was thnkful it wasn’t any harder because the day before I had climbed Jacob’s Ladder and my legs were sore from that.

The trailhead started at the end of a road we drove to with their car rental, and the road kind of ended next to a place called Bell Stone. This large flat stone propped up on another rock actually makes a bell-like sound if you bang on it with a rock or sledge hammer. There was nothing to bang with when we arrived, but we found a rock during our hike and brought it back.

Terrain at the saddle

Terrain at the saddle

The hike involved skirting on the side of two peaks after climbing down to a saddle after a km or so through a eucalyptus forest. From the saddle we caught our first glimpse of the rugged shoreline far below. All the hikes start at the higher elevations on this rugged volcanic island.

Cliff view down

Cliff view down

After the first two peaks, we started climbing another peak. I was ascending the to the top in the lead and stopped very suddenly when I got to the top to find a sheer drop off 2000 feet down straight to the sea! I had no idea that was going to happen at that point and I literally shouted WHOAAA.

We continued along the very sharp ridge and the official Great Stone Top peak where we found a spectacular view in two directions with sheer cliffs on both sides to the sea and a spectacular overlook of the new airport still under construction. There was a post containing a log book and an official stamp for the hike there and Chris stamped the topographical map he had purchased of the island.

Please enjoy this short photo album with some of the best photos I took with my smartphone – including a 360 panorama from the peak.


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Departing St Helena for Longest Passage

We have been busy the last few days at St. Helena preparing for our departure. We plan to go straight from here to Trinidad in the Caribbean, and our route has us going over 3700 nautical miles. This will be the longest passage we have done without stopping if all goes to plan. We have several possible stops if something happens requiring us to divert – especially along the northern coast of South America. Our route planner says we can make this in 21 days given normal prevailing winds. Of course, the weather we get could be better or worse (in terms of wind speed) than the average. Which could mean a shorter or longer run numbering a few days.

We are leaving tomorrow with another catamaran – s/v Sanctuary – and intend to maintain radio contact. Their boat has similar sailing characteristics, so we may actually stay within a hundred miles or two along this passage. That’s close enough to be called a “buddy boat” for a passage of this size.

Today we are making our final run for provisions, picking up some scuba tanks I had filled, and clearing out of St. Helena through customs, immigration, and the harbor master. Then we plan to leave first thing tomorrow morning. We have plenty of provisions which could last us 30 days or more if needed.

We will not be blogging on a regular basis since you won’t want to hear “another day of sailing” every day. I expect we’ll at least do one every week or so. Rest assured, we will be in contact with several people who are our emergency contacts, with our buddy boat, and several other boats by radio along the way. All will be able to help if needed.

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Touring St Helena

Jamestown, St Helena

Jamestown, St Helena

St Helena is a unique volcanic island located in the South Atlantic about 2000 km west of Angola, Africa and 3500 km east of Brazil. The nearest land is actually the similarly isolated island of Ascension. Both islands are part of the UK. But, St Helena is unique as it is one of the few left in the world with its only contact being by sea. As a result, the culture has been more isolated and somewhat slower to adopt modern conveniences than most. However, all that is about to change since a commercial airport is in advanced stages of construction and should be completed by 2016. The island is most famous for being the place where Napoleon was incarcerated up until his death.

St Helena Cliffs

St Helena Cliffs

When approaching the island, we mostly saw just huge steep rocky cliffs and mountains with a rugged shoreline showing no signs of beaches. We saw little sign of vegetation from our mooring area. The main town of the island, Jamestown, is in a narrow canyon that reaches down near the sea and a wharf protects the land from erosion and lines the shoreline. The wharf also provides access for small vessels and barges to load supplies via cranes from visiting ships, and a landing area for people to get ashore in calm conditions. The town has trees and even a park with flowers and grass. Later we discovered much of the mountain areas at higher altitude are covered with lush vegetation and forests of trees, and there are farms and pastures with cows, goats, and other herds of animals.

Longwood - Napoleon's House

Longwood – Napoleon’s House

We took a tour of the island with a popular guide named Robert – who gives interesting personal perspectives on his tours. His route treated us to spectacular views from the mountain road above James Town, as well as other parts of the island. Our tour included a visit to the house where Napoleon lived and died – called the Longwood House. It has been mostly restored, and beautiful gardens surround the location as well as the original stone fence that surrounded the property – now it is a tourist destination. Inside we were told about his life by local experts, and shown momentos of his life there. Many of the original furniture peices were sent back to France a few years ago for restoration and for an exhibit at the 200th anniversary of his being incarcerated which will be held in 2016 in Paris. We later visited the tomb of Napoleon – where he was first laid to rest until the French government exhumed his coffin and moved him back to his beloved country of France 20 years later. His tomb’s location is still marked in its original form and is located in a beautiful wooded area. The tomb was unmarked because of a dispute between the British and French over whether he would be called “President” or “Emperor”.

Unique bottles

Unique bottles

During our tour we visited a distillery located in a local resident’s garage that makes and sells some excellent rum and liquors. They claim they are the “most remote distillery in the world” and sell their goods locally as well as exported to other countries. We bought a couple of bottles which are shaped with stair steps on the side in reference to the famous Jacob’s Ladder found in Jamestown. They apparently will be collector items as the owner can’t find a supplier to make a new supply at a reasonable cost.

Our guide took us to see an overlook of the airport being built. It has been a huge project taking dozens of dump trucks running every day for over two years to move the earth required to build a flat enough area for a runway suitable for smaller commercial jets. The new airport won’t be a major military airport (like the one at Ascension) since the runway is too short, but the locals feel some military presence will be located here at some point.

Our guide showed us the mountain top where Halley (of Halley’s comet) came as a young man to study the southern night sky. He then drove us to the west side of the island and we stopped at an overlook to Sandy Bay which has a stupendous view including the famous Lot’s Wife – a huge rock sticking out along the side of a mountain. We also saw ample evidence of the vegetation called “Flax” which was once a staple of business here at St Helena before cotton and nylon became the favorite source for clothing and rope fibers.

Jacob's Ladder

Jacob’s Ladder

As we headed back down towards the town, our guide stopped at the top of Jacob’s ladder for us to see the view from the top. Jacob’s Ladder was built as a method for getting supplies up to the military who were stationed at the top of the mountain close to Jamestown over a century ago. They had rails at one point with burros used to haul up goods up the track. Now it is 699 steps of concrete stairs which go nearly vertically from the base of Jamestown to the top 632 feet above. One day, I took on the challenge and climbed the steps and took pictures along the way – completing the climb in about 17 minutes, and getting back down in 5 minutes without stopping. I used a technique of leaning back with some weight on my hands on the rails and rapidly walking down to increase my speed. Someone developed a way to slide down the rail, but I wasn’t going to try that!

The tour gave us a taste of the beauty of the island. Later we explored more of the island, and I took an amazing hike with some other yachties one day. In addition to local fishing boats and support vessels in the harbor, the monthly ship which brings supplies and people from Cape Town, and also supports the island of Ascension, was here. And, the sailing tall ship Picton Castle was here with its crew of young people from many places around the world. We had first seen Picton Castle in it’s home base at the Cook Islands in 2010. We got some great views of this beautiful tall ship while it was here and pictures are in the album below.

I’ll share more about the hiking experience and photos in a later post. For now, please have a look at a sample of the beauty of the island and what we experienced in the photo album below, including photos of the harbor and vessels.


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Here is the location of St Helena in the middle of the South Atlantic:

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360 Panorama of Diamond Mine Ghost Town

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, I took a 360 panorama at Kolmannskuppe – the diamond mine ghost town located just a few miles into the desert east of Luderitz, Namibia. The photo was taken at the top of the hill above the town and a short distance from the now-rusted water tank they located on the hill. A bit further behind the tank is the swimming pool they had which was once filled with salt water pumped from the sea several miles away. The town had all the conveniences courtesy of the diamond mining company, but was closed down when a better location was found. Decades later, they realized the ghost town made a good tourist destination. Here is the 360 view of the desert and the town:


Kolmannskuppe Diamond Mine Ghost Town

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Pictures of Luderitz

Luderitz, Namibia

Luderitz, Namibia

Finally processed some of the pictures from Luderitz, Namibia where we stopped for a week to get parts to repair Tahina on our way to St. Helena. Luderitz owes its fame mostly to being the place where some Germans started diamond mining. Luderitz is located on the coast near a desert area and was founded due to its ideal location as a port for shipping. When diamonds were found just a few miles inland in the desert, Luderitz was a source of supplies for a town that was formed to service the diamond mining support personnel.

Today, Luderitz still serves mining interests and provides shipping of goods for the area and the town. But, Luderitz now also serves tourism as a port where cruise ships stop to allow passengers to visit some of the sights in the area. It also has a nice harbor area allowing yachts to anchor and see the sights as well. The town itself is very clean and has a very nice German feel to it. The locals speak English as well as several African dialects and German is also often spoke here. There are several grocery stores, banks, phone services, hardware stores, etc.

Diamond-mining boat

Diamond-mining boat

Also in the harbor you see these boats that don’t quite look like a fishing boat. They are diamond mining boats that actually sift through the sand off shore and find diamonds. We were not allowed to approach the boats and video cameras constantly monitor to make sure no one gets too close.

Exploration ship

Exploration ship

We also saw a variety of ship traffic in the harbor including a cruise ship, tankers, cargo vessels, and exploration ships including this one that passed right by us while we were at anchor.

We were too busy with arranging to get the parts to do much. But, we did take a tour one day to see the Diamond Mine Ghost Town of Kolmannskuppe. It’s only a short 15 minute drive throught the desert outside the town, and a local tourism office drove us out there for a reasonable fee. We ended up going with the crew of another visiting yacht.

Lolmannskuppe Diamond Ghost Town

Lolmannskuppe Diamond Ghost Town

The town of Kolmanskuppe was formed specifically to support personnel and their families who were running the diamond mining. They had all the conveniences and luxuries that the very wealthy mining company could afford in this far away location. The town included not only the basics, but also an entertainment center with a theater, gymnasium equipment, a bowling alley, bars, very nice his and her dining areas. They had fresh water carted in, they made ice and had a large freezer for storing meats, a salt water swimming pool, electricity, a school, store, and a top-rate hospital which even had one of the first x-ray machines.

Sandy area

Sandy area

The town unfortunately was closed down about 75 years ago when a better location for diamond mining was found, and the personnel suddenly moved. For decades what was left of the town just sat in the desert, until someone in Luderitz realized it would make a good tourist destination. They restored the entertainment center and made the other buildings reasonably safe to visit, although the desert sand has worked its way into most of the buildings. The place is very picturesque and is often touted as one of the best locations for photography in the world. The mixture of sand, desert sun, and deserted buildings makes for some beautiful photos.

Check out a few interesting photos of Luderitz, and the ghost town we visited in the album below:


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Arrived at St Helena

After 7.5 days of sailing, and 1300+ nautical miles since Luderitz, we arrived at St. Helena this morning at the crack of dawn. We had lighter winds overnight, which turned out to be a good thing allowing us to easily time our arrival so we could see the other boats at the moorings and find an open one. We had another >200 nautical mile day a couple of days ago, which really helped us close up the miles. The winds had been higher than forecasted for those 24 hours, so it was actually a surprise. In fact, the winds were so high we were feeling a bit uncomfortable with the spinnaker flying. It is extremely difficult to get the sail down with just the two of us when the winds get above 20 knots. Fortunately, we had a brief period where it got down to 18 knots, so we got it down. Boy, we sure go fast when it has the right conditions like this though! We will report back in a couple of days once we get settled in at St. Helena.

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Sailing to the West

It’s a big Ocean out here. We have seen no land since Monday night, and it’s Sunday morning now. We have about 380 nautical miles left to go. We averaged 200 miles per day the first 3 days, which was excellent progress. The last two days we have had to contend with lighter winds, squalls that sucked the wind away or veered its direction, and lots of sail changes. But, we have had mostly following seas and warmer water – and warmer air temperatures. Which is nice! We haven’t seen another boat or ship, or plane for 4 days. The ocean water is awesomely blue, especially when the skies are clear and sunny. The water looks so blue you would think someone put blue ink in it. It’s one of our favorite parts of sailing across the oceans. Just a few hours ago, we finally made it back to the West! We crossed 0 degrees East to West Longitude. We were last in the West in 2011 in Fiji. It’s a number thing, but still it feels good to be back in the hemisphere where most of our lives have been spent. Thanks to our radio, we have been in contact with other sailboats making the same passage every day. Our friends on s/v Sanctuary and s/v ThreeShips have both made it to landfall at St. Helena during the last 3 days. We would have been there before them except for our long wait for parts and weather in Namibia. We saw lots of sea lions during our slow start out of Luderitz while waiting for wind. At one point we saw a large pod/school/group of sea lions (about 150 of them) all together swimming in a v-shape. We think they were herding a fish and feeding. We saw lots of sea birds the first two days, but very few since. Almost every day, we have found flying fish or squid up on our decks. They often land on top of the deck by mistake at night. Sometimes we hear them and walk out and coax them back overboard. No whales or dolphin have been sighted yet, and we haven’t fished yet since our freezer has been too full. We are glad we will soon make landfall, but we have settled into a nice routine now. That routine will hopefully serve us well on the next leg, because it is 3 times as long – yes, 3 weeks – of sailing to get to the Caribbean from St. Helena.

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Good Start to St. Helena

We left Luderitz mid-afternoon on Monday with St. Helena over 1300 nautical miles away. There was a little coastal wind at the start, but it soon died off as predicted. We were waiting for a weather trough to die out and then winds were supposed to fill in. Well, we ended up just drifting for a while, then a light 5 knot breeze blew in. We were making 1.5-2 knots with that, and a couple of hours later we got 8 knots of breeze making 4knots. The forecast was wrong, and we didn’t get the 15-20 knots of breeze until 2 AM. In the 24-hours after 7AM Tuesday, we had much better sailing. We made 220 nautical miles – an average over 9 knots! We just wish the nice winds had not been accompanied with sloppy seas making the ride bouncy to put it mildly. After midnight Tuesday though, the seas settled a bit so the night wasn’t too bad. It’s mid-morning Wednesday and we have just a bit over 1000 nm to go. We should get there by mid-next week for sure, hopefully sooner.

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Finally Got Our Parts and Ready to Leave

Broken parts

Broken parts

After our main traveller car busted on January 31 as we were headed for St. Helena from Cape Town – just 1.5 days out, so we took two days to divert to Luderitz, Namibia. Broken part shown here. Efforts to get the parts (a block was also broken), began immediately. Our boat manufacturer got us the part numbers and a reference to the top Lewmar dealer in Cape Town. I called Central Boating to get the parts, but I wasn’t able to reach the main guy before he had left. Next morning I reached him and he started looking for the parts and getting a quote. He determined he would have to get the Lewmar traveller from the UK office and at the end of the day he did not have an answer from them. I was pretty bummed because that meant another day’s delay and not getting the part likely until Friday.

The next day, he calls in the morning to say that the UK office told him they could not get me the part for a week! I think my heart stopped. He said they now have an “on demand” inventory for these parts where they make the parts. It normally takes 4 weeks, but they put a rush on it. I said it was unacceptable, that I would call everywhere to find one in stock, and I suggested he do the same. I called a few places, but an hour later Central Boating called and said he had found one! The next problem was shipping. I had done checking locally and it was advised to use DHL, but that you must get the package marked as “Urgent” and call them to make sure they get a truck organized for Luderitz (900 km away from Windhoek – the main office). South Africa has an agreement with Namibia, and products come across without having to pay duty, so I was told that would be no issue.

So, we had the parts shipped by DHL for Luderitz. I called DHL and told them it was urgent and it was needed by Friday (they needed 1 day to get it to Windhoek, and one day to get it to Luderitz). The next day, it arrived in Luderitz, but then the tracking said it went to customs clearance. At this point I called to make sure they had the truck organized, but it didn’t move for the next three hours from customs. I called several times, and they couldn’t explain why it wasn’t moving. Finally, I reached the operations manager and at 3:02 PM he said that unfortunately customs had closed and they did not process an entire day’s worth of packages. He apologized and said he would get it sorted the next morning, but now we would not get the package by Friday. Arrrrgh. Now I was really worried we wouldn’t get the package before Monday or later. So, I explained our situation and he said he understood.

On Friday morning, the manager had promised to call by 10 AM. When I called at 10:15 he said he was in a meeting with customs and would call me back as soon as he got out. Several hours went by and I called, texted, and e-mailed asking for an update. All I got was “I’m working on it”. Believe it or not, I only got an answer at 3:15PM that the parcel was finally clearing customs and that they would be making arrangements to get us the parts by Saturday morning. But, it wasn’t until almost 6 PM that they confirmed they had a driver and the parcel was finally in their possession. The manager, to his credit, stayed until he was sure the delivery would be made. But, I wondered what the heck really happened to take so long (30 hours) for our package to clear customs. Sheesh!

Paperwork

Paperwork

Saturday morning the driver called me at 8 AM and we had to go to the customs office. I couldn’t understand why since they had already cleared it. We spent the next 40 minutes having the customs open the package, inspect the contents (twice – two different officials), and I had to sign 16 pages of documents, stamps, copies, and pay a US$15 fee for the processing. All this for parts from South Africa where no duty is required! Talk about bureaucracy. Wow. I paid a tip to the poor driver who drove all night 900 km one-way to bring me the parcel.

New parts

New parts

Within two hours, Karen and I had installed the new traveller. You can see a picture of the traveller and block instaled. We also got fuel and started getting provisions for our departure. But, the problem is that there is no wind forecasted for the weekend. So, we can’t leave until Monday. There’s no way we can afford to use our tiny supply of fuel for a 5000 mile trip across the South Atlantic at the beginning of the trip. So, we just wait.

By the way, it was a good thing this part broke when it did. We found considerable wear in two other places. I think this part needs to be replaced once every three years on a boat our size under ocean-crossing conditions.

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