Around the World- Newsletter #7

Block Island- September, 1997

Walter and I left FIONA in Aguadulce on Spain’s Costa del Sol and flew to New York in May. Fortunately Walter was able to get a good job for three weeks to replenish his cruising kitty. I had a large number of repairs to electronic equipment to care of and also squeezed in the annual vintage Bentley rally. When we returned the willowy Celia, who had been watching over FIONA, announced she had got a job modeling swimsuits, leaving Walter and I to sail the boat to Gibraltar. We jogged down the coast in easy stages, but each afternoon we had strong winds, on the nose, of course. Most nights we tied up in marinas, where we usually enjoyed a sunset rum and exchanged yarns with other cruisers. The numerous restaurants in this part of the world are mostly quite inexpensive and we were able to take a break from the spam and beans suppers on board. We also ran into old friends of the British Tradewinds rally whom we had seen periodically since we were in the Caribbean. Unfortunately the marinas are littered with flotsam and jetsam and at Fuengirola I had to don scuba gear to clear a rope which had wrapped itself around the propshaft. So high were the forces generated that the cotter pin had sheared and the nuts holding the propeller had worked loose; we were lucky not to shed the propeller.

We sailed to Gibraltar to stock up for the Transatlantic leg and to pick up our new crew member, Derek. Derek and I had both served as pilots in the RAF and had briefly been stationed at Gibraltar more than forty years ago; this was my first return visit since then. It is massively changed; the military presence is gone and huge buildings now dominate what flat land there is. One afternoon I climbed to the top of the Rock. I got the adrenalin pumping by negotiating a narrow path up the cliffs on the east side. At the top I ran into the famous Barbary apes and later explored one of the tunnels driven into the rock by military engineers. By the time the British Army left they had drilled over 33 miles of tunnels – the famous “solid as the Rock” is really Swiss cheese! Walter and I took the ferry to Tangiers one day but this turned out to be rather a bust – we were the targets of relentless touts everywhere we went. When Derek showed up we beat out of the Med through the legendary Pillars of Hercules against a stiff wind and current. Once into the Atlantic conditions eased and we had some lovely sailing to Tenerife in the Canary Islands. As usually happens it was the middle of the night when we arrived at Santa Cruz. This is very pleasant town with many sidewalk cafes and we stayed three days before leaving for Bermuda, 2,500 miles away. Although by this time it was well into the hurricane season, cyclonic activity was low, although I carefully monitored weather forecasts on short wave and printed weather faxes as soon as we got within range of the US stations. We had a very easy passage with winds rarely over 20 kts and for four days we used the engine to push us over a windless sea. When the wind dropped we often took the opportunity for a swim, it’s always fun to swim in blue, warm water going down two and a half miles under the boat. On one occasion we found the propeller had become fouled by a piece of fishing net and it took Walter and I in turns some time to cut it free. Derek had a birthday during the trip. We baked a cake and gave him a card on which we inscribed:


Congrats on reaching sixty-five.

Tho’ your eyes may be dim

And you’re not quite so slim

It certainly beats the alternative!

In reply Derek wrote in the log book:


Though birthdays are by custom only annually repeating

With increasing age the time between them seems more fleeting

But should I make another ten

And reflect on all this, then

My 65th on board this ship will certainly take some beating!

The muse, of course, was inspired by liberal swigging of our Mount Gay rum. About half way across the Atlantic I succeeded in rising Mike McKeown and Fred Pallas on the ham radio with the help of an amateur operator in Barbados. From that point on our friends and relatives at home had some knowledge of our progress. With winds that were usually in 10 to 12 knot range we had a leisurely sail and sighted Bermuda just over twenty days after leaving Tenerife. We finally tied up at St. George in the middle of the night (of course). Bermuda marked the completion of the circumnavigation as we left from there in July, 1995, for the Caribbean. I was apparently in such a rush to touch land I dented the pulpit on a post at the customs dock.

There is lovely cruising in Bermuda and we sailed FIONA to a few of my favorite anchorages so Derek could see some of it before he flew out to rejoin his family who were vacationing in Florida. Isn’t modern technology wonderful? – in a few hours Derek was transported from the idyllic, tranquil life aboard FIONA to the frenetic madness of Disneyland! Just before Derek left we were joined by Walter’s older sister Del who flew down for a few days and a couple of days later his sister Debbie dropped in. When they left Walter and I took the boat over to Castle Harbor, the only anchorage in Bermuda which, over the years, I have not explored. There are interesting ruins on Castle Island, which was fortified in 1612 by the first English settlers. We also did the last in series of noon sights which we started in mid-Atlantic to see how accurately we could measure longitude by knowing the time of the sight, all this inspired by Dava Sobel’s interesting book on the development of the marine chronometer.

For the third crew member of the leg from Bermuda to Newport, RI, I recruited Ginny, who had already sailed with us from Australia to Thailand. The day after Ginny flew in we refueled and left. We had an easy sail. The sea was quite placid when we crossed the spot where FIONA lost the mast in 1988, also it was within a day of the same date, so I was pleased when we got north of the Gulf Stream with its potential for violent weather. We arrived in the middle of the night (as usual) and anchored in Mackerel Cove on Jamestown Is until it was late enough to enter Newport Harbor and clear customs. Ginny took a bus back to Maine where she is supervising extensive alterations to her house on Peaks Island. A day later Walter left to attend a wedding on Long Island, I was left alone for a short while. I sailed FIONA to Block Is so we were positioned for the final leg to Patchogue, the idea being to arrive 800 days after we left. We actually left earlier than planned because the wind was forecast to be SE, changing to SW, SE being very desirable. We left as soon as Walter=s friend Tim arrived on the ferry from Montauk; he was the last in a long line of third crew members. The trip along the Long Is coast turned out to be a great sail but then we had to anchor for over twelve hours before traversing the shoals of Gt South Bay. Walter has been combing through the log books and here are a few statistics he came up with:

Total Distance:  34,360 nautical miles

No. of days at sea:  298

Average sailing day: 115 n.m.

Total diesel consumption: 1900 galls

Total rum consumption:  70 galls

No. of novels read:  about 250 (and about 113 Weekly Manchester Guardians)

No. Of countries visited: 34

In summary it’s been quite an experience. I greatly enjoyed visiting the many countries but usually after a week or two I was ready to move on because I also like the challenge of ocean sailing. I have fond memories of lying in my bunk reading a Patrick O’Brian novel with the sounds of the wind and creak of the main sheet blocks – this greatly added verisimilitude to his stories. The social side of cruising is great fun – there are a lot of interesting folks out there and there is a strong camaraderie among cruisers. We had about 180 guests on board at various times for happy hour (so that’s where the rum went) representing 18 countries in addition to those we visited.

I have to thank Walter for sticking with me for the whole trip; he has developed into an excellent seaman. Now FIONA needs a lot of work to repair the ravages of all those sea miles, after that, who knows?