We have sailed the Arctic yacht Northabout round from the west coast of Ireland and up the Bristol Channel. Her builder and previous owner, Jarlath Cunnane, the famous Irish sailor, was aboard. Seas moderate to rough outside the Shannon estuary, then they fell light coming into Kinsale. We had fog across the Irish Sea, then strong adverse tides. As a result we were able to test most of the systems. I helmed up the Avon river on Saturday night in a race against darkness with a fast tide under us. She is now moored up near S.S. Great Britain if anyone wants a look at this famous yacht which has circumnavigated the Arctic ocean.
Gina and I have interrupted our long walk through England at the Snake Pass in the Peak District. It’s time to have a second attempt to sail the yacht Northabout from Kilrush, on the west coast of Ireland, to Bristol. The last time I went out to join the other crew members the weather was rather frisky, to say the least. This time we have over 3 metre waves and up to 37 knots of wind. I’m hoping we’ll wait until things have settled down a bit.
Time and tide wait for no man: it is very hard to make hard and fast plans when big depressions then track in from the west and disrupt our puny human calender. Hope its a bit calmer up around the Arctic ocean.
The crew of Curlew have come back from the Caribbean sooner than usual for two reasons. Number one is to help get the yacht Northabout ready for her voyage around the Arctic Ocean this summer. I’ll be acting as First Mate for owner David Hempleman Adams on the Northwest Passage and Greenland legs.
The second reason is that we have been commissioned to write a book for Collins about walking through England. Gina and I left the South Coast a couple of weeks ago, and got to Trowbridge before rain stopped play. We return to the footpaths tomorrow, and hope to walk the whole way to the Scottish border in a couple more months. More news about the book later this year.
My friend Hempie has bought the yacht Northabout as described in my post of October 21st, and plans to sail around the Arctic Ocean this summer, beginning in July. There will be four legs: UK-Murmansk, Northeast Passage, Nortwest Passage, Greenland-UK. He has kindly offered me the post of First Mate for the Northwest Passage and the return to the UK via Greenland. If anyone wants to join him (and me) for any of these legs, please get in touch with Cold Climate Expeditions: http://www.coldclimates.co.uk/contact/
We entered Curacao at Willemstad, where there is the most wonderful floating pontoon bridge. It’s called the Queen Emma Swinging Old Lady, which suggests things were pretty hot in Willemstad in 1888. It consists of 16 steel pontoons, which are boats, really, supporting a long bridge. The whole line was motored sideways to allow our little yacht to come in. A charge used to be levied on foot passengers- except for those crossing barefoot. As the then-asphalted surface must have been about 60 degrees C in the sun this was not a bargain. Now, thanks to Euro-funding, the decking is wood and the crossing is free.
Curlew’s cutlass bearing is rattling, so we had to haul her out again and fly home to make some money for repairs. First, though, we flew to Bogota in Columbia, then Barranquilla, then took a midnight taxi ride through the deserted Columbian landscape, arriving at the amazing city of Cartenega.
This was somewhere we had been looking forwards to. It is a colonial old city, where the Spanish used to receive slaves and dispatch gold in their famous galleons. It feels like a cross between Havana and Venice- with streets. We had a hotel right in the middle of the old town, and despite the heat we got to see the whole place fairly thoroughly. Highlights were the (free) gold museum, exploring the streets and strolling along the city walls, which were built to keep the perfidious English out.
We had a great time in Martinique, and we took what I think is one of the ten great walks of my life. It was along the Canal Beauregard, just south of St. Pierre. This is up a steep tropical valley , with views of the Petit Piton mountain and farmhouses below. What makes it special is that you walk along the top of the canal’s retaining wall for around 4 kms. The canal is really an aquaduct, only 2 feet wide, and the wall is only 1 foot wide in places. The drop to one side is around 400 feet into the valley bottom, so you feel you are gliding above the ground. We loved it, especially as you end up in Maison Rousse, cafe cum guest-house, for a wonderful French lunch.
After loading Curlew with dozens of tins of confit du canard and boxes of wine, we set sail for the ABC islands. The distance was 460 miles, and at first we had trouble as the wind was dead astern. We tried tacking downwind but didn’t make enough speed to our destination. So we put up our secret weapon: The Parasailor. In very light winds of 13-14 knots we made 5.2 knots with very little to do once the sail was up. The Parasailor is like a parapente, or paraglider: a wing made of lightweight nylon. It forms part of a conventional spinnaker and holds it up in variable winds, and releases excess wind in squalls.
You can see one here http://www.istec.ag/us/products/parasailor.html
In Bonaire I had a couple of scuba dives of 60 feet and 60 minutes in one of the world’s best diving zones. Next up was Curacao: the C of the ABC islands.
We returned to the island of Grenada, and to Curlew, who had a number of welding jobs done on her before we put her back in the water.
The next job was to buy provisions (mostly food, some wine) for the Pacific crossing. On our way down the Caribbean we had noticed that the best and cheapest tins and bottles were to be had in the French island of Martinique. We wanted to cross the Caribbean Sea to the ABC islands well away from Venezuela and its pirates, so the angle from Martinique would keep us well away from the Venezuelan mainland.
Spotting a narrow weather window, we went to sea and headed north. Somewhere west of St. Lucia and in the middle of the night the weather window slammed shut and we were treated to north-easterly winds of up to 30 knots. So there we were, bashing to windward once again. We call it the Washing Machine, and tonight it was on full spin.
Which all goes to show that the old adage is right: the wind always blows from wherever you want to go.
Lying in the saloon, off-watch, I pretended that I wasn’t a sailor and tried to describe what it’s like in a boat in these conditions. Imagine you are trying to get to sleep in a caravan which is being rolled down a very steep mountainside over large boulders. It’s night-time, the wind is blowing, and you can’t believe the violence being done to your bedroom. Every now and then something heavy falls out of the locker above you and hits you on the head. It then rolls around the floor, driving you mad.
At around midnight it was my watch, and I relieved Gina out in the cockpit. It always feels better on deck, and I was happy to see the dawn creeping up over the island of Martinique at six o’clock..
Actor, Mountaineer and Raconteur Brian Blessed has agreed to be the Patron of “Seven Seas, Seven Summits”. Brian is sponsoring the last mile of Curlew’s voyage and is encouraging others to do the same via our new crowd-funding campaign.
“Hello, I’m Brian Blessed, and I climbed on Mount Everest with Graham Hoyland.
I urge you to support his quest to climb all the Seven Summits, and sail across the Seven Seas,
an adventure that has never been attempted.
I was with him for the first summit of his trip, and I’m sponsoring him for the last mile.
So I hope YOU can support him for the many miles in between.
Graham is a fantastic man, and a true inspiration to us all.
A good friend of mine wants to sail around the Arctic Ocean by way of the North East Passage (North of Russia) and North West Passage (North of Canada), then home via Greenland.
This takes a very special kind of boat, and so he asked me to survey a couple of options. One was a 67 foot Challenger steel yacht: ideal for beating to windward in the open ocean, or sailing down through the Southern Ocean. 55 tons of tough metal that bashes through waves rather than rides over them.
But the other boat got my vote. It is an aluminium yacht, only 15 tons. It has a lifting keel so that it can creep inshore, along the Arctic shores in shallow water. The icebergs tend to go aground in about 3 meters of depth, so that there is often a clear lead near the shore. She also has a cut-away bow so that she can slide up over thin ice and crush down through it.
This boat would ride over her troubles rather than trying to batter through them. She has also done the route before. So let’s hope she gets through next year. I hope to be aboard, as I need to sail in the Arctic Ocean as one of my Seven Seas
Seven Seas, Seven Summits has been upgraded and will be back soon, just in time to think about crossing the Pacific Ocean. Watch this space!