3000 miles but not all plain sailing

by Julian

Over the last three years, we have sailed 3000 miles in Carina. Almost all of this has been just the four of us. It is the end of the year, so time for reflection and where better to start than with the things that went wrong.
JulianSailingWhen we set out, our open water sailing experience was about 1600 miles for me and 600 miles for Martina. But this is meaningless. Martina’s 600 miles were 50% as crew and 50% as a passenger. She had completed her RYA yachtmaster theory and her RYA dayskipper practical, but she wasn’t even close to sailing a boat independently. I had lots of experience sailing small boats inland, I had completed my RYA coastal skipper practical course but not attempted the exam, and I had skippered a yacht a couple of times but  always with someone more experienced on board. So we were bound to make some mistakes when we set out.


1. Don’t assume there isn’t a gas rig there

Our first major crossing to Ireland two years ago involved a black night with very thick fog. We were still many miles off the Irish coast when we started to hear a strange signal. What was it? I woke Martina and we both went up on deck. It wasn’t a ship. There was nothing marked on the paper chart and we were just about to check the electronic chart plotter when a voice came over the radio “This is the stand-off boat for the Head of Kinsale gas rig. Your present course will take you into a restricted area. Please alter course.” A quick zoom in on the chart plotter revealed that we were a mile away from the restricted area. We altered course and ten minutes later the thick fog lifted to reveal two giant gas rigs lit up like Christmas trees. In fact they reminded me of the flying saucer in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

2. My ‘Open Water 2 : Adrift’ moment

We had just put the sails on Carina for the first time and were out for our first ever sail when we anchored in a cove near Torquay. We were sitting happily in the cockpit when Lily decided to throw the winch handle overboard. I am a strong swimmer and have some experience as a diver. We were in a sheltered cove, near a beach and the water was about 5 metres deep. I reckoned I stood a chance of retrieving the winch handle, so I jumped in. The water was too murky to find it. I then realised that, unlike the charter yachts I’d been on previously, I couldn’t get back on board Carina! Of course at that time I hadn’t yet made my rope ladder and the dinghy was deflated and stowed on deck. After several attempts and great difficulty I eventually managed to pull myself on board with the help of a rope chucked over the side, but I know I looked pretty stupid.

3. Headlands on a lee shore

It took me two years of sailing Carina and three similar situations, for me to learn a valuable lesson about rounding headlands. If you are sailing close hauled, never assume the tack you are on will get you around a headland. First, the wind is blowing you onto shore. Second, no matter how insignificant the headland, there will often be a change in wind direction, usually strengthening as well, along with worsening sea conditions. Effectively sailing single handed in 2012, with Martina taking care of the kids (one reason why I probably hadn’t attempted to change tack), I was thankfully able to react before things got out of hand. Heart in mouth I usually don’t bother to tell anyone, I’m sure I’d only worry them. Now I know why my dad was never happy sailing like that!

4. Slipping the anchor

Twice this year we have slipped the anchor. The first time was near Truro, Cornwall, England. For various reasons, I didn’t have enough chain out. The wind got up and steadily built to a fierce onshore near gale. The bay shallowed gently and we were about to go aground. Martina tried to turn the engine on and the throttle didn’t work. We went aground. I quickly got into the dinghy and motored out to throw in an extra anchor upwind of Carina. The extra anchor held us and as the rising tide re-floated us I had time to look at the engine. Somehow the throttle cable had popped out of the new control lever we had only just had fitted by Dicky B Marine in Plymouth. This was only the second day of using it since it was fitted. Luckily it didn’t cost us our boat or our lives.

The second time was in Ria de Arousa, Spain. This time a less dangerous but equally strong offshore breeze got up, and the next thing I knew we were bumping up to a large buoy of one of the mussel rafts (the raft itself was thankfully on the beach). A little epoxy filler was needed and I pulled up the greenest stretch of anchor chain I have ever seen.

5. We’re not where we thought we were!

We had already successfully sailed through the Chenal du Four in Brittany once, so maybe I was a bit too casual on the return trip north last year. I completely misidentified a mark. We don’t have a chart plotter in the cockpit so it is necessary to pop down to the chart table to see the electronic chart. Thankfully things looked wrong enough that I did just that. We were out at sea but had I not altered course things could have been messy as rocks were not far from the surface. On another occasion I entered the Ria de Arousa through the wrong channel. Not that this wasn’t possible, given the relatively good conditions of the day, it was just not what I had planned. I could see the marks and they looked fine but the rocks looked awfully close together. I popped down and had a look at the plotter. We were fine but I was sure my passage plan of the morning didn’t look quite like this. It wasn’t until after the sail I realised what had happened.

6. When the wind blows

In 2013, my friend John joined us for a trip to France. He had been on boats before but had never done any sea sailing. Heading from Fowey to Roscoff the forecast gave west-southwest to southwesterly winds which would give us at least 50 degrees sailing off the wind. Force 4 to 5, occasional showers (some thundery) didn’t sound too bad. At 12 tonnes, Carina is a heavy boat for her 36ft, and she doesn’t have a large sail area. Nevertheless, given the crew and the night crossing, I put a reef in the mainsail and reefed in some of the headsail, reducing their area, and we travelled along a little slower than we could have done. Then I spotted the thunderstorm. I thought it would miss us but it didn’t. I should have reacted in precaution but I didn’t and the storm hit us relatively quickly. The next 30 minutes were accompanied by force 7 to 8 winds, with two gusts just tipping over to force 9. This was made even more spectacular by the continual lightning flashing all around, the earsplitting thunder and the violent horizontal hailstorm making it nearly impossible to see anything. Somehow we got through it without anything breaking (apart from the toilet seat). What a ride for a first time sailor! I can only say John proved himself to be a pretty tough cookie. He didn’t abandon us the moment we got to France and he proved very useful on the helm for someone with so little experience.


It’s not all plain sailing. However, incidents are getting fewer. I don’t sail close to lee shores unless I am coming into port and absolutely have to (generally the engine will be running even if still under sail). I check every inch of the passage on the most up to date detailed chart I possess and always work on the assumption that there is going to be something unexpected out there, I just don’t know about it yet. Starting out as relative amateurs we have sailed 3000 miles aboard Carina and, whilst neither of us are great sailors, we are getting a lot better. One thing for certain is that things do go wrong. We just have to work at reducing the risks and making sure we know how to deal with problems when they occur.


I’ve been Liebstered!!

I’m thrilled that Mary Grace Stich on Let It Be has nominated me for a Liebster Award. For those of you unfamiliar with the Liebster, it’s an award given by bloggers to other bloggers. Each blogger answers ten questions posed by the blogger who has nominated their blog, and then pays the Liebster forward to another blogger with ten new questions. Over the past few months I’ve read the Liebster answers given by some of the sailing bloggers I follow and I hoped someone would one day nominate me, so I’d have an opportunity to think about and respond to some interesting questions. Thank you Mary Grace!! Here are my answers to your questions.

1. What first attracted you to a cruiser lifestyle?
I’ve always shied away from conventionality. I fancy myself a bit of an outsider and have enjoyed life most when I’ve lived in small-town Japan or in the Canadian Arctic where I’ve been noticeably the odd one out. I’ve always been attracted to stories of people who decide to walk the road less travelled. In 2011, when we made the decision to buy a boat and become live aboard cruisers, we owned a house and a car, we had careers, and I was doing the rounds of mother-and-baby groups in my local area. The conventionality of it all scared the hell out of me!

From my first seaside holiday as a four-year old, I’ve loved, and found inspiration in, the sea. My PhD in anthropology was all about embodied marine knowledge. And this was before I’d ever set foot on a sailboat. The first time I went sailing, in September 2005, I was hooked. The idea of living on a boat and sailing to wherever I wanted was hugely appealing. I was attracted to the self-reliance, the chance to see new places and experience new cultures, and the opportunity to take a step away from mass consumerism. Julian and I used to fantasise about buying a boat when the kids had grown up and flown the nest. But in 2011 we decided not to wait and to bring them along on the adventure.

2. What was your biggest concern before moving on board?
I was concerned about a lot of things. I worried about night sailing (but that has proven to be one of my greatest sailing pleasures). I worried about pirates – but so far we haven’t ventured into any pirate-infested waters. I worried about how we would make ends meet – and I still worry about that. But if I didn’t have financial worries to keep me on my toes, I’d probably be restless about something else.

3. Now that you live aboard, what is your biggest concern or adjustment?
Again, there are lots of these. The more sailing experience I gain, the more I realise what can go wrong. I try not to bury my head in the sand, but rather confront these worries and try to figure out what we would do if we found ourselves in certain situations. I worry about what I would do if Julian fell overboard. We have discussed how we would deal with this, but there are two simple facts: (a) my boat handling skills are poor and I’d likely run him over in my attempt to rescue him, and (b) he is 6’2”, weighs about 17 stone (that’s about 240lbs to you North Americans), and getting him back out of the water if he was unconscious and unable to help himself would be nigh on impossible.

I also hate fog. Fog makes me feel physically sick. We don’t have radar, and when we occasionally find ourselves in fog I imagine a huge container ship bearing down on us. The more times I experience fog, the more I hate it. We avoid going out in it, but sometimes find ourselves in the middle of a passage, shrouded in fog. Double watch, fog horn, and keeping our wits about us is about all we can do.

My biggest adjustment to the cruising life is my daily routine. Before moving onboard I worked full-time. Now that I no longer work full-time I’m trying to find time to write while at the same time home educating my daughters and, this winter, working part-time teaching English. My problem is that I like routine and I imagine that I can do more in the day than is realistic. I make to-do lists and I like to stick to them. I like getting up at the same time every day, going to work for a set period of time, ticking tasks off my to-do list. Living in the close confines of the boat with my husband and kids throws my routines out the window. I am no longer my own boss, but must work around the routines (or complete lack thereof) of the three other people I live with. I’m adjusting gradually, and Julian and the girls are meeting me somewhere in the middle.

4. What did you do for recreation/hobby before you became a cruiser and what do you do now?
I have young children, so I don’t understand these words ‘recreation’ and ‘hobby’!! In the years after meeting Julian and before the kids were born, he and I went SCUBA diving, hill walking, camping and on insane driving holidays at every opportunity. It was during that time too that I developed my love for sailing, and we chartered yachts, and did various RYA sailing courses. Then the kids came along and put an end to our exploits.

Cooking has been a competitive sport for Julian and I since the start of our relationship. Moving on board hasn’t changed that. We still try to out-do each other with our creations, and having to cook in a confined space with limited cooking facilities only enhances the challenge. I’m still sulking due to my Szechuan spare ribs getting the cold shoulder last weekend (they were too sweet, seemingly).

I’m a fanatical reader, and that hasn’t changed between land and sea. If I didn’t acquire any more books I reckon I currently have enough unread books on board to last me a year. But I’m always finding new reading material at marina book swaps, and family and friends share their books with me. I read on long passages, when I’m on buses and trains, before I go to bed, when I wake up – I’m almost never to be found without a book by my side. The wonderful thing is that Lily is now a fully fledged independent reader and, with any luck, Katie will soon follow suit, thus freeing up more time for me to read the books I like rather than the books they like!!

5. Has your initial estimate of how long you would cruise changed from your original plan?
When people ask how long we plan to do this, my glib answer is ‘Anywhere from six months to sixty years’. But, perhaps it’s not so glib. We don’t have any master plan. We have met other cruisers who plan to circumnavigate the globe in four years, or who are taking a year out to cross the Atlantic and back. But our plans are looser. One day we would like to cross the Atlantic, and one day we would like to circumnavigate the globe. But we may never do either. I guess the answer is that we will continue to sail for as long as we all enjoy it, and for as long as we can afford to do it. Right now, we’re looking forward to more cruising in the Mediterranean in spring 2015. But we’re not thinking much farther ahead than that. If a very different opportunity presented itself, then we might well turn our backs on sailing. I would love to live in Arviat again, in the Canadian Arctic, and one day I hope we can do that. Equally, if we sailed into someplace irresistible, we might well stay put and put down roots.

6. What is one unusual or surprising thing you have on board?
This is a really difficult question to answer. What seems normal to me might seem whacky to someone else. If someone else came on board and went through my stuff the thing that might most make them scratch their head is a big backpack, stored in the aft heads, full of newspaper clippings and academic papers about polar bears. It’s some of the material for a writing project I started about nine months ago, but which has been lying dormant for six months. The other surprising items are a little black dress and a pair of black stilettos. I’m just waiting for someone to invite me to a party – preferably NOT on a boat, so my stilettos won’t be frowned upon!

7. What is the most surprising/rude/absurd or annoying question you have been asked?
It’s not really a question, but what annoys me most is that other sailors often have opinions about how we should raise and educate our kids. Quite often those opinions are given by people who haven’t taken even a minute to say hello to the girls. They see two children and immediately assume that they know a better way (even though they haven’t bothered to ask about our way). The rude opinions usually come from people who haven’t cruised with their own children. Those who currently cruise with children, or who have done so in the past, are generally very supportive, I guess because they too have had to deal with the annoying opinions. Cruisers who raised their children onboard years ago usually have very insightful and helpful suggestions, and they’re usually very kind and accepting of young children at anchor or on a pontoon next to them.

8. Name something that is better about living aboard than living on land and does it surprise you?
Can I give an x-rated answer? Hahaha!

9. If you had a magic wand, what would you change about your boat right now?
I hate making the beds. Tucking in bottom sheets requires bodily contortions that in summer cause me to break out in a sweat and the rest of the time are just plain awkward and annoying. If I had a magic wand I would make the fore and aft cabins wider, so that they had proper beds that I could walk around, which would save me having to simultaneously kneel on top of mattresses while picking up the edges to tuck in the sheet.
Alternatively, I might close my eyes, wave the magic wand, and open my eyes to find Carina in Tuvalu in the South Pacific – somewhere I’ve dreamed of for years. (Hello, Alice Baker!)

10. Can you name one thing that is a favorite part of your “normal” day?
There comes a time – not every day – late in the evening, when the girls are asleep in the fore cabin, and the boat is closed up for the night. The light is quite poor in the saloon, which makes the boat feel so cosy and ‘homely’. I sit on the port side settee, a light overhead shining down on the book I’m reading, a cup of tea or glass of wine on the table beside me. The boat rocks almost imperceptibly, accompanied by the gentle creaking noises of ropes and rigging. I should try to make that moment in the day a more regular occurrence than it currently is.

Another favourite part of the day that seems to be sadly fading is when the kids climb into bed with us. I’m not too keen on getting woken up at 7am, but if one of them comes into our cabin earlier than that, they usually fall back asleep. You can’t beat an early morning snuggle – with Katie especially, who is far less wriggly than Lily. This morning we had both of them in and later, after Lily and Julian got up, Katie stayed with me for a sleepy cuddle.


Well, that was fun! My Liebster Award nominees are Photo art by Anna and The Dancing Irishman, two very different blogs, and neither about anything even remotely related to the sea or sailing. They are written by two people I know personally, and who I admire because they have chosen the road less travelled in order to follow their passions. Photo art by Anna and The Dancing Irishman, here are your ten questions:

1. Did you have a ‘this is the life for me’ lightbulb moment?

2. What’s been the strangest reaction to your chosen lifestyle?

3. Why are you a blogger?

4. What is the most interesting or unexpected thing that has happened to you as a result of writing your blog?

5. What book would you recommend everyone read before they die?

6. When you eventually come sailing aboard Carina, where would you like to sail to?

7. Who is the one other person you would like to come along on that sailing trip? Why?

8. What are your other passions in life?

9. Who has most inspired you to do what you do?

10. Where do you see your passions taking you in the next ten years?

I hope you take up the challenge, answer the questions and pay the Liebster Award forward to bloggers you admire. xx Martina

Racing to the Algarve

We slipped out of the marina at Doca de Alcântara in Lisbon, knowing that over the next few days we would cover a lot of ground, as we made our way to the Algarve. The coast between Lisbon and the south of Portugal is sparsely populated, with long stretches offering no harbour or protection to a passing vessel.

I made supper while Julian sailed us down the River Tagus, back to Cascais. We ‘spanked’ along (to unashamedly steal a phrase from Chris on Tallulah May) aided by the current, registering 10.1 knots at one point – I had no idea Carina could hit such speeds.

After a night at anchor in Cascais we turned south early in the morning while the girls still slept. Our 53-mile passage to Sines was uneventful. We motored for a few hours until we had enough wind to sail and then averaged 5 knots for the rest of the day. We weren’t sure what to expect of Sines. We knew it was a large cargo terminal with petro-chemical industries, and a woman I met in Lisbon referred to it as ‘the sad town’. Back in the early 1970s Sines had been a quiet fishing village, but was rapidly transformed by the building of the cargo terminal and industrial port. However, the pilot book assured us that once you got beyond the harbour wall, the heavy industry was out of sight.

Early morning Sines from the sea

Early morning Sines from the sea

We found both to be true. As we sailed into Sines we saw a line of cargo ships and oil tankers waiting to enter the port and we were hit by that smell of heavy industry recognisable to anyone who has ever visited Port Talbot in Wales. Stinky! Yet where we anchored was pleasant, with a pretty beach and a nice looking town. Passage making was our priority, so we didn’t leave Carina. We arrived in Sines at 7pm and departed at 7am on our next leg.

The next day began in the same uneventful way, motoring first until we had the wind to sail. I longed to see a whale and had even dreamed of one while I slept in Sines. But it wasn’t to be. Apart from a couple of dolphins and a sun fish between Cascais and Sines, we have seen precious little wildlife along the Portuguese coast.

Sines to the Enseada de Sagres, on the south coast, was 64 miles and we hoped to make it before dark. It was a hot day, but with a pleasant breeze. At 4pm, out of nowhere, a fog rolled in across the sea. It was a strange sensation. The sun still shone down hot and bright, but we had visibility of only about 50 metres when the fog was at its worst, and we still had a good wind to sail. Double watch, fog horn blowing, high alert! We would soon round the Cabo de Sao Vicente, the sharp south-western corner of Portugal.

We were blind, navigating by our chart plotter and making provision in case the chart plotter failed. Thankfully that didn’t happen. The pilot book told us we were more likely to hear Cabo de Sao Vicente before we saw it, as fog is such a common occurrence on this coast. We did indeed hear the fog horn long before we saw the cape. We were past the cape and had changed tack to the east when the fog lifted. And what a sight it was! The sheer cliffs of the south coast of Portugal, the Cabo de Sao Vicente a dramatic right angle marking the south-western corner of Europe.

Spectacular Cabo de Sao Vicente - Europe's southwest corner

Spectacular Cabo de Sao Vicente – Europe’s southwest corner

We were relieved when the fog lifted, but our relief was short-lived. Almost immediately the wind got up to Force 6, gusting to Force 8. We were also negotiating the sprinkling of lobster pot buoys and tunny nets and with some difficulty we pulled in the sails and motored the last mile around the impressive Ponta de Sagres into the Enseada de Sagres, our anchorage for the night. The little bay was surrounded by high red, flat-topped cliffs, and the beach looked inviting, but the wind was too strong and it was too late to go ashore. After the fog and the winds and our rounding of Portugal, we thought it was time to crack open the bottle of Rioja, a birthday present from my friend Stewart Barr back in April! It was worth the wait.

It was a windy night, the boat rocking and jolting and coming between me and my night’s sleep. But we only had a short distance to travel on the last day of our marathon passage from Lisbon. It was windy – Force 6 gusting to 7 – but we only put out the mizzen sail and a little genoa. After half an hour the wind died somewhat, giving us a delightful sail along the red Martian cliffs. The coast was desolate at first, but then the tourist resorts began to appear. After 15 miles we passed Lagos, the biggest tourist town along this coast and a couple of miles later we entered the beach-enclosed lagoon at Alvor. Four days, four anchorages, 150 miles, and here we are in an azure blue lagoon, surrounded by empty golden sandy beaches, and decent-sized towns a walk along the shore in either direction.

Horray, we’re in the Algarve, and here we plan to stay for the next five weeks!

A strange kind of night sail

Up to now, my night sailing experience has been far from land in the open sea: between the Isles of Scilly and Ireland, the English Channel, the Bay of Biscay. A few days ago we decided to cover the 100 nautical miles between Leixoes and Nazaré in one go, departing at 7pm and sailing south through the night along the Portuguese coast.

It started out as normal, despite our rather ham-fisted departure from the marina. We ate the chilli I had cooked earlier and the girls took themselves off to bed around 9pm, at the same time as Julian lay down in the saloon port berth and I took the first watch.

I’ve written before about how much I enjoy night sailing. Despite having to battle fatigue, I love the solitude of being on the helm alone with my thoughts after dark, the moon or stars bright in the sky, phosphorescent plankton shimmering in the water. The Portuguese coast had other ideas.

As soon as I was on my own in the cockpit I became aware of a dull hum coming from the land. Over the next two to three hours this grew louder and more penetrating. It was a rock concert, although all that reached me, three miles off shore, were the percussion and bass. Now, I’ve been to some pretty loud rock concerts in my time, but is this how they sounded from a distance? It was horrible, like sitting in a train carriage and hearing the noise from someone’s tinny headphones. It filled my left ear and reverberated through my body and I was relieved when we were eventually on the other side of the Doppler effect, and the reverberations faded into the background. The audience certainly got value for money – the show went on and on.

To the west a long line of cargo ships anchored in a queue, I imagine awaiting their turn to enter Leixoes port to off-load. Now, before I go any further, I need to explain VHF Channel 16 to the non-seafaring amongst you. Most vessels, Carina included, are fitted with a VHF radio to facilitate communication. The radio is switched on at all times when at sea, and is tuned to Channel 16.

Channel 16 is the sacred channel. Its purpose is ‘Distress, Safety and Calling’. 16 can be used to briefly established contact with another vessel, but both then quickly switch to a mutually acceptable channel, leaving 16 clear for its main purpose – distress calls. The Maritime Guidance Notes (bear with me…I’m going somewhere with this) state:
‘The following should be avoided: (a) calling on Channel 16 for purposes other than distress, and very brief safety communications; (b) non-essential transmissions, e.g. needless and superfluous correspondence; (f) transmitting without correct identification; (g) use of offensive language’.

The point I’m laboriously making is Channel 16 must be used as little as possible, so that vessel in distress (man overboard, fire on board, holed by whales, etc etc) can use it to contact emergency rescue services.

So, back to that line of cargo ships awaiting entry to Leixoes port. Shortly after dark the air was filled with the noise of some awful pop song (a woman whining on about something, with Gangnam Style sampled through it) playing on Channel 16. It made me laugh and I had a little dance in the cockpit. There was radio silence for a few minutes, followed by an extended conversation between what I can only imagine were crew members of different cargo vessels. Of course they didn’t identify themselves, but the fact that the conversations were all in heavily-accented English suggests they weren’t local Portuguese fishermen!

The conversations, with a decidedly racist tone, carried on for over two hours. At one point someone even radioed ‘Coast guard, coast guard, help me’. I’m not sure which annoyed me more – the racism or the fact that these gobshites were endangering me and my family, and anyone else at sea that night, by hogging the emergency channel.

Sailing around on the south coast of England I have often heard the Coast Guard quickly cutting in on conversations between two yachties who have forgotten to switch from channel 16 and are discussing where they will rendezvous for dinner later. I waited and waited, expecting the Portuguese authorities to ask these guys to take their conversation elsewhere. It was over two hours before an older sounding man, in a jaded tone, asked them to keep Channel 16 clear.

Well, that was my four-hour watch, and at 1am Julian and I swapped places. He got radio silence, but I’m not sure he got a better deal. This part of the Portuguese coastline is littered with lobster pots, laid in 60 metres of water, tethered to buoys at the surface. Many of the buoys fly flags from one metre poles, but many of the flags have ripped or disintegrated, and so only a thin black pole sticks up out of the water to alert vessels of the presence of the pots. Lobster pots are a curse, because if you happen to pass over one, you can easily befoul the boat’s propeller, rendering the boat incapable of motoring, until the rope has been removed from around the prop by someone diving in to do it manually.

We slalomed through clusters of these all down the Portuguese coast. During the day they aren’t a problem, but none of them are lit and after I went to bed Julian ran through a few particularly thick patches which, in the dark, could only be seen when Carina was almost on top of them. To add to Julian’s woes, a pod of dolphins came alongside and he was distracted by their phosphorescence-covered bodies as they leaped and played around the boat. A couple of times, so distracted by the dolphins, he only narrowly missed some lobster buoys and it was sheer luck that our prop wasn’t befouled.

I got up at 5am, just in time for the fog! Early morning fogs are typical of this stretch of coast, so we weren’t surprised. But it meant that Julian couldn’t go to bed, as a look-out was needed – not for ships for once, but for lobster buoys. By 6am the fog had listed sufficiently that I could see a few hundred metres, so Julian could get some rest.

It wasn’t a bad night sail, so much as a different one to what we are used to. The sailing itself was pleasant, until we lost the wind in the middle of the night and had to motor. The stars filled the sky, the Milky Way ran over my head, and in the middle of the night the yellow half moon rose up from behind the land. But if I had to choose between the open ocean and listening to the bored crew of a cargo vessel while dodging lobster pots, I know which one I’d go for!

Crossing to Ireland

We enjoyed a very pleasant couple of nights moored in New Grimsby Sound in the Isles of Scilly. The weather was as it should be, but unfortunately hasn’t been for most of this summer. So we made the most of warm sunshine to play on the glorious golden beach of Tresco Island and explore the two castle ruins at the north end of the island. We could have stayed there for a few more days – or forever – but decided the time had come to venture across the 130 nautical miles to Kinsale, our destination port on the south coast of Ireland. We had always intended to have another crew member on board for the trip to Ireland, but as the days and weeks went by and we grew more comfortable with handling Carina, we decided to go it alone. The 24th and 25th of July gave us a weather window – not great for sailing due to the lack of wind, but good for two novices who might have to forego sleep for 24 hours or more.

Julian and I woke early on the morning of Tuesday the 24th. It was foggy, but we got everything in order and at 6.30am we slipped silently out of New Grimsby Sound. After about half an hour the fog grew considerably worse and we wondered if we’d made a mistake. Luckily, the girls were still asleep, so Julian and I were able to give all our attention to navigating through pea soup. I helmed, while Julian regularly blew the fog horn, and we listened intently to the radio as we kept our eyes peeled for anything that might suddenly loom out of the fog. By 9am it had lifted, to reveal a clear blue-sky day, with a southerly puff of wind that wouldn’t knock a feather over. We motored along for most of the day, now and again cutting the motor to see if it was worth putting up the sails. If we had more crew, or were more experienced we might have been happy to chug along at 2 or 3 knots for 48 hours, but we made the decision to just go for it, and make as much speed as we could for as long as we could.

We spent a pleasant day at sea, getting on with life as usual – even the washing hanging out (see the photo below!). There were few signs of other humans – a fishing vessel mid morning and then a container ship far in the distance later in the day. For the first time we saw fulmers – lots of them. When the herring gulls ended the fulmers began, swooping low, masters of the open ocean. Gannets flew past too, often in flocks of twenty or more birds, but always going somewhere, never diving to fish.

Hardly ‘single-handed’ sailing!

I had a two hour nap mid-afternoon, and when I awoke I relieved Julian to do likewise, although he didn’t sleep for as long. Putting the girls to bed at bedtime proved somewhat difficult. They were aware that we were doing something different and wanted to be part of it. They both eventually nodded off, but half an hour later Lily reappeared, and finally fell asleep in the cockpit, wrapped in a sleeping bag, and we transferred her to bed.

It was around this time, after the sun had set, but there was still plenty of light in the sky, and Lily was drifting off, that we decided there finally was enough wind, and we got the sails out. Beautiful silence at last. Shortly after 11pm, Julian got kitted out in warmer overnight clothing and made himself a large coffee. I went down to the saloon to sleep for a few hours. At 1.30 Julian came bounding down the companionway yelling ‘Fog horn, fog horn’. I leaped out of bed, quickly found the fog horn and went up on deck. A thick fog had descended and the sound of a fog horn somewhere on our port side had Julian worried. But the fog horn was too consistent, too regular and a quick glance at the chart plotter revealed it to be marking the boundary of the Kinsale gas field.

Moments later we received a radio message from the gas field!! ‘Will the vessel one mile south of Kinsale B please alter course, you are entering a restricted zone’. Oops. We altered course to go around the restricted area, still in fog and not able to see a thing. Moments later the fog lifted, revealing two massive gas rigs lit up like Christmas trees, less than a mile from us. Hard to believe that two such massive brightly lit structures rising out the sea could be so obscured by fog. Thankfully that was the end of the fog and the rest of the night we had good visibility with occasional drizzle. Julian went to bed and I helmed for a couple of hours, watching the lights on Ireland’s south coast gradually come into view – lighthouses and other lights – and the coastline taking shape as dawn approached. We swapped places once again and when I was woken by Lily at 6.30 we were only a couple of hours from our destination.

We arrived in Kinsale on a cold drizzly morning, 26 hours after we’d left the Isles of Scilly. We were both exhausted, but delighted with our achievement and delighted to be in Ireland. After setting ourselves up on the pontoon at Castlepark Marina, we enjoyed a hearty fried breakfast. Julian slept while I took the girls to the beach, and in the afternoon Lily and I slept while Julian and Katie walked into Kinsale.

Yippee…we had arrived, and after a day of rest and recovery, we were ready to begin the Irish leg of our adventure!