Newsletter # 2 (I’m Late, I’m Late)

Port Stanley, Falkland Is, January, 2005

It seems appropriate to quote the White Rabbit to set the theme for this letter. This part of the cruise was very tightly scheduled; a mad rush from the northern hemisphere to the southern for a brief visit to the Antarctic. But delays caused us to spend more time than planned at some ports and therefore less time at others. Overall I accumulated a more than two-week deficit from my original schedule, and our time in the Deep South will be limited. I had one constant crew member, Andrew, the other berth was sometimes empty and sometimes filled only briefly.

When I returned to London from New York I was preceded by a few hours by Sean, a 19-year old from Patchogue, where I keep Fiona. He had signed up to complete the rest of the cruise and with the arrival of Andrew a few days later I imagined I had solved the crewing problem at least until March of 2005, when Andrew planned to leave in South America. Andrew, an Aussie, was an old Fiona hand, having sailed from Puerto Rico to Maine in 2003. Before Andrew showed up, Sean and I completed a few repairs and bent on the sails, which had been repaired during my trip home. Sean got a chance to see something of London, I introduced him to a typical pub one evening, and later we had a curry at one of the ubiquitous Indian restaurants, another first for him. Somehow I found time to visit my aunt May in Swanley and one afternoon I took the train to Didcot, near Abingdon, where I was met by Catherine, who had crewed earlier when we were in the Baltic. That evening I showed the video of the previous cruise to her local yacht club, an event organized by John Magraw, who had crewed on the 2000 trip to the Arctic. We left London on the ebb on the afternoon of 13 October and tied up in the dark at a strange little dock that seemed to be in the middle of a swamp in Queen Borough. I had been tipped off by a member of the Little Ship Club that this was the only refuge to make for before the tide turned foul. Our next stop was Ramsgate, we tied up at the local marina at dead low water and briefly ‘touched bottom’ as we made our way up the harbor channel. After some shopping in the morning we left for the slog down the English Channel where I planned to put into Falmouth at the western end of the Cornish peninsular. This leg took two days and was complicated by the fierce tides in the Channel and brisk southwest winds on the nose. Sean was seasick, but I assured him that was fairly normal and would pass.

Apparently he did not believe me, as soon as we touched dry land at Falmouth he booked himself a flight home and by the next evening he was gone. I emailed Rich who put a crew call on the Web site and Andrew and I sounded out the local sailing clubs for someone who might sail as far as Lisbon. Andrew also alerted the Aussie ‘mafia’ in London, but we had no success. We carried out a few repairs and bent a new storm mainsail on the boom. This sail had been copied from my old storm mainsail which had propelled the boat round Cape Horn three times but finally gave up the ghost after the 2002/2003 circumnavigation. We waited in Falmouth for a good weather opportunity to sail across the Bay of Biscay but day after day the forecast was for strong or even gale force winds from the southwest. I linked up with Helen Franklin who lives in the nearby town of Penryn, she is the daughter of Nick Franklin who designed the Aries self-steerer, aka Victor the Vane. The waiting was not unpleasant, Falmouth is an attractive port with good pubs, teashops and a nice library. One night Andrew and I went to an excellent play put on by local amateurs. Finally, after a week of waiting it looked like a window; northerly winds for a couple of days, but then an intense low was forecast to hit the area. I was probably too eager to get away, I figured we might get far enough to the west that we could ride the counterclockwise winds to the south, but instead we were trapped to the east of the low and Andrew got his first taste of heavy weather as we lay hove-to in a force 10 storm. To make matters worse the low pressure center stalled off the coast of Ireland and then made a turn southeast, thus heading straight for Fiona. I have written a more detailed account of the storm for the magazine Ocean Navigator; the text is posted on the website; click on Some Published Articles. Apart from getting thoroughly soaked we suffered no real damage until the jib tore. We furled it but a remnant of cloth gave the wind something to grab onto and over the next few days the wind reduced the sail to tatters. We made Lisbon in eight days after leaving Falmouth, as we powered up the Tagus River a police launch approached, observing the shreds of sail hanging from the headstay they asked us if we needed help. Then it turned out the marina we were heading for had been closed due to shoaling and they guided us to another marina near the center of Lisbon, fortunately for us, as we would never have been able to find it by ourselves, it was a pitch black night and the marina was hidden in the depths of the commercial dock area. Our first priority was to get the jib repaired, but when the sailmakers inspected it a day later they suggested a new sail. In the end we ordered one from a sailmaker in England and had it shipped by air. This took time and we wound up spending two weeks in Lisbon.

Andrew had to get a Brazilian visa while in Lisbon, but was frustrated by the bureaucracy. After filing out a comprehensive form he went back after a statutory five days to pick it up and found they had done nothing with it because the photo he had supplied was an eighth of an inch too small. By then it was too late to start over, so he arrived in Brazil without one, leading to more problems, as you will learn. One bit of good news was that we found an enthusiastic South African yachtsman to take Sean’s place once we got to Brazil. He had seen the crew call on the website and arranged to take a couple of months off work in Cape Town. That left us with the problem of finding someone for the leg to Brazil. Enter Gaby. Gaby is one of those characters that one tends to meet in the strange life of world-wide cruising. She wanted to go somewhere warm for winter, and Brazil seemed as good a place as any. She had no sailing experience but was wildly keen on any project that caught her fancy. Gaby spoke five languages fluently so I signed her up for the trip. She was very helpful when I had my own brush with Portuguese bureaucracy; I tried to reclaim the 19% VAT that was extracted when I paid for the new sail. First we were directed to several offices of the customs, in each they claimed ignorance of the procedure but sent us to another office. Finally we discovered the number of the form we had to complete, but first we had to buy the form itself from the government printing office. We chased around Lisbon by taxi trying to get one before everything shut on a Friday afternoon. In the end we just made it, Gaby and I completed the form over the weekend and on Monday morning we made another dreary round of office visits. Finally we wound up in the office of a chief poohbah who determined that VAT refunds applied only to commercial ships and that decadent, supposedly rich, yachtsmen were not entitled to get the money back. The three of us made a sightseeing trip to Sintra, a wonderfully scenic town near the coast west of Lisbon where the ancient royalty had a summer palace. Before them it had been occupied by the Moors, who built a castle in the 8th century. Lisbon has excellent public transportation including a subway and streetcars. A couple routes have very quaint, cast-off, English trams, some of which Gaby claimed were a hundred years old. But there are hazards; on one of the new, jazzy streetcars I was jostled by a bunch of professional pickpockets and they neatly abstracted my old video camera from my backpack. Fortunately I had changed the cassette just the day before so I did not lose any precious footage. The new sail was shipped from England on a Thursday but got trapped at the airport by the weekend and so it was not finally delivered until late Monday afternoon. We ran it up the stay, it looked fine and so we cast off and headed down the river for Brazil.

Gaby picked the elements of watch-keeping easily enough but she had a prickly personality, perhaps due to her upbringing; she said it had been difficult with a white mother and black father. She claimed to be a lesbian, a vegetarian, an artist, a musician and all around free-thinker. I would add a touch of paranoia to the list and I was not surprised when she decided during our brief stop-over at Santa Cruz, Tenerife, that it was warm enough and she abruptly left the boat. That left another long leg of over 2,000 nautical miles for Andrew and me to sail by ourselves. We restocked the fresh food, refueled and left after two days. I had not intended to put into the Cape Verde Islands, which lay almost directly on our route, but prolonged calms and heavy engine use dictated full fuel tanks before we crossed the doldrums. We anchored at Mindelo, a port we had visited on the 2002-2003 cruise. I went to the immigration office three times to check in but it was always shut. We refueled, spent the night at anchor and left the next day without ever officially having been there. Diesel cost twice as much as it did on our last visit, otherwise the place seemed little changed.

As soon as we left the island we picked up good trade winds and Fiona surged along, often accompanied by dolphins that gamboled around the boat. I started to grow a beard. After a few days we ran into squalls and calm patches. George, the autopilot used when we are under power, started to give trouble. I traced the problem to faulty connections on a printed circuit board, the unit is 25 years old – like its captain it is getting creaky joints. Later other problems developed with some of the chips used on the boards, fortunately I carried a few spares. The days flew by as Andrew and I stood watch and watch. We frequently found flying fish on deck. Although the wind became erratic and stalled at times we never encountered the flat calm I have experienced on previous crossings of the doldrums and by the time we crossed the equator at 31º 31′ W’ on 10 December we were once again sailing well with southeast trade winds Our old friend Father Neptune showed up the next day to induct Andrew, always an excuse for a little extra rum at happy hour. Each day I checked in with a ham radio net, they plotted our daily position on a website, this was a great help to Gary, our new crew, who was planning to arrive in Brazil on 10 December and naturally was hoping we would arrive about the same time. The 10th, of course, was the day we crossed the equator but the winds were strong, we reefed the mainsail and flew towards Cabedelo, our landfall on the northeast coast of Brazil. We arrived at the river mouth in the late afternoon of the 13th and got the anchor down at Jacare before the sun set. Gary was staying at a pousada (Brazilian B&B) and was sipping a beer at a waterfront café when he saw us arrive. The 2,281 mile leg from Tenerife had taken us 23 days, including our stop at Mindelo.

Jacare is a small village on the Paraiba River half-way between Cabedelo and the city of Joao Pessoa. It is the home of Cabedelo Nautico, a boatyard run by an expat Brit called Brian Stevens. It is a well-known hang-out for yachties, there were four other cruisers anchored in the river when we arrived. Every evening a local band practices at the restaurant/bar next to the marina. For some reason they always play Ravel’s Bolero as the sun sets. They play excruciatingly badly. Our first order of business the next morning was to sort out the paperwork with the federal police, a battle I usually lose every time I arrive in Brazil. This was to be no exception. Gary and I went to the police office in the dock at Cabedelo and I presented our passports. Consternation reigned when they noticed Andrew had no visa. An hour or two went by as an officer sorted through voluminous folders and made numerous phone calls. Finally his secretary cut and pasted a document on the computer headed in Portuguese ‘Notification of Infraction’. To my surprise he and the secretary then signaled for Gary and I to get in his car, parked just outside the office, and we left at high speed for the boatyard. When we arrived at Brian’s office he translated; Andrew had to be officially told he must leave and sign the impressive document the secretary had brought along, where was he? Andrew was supposed to be on the boat as he was a non-person. While Brian stalled the officials Gary and I searched frantically for Andrew, even co-opting Brian’s car and one of his workers as the driver. We finally discovered Andrew lounging on the beach about two miles away. Fortunately they were still in Brian’s office when we got back, Andrew was told he had three days to leave Brazil, and he signed the notification: Brazilian honor was satisfied. Three days was fine by me, we were running very late if we were to spend much time in the Antarctic summer season and it was too hot in Jacare; it hit the 90’s by lunch. We changed to the heavy weather sails, refueled by jerry jug, restocked the fresh food and prepared to leave on a direct shot to Port Stanley, 3,000 miles away. It was curious shopping in the large ‘Hiper’ market at Joao Pessoa, the PA system pumped out Christmas music and the clerks wore cute little Santa hats, but the temperature was sweltering. It was refreshingly inexpensive in Brazil, especially after Europe. I bought a few bottles of local rum at about $2.50 per liter. The policeman came down to the boatyard just to make sure we were really leaving, we got our passports stamped and we departed on December 17th. Just before we left I picked up a parcel from Brenda at the post office, in it were a couple of Christmas presents and back copies of the Manchester Guardian.

The winds were generally light for the trip south, apart from the inevitable squalls. We were just about on the Tropic of Capricorn for Christmas Day. The boat was decorated with the traditional tree and we had turkey with all the trimmings for dinner. In the afternoon we watched Christmas Story, one of the videos Brenda had sent to Cabedelo. Just after Christmas I was horrified to learn of the tsunami in the Far East on the BBC shortwave broadcasts. On the 1995-1997 circumnavigation I had cruised through that region, including Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. At Phuket I can’t imagine the effects of the tidal wave as the bay is so shallow for up to a mile from shore. Many yachts must have been swept onto the land and the crews killed. Back in the South Atlantic, for the next week we had mostly calm weather and early in the New Year we cut back on engine usage as the fuel on board was down to about 20 gallons, which we needed to save for our arrival in the vicinity of the Falkland Islands. This was the first time in many years that I have had to curtail engine use at sea because of fuel shortage. Every evening the Southern Cross rose higher and higher on the port bow. Near 40º S we spotted our first albatrosses, but the wind remained light; no ‘Roaring Forties’ where we were. In fact, the weather got milder and milder for a while. We had warm, sunny days with cloudless skies and a sea as calm as a millpond. But the wind had disappeared, between lunchtime on Jan 6th and lunch on Jan 7th we sailed only 36 nautical miles. The boat rolled lazily in the swell and the sails slatted – it was very frustrating; Stanley still lay 700 miles away. To make matters worse we were encountering the current that streamed round Cape Horn and headed into the Atlantic, where it is called the Falklands Current. This was running between 1 and 2 knots on the nose. By the 10th we were experiencing more typical weather for the forties with winds up to 30 knots. The next night we reefed the mainsail in a wind that gusted up to 35 knots. When we retired into the cabin to enjoy a well-earned cup of tea the boat was suddenly rolled by an immense wave and I was catapulted against one of the vertical steel posts by the companionway steps. I was left winded and when I tried to get up a familiar pain shot through my side; I had obviously cracked a rib. This made watch-keeping a little tough on Andrew and Gary; until we got to the Falkland Islands anytime I needed to adjust the sails or even open the main hatch on my watch I had to call on them. We had another slow day between the 12th and 13th when we made good only 35 miles towards Stanley, noon to noon, but this was because we were fighting very strong head winds and we sailed over a 100 miles in tacks. Fortunately the wind then backed and decreased to 20/25 knots and we were able to lay a course directly to our destination. We tied up at the floating dock in Stanley at about 2:30 pm on the 14th. After a shower at the Seaman’s Centre I hitched a ride to the local hospital and checked into the casualty department for an examination. An X-ray did not show a significant break, but the doctor said that this was fairly usual until calcification started in a few days after the break. We now have to decide if a leg further south is prudent; watch FNN for the latest news. We had sailed 3,182 nm from Cabedelo in 28 days; a slow average of 114 nm/day. Since leaving London we have logged 7,575 nm, giving a total from the cruise from New York of 13,653 nm.

Until the next time, best wishes, Eric.


Eric shops for fruit and veggies at Santa Cruz, Tenerife.

An electronic addition to Victor the Vane for light winds, Andrew christened it ´Simon´.

Belem Tower replica at Mindelo, Cape Verde Islands.

Andrew refuels at Mindelo.

Sunset at the Cape Verde Islands.

A lonely lighthouse on the south end Of St Anthony Island.

Eric inspects the guts of ´George,’ the autopilot, he got it working again.

An approaching squall in the Doldrums.

Father Neptune at the equator.

Andrew is inducted as a son of Neptune.

Jacare and Joao Pessoa, Brazil.

The River Paraiba from the masthead.

Jacare means ´crocodile´in Portuguese.

A huge bulk carrier encountered on the way to Port Stanley.

Gar and Andrew with Eric, Christmas Day.

The makings of our turkey dinner.

Curious clouds in the S. Atlantic- a UFO in a spin?

The great Albatross in the Southeren Ocean.

Gary and Andrew raise the courtesy flag near Port Stanley, Falkland Islands.

The treeless outline of East Falkland island.

Locals Paul and Patrick with Eric, Paul enjoyed our Mount Gay rum.

Paul, Eric, Patrick and Gary at the floating dock, Stanley.

Eric enjoys a cup of tea in the seamen´s mission.