Friday, September 15, 2017

Hurricane Relief Efforts

I have been working hard for the past few days to week or so to help the people of the Caribbean get the help they need after Hurricane Irma. But putting together those able to assist with those interested in donating and ensuring that the organizations are reputable, I hope to be able to make a small difference. If you are looking for information or ways you can help, please visit the  Ocean Cruising Club  (OCC) website.

So many of the lovely places we visited on our Caribbean cruise in 2009-2010 are devastated. Please do what you can to help. Thanks.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The wrath of Hurricane Irma

My heart goes out to the people in the path of Irma's wrath. Little Barbuda with its 1600 gentle people and miles of gorgeous white sands framed in impossible blues fills my mind with glorious memories of a serene visit at anchor several years back. Today, after Irma's eye passed directly over Barbuda, there is only devastation. If I were able, I would sail over and make fresh water for the people and help them rebuild in any way I could. Instead, I will do my best to share information about their plight and encourage others to pitch in any way they can. Perhaps that's all many of us can do. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Fireworks in Galicia, Spain

We have just returned from Spain and I will be writing about our experience there Ria by Ria, starting with Ria de Corcubion near Finisterre and ending with Baiona.

August is the month when most Galicians go off on holiday. Everywhere we went in August, there were festivals in villages with carnival rides, games, music concerts, arts & crafts, food, and fireworks. The fireworks started at 9 am to announce the beginning of the festival and get people to come to the village. At noon they would shoot them off again to announce the day's opening of the festival. At night, they would shoot them off in earnest.  A different village would be involved every day. Some of the fistas were in honour of the Virgin Mary, some celebrated sardines, others music. There were no shortages of themes to celebrate.

In the meantime, while I'm compiling sense of my notes, here's a little video (4.5 minutes) of fireworks in Cee as seen from our boat anchored in Corcubion. Delightful.

Here's a sampling of Galician music

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sailing the Rias Baixas in Galicia Spain

Galician Celtic musicians

Over the past month, we sailed down from Ireland along the wild west coast, then crossed to Spain via the Bay of Biscay to sail the Rias of Galicia with 60 boats from the Irish Cruising Club. To say that it has been an absolute delight would be an understatement. I will tell each of the stories individually, but this is the introductory opening. 

We started in the Ria de Muros where we all gradually converged on the fabulous facility at the Real Club de Portosin and marina. From Portosin we had the chance to visit Noia and Santiago de Compostella by bus. Amazing. Then we sailed into the Ria Arousa where we stayed in Caraminal and visited a fabulous monastery on the way to one of largest Spanish vineyards. Next we put into the marina at Cambarro and visited the Naval College. We had plenty of time in between events and organized an Ocean Cruising Club raft-up en route to Baiona. We finished off the cruise with a magnificent cocktail party at the yacht club and dinner at the Parador in Baiona or Bayona. 

It's been a magnificent experience. We are now on our own for a month, left to explore the Rias at length and leisure. Things have changed since we were here last in 2009. Many more facilities available to cruising sailors. And the weather is fine, too. More to come!

The fabulous fort above the Monte Real Club de Yates Baiona

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Day of departure

I'm a fan of moving aboard several days before departure. You find out what you forgot to bring, you find out what you forgot to remove, and you find out what's not working so you can fix it.

This time, we had multiple SNAFU syndrome. Alex went aboard to bring a load of stuff while I stayed behind packing more stuff. He was to run the generator and chill the fridge freezer. Problem #1, the fridge didn't cool. Problem #2, the exhaust pipe was leaking into the boat. Problem #3, the generator was charging too high and kept creeping up and spiking. Our hearts sank. It didn't help that it was a beautiful day.

He tried to find the spare pump but couldn't. He tried to fix the leaky exhaust and was partially successful. But the generator was no good. So Alex got on the phone and called chandleries to source the pump. Called Moonies to get aluminium tape for the exhaust. Called Westerbeke, thankfully in the US and still open on a long 4th of July holiday weekend, and received instructions bout how to turn down the engine speed.

Meanwhile, I called Sam our house sitter to call off our handoff, and went work in the garage searching for a spare refrigeration pump. Not only did I find the spare pump, there were two along with a treasure trove of spare parts. Alex forgot that he had taken everything off the boat several years ago when we had repairs done. I spent the rest of the day sorting through boxes of stuff, cleaning them up, and repacking them to take to the boat. We hadn't taken any really long trips since then when we would be away from marinas and chandleries. So we forgot about the spares. Now we are back in business. Because now when something breaks, we can repair it, replace it, or do without it. My mantra!

So with new pump, aluminium tape, and generator fixed (by the way, it was the wiring done by the electrician in the yard that was screwed up), we are ready to rock and roll. Alex is the real MacGyver.

Bon voyage!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Emirates Team New Zealand taking the America's Cup down under

Foils, wings, and pedal power led the Kiwis to a massive 8-1 victory over the billionaires of Oracle Team USA. Burling, at 26 the youngest helmsman in the AC, made the transition from junior AC in 2013. So the oldest trophy in sport goes to the youngest skipper. Once again, innovation trumped unlimited financing. But was this sailing?  One might argue not. And how was it a contest of nations when in the last race there was no true American aboard the Oracle Team US entry?

The Italians have already announced their bid and NZ accepted their challenge for the next race. And they are questioning the boat design for the next series already. Back to monohulls?  Maybe not, but they will surely need boats that can handle a bit more wind down under. And what about a nationality clause?  With all the Aussies and Kiwis serving on other teams, Emirates Team NZ could certainly benefit from such a change and have the opportunity to rewrite the rules, which I believe the Italians would support.

We shall soon see. Overall, the entire event was a great success. In the calm Bermudan waters, you had the beauty of the J Class fleet, the vigor of the youth AC challenge, and the spectacle of foiling multihulls. Sailing is once again capturing the imagination of the world. Long may it continue.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The most beautiful boats ever built

The J Class hosts arguably the most beautiful yacht design ever. That's why they are still being built. And this year, for the first time ever, 8 of the 9 assembled in Bermuda and 7 were expected to race during the America's Cup challenge. Three of the yachts are the original surviving yachts of 10 built.

© Martinez StudioWhen they approached the start for the first time. Kenny Read was at the helm of Hanuman, one of the newer vintage builds. In this historic America's Cup J Class Regatta in Bermuda, three different crews won races on the opening day. Just one point separated the top two boats, Hanuman and Ranger on seven apiece, with Lionheart poised for three way final day showdown on eight.

The yachts are:
JK3: Shamrock V
JK7: Velsheda
JK4: Endeavour
J5:    Ranger
JK6: Hanuman
JH1: Lionheart
JH2: Rainbow
J8:    Topaz
JS1:  Svea
JH3: Yankee
J9:    J9

In second place in a dramatic, high stakes final race laden with tension off Saint George's island, the Lionheart crew stuck to their goals in the shifty breeze to climb back into contention at the last turn. When Hanuman were dramatically given a penalty for a rules infringement on the approach to the last buoy, the Lionheart crew capitalized, having caught the scent of the overall win that they had worked so hard for over the last three years. With the regatta title in their grasp they passed the leader Topaz down the last leg. Then, with Hanuman astern and Velsheda winning the series' fifth and final race, Lionheart extended their margin to three winning points.
The crew of  Lionheart clinched their trophy for winning the first ever America's Cup J Class Regatta. 'This is the event we have been working towards for two years,' said the owner before going on to pay tribute to how welcoming the Bermudans have been. Velsheda's second win of the regatta, 2, 1 for the day, proved critical, earning them the number 2 position tie break from Hanuman. Velsheda will be 85 years old next year, so this is no small feat. We look forward to more events like this in the future. 

Final results after five races, no discard:
1. Lionheart 11pts
2. Velsheda 14pts
3. Hanuman 14pts
4. Ranger 18pts
5. Topaz 21pts
6. Shamrock V 30pts
7. Svea 36pts

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Guns and cruising

The recent increases in terrorism and migration have once again gotten cruisers thinking about whether they should be carrying weapons on board. I will lay out the reasons why I believe weapons are not a good idea for cruisers.

Guns aboard are a personal choice. But not for us. 
We had to transport our shotguns (we like skeet and trap shooting) in our boat when we moved from the US to Ireland via Canada as the container company would not transport any weapons. In Canada, we had to turn them over to the customs police, who came to our boat after we checked in and took possession. They checked our vessel for any contraband and were very nice about it all. Even admired our guns and told me the value of mine was far higher than I thought. When we were checking out, they drove half way across the country to return our guns to us (road trip!). They saw us off and wished us fair winds. Basically, they made sure we left as we said we were going to.

BTW, they were also the only ones in all the countries we visited who scanned our cat’s chip.
When we arrived in Ireland, we had to surrender our guns to the local gun merchant who handles licensing, which is very strict in Ireland. It took months to get them cleared and licensed. In many countries, if you are caught with weapons or even a bullet in your possession, you can be arrested and jailed. In every country I know, guns have to be declared and often turned over. They keep the weapons until you clear out, and your port of entry and port of clearance could be a long distance apart. It’s a hassle. Lying and hiding guns is a very risky proposition. No thanks. So in most places, you would only have access when underway. Funny, we did carry our old VHF radio with us to give away if we needed to.

We would never carry weapons aboard for protection even though we are both comfortable with shotguns. As a good friend who was an undercover officer and SWAT team member said, “The critical mistake civilians make is first saying, ‘Stop or I’ll shoot’. That gives the criminals the chance to shoot first.” If you can’t answer the question, “Will I be able to shoot another human being first?” then you shouldn’t carry a weapon. The micro decisions that have to be made in the split second are monumental. Not even the street police in Ireland or the UK carry guns.

Just think back to Sir Blake. Sir Peter Blake, KBE was a New Zealand yachtsman who won the 1989–90 Whitbread Round the World Race, held the Jules Verne Trophy from 1994 to 1997 by setting the fastest time around the world as co-skipper of ENZA New Zealand, and led his country to successive victories in the America's Cup. Blake was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in honor of his services to yachting in 1995. In 2000, he received an honorary doctorate from Auckland University of Technology.
Sir Peter Blake

In 1997, Blake became the Cousteau Society's head of expeditions and skipper of the Antarctic Explorer. He later purchased the vessel from the Society and renamed it Seamaster.  In 2001, Blake was named special envoy for the UN Environment Programme. He led expeditions to Antarctica and the Amazon aboard Seamaster, filming documentaries for blakexpeditions, a company he founded. I remember seeing Seamaster in Newport one year. It was a truly unusual expedition vessel. 

Blake was shot and killed by pirates while monitoring climate change on the Amazon River on 5 December 2001. He was 53 years old. The two-month expedition was anchored at the mouth of the Amazon delta, waiting to clear customs after a trip up the Amazon river. At about 9 pm a group of armed, masked robbers boarded the Seamaster. As one of the assailants held a gun to the head of a crew member, Blake emerged from the cabin with a rifle. He shot one of the assailants in the hand before his rifle malfunctioned. He was then fatally shot in the back. The pirates injured two other crew members with knives; the remaining seven were unhurt.

The only loot the attackers took from Seamaster was a 15 hp outboard engine and several watches. Authorities eventually captured the pirates and sentenced them to an average of 32 years in prison each. Prior to the attack, the yacht's crew had been very careful on the river, always posting crew members on watch. Only upon return to Macapa did they relax their guard. It's likely that the boarders would have left with their spoils without injury had he not fired.
Europeans believe that the US is one of the most dangerous places on Earth. Just compare the crime statistic USA vs. Europe. The Brady Campaign reports that 114,994 people in America are shot in murders, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, or by police intervention. Of those, 33,880 people die from gun violence each year. According to a study of multiple high income countries,  published as Violent Death Rates: The US Compared with Other High-income OECD Countries, 2010 in the The American Journal of Medicine:

"The United States has an enormous firearm problem compared with other high-income countries. Americans are 10 times more likely to die as a result of a firearm compared with residents of these other high-income countries. In the United States, the firearm homicide rate is 25 times higher, the firearm suicide rate is 8 times higher, and the unintentional gun death rate is more than 6 times higher. Of all firearm deaths in all these countries, more than 80% occur in the United States."
So if you are going to worry about firearms anywhere in the world, the US is the place to start. In a year of cruising the Caribbean and Atlantic Islands, we never encountered violence and felt threatened only once. We did avoid noted hot spots and took care to secure our dinghy and engine and other valuables at anchor. Our friend had his laptop stolen after he had left his boat open at a dock while he was away from it. But those are common sense issues. When people are not very wealthy, they are tempted, and I can understand that. Traveling around Mexico, Belize, and Costa Rica, I always felt at ease and welcome. But we didn't go out looking for trouble at 2 am either. Alex did consider electrifying the lifelines but he never got around to it. I would have likely been the one fried as happened with the electric livestock fencing on our land. ;(
Lifting the dinghy with engine locked to it is a deterrent.
In places where there are cruise ship ports, we've felt uncomfortable and pressured to spend money, so we moved on. Basically, any place where the disparity between local and visitor is high is where the tensions mount. We were chased down an alley in St. Martin. I heard people walking behind us, getting closer and closer, say in French, "There's only two of them. We can take them." I yelled, "Run." They threw large rocks at us as we ran. Luckily at the crossroads a car came by and stopped, and they backed away. We walked right into the nearest restaurant at which there happened to be a table of off duty police officers. When they heard what happened they bought us a round of drinks and congratulated us on getting away. I must say, we were quite shaken and stirred that night. That same night a woman's purse was snatched by a bicyclist and a jewelry store was robbed near where we had been mugged. It was all very near to the marina with lots of people on the streets. Our mistake was taking a shortcut through an alley. We didn't attempt that again.

I grew up in inner city Philadelphia and New York. I lived in Newark and the Bronx. I acquired street smarts at an early age. Once, I was surrounded by thugs on the street in NY in the '80s when snatching gold jewelry from victims on the street was a big deal. I talked my way out. I've seen things. I've seen someone killed in front of our house. I've seen a woman beaten, and there was nothing I could do to help. My dog was poisoned when I was a young girl. All in the USA.

Would having a gun have helped in any of those circumstances? Absolutely not. I know I would not be the first to pull the trigger. Now if a grizzly or polar bear were eyeing me or my loved ones as dinner, I wouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger, more than once. That's frankly the only place where guns have a place. But I'm not planning to head up that way again. Alex doesn't like the cold.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Bringing Aleria home

Aleria at the new marina pontoon

Aleria ready to go for a swim
What has become our new annual migration between Westport and Killybegs in the West of Ireland took place in the north to south direction last week. 

We launched Aleria on the high spring tide in Donegal on Wednesday evening. Having had a new shaft and prop fitted, our first dilemma was that the PSS gland was leaking too much. Back up in the sling and mechanics aboard to burp and tighten the seal. Back down again and ready out. Alex pushed the throttle and nothing happened! Back up again. Broken throttle cable. The mechanic suggested we drop in and motor slowly with him aboard to the new marina. We inch our way over in brilliant sunshine and total calm. At least there was something to be grateful for. The T end of the new pontoon is reserved for visiting yachts (€2/m/day). It had 24 feet of water at half tide. Phew!

Monday, May 15, 2017

NOAA has posted a draft plan on the future of charting

NOAA has undertaken a comprehensive plan to evolve their chart products. The following statements are from NOAA announcements recently released:

"The NOAA Office of Coast Survey has released a draft National Charting Plan. The plan describes the current set of NOAA nautical chart products and their distribution, as well as some of the steps Coast Survey is taking to improve NOAA charts, including changes to chart formats, scales, data compilation, and symbology. The purpose of the plan is to solicit feedback from nautical chart users regarding proposed changes to NOAA's paper and electronic chart products. Coast Survey invites written comments on this plan that is available from​staff/​news/​2017/​nationalchartingplan.html."

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Psychological prep for offshore sailing

My husband and I, like most couples, sail short-handed. Setting off on an ocean crossing or even a briefer offshore voyage takes a good deal of advance preparation, especially the first time. 

There's a progression of experience we've noted. The first voyage is filled with fear, primarily fear of the unknown. You make lists, then lists of lists, then prepare for every eventuality. With each successive voyage, unless they are significantly different, the fear is replaced with other emotions, including excitement, anticipation, anxiety and determination. But a healthy dose of fear and respect for mother nature is always good to have. The one thing one needs to fight wholeheartedly is complacency. Complacency can lead to mistakes, and mistakes can be catastrophic out there.

Monday, May 8, 2017

What about electric laser "flares"?

Handheld flare for night time location signalling. 

We've been very interested in electric flares as an alternative to pyrotechnics since we staged a demonstration of flare use at our yacht club more than a decade ago. That demo showed us how dangerous it can be to have flaming magnesium dripping out of a flare that is held from an inflatable life raft. Pyrotechnic flares were invented in the mid-1800s.* A technological alternative that won't melt your vessel around you seems like a good idea.

Flares have two applications: the first is to attract attention and alert others to an emergency situation, the second is help locate the person or vessel in distress. So two types of flares are needed for day and night: those that shoot high up into the sky and those that are held close by after the alert has been spotted. The convention of Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) has standardized the signalling device recommendations to increase the chances of rescue anywhere in the world.

Thursday, May 4, 2017


Summer is coming to the rest of the world.

For years, I've been feeling dread and doom for humanity. I've often shared with Alex that I feel that the end is coming for the world as we know it. There are too many people and not enough resources. It's a scenario heading for disaster of biblical proportions for the human species. I have read Lovelock and I subscribe to the Gaia Hypothesis that the earth is a single organism in which each species is inextricably linked and controlled to ensure the survival of the whole.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Shipbuilding heritage in Beaulieu

Carpet of bluebells
Visiting our friends, the Meakins, is always an interesting experience. They live in Southampton, UK, a city with a rich maritime heritage. In fact there is so much history everywhere that it becomes a game to discover how it all interlocks.

Row, row, row your boat 
On arrival, we were offered a trip up the Hamble River by row boat. Alex and Philip rowed up river against the wind. The marinas got progressively smaller until they disappeared altogether. Here we entered another world. A protected ancient oak forest carpeted with bluebells.

The River Hamble in Hampshire, England flows for 7.5 miles (12 km)  before entering Southampton Water. It is tidal for about half its length and is navigable in its lower reaches, which have facilitated shipbuilding since medieval times. Leisure craft are still built there today and boating is very popular on the River. The river, its banks, and its shipbuilding yards, have also been used for military purposes, particularly during World War II. Its lower reaches are known throughout the sailing world as 'The Heart of British Yachting'.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Happy Hooking at Beaulieu Boat Jumble

Daria and Alex Blackwell draw a crowd at PBO Ask the Experts Live 2017
Photo credit: Practical Boat Owner.
Alex and I were invited by Practical Boat Owner to present our anchoring seminar at the Beaulieu Boat Jumble near Southampton in England on the 23rd of April. It was the 40th anniversary of the event's launch. Forget the fact that Beaulieu is pronounced bewley, we had always wanted to visit the legendary jumble and this was the 30th anniversary of the event. It was a great opportunity for a triple whammy: promote our book, visit the jumble, and see our good friends Lynda and Philip Meakins.

Some of the attendees from our point of view.
Photo: Alex Blackwell
We thought about coming by car so we could load it up with stuff we wanted to buy, but it proved to be too expensive and time consuming. We flew to Southampton and Philip met us at the airport. After a lovely evening with Philip and Lynda, it was showtime.

We had sent our presentation off to Laura Hodgetts to upload on the shared computer; but just in case, Alex came with thumb drive pre-loaded with our Happy Hooking the Art of Anchoring seminar (based on our book by the same title) as well as our Cruising the Wild Atlantic Way of Ireland talk from the OCC Annual Meeting. His reasoning was that if a speaker cancelled for any reason, we could step in.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Alphabet Soup of Cruising Clubs

View from Knockranny over Croagh Patrick, Clew Bay and Clare Island

For the past two weekends, we have taken part in the annual meetings of first the Irish Cruising Club and then the Ocean Cruising Club. I am a new member of the ICC this year, which has about 650 members in Ireland. I am a flag officer of OCC, which has about 3000 members around the world.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Top Ten Tips for Safer Sailing

These are things we learned, often the hard way, on three Atlantic crossings and many more offshore passages. What things have you learned that can help others sail long distances safely?

1. The No.1 rule of sailing: STAY ON THE BOAT! Having a healthy dose of fear of falling overboard can save your life. Remember: 'One hand for the boat, One for yourself.'

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Top Ten Tips for Safer Anchoring

by Daria Blackwell, co-author of Happy Hooking. The Art of Anchoring. 

We're starting the year with a new summary from our book with our top ten tips for anchoring safely. Do you have any tips to share with us?

1. Select your spot carefully. Do not anchor on a steeply sloping bottom, on a lee shore, or in close proximity to other vessels. Follow the lead of other vessels in the anchorage for method of anchoring (one anchor, how much scope, etc.).