Category Archives: Sailing

Floating upon an emerald ribbon

The last few days have been a wonderful combination of all my favourite things. I’ve been cruising along the Oxford Canal with the good Saz. We started just south of Northampton and decided to head to Coventry, a short hour by train but a lovely countryside and pub filled three days floating.

Canals and pubs go hand in not least because while motorways and train tracks are built to get you to you destination as fast as possible, canals pass right by all the villages of days gone by. Once upon a time these village were important stop offs, a break from the hours of traveling day after day. In the age of cars and by-passing A-Roads it seems the only people here are locals not used to the fast paced cities and the leisurely boaters enjoying the journey.

Going on holiday is a great way to relax, but hanging out in community cafes and playing cards in enormous pub gardens is a whole new level of taking it easy.





Indecision in International Waters

The trouble with the world we live in (by which I mean us rich enough to spend money on leisure) is we can do anything we want.

Some people stay home, some have cool hobbies and most find excuses not to leave their comfort zone.

I’m on a 52′ Chinese Junk around 30 miles off the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua. The captain and other 4 crew and I left the Bay Islands 5 days ago and will be in Panama in around another 5. After that Nobody’s really sure what to do.

  • Aslak’s meeting his friend.
  • Anita and Nat have only another 9 months of travel left (after 2 years!)
  • Tom wants to go hiking, but in Panama or Bolivia?
  • Clive may spend several months around the San Blas Islands.

As for me, I have a couple of ideas. I need to spend a month working, starting April 1st at the latest. I recently met Guate’s friends and would love to spend a month there, however it’s 4 days bus ride away.

My ideas involve either going South then jumping back North, or jumping North and working my way back South.

I could find a nice town, rent a room for a month and then return to Guate late, but which town?

Or, and this is my current favourite, I could find a farm halfway between Panama and Guatemala and spend a few weeks making the journey up. I’ve had no luck getting on a farm yet, and that’s what I want to be doing.


30 Miles from Nicaragua, 150 miles from Guanaja

I’m slowly deciding that, perhaps, sailing isn’t for me. It’s a thought I had last summer during my Comp Crew course.

The trouble is, while I love being on the water and living on the boat; and it’s exciting to be handling ropes while trying to stay aboard in the pitch black of night as the bow nose dives and sends another wave your way in case the last one didn’t quite soak you head to toe – there’s an awful lot of boring bits in between.

A couple of weeks ago, when I first arrived these were blissfully calm relaxing times. Now, however, they’re just plain dull.

We’ve been at sea for 2 days now and half. it took me a day and a half to get over the stomach wrenching appetite-destroying sea sickness and to find a rhythm of sleep which allows some form of coherence between my watch shift and going back to sleep. Now I just hope some of the others will have a similar balance which coincides so as to allow us to spend some time together,. Playing cards, playing squared, heck even to have an argument would be some kind of interaction!

I make this sound like a desolate place, but despite the lack of anything but water and sea birds as far as I can see (even with my glasses on), I’m with good people and there’s plenty to do. By “do” I mean bits of wood with screws missing, laundry, washing up, clothes (and Kindles) to repair, knots to learn and of course, dinners to make!

Clive, the Captain, isn’t much of a teacher and there’s few learning materials on board. So this isn’t a place for an inexperienced sailor. As you can imagine, this can be fairly frustrating for the 3 complete beginners we have on board. I have some, mostly theory, and the other crew member Aslak has some and is a pretty decent sailor so hopefully we’ll all learn something still! I’ve made it my mission to make the boat more learner friendly. So far this consists of signs & labels and moderately successful attempts for non-native English speakers. Suggestions for less cockney rhyming slang for them has fallen on deaf Kings Lears.

After 3 days of motor sailing into the head winds Clive began to concern that the 6 cylinder Perkins engine was drinking too much of the 1000L of diesel we had on board. Spying a cay on the slightly-too-large scale chart he figured there there may be a fishing vessel anchored willing to sell us some oil (another of his terminology which confuses the others!).

We made our approach carefully – since the chart had no real detail of the reef. With some with some good old fashioned binoculars and Aslack’s hawk-eyes from halfway up the foremast we successfully navigated through 2 miles of open water – we were way clear of the reef!

From a distance we saw a trawler, Telstar from Roatan. No response on the radio – a problem we suspect to be on our side – so we anchored up and Aslak and I rowed over through strong winds and big waves.

Not only would they sell us as much diesel as we wanted (they had 2000 gallons!), but they had fresh water, oranges from the captains own farm, shrimps (which the others got very excited about), ice and a single can of warm beer.

Manoeuvring around we tied our bow to their stern and began 19 trips with diesel bottles back and forth until the Perkins was loaded, the fruit bags hanging and the galley smelling like a fishmonger.

It’s pretty nasty sleeping on the while the engine is running, and the noise is only the start of it. All the hatches and doors need to be open to allow air in, so the noise flies around easier than a greased up snake on a slide and the rest of the air becomes host and stuffy. Great conditions for drying laundry.

The engine is used when we want to go against the wind, so the boat is very up and down diving the noise into the next wave with a splash of water on the deck and every now and then pours down the front hatch like a bucket of water onto the berths below.

So we’re hot and noisy, unstable and 2 berths down (of 6). As the seasoned CouchSurfer (and shortest person…) I’m in the salon while Tom and Aslak alternately use my dry bunk (Aslak’s bunk is under the hatch and Tom’s is next to the engine room).

After 3 days of that, it was very welcome news when Clive announced we’d anchor here for the night. No Engine, no bars playing music, just the gentle sway of the waves and a cool breeze through the hatch thanks to the wind funnel.

The BBQ came out, I made salted + vinegared chips, Tom showed me some stars and the out door bug-free sleeping began. After swapping my recently cracked Kindle screen with one from my recently dead Kindle I swapped the musty (and now diesel tainted) bed sheet for a clean one and settled down in my very own bunk!

Tonight, I love sailing!

The Engine Goes Off

The strangest thing about being on a boat isn’t, as you might thing, the wobbling about 24/7.

It’s the constantly changing direction of gravity. Pouring water from pan to tea cup becomes a physics experiment:

Prediction: Steaming hot tea.
Method: Lift pan, pour water.
Outcome: Half a cup of tea and wet feet.

Imagine, for a moment (or go try it if you fancy) standing in front of the bathroom sink brushing your teeth. The time comes to spit. Now lean back so your gloop would land neatly in your belly button and release. Watch as the white foamy gloop flies away from you, landing directly in the plug hole. It’s the closest thing you can get to zero gravity at sea level.

Of course this takes some practice, and many misses and wipe-ups before you can claim the title of 45° Spitting Master.

This sideways lean has been made possible by the final switch off of our engine after 300 miles and 5 days of motoring into the wind, which gives you violent forward-backward rocking. Now we’re sailing we have the far more consistent sideways roll and, usually, a gentle forward-backward motion.

270 Miles to go to Portobelo we’ve decided against stopping in La Provincia even though the gas is low and the cabbage mouldy.

The other night we ran the engine as well as the sails to out run some pirates who had started following us. But that’s a fairly uneventful (thankfully) story for a pub and a pint.