Monday, July 13, 2015

In England's green and pleasant...

So here we are in England.  First things first, we did lots of visiting in the first few weeks.  Sadly the only photo either of us thought to take is of this Scottish village my friends have moved to.  Duncan has been to Cornwall twice, visiting his parents, siblings and working on his beloved wooden sailboat 'Starshell'. Whilst I was in Scarborough visiting my mum there was a surfing competition, a marine festival and a jet ski race where they did very noisy big laps around the bay, view-able from my mums front room window for a very long time... but no photos.  Sorry. 

So where in the world are we when the dust settles?  Back on our Narrowboat just outside of Bath.

We're here to work but not just for money, we also really need to try to get our boat fitted out.  Seth on our second day back; more chaos than ever and lots of really big spiders!

So work starts with building a work bench...

Setting it up in a shady spot, and getting cracking...

The key is to try not to get too sidetracked by the fun that goes on here, such as pig moving day...

It took ten of us to guide the pig down a chicane of pallets and on to the trailer.  She was going to a better place but not the kind that she feared; to a new pasture down by the stream where she can wallow to her heart's content and root around new ground.

and our big procrastinator... Our patch of garden.

All in all we're having a splendid time here.  Duncan is off delivering boats/ instructing, so far I have not been to work since they deleted me off the database.  I've reapplied but am in no hurry to rush them since I know there is plenty of work once it is sorted out.  For now I just want to dig the garden and feed the pigs, ducks and chickens. And ermm... work on the boat...

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Travelling with boxes part 2...

It was with heavy heart that we had to finally succumb to our plan to leave Impetuous in New Zealand. We'd put it off for the last five months but now the weather was getting wintry and our visas were on the cusp of expiration.  Once we'd chosen our place and yard we set to; getting Impetuous ready for immanent abandonment.  Most of the windows got rebedded and all manner of varnished teak prettiness got covered in rosy red jackets.  Impetuous is now adorned with multiple Fez'.

Though she's mostly stood up extremely well to what we've thrown at her this last 15 months, the interior oiled walls were looking rather forlorn.  The problem started whilst crossing from Panama when not having any sprayhood (dodger) meant that whilst we were thundering along at 8 or 9 knots the occasional wave would break over the boat and soak the interior which was left open for ventilation. This then got much worse when we hit colder climes and suffered from condensation.  Both these things will be resolved in time.  We plan to make a sprayhood on our return to Impetuous next year and improve our insulation and add a heat source before we go to the next cold country.

We've still got three more windows to pull out and rebed when we get back.  

The Marlborough sounds was a pretty area to stop and do some work.  We still moved every few days.  A short sail, a little fish and a change of scenery is a great refresher.  The walking and foraging was brilliant too.  We managed to find a few dry days and so gave the mast a light sand and two more coats of varnish.  It was very pleasing to see how well the varnish has held up.  Keeping on top of it this way should mean that a strip down won't be necessary any time soon.

So then it was time.

We raised our anchor for the last time, got pulled out by the Waikawa marina travel lift and put up the road in Clint's yard.

We managed to get our rental down through negotiation to half price and we think she'll be nice and safe there.

Then it was time to set off again, travelling with boxes.  Of course we still don't have any proper cases or bags for the plane.  The bits and pieces we want to work on and fix from the boat, and tools to use on the boat in England all got crammed into cardboard and wrapped up in tape.

We hitched a ride to Picton where we caught the ferry across to the North island.  Then we hopped on to an overnight bus to Auckland.  We just had time to visit our one remaining friend in Auckland whilst most had already headed North towards Fiji or Tonga then got the bus to the airport.  Then it was just a matter of a flight to San Fransisco, then another onwards to London before a bus to Bath.

A little dazed and confused after 65 hours travelling we staggered off the bus and round the back of the train station with our boxes to be met by our good friends Nic and Becs.  It took a little while for the news to filter down into our addled brains that the 8 month old baby Becs was holding was in fact theirs.  They had kept his whole existence a secret from us and everyone had been sworn to secrecy.  What great news to be welcomed back with!  And just the start of learning what has been going on and what has changed since we've been away.

We bought return flights from New Zealand so we are booked to return to our Impetuous voyages in March 2016.  Our plan in March is to do some minor work on her including building the said Sprayhood, explore the Marlborough Sounds a little more and visit the Abel Tasman and Nelson.  We will head North when the cyclone season is over around May towards Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Papau New Guinea and then on to South East asia.  There is a lot of sailing to look forward to.  

Until then our main priority here is to finish fitting out our narrowboat 'Seth' so that he can be a) a more comfortable home for us whilst in England working and b) hopefully be rented out so that someone else can enjoy him when we go away again next March.  In the mean time we will also seek remunerated employment, though with the beautiful British summer breaking out all around us, we're in no rush!

We plan to carry on writing the blog whilst we're here in the UK, though we're going to be busy so it won't be too often.  If you'd like to hear whenever we post an update rather than having to check the site, you can enter your email address in the space on the right.  As far as I know you won't get any spam from this; blogger will just send you an email of any new posts we publish and you can unsubscribe easily by following the link at the bottom of the email.

We have plenty of stories we never managed to get around to telling from our travels and we may also write a bit about our lives here in England.  If you'd like to hear more, feel free to get in touch. It's always nice to find out that we're not just talking to ourselves!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Old Brown Shoes

Many years ago, whilst I was at university, a group of us entered a match racing competition in the Solent. With all the excitement that the prospect of sailing on big boats brought to my fellow students it wasn't long before someone brought up the subject of spending some money so they might look the part. But hey, we were students; so the most this really was ever going to amount to was some snazzy footwear.

It was with a hint of the juvenile curmudgeon that I said I would not be wasting my money on posh wellies, let alone water proofs until, at the very least; I had a boat upon which to wear them. When the week came I made a point of being barefooted as I danced around; very much the foredeck elephant ballerina.

Several boats on, I find that the boot is somewhat on the other foot. I'd really consider buying some sensible footwear and decent oily's. Its just that with so many other things to spend money on, they seem to be relegated to the; 'for another time' list.

I do make a yearly donation to the 'looking the part' bit by purchasing a new pair of; soon to be old, brown deck shoes. They usually make it a year and a half before the worn out sole drops off, or the stitching on the bottom tears through the rotted leather and my foot slides out. When they're new, I occasionally wear them to the schools I work in. For a brief period a couple of years ago, they were considered en vogue, as a number of pupils pointed out. I like to think I played my small part in reversing this fad; a scruffy supply teacher in deck shoes and a woolen tie; it's not really quite how the youth of today interpret fashion.

Some people do get funny about footwear on boats. I did my yachtmaster instructor course a couple of years ago. The sun was shinning and my deck shoes were banished to a locker; no point of wearing them out prematurely I thought. All was well, but as the day came closer for our final assessment, the instructors' instructor pulled me aside and said, 'better wear your shoes tomorrow Duncan, the chap assessing you is bit funny about footwear on boats.' So I did, and passed. Funny to think that wearing my scruffy old deck shoes actually helped me become a yachtmaster instructor. Puts me in mind of Groucho Marks' thoughts on clubs...

All this is at the forefront of my mind as the nights draw in and gales proliferate. My current deck shoes might make it a bit longer, but the right foot shoe is on its last legs, of course I have got one shoe of the previous pair left, but I'm not sure if its for the left or right foot.

I remember an adage from my Dad. Actually come to think of it, it's probably what my mother says of my dad and his choice of footwear for when the weather turns nasty when sailing. 'When its cold, wet and rainy the best footwear you can hope to have on are your slippers.' Its dark and drizzling out side. But it's OK; I’m inside, staying dry with my slippers on.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

How to transit the Panama Canal as cheaply as possible...

'Tis the season once more so it's high time we wrote here what we learned when we crossed the Panama Canal almost a year ago.

The first thing you should know is that organising the crossing yourself without using a Panama agent is VERY VERY EASY.  Of course you will have much more fun in Panama in general if you speak some Spanish but for the canal crossing it is not necessary.

We crossed from the Caribbean to the Pacific so will speak about that, but it's just as easy in reverse, only that the offices and meeting points are different.  We're also not going to get into the immigration and customs side of things as this is variable depending on where you check in and out, you can find more information on noonsite.

It is not necessary to stay at Shelter Bay Marina on the Colón side.  You can anchor at the Flats, where you need to be to get measured in any case (but not get ashore there) or as we did off Club Nautico  
09° 21'8 N  79° 53'65 W 
Here there's also free Panama government wifi and easy access to all you need.

#1  First job is to have your boat details entered into the system.  By far the easiest way to do this is to call the Admeasurers office (507) 443‐2293 (Cristobal, Colón side), or (507) 272-4571 (Balboa, Panama city side).  They speak perfect English and Spanish and are extremely helpful and efficient. They will then arrange with you a time to be measured.

Another way is to email them this form or just the data from it to  I couldn't find the straight link on the Canal website as it appears they are changing their system to something called MSP possibly only for the big ships. Then you have to call them anyway to arrange your measuring.

If you are crazy like us you can do it the hard way and visit them in person. This involves convincing the security to let you into the port site which they will try to refuse and then finding the office which most workers will assure you does not exist.  It was fun but we wouldn't recommend it. Just call them. You can get a sim card or cheap phone in Panama. If you don't want to do this there are plenty of payphones or any small shop who sells phone top up credit may allow you to buy a top up and use their phone (what we did whilst arranging our times from the San Blas).

#2  Get measured at your allotted time and place, though note that the time they give you is a 'from' time, they will turn up when they get to you. The fee for the canal changes if your boat is over 50ft, Although we have an Alajuela 38, when you measure from tip to tail (bowsprit, transom hung rudder and Aries windvane) he came up with an impressive 48.5ft. No wonder we avoid marinas! We heard that they may fudge a little if needed as they're a very helpful and friendly bunch.

The measurer will go through a couple of easy forms with you, and let you know what is expected. If you tell them you don't have a holding tank you'll need to hire one (they won't check) and you need to tell them you can drive at 5 knots. They'd prefer you to go faster but if you can't they won't refuse you. If you have no engine you'll have to arrange a tow of some kind, sailing is frowned upon. If you're very slow you can discuss it and they'll arrange some slightly different timings for you. It's better to mention anything that you're concerned about to the measurer in person as they're very experienced and laid back.

#3  Next you have to go to the Citibank and pay, with the form the Admeasurer has given you.  They can give you directions if you need. This is next to the big port security gates on the Colón side. In there they have a special person dealing with the canal, just ask. The total fee you need to pay will be $1,875 in cash (if you're less than 50ft).  Of this $891 is a refundable buffer which you get back once you've gone through without problem (less any bank fees your end). You need to provide all the correct banking codes to arrange the repayment.  The fees and codes needed are listed on this document.  Our deposit did not come back straight away because one of our codes was wrong but this was easily solved by email.  They are quick to respond and very efficient.  As far as we can see not having to hand over this buffer is the primary advantage of having an official agent as they have an account arrangement.  No doubt they would still charge you if you fell foul in some way.

#4  The bank will tell you when to expect the information to be through, most probably that evening at which point you are free to arrange your transit time.  Call the Transit Scheduler on (507) 272‐4202. We called, arranged a time to our liking then at a later date decided to postpone, both times they were easy to deal with and helpful.  

This form from the canal authorities (the same as the fees link) explains in detail all this plus other details.  I read it because I'm that kind of person but if you're like Duncan, this is all you need to know.

We had an amazing two days crossing the canal, you can read about it here. We hired lines from a guy in Colón called George, he works with Tito 507 646-35009 They both speak English. They also provide tyres as fenders for $2 each, you will find some or be given some if you are around for a bit, you also need to think about what to do with them at the other side.

As you can read in our post we found three backpackers from putting up an advert in Captain Jacks in Portabello to help us as line handlers. This was a fun way to save money as they were delighted to have the experience. Fellow boaters would also be a good way to go. If you're at all rusty on locks then it would be a good idea to go through as someone else's line handler.

The two boats we went through with used local professional line handlers who appeared sadly to be thoroughly bored by the experience and spent their time playing on their phones. Whoever you use you need to pay attention to what they're doing, there's a lot of strength in the water flows. Your advisor will help you with this too. As everyone says, the key to a happy trip is taking it seriously and providing plenty of food and drink. Your advisor needs to be provided with bottled drinking water and an outside shaded area.

People will tell you that Colón is a very dangerous place.  We loved it, walked around happily, with an eye out obviously. There is a big supermarket (Super '99) a short walk away from club Nautico. We tried to row over in our dinghy but sadly there's no access by it.  Taxis in Panama are very affordable, it'd be a dollar if that's your preference. We thought it was the best place for bulk provisioning as it's so near, cheap and easy. The veg market in the centre of Colón was excellent too.

If you prefer you can do everything except get measured and pay from Portabello.

On the other side there are two anchorages, La Playita where the dinghy dock is expensive and Las Brisas where it's free but a bit more tricky.  The buses into Panama city are amazing, get on one and sort out your card when you get the Albrook terminal and mall.  Your return bus will be labelled Armador.  The massive fresh foods market is another short bus ride round the corner, just ask.  We provisioned there with sacks of beautiful stuff. Each bus ride is 25c of airconditioned joy and if you swipe your card on the way out your next bus connection is free!

Hope to hear that your experience is as trouble free and fun as ours!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

A knocking in the cupboard...

There it was again.  What on earth was it?  A loud knock emanating from somewhere in the galley. 

It sounded as if it could have been the rolling pin; rolling, as is its wont, colliding with the cupboard side as Impetuous slewed and sledded around on a near run; a southern ocean swell and strengthening southwesterly, sluicing us out of New Zealands' far south. It wasn't, I had checked.

When months earlier we left Panama to cross the Pacific, cupboards had been crammed full with provisions, there was little space for movement. Now something was moving and with sufficient mass to generate the cacophony I was currently enduring.

As our passage across the Pacific progressed anything that made a sound as the boat rolled was tracked down and silenced. The crockery cupboard would have a tea towel to quieten the plates from bickering with the bowls. The bean jars had been clothed in pieces of Ruth's unwanted jumper to arrest any irritating chatter. And the big Tabasco bottles; that contain spices and herbs; were cosy and hushed in their koozies.

Having spent the previous six weeks enjoying the spellbinding scenery and remoteness of Fjordland we had been consuming the remaining provisions Impetuous' lockers had to offer. Now there was space in our cupboards for something to move. If only I could work out what.

I poked my head in to the sparse alcohol cupboard. Perhaps an errant bottle of wine making its presence known was to blame, I thought. But no, the few bottles we had, lay still, wedged with bubble wrap at the bottom of the locker. But I now heard the knock louder and realised from where it was coming.

All boats, however well thought out, have awkward lockers; hard to get to and sometimes of dubious merit. A cavity left over after her interior has been Feng Shui-ed. Impetuous has some. One, though pleasingly voluminous, is underneath the galley cupboard that houses most of the everyday necessities: Tea, milk powder and our pestle and mortar for example. To get to it you have to remove many of these items before you gain access. For this reason we fill it with items we're trying to forget about or make last. For us that usually means a bottle of something nice. 

In this case the last remaining bottle of my favorite Belizean Rum was the adversary I sought. I was saving it for our return to Impetuous and continuation of our adventures in 2016. But it was currently making its presence known with such knocks that I feared I might be sponging out the remnants of the bottle in to a glass sooner than I had intended. 

Emptying the contents of the locker in to the sink so as to get to the culprit miraculously was achieved without accident. The rum was more comprehensively wrapped, wedged and finally silenced. I could once more return to my book as Impetuous merrily rolled on.   

Friday, April 24, 2015

Fiordy Wonderland part 3; Dusky Sound to Stewart Island

We had been having a lovely time in Doubtful Sound and with plenty left to do and explore, it was a wrench to move on. But time was ticking and the weather was getting commensurately cooler. The forecast suggested light Northerlies so we ventured out to hop round to Breaksea Sound which opens into Dusky. We started out like so often within the Sounds; with not a single breath of wind. Peering out towards where we were headed we made our choice. It's very difficult in Fiordland to know whether to trust your instinct or the weather forecast... both have been wrong a lot!


The forecast had it and once out of the sound we were able to sail. Then when we entered Breaksea Sound we were once more plummeted into shelter. The first spot to anchor was seized upon and I had a nice chat with a sports fishing captain over the radio. They wished to use our chosen spot for the night as it had water available so we moved out of their way (tenuously #5 challenge complete, they WERE a fishing boat and I MOSTLY understood what she said... and got some weather information too...). The next morning we were delighted to hear some breeze stirring so we were up and out to make as much headway as we could. We were starting to be concerned about our diesel supplies. We were walking a tightrope between wanting to leave our tanks empty when we store Impetuous and using more than we'd expected here.

As we teased the last little puffs out of the breeze along the Acheron passage we were surprised to see a cruise ship coming up behind us. As it passed it became clear that really it was just the tidal flow wafting us through. This fur seal was just basking round in circles as we passed.

As we drifted ever nearer to Dusky Sound we felt the occasional breeze pushing from the other way. It strengthened so we started to tack and once we made it out into Dusky we were hard against the wind which was howling inland. The nearest good anchorage spot was only 4 miles away. Two hours of tacking in the pelting rain against shifting strength wind got us there.

The seaward entrance to Dusky Sound is a wide opening and within the first eight miles of the Fiord are many islands and good anchorages. We decided not to venture into the inner reaches fearing a nasty beat or worse a long motor out and forewent the opportunity of visiting various walks and department of conservation huts.

Despite it's large size and abundance of marine life there has never been a permanent human settlement in Dusky. The Māori would visit occasionally as part of wider hunting trips originally for Moa. Weighing up to 250kg these were wingless birds that were hunted to extinction in the 15th Century. Captain Cook stayed for two months in 1774 fitting his enormous ship HMS Resolution through two different channels that we were hesitant to chance in Impetuous. He tied up at Pickersgill Harbour and established a workshop and observatory, where we found copious mussels.

It was great to have so many nice anchorages so near to each other.  The seals lived at Luncheon Cove where there were many walking tracks all over Anchorage Island. Sadly a quick (very cold) dive retrieved none of the crayfish Captain Cook had dined upon whilst there but just a lot of broken beer bottles presumably left by the fishermen.

Pickersgill Harbour and the Mussels found there

Luncheon Cove, sorry for blurry photos of the seals again, a new camera is at the top of the list of things to buy whilst we're working.

This is the Kidney Fern or Raurenga which is a common sight in New Zealand bush growing in damp places about 5cm high.

Be careful what you wish for; whilst at Dusky two jobs ideal to tackle on a rainy day cropped up. The toilet blocked due to limescale on the duck valve and the starter motor played up. The toilet was relatively easily fixed, if a little unpleasant. The starter was in the end remedied on two different occasions by lighting a candle under it (don't ask what made us try that) and has been well behaved since. # 6 Task complete; find a boat job to do on a rainy day or when it's too windy to leave the boat unattended.

We had an eventful sail between Dusky Sound and Stewart Island. The first time we set out we decided to turn back such was the wind howling against us. The second attempt would have been more slick had we had the wind which was forecast. With none to speak of for two days, we were still out in the Foveaux Strait when a big blow came through. We heaved to off Invercargil then romped across treated to a tremendous display of acrobatics by an enormous pod of what we think must have been Dusky Dolphins. Their leaps, tail slapping and multiple somersaults had us laughing for over an hour until they finally decided to go a different way. They must have been intentionally following along with us since we were sailing on a close reach against the wind and the waves; I imagine them seeing our underwater shape struggling along and them mistaking us to be an elderly whale, swimming alongside us offering encouragement.

We'd played a game of 'When we get to Stewart Island we're going to...' the memory game whilst walking on Anchorage Island. We came up with quite a list as we hadn't seen a shop since leaving the Bay of Islands over six weeks earlier. It was mainly vegetables and beer that we were excited to find. We'd been heavily rationed for weeks and totally run out in the end. We had a heady few days.

This is how an Albatross looks like up close, all the flying photos were blurry.

In Stewart Island we were pleased to meet up with our friend Jérôme who stayed with us for a bit. He too was delighted by the joys of the yellow mac whilst we went out for a sail and a fish.  But he's a tough Belgian so he wasn't wearing any shoes!

We were told that the island was a good place to view the shy Kiwi at dusk and dawn but they remained sadly elusive.

We found out that this is a Paua, which is a kind of snail with really beautiful shells. We were taught what to do by some campers by a fire (#7 and #8) and tasted them. They're said to be steak like, though we found them to be pretty tough despite bashing as instructed.

We really knew we'd reached 46 degrees South on Stewart Island; the weather was bitter and in the end we had to admit defeat. The long walks we'd hoped for just wouldn't be pleasurable as it would not be safe to leave the boat overnight. We weren't getting much done since we have no heating except the warmth and comensurate dampness created by our cooking.  We were spending more time snuggled in bed and tackling too much condensation. In the end we called it a day and in between hail storms left to find some warmth by sailing North.