Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Final Chapter!

We had our tour of St Helena as planned. The visit to Napoleons residence was fairly disappointing as nothing had any labels so you had no idea what anything was!  The local distillery was interesting and we purchase a very nice coffee liqueur. If only we had purchased more than one bottle!

The tour included showing us the new airport which has cost a fortune but cannot be used as due to the wind sheer, big planes cannot land! We had an interesting guide who apparently is 84. Next day we went swimming with Whale sharks. There was quite a big swell which made getting on and off the boat interesting but it was amazing to see such a huge creature so close. A few days later one actually surfaced at thee back of the boat. It disappeared by the time I could tell Mike about it!

After stocking up with food (not that much was available) we set sail on 21 March for our longest sail ever. It took us 28 days to sail the 3988 miles to Ile De Sainte in the Caribbean.  Fortunately it was a fairly easy sail. We only had one squall where we were hit by 40+ knots of wind while we had full mainsail and goose winged genoa. Things got quite exciting until we could get the genoa put away. Otherwise we had light winds and even flew the spinnaker for 3 days without taking it down at night. It was frustrating crossing the ITCZ as it kept following us north. Then instead of the NE trade winds that we were expecting we had East winds which meant we were on a run for the final leg of our passage to the Caribbean.  This is a slow point of sail for us so it  made the passage longer.

We read lots of books, caught no fish and had lots of sargassum weed. It did seem like a very long passage and it has taken us quite a while to recover from it.

We had a few days rest in the Saintes. We were shocked at the quantity of boats and the prices of everything. 

Mike celebrated his birthday while we were in the Saintes. We tried to go out for a meal at the resort where we were anchored on the day but it was closed. Instead we met up with friends Ken and Iloo from Antares a few days later and celebrated. We had a nice lunch in town and then did a pub crawl on the 2km walk back to the boat!

The following day we left for our sail to St Maarten. We had stops overnight at Guadeloupe, Antigua and St Barts and arrived at St Maarten at lunch time on 26 April. This is the end of our circumnavigation. We purchased the boat in St Maarten in March 2008, started sailing in November 2008 and arrived back April 2017. In our 8 ½ years we have sailed 47,200 miles, sailed to 56 countries and visited another 11 by air.

No we need to give the boat a bit of TLC. She has sailed 11,900 miles in the last year and crossed 2 oceans. St Maarten is good for getting parts and getting repairs done.

We are in St Maarten for a few weeks and then we will head to Curacao and Bonaire for the hurricane season. Start of the next sailing season we will be selling the boat and have already started looking for our next one!


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Walvis Bay to St Helena plus South Africa and Nambia Reprise

We arrived St Helena on Sunday 12 March after an 8 day passage. We left Walvis Bay where the water was 18C dressed in fleeces, thermals, hats and boots. As we sailed west the sea and air temperature gradually warmed up and is now a balmy 26C. As the days went by we could shed the layers. We were not quite down to our tropical attire as the nights at sea were still a little chilly. It was a fast passage for us with 2 light wind days. We did not have to motor at all which was a bonus. The down side was that it was very cloudy with rain squalls and fairly roly.

We were expecting to see lots of wildlife and to catch fish. We had 1 night where there was quite a lot of phosphorescence and we saw a few dolphins briefly! We caught no fish much to our disappointment.

St Helena is a strange island, as one person said it looks like someone has dropped a meteorite in the middle of the ocean. The island is steep sheer rock cliffs all around. We are moored off James Town which is the main town. Getting ashore is a challenge, we take a water taxi which goes along side a wharf. There is no protection from the swell so we have to grab a rope on the shore and jump ashore on the top of the swell. Usually a few people get off to receive the bags and to help the remainder get ashore. It is worse at low tide which is in the morning at the moment, getting back in the afternoon at high tide is not quite as bad.

The town runs along a valley between the cliffs. There are a few shops and restaurants. The jail is next to the police station at the bottom of town. There are no ATM's to get cash you have to go into the bank. Very few places take credit card and if they do they charge 5% though the bank also charge 5% to get cash! A supply ship arrives every 2 weeks and after it unloads there is a mad shopping frenzy to get fresh fruit and veg. Some things are grown on the island but they have a drought so there have been no potatoes on the island for 6 months. Eggs seem hard to find as apparently the chickens are moulting and not laying! Internet is available at the hotels and restaurants and costs £3.30 for half an hour. In this time, with the slow speed, you can just about check a few emails!

Thursday we had a tour of the island including Napoleons home and a distillery which brews local rum from Prickly pear cactus. Friday we swam with the Whale sharks. It seems that most of them have already left but we were lucky enough to find two. Amazing animals and huge!! Lots of remora and shark suckers all over and especially on the tail. Unfortunately, it was very rough and 15 minutes in the water snorkelling was all we could cope with.

Namibia

We finally left Simons Town on 30 January. We motored the 15 miles down to the Cape of Good Hope and rounded it fairly closely. We had to motor as there was little wind but the swells were quite big. At times the front half of the boat was clean out of the water. We were sailing with friends Jack and Sandy on Zorana and although we were fairly close their whole hull would disappear behind waves.

After rounding the cape we had an uneventful day motoring to a small island north of Cape Town called Dassen Island. We anchored overnight mainly because we could not stand the thought of being up all night in the cold!

We left the following day and had a 3 ½ day sail to Luderitz. It was fairly miserable weather and very cold so we were huddled up in thermals, fleeces etc.. Arriving in Luderitz there were lots of seals basking in the water. It is a fairly small harbour which exists mainly for the diamond mining industry. It is a small town thousands of miles from anywhere in the middle of the desert and we are not sure why anyone would choose to live there. It is very windy caused by the cold sea air hitting the hot and so most afternoons it blew about 30-40 miles an hour.
A group of us did a tour to the old diamond mining town in land which is now deserted and being consumed by the desert.

We left the boats in Luderitz and did a trip with Sandy and Jack to Fish River Canyon. It was a 500km trip which was slow as most of it was on gravel roads. We had a stop at a distillery which was based underneath a dam creating a green oasis in the middle of the desert. The government grows fruit there and the distillery uses the fruit which is not high enough quality to export. We also stopped to see wild horses and Oryx on the way and arrived at the canyon late afternoon.

After being so cold on the boat it was a shock to suddenly be in temperatures of +30C. We stayed near the canyon and then drove via another route back the following day. On the way we got a puncture so had to change the tyre and then buy a new one when we reached a town. The scenery was very varied and interesting even though most of it was desert.

We did a few boat chores before leaving for Walvis Bay on 14 February. We left on a fairly windy day so the seas were quite boisterous which was fine until a wave was dumped straight into our cockpit and on me (Karen)! It wasn't too bad other than I got wet! After that the seas calmed down and we arrived in Walvis Bay after a day and a half.

Walvis Bay is much bigger than Luderitz. There is a big cape which is covered with thousands of seals and lots of big ships were anchored inside the bay. The yacht anchorage was right down the south end of the bay which took about an hour to reach from the cape. Then from the anchorage we had a dinghy ride of about 1/5 mile to get ashore at the yacht club.

While in Walvis we met up with a local guy called Matt who was extremely helpful to us giving us lifts into town and helping us find parts. We did a few trips with him, The first was a ride into the dunes towards Sandwich harbour. We were literally driving over dunes near the water just following tracks from a previous vehicle. Fortunately Matt was a very good driver. On the way back he drove up a dune to show us the salt pans and then drove us off this incredibly steep edge. It was like a roller coaster ride with the track giving way underneath you. Then he took us back up and did the same backwards!

The lagoon south of the anchorage was full of thousands of flamingoes which we stopped to see on the way back from the dunes but by the time we came to leave Walvis Bay they had all gone.
We did another tour with Matt the following day to see the Welwitschia plants and the surrounding area.

We joined with Jack and Sandy again to drive to Etosha for a few days. We hired a 4 wheel drive vehicle as it is the rainy season and we were warned that if it rains the roads may be flooded by the rivers flowing. On the way we stopped to see some ancient rock carvings and spent the night at a town called Outjo. The following day we drove the remaining distance to Etosha and spent 4 days game viewing.

Although it is not the best time of year too visit we saw lots of animals and birds. The highlight was watching a pride of lions stalking a group of Impala. Unfortunately, we only saw 1 black rhino in the distance and we only saw 1 elephant. Elephants migrate from the park in the wet season so are difficult to see. We had given up hope of seeing one and were thinking of returning to the camp when a very large male walked out of the bush straight in front of us.

Once we returned to Walvis Bay we prepared to leave for St Helena and finally departed on 4 March.

South Africa

Most of S Africa closed down for Christmas so work stopped on the boat. A few days before Christmas there was a cruisers get together at a local vineyard. We were all driven to one vineyard for a tasting and then to another for a lovely lunch and more wine! It was also a good opportunity to meet up with friends we had not seen for a while.

We had a day visiting the botanical gardens which are on the other side of Table mountain from Cape Town and on the way back to Simons Town, we drove Chapmans Peak which is a very dramatic drive around the mountains along the coast. Another day we drove to Stellenbosch to do some wine tasting and to start to buy some wines ready for our departure.Our other local outing was a drive down the Cape to visit Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. It was a lovely scenic drive and then we walked up to the light house and looked where we would be sailing when we left.

Christmas eve we went into Cape Town and met up with friends who were in the marina there for a Christmas lunch. Before lunch we all went to an engagement party for Tom and Suzie on 'Adina' on the dock at the V&A marina. An unusual place to have an engagement party!

Christmas day we had our usual breakfast of champagne, smoked salmon and scramble eggs before joining other cruisers for lunch. We all brought a dish and then we BBQ'd our own meat. S Africans do not call it a BBQ though, it is a Braai!

Boxing day we left the boat for a few days holiday. The first day we drove to Swellendam with a stop at Cape Aghulas. It's the most southern point of SA but it is not very dramatic, Cape Point is much prettier. We did an outing from there to the De Hoop nature reserve. It was a long drive on gravel roads and the car was covered in red sand when we got back. The park does not have any of the big 5 but was pleasant with some rare antelope.

The following day we had a long drive to Knysna. We were told it was a very pretty town and as we had not stopped there in the boat decided to go and see it. We were fairly disappointed. The drive along the garden route was no where near as pretty as the area around Cape Town. The traffic through the town was horrible and the town was an overdeveloped seaside resort which had been completed spoilt by all the building. We reached our accommodation, parked the car and decided to walk everywhere until we left. Knysna Heads, the harbour exit, are very dramatic and worthy of a visit. The remainder of the town was just capitalising on ripping off tourists.

Our drive back was inland and was more dramatic with scenic mountain passes. We stopped at Robertson which is a wine growing area but much less commercialised than Stellenbosch. The wines were just as nice but much more reasonably priced. Then we drove through Franchoek for a nice lunch at the Noble Hill vineyard and then onto Cape Town for New year.

New Years eve we stayed on Anthony and Davina's boat, Divanty, in the V&A marina. All the boats in the marina got together for a party on the pontoons and then we all watched the fireworks at midnight. The party continued until about 4am and as it moved onto Divanty we had no chance of going to sleep until it ended!

After New Year it was back to work. We had the boat lifted so that we could change valves on the rear toilet. Sounds a small job but it took 3 days to undo the old bronze fittings, run hoses and work out how to fit the new valve!
Once we were back in the water we had to get the remaining work done on the main engine and get the generator repaired and re-installed. It seemed to take us weeks to get the work completed ready to leave. Many of the things we were hoping to get done have been left until we get to the Caribbean.

By the end of all the frustrations we were glad to leave.

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Monday, December 19, 2016

Madagascar and Arriving in S Africa

Our sail to Madagascar was slow and frustrating. We had the wind behind us and because of the light winds, the sails kept filling and unloading as the boat rolled with the swells. It was uncomfortable and very hard on the rig. The final afternoon before we reached Cape De Ambre at the northern tip of Madagascar a block broke on our boom which meant we had to stop using the main sail. This would have slowed us down enormously if it wasn't for the current we were suddenly picking up and the increase in wind as we approached the Cape. 

Conditions around the Cape can be very rough but the recommended route is to stay very close to the shore. We rounded the Cape at 1am less than a mile off the shore. We had a good trip around and shot around the corner with the current. The other side of the Cape we found lots of wind coming from where we wanted to go so we had a bash to our first anchorage at Nosey Hao. After a few hours sleep we continued south to Nosey Mitsio where we stayed a few days. With the help of parts from our friends Amenika and Garrett  we managed to mended and re-install the broken block.

As we left the anchorage we pulled the main out to try our repair and the car on top of the boom which holds the main pulled off! The biggest problem with this was that it contains 86 torlon balls and we do not carry spares! So from then on we could not use the main sail. Our next stop was Sakatia island where we met up with new friends Davina and Anthony, and old friends Amenika and Garret, and Helen and Jim. We all had a lovely meal at the resort on the island. When we came out of the restaurant the tide had gone out so much that we were all struggling to carry our dingies miles down the beach to the sand. It felt as if we almost walked to the boat! The cry in the dark as we walked down the beach was 'have you found water yet?'

Finally we reacched Hellville, Nosey Be which is where we cleared into the country. We then started the search to buy a new car for our main. This took a while as Lewmars had to make us one and then ship it out. While we waited we headed to a lovely anchorage called Russian Bay. This is where lots of the 'yachties' hang out (mainly because it has a beach restaurant and bar!). It was a good place to get a few chores done and meet up with friends for drinks.

One day a group of us went for a sail on one of the local Dhows which was interesting to see how they sail these boats held together with bits of string and sails sewn together with multiple bits of cloth. You see these boats everywhere. Most of the supplies between the island are moved under sail and the boats entering the bays under full sail are a lovely sight to see.

Another highlight was seeing Lemurs. We saw them twice, at Nosey Khomba and another small island called Nosey Antsoha. Nosey Khomba was a lovely picturesque anchorage but the second night it was incredibly rolly so we left! Nosey Antsoha was better. This is a reserve and they have 4 or 5 different types of lemurs. Some of them will jump on you and let you feed them bananas. They are incredibly gentle and have the most amazing long fingers, they are also very cute and furry!

Most of our friends left before our part arrived. Getting our part ended up being quite fraught as it was sent by UPS and not DHL as instructed. This meant it ended up in the capital Antananarivo. We then had to get an agent to get it to Nosey Be and clear customs. This all took 8 days! As soon as we had the part in our hands we cleared out of the country and left! This was not because we didn't like Madagascar, we loved the place and the people, it is just the frustration of being ready to leave and not being able to.

From Nosey Be we headed south down the coast to Moramba. This was our jumping off point for our sail to South Africa. We were hoping to rest before leaving but instead spent 2 days unblocking the loo hoses! A great shame as this was an idyllic anchorage we would have liked to explore.

Our sail to S Africa was lovely for the first 7 days. We had light winds and gentle seas but really had to make use of the currents to keep a good speed. We then had to head into Maputo, Mozambique to avoid bad weather. Due to an adverse wind, we had to motor quite a way to make it before the bad weather which was a shame as with more time it would have been a nice if slow sailing day. We spent less than 24 hours in Maputo before leaving to head to Richards Bay. We had a very short window to get to Richards Bay before the next bad weather turned up. The first 12 hours were a slog against the wind and with current against us. Then the wind turned and we picked up the Aghulas current. At this point we were doing over 10 knots over the ground and we made it to Richards Bay in plenty of time.

A few boats arrived at the same time so we all celebrated with breakfast out. It was 2 friends birthday so we had champagne to celebrate. After checking in we moved the boat to Zululand Yacht club which is where it stayed for a few weeks. We hired a car and visited the St Lucia wetlands and Imfolozi and Hulhulwe game park. At St Lucia we went on a boat trip to see  hippos and we also got a glimpse of a Leopard which apparently is very unusual. The following morning we left early to go on an organised game drive. We spent the day in Imfolozi and saw Lions, Elephants, Zebra, Giraffes, White Rhino and lots of Impala (locally called sheep). At the end of the tour we drove ourselves north to Hulhulwe park where we saw lots more animals and were fortunate enough to have a lioness and her 2 cubs cross the road in front of us. The following day we drove ourselves back through the parks with more animal encounters. Then we visited a Cheetah sanctuary where we got to go into the pen with the Cheetahs and stroke them.

After a day back at the boat we flew to Maun Botswana. This trip was the reason we were eager to leave Madagascar. When we booked it we thought we had lots of time to get to Durban for our flight but it ended up being very tight and we had to drive from Richards Bay to Durban as we couldn't get the boat into the marina in Durban in time. We visited the Kwai reserve and Moremi game reserve which are areas within the Okavango Dellta. We flew to Maun and then did a light aircraft flight to our lodge which gave us a splendid view of the delta. We went on a number of game drives and saw an amazing number of animals. Highlights included seeing a Baboon up a tree eating a baby Impala, Hyenas eating another Hyena, lions and the best, was 2 Leopards. There was a mother and her juvenile son, and the son had a baby impala kill. They were so close to the truck you could almost touch them. They were eating the kill, playing together and walking around the truck. We were watching them for ages and it was amazing!!

We flew back to S Africa and started preparations for moving south. We had a good day sail to Durban. Continuing the saga of things breaking on the main we broke another block just as we arrived in Durban. Fortunately we had a spare on the boat so were able to replace it. We had 2 days in Durban and met up with friends Anthony and Davina as well as a number of other cruisers we had not seen since Malaysia. There were 5 of us who left Durban at the same time for the sail to Cape Town.

The trip south is very dependent on weather. The wind is either from the NE or SW. Its not advisable to sail when it is SW as the seas can become very treacherous due to the strength of the Aghulas current. We had to make it to East London in one hop as there is no where to stop in-between. This is a distance of 200 miles so we had no option but to motor when the winds were light. At East London a number of boats stopped but ourselves and another UK boat called Camomile carried on. We managed to get to Moselle Bay on the south coast before having to stop for weather. Moselle bay is on the Garden route and is a pretty town. We had 1 day there before we left for Simons Town in False Bay.  We had to round Cape Aghulas with the wind from the NE which we did at midnight so only got to see the lighthouse flashing!

Once around the Cape we had completed our sail of the Indian Ocean and had entered the Atlantic. We were very glad to see the back of the Indian Ocean, crossing it has been the hardest sailing we have done.  We have also never motored as much as we have had to on our trip from Durban to Simons Town. We are not sure why anyone in S Africa has a yacht because the weather is so horrible for sailing.

We arrived in Simons Town on 6 December which is where we are now. It is a very picturesque town and the people are very friendly. We have been busy since getting here trying to organise all our repairs before everything closes for Christmas. This is also their main summer holidays so most businesses are closed from 16 December until mid January.  We are finding the S Africans very relaxed so we are constantly chasing people to get things sorted. It's also been a struggle to find a hire car as there are none available in the area until mid January. Not sure how we did it but a car came up and we managed to book it so we have collected it this morning. Hopefully we can now explore the area a bit.

Our one outing so far was to see the African Penguins at Boulders beach. This is only 20 minutes walk from the marina. There are lots of penguins and they are currently all out of the water moulting and looking very sorry for themselves in the wind.

Christmas will be spent at the marina with friends on other boats. Then we are planning a trip around the coast to see a bit of the area and of course visit a few vineyards!

Merry Christmas to everyone and a Happy New year.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Mauritius, UK and Reunion

Gosh, it has been a long time since we last did a blog update! We ended our last update with us leaving Rodrigues for Mauritius. We had a good sail, enough wind and not too bouncy. It was another fast crossing and we arrived in Port Louis, Mauritius within 2 days on 6 July. Clearing in was fairly painless and we then moved to the Caudan waterfront. This is a rectangular basin on the waterfront and is the only 'marina' for yachts with a reasonable draft.

This was where we were going to leave the boat while we visited the UK. It was not possible to book so it was a matter of finding a spot when you arrived. Our first berth was towards the exit of the basin and we got a lot of wash. The chafe on the wall destroyed 2 of our mooring lines and ripped our fender covers. We were eager to move further in before we left. Unfortunately, this meant we had no choice but to stay in the marina the whole time as if we left we would have lost our space. On the up side we were in the centre of town and within walking distance of supermarkets and the big central market.

We had 2 days touring the island with friends Ken and Iloo from Antares. The first day we went to the national park. Its pretty but due to the wet weather we could not do any walking, not that it was possible to find any of the trails! Instead we visited a rhumerie and had a very nice lunch. The second day the weather was even worse with torrential rain and it was very cold. We visited a tea factory and then found another rhumerie for a not so good lunch.

On a better day, we did hike in the hills behind Port Louis and also visited a traditional restaurant for lunch. Otherwise our time was spent working on the boat and getting ready for our trip home.

We flew to the UK on 27 July. It was a good flight with lots of movies to watch. Then we had a very hectic month visiting friends and family and spending time with the Grandchildren. In between this we were buying all the parts we needed for the boat!

After our return to Mauritius on 1 September we got the boat ready to leave for Reunion. This was a 1 day sail and we arrived in Reunion on 6 September. It was another fast sail with no dramas. There has been a foot and mouth outbreak in Rodrigues since we left so Reunion confiscated all meat, dairy products, fruit and veg. The staff came on the boat with shoe covers which they then disinfected before throwing away as they left, and then they disinfected their shoes. At no point did they disinfect our shoes or feet or even ask us if we had any hiking boots, completely illogical! At least we have not had our wine bonded as we did in Mauritius!

Our stay in Reunion got off to a good start with Ken and Iloo taking us out for lunch. Other cruisers gave us lots of information on walks on the island so we eagerly started planning our stay. Tourist information in town were very helpful booking accommodation for us and finding us a cheap hire car. We planned a weeks trip around the island after a few days in the marina sorting things out. This gave us time to go shopping and buy lots of French cheese and re-stock the freezer. The supermarket was very expensive, more expensive than the UK, so lots of things we just could not bring ourself to buy. Unfortunately, fruit and veg is one of the things that is expensive. Living on French bread, cheese and pate though not healthy is reasonable!

The island is dominated by 3 cirques which are old volcanoes. They are very picturesque with lots of mountains, waterfalls and valleys. Our first walk gave us views over the nearest cirque called Mafate. It was graded an easy walk but still involved climbing ladders! The following day we did a harder walk graded 'sportif'. It was 12km with lots of clambering and climbing over boulders.

Monday morning we set off on our trip. First stop was a drive up to a lookout over Mafate called La Maido. We got some wonderful views of the valley. Then we drove a forest road south down the west side of the island before climbing up an extremely windy road to Cilaos. We have never seen so many hairpin bends. Driving was hard work especially when the locals driving the other way think they are the only people on the road and drive as if they are on a rally track!

We were supposed to hike up Col De Taibat an 830m climb but when we got up the following morning it was raining and very grey so we had to abandon it. So we went back down all the hairpin bends and headed to Bourg Murat with a stop for a short walk. We were staying 2 nights in Bourg Murat so that we could hike to the caldera of Piton de la Fournaise, the only active volcano on the island. The volcano had decided to become very active just before our visit. It had an eruption on the north slope so the area was closed off. We did drive to the parking area and see the eruption at night which was quite spectacular.

With a day spare we found another hike. This one was 17km and was listed as taking 6 hours with 800m altitude gain. The start of the walk was on the Plain de Caffres through a lovely moss forest. Then we entered the forest de Bebour where the walk got harder. We spent 2 ½ hours climbing through the forest clambering over trees and rocks with very few markers and no signposts. We were just thinking we were lost when we found a sign for the next track. Thinking we couldn't climb any further the path then proceeded to go up and up. We were walking in the clouds most of the time and could see very little. Eventually, we did start to descend and just as we despaired completely, we got back to the car. It was such a relief. The walk had taken us 7 ½ hours with only a 15 minute break for lunch. We were covered in mud and very exhausted.

Having exhausted ourselves, the following day we just drove to Hellbourg which is in the cirque de Salazie. We were staying in gites which are like old fashioned British guest houses. We were at a 1000m and it was very cold but there was no heating so we sat in bed reading with our coats on!
We did a shorter walk in Salazie just 4 hours and then moved on to Grand Ilet. This was up in the clouds again and cold. There was a heater in the room but it wasn't put on until 6pm and was then turned off again overnight! The owner was a little old lady who served our food and then stood watching us with her hands folded until we had all tried the food and told her it was good.

Our next adventure was a 2 day hike into Mafate staying at Aurere. The hike had a lot of ups and downs. Having done lots of difficult climbs I (KB) managed to fall flat on my face over a tree root. This was about half way through the walk so we continued at a slower pace as my knees were very bruised. We arrived in Aurere at 12.30 and had lunch. We couldn't get into our gite until 3pm and my legs were staring to seize up so we decided to walk back while I could. The route back was supposed to be an easier route.

It started off that way with a pleasant walk through the forest and then a narrow path part way up an escarpment. Then there were steps and ladders to climb and then we started to descend to the river. After that the walk got worse. We were clambering over boulders along a river bed and crossed the river on stones multiple times. It was all up hill but we didn't seem to be getting anywhere. All around us there were huge cliffs and we could see no way out of the valley. It was getting late by this time and we were wondering if we would find the end of the trail by night fall. After 3 hours we did find the road and more importantly the car. We were both very exhausted (again!!) and very relieved. The walk had taken 8 hours, it was 18km and had a 1300m altitude change. The adrenaline had numbed the pain in my knees but once we stopped they seized up and I have spent 2 days hobbling around!

After a 2 hour drive with lots of hairpin bends again we arrived back at the boat. It was so nice to be home and to be warm again!

Our last adventure was today. On the recommendation of Jean and Matt from Superted we went on a microlight flight over the 3 cirques. We each had our own plane with just us and the pilot in each one. It was a great view and very exciting, really glad we did it.

Now we are getting the boat ready to leave for Madagascar on Thursday. This should take about 4 days to the northern tip and then we will slowly make our way down to Nosy Be where we will clear in.

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Sunday, July 3, 2016

In Rodrigues

We left Cocos Keeling on 29 May. As soon as we had exited the lagoon Mike had the fishing line in the water. Moments later the line was taken, ran off a lot of line and then broke! That was the end of the fishing for a few days! Not just because we had to spool new line but also because the sea was rough and we were not feeling great. The winds were then light'ish for a few days but then increased steadily to around 20 knots. We did manage to catch a nice Mahi Mahi before the winds got too bad.

The first 9 days we averaged 165 mile days which is a new record for us. This was with help from a knot of current but it was still a good speed. It was not a comfortable sail, the swells would come from all directions and when they hit the side of the boat it was as if we had been hit by a truck, with the noise and the way they knocked us sideways. Our worst day we had about 18 hours of winds well over 40 knots (we are not sure exactly what the wind was as we were too scared to look but the apparent wind was 40-45 knots). The swells built in size until some were at least 6 metres and the boat was over at some amazing angles. The noise was deafening the wind was howling through the rigging and the waves were breaking around the boat. For days after we arrived we still had ringing in our ears from the silence! We had the boat all closed up and just had to hold tight! One wave ripped our dodger on the side of the boat and another made it under our covers and filled the cockpit with a lot of water, if we had not had the wash boards in we would have had a very wet boat!

After 2 days of lighter winds we had an amazing sail on the last day covering 180 miles in a day. We did the 2000 mile passage in 12 ½ days, definitely a new record for Chapter Two. Lots of boats have arrived in Rodrigues with lots of damage so we did fair quite well. We have all agreed it was the worst passage we have ever done.

After the crossing Rodrigues was a welcome sight. The anchorage is in the turning basin for the supply ship and when a ship is not in we can also moor along the wharf which is where we were instructed to go on arrival. Our check in was very easy, the officials were incredibly helpful and friendly. It was also very easy as they were eager to go home as we had arrived at 4pm on a Friday afternoon!

We are anchored right in the middle of the main town Port Mathurin so it is an easy walk into town to go to the market or to buy fresh baguettes. It is a very laid back place and the locals are welcoming and friendly. There have also been quite a few boats here so it has been a very sociable stop. There are a number of marked trails on the island so we have managed to do a few hikes. 18 of us went on the first one which probably gave the locals a shock when we all piled on the bus. Our favourite walk which we have done twice is along the east coast. We get the local buses to and from the start and end points. The buses are very cheap and run all over the island playing loud reggae music as they go!

A few weeks ago we hired a motorbike along with friends on Jackie and Gary from Inspiration Lady and Iloo and Ken from Antares. Inspiration Lady we first met in Curacao in 2009 but have seen little of them since as they crossed the Pacific ahead of us. We were heading to the giant tortoise colony. Unfortunately, Gary and Jackie had an accident on the way and Jackie has spent a week in hospital with a deep gash on her leg. After seeing them both onto the ambulance, we continued to see the tortoises. They are from the Seychelles and Mauritius as all the ones from Rodrigues were wiped out by 19th century sailors. You can walk amongst them and stroke them. Some of the small children were also allowed to sit on their backs. There were also caves there which we had a tour around. They were very impressive with lots of stalagmites and stalactites.

There is a local bar called Madame Marcelles in the centre of town which has become our local. It looks a little intimidating from the outside as it is full of men having heavy drinking sessions after work but it is very friendly and they have not minded us women gate crashing their domain. The owner also cooks and serves the most wonderful pork. You can buy a plate of mixed pork and sausage to eat with your drink, a bit different to crisps. We have loved it and have also been having takeaway for our sandwiches!

We have really enjoyed our stay here and are very sad to leave. The only down side of being here is that each time a ship is due we all must leave the anchorage until it is moored and then we are allowed back in. So each week there is a procession of about 12 boats leaving the anchorage at 6.30am and then a rush to get back in and anchor first, as the anchorage is not very big for the number of boats. When the ship is due to leave 2 days later the whole thing gets repeated again. At the moment a ship seems to be visiting once a week so we are all getting very used to the routine.

Tomorrow we clear out in the morning and head to Mauritius. Its 350 miles and we are hoping to get there in 2-3 days. It will probably be another boisterous crossing!

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

2016 So Far!

Where are we now?

We started our Indian Ocean crossing from Johor Bahru at the bottom of Malaysia just across the straits from Singapore. After clearing out we sailed/motored for 7 days through Indonesia. We didn't stop except for a few overnights and to take advantage of the currents. The route we and the weather chose for us involved going through channels with strong currents so we would anchor when the current was against us and then take advantage of it when it was going in the right direction. The currents gave us a huge assist and minimised our diesel usage. We had purchased extra diesel containers before we left to ensure we did not run short of fuel. We managed to fill our tank with them before we left Indonesia.

We had a 2 day rest at a lovely spot on the western tip of Java and then left for the 600 mile crossing to Cocos Keeling which is where we are now. After squalls and rough seas on the first day we had a great sail and did the trip in 4 days, a record for us! Unfortunately, both of us are feeling very out of practice at doing the long sails. It has been 2 years since we have sailed a significant distance in open seas.

Cocos is an atoll owned by the Australians. The anchorage is on the north east side of the atoll of Direction Island. The island is typical of the tropical islands of the Pacific with blue transparent water, soft sand and lots of coconut palms. We were escorted into the anchorage by a pod of Dolphins and had 5 black tip reef sharks around the boat before we had anchored. It was a lovely sight after the murky water of Malaysia.

There are 2 other islands here, Home Islands which has a Malaysian population and is a 2 mile wet dinghy ride and West Island which is 5 miles away across the lagoon and too far for our dinghy. We visited Home Island for provisions a few days ago and are still getting over the shock. We purchased 2 loaves of bread, a packet of rolls, a small bunch of bananas and a dozen eggs and the cost was $AUS46 (£30). Probably the most expensive shopping we have ever done.

There are 9 boats here at the moment including one which we have not seen since Samoa in 2012! We all met on the beach yesterday for a BBQ. Sounds idyllic but we were eaten alive by mosquitoes despite the deet! We are not allowed to remove anything from the boat here so all our rubbish must leave with us which is a good incentive not to stay too long. We will probably leave in a few days to do the 2000 mile trip to Rodrigues. With good winds this should take about 15 days.

Our exit from Malaysia was later than we anticipated. This was partly due to the wind as the trade winds were very late establishing themselves but mainly due to the boat. We had a lot of checks to do before we left as there are lots of things we have not used in the last year which inevitably led to us uncovering issues. Our main problem, once again, was the generator. It is only 2 years old but has a major problem with water in the oil. We could not get it tested properly in Malaysia so finally decided to leave with it broken. This means we cannot run our watermaker (which is also not working properly, but cannot be fixed until we have a generator!) so are being very careful with water. We can get water for doing washing on Direction Island and drinking water on Home Island so we should not run short.

We did have a good time in Pangkor, where we left the boat while we were travelling, meeting up with Sue and Stefan from Charlotte who are doing lots of work on their boat at the moment. We also said farewell to our Australian friends, Sharon and Lindsay on Songlines. Mike had a good birthday celebration with them and Sharon got him a lovely birthday cake.

Before leaving Malaysia we left the boat in Pangkor marina for 2 months and flew to India and Nepal.



Trekking In Nepal

We flew from Delhi to Kathmandu on 3 March. We flew with Indigo airlines and it is probably one of the the scariest flights we have had. The pilot seemed to drop really low to the mountains and then had to accelerate and climb to reach the runway. We touched down at the very start of the runway with a jolt as the plane was still accelerating! An exciting start to our trip!

Kathmandu was fairly quiet and unpolluted due to the fuel shortage and we had a pleasant stroll around the area near our hotel which was full of shops selling trekking gear. The following morning we had an early start to catch the coach to Pokhara. It was a long day as the traffic was very bad and the roads very narrow. The roads are single track with lots of hills and tight turns and only just wide enough for the trucks and coaches to pass. Pokhara is the town where many of the treks start so the town is fairly touristy in a low key way. It is pretty with a big lake and stunning mountain views.

We spent 5 days in Pokhara. We did a few hikes there to get into training and also purchased the gear we needed. We took most things we needed but had to buy a sleeping bag, walking poles and thick padded body warmers. The gear is supposedly North Face but is very cheap. We had decided to carry our own gear for the trek so spent time reducing the weight by leaving behind as much as we could at the hotel.

We were going to walk the Annapurna Circuit. A trek of about 220km with an altitude gain from 800m to 5416m down to 1200m and back up to 3200m before descending back to 800m. Probably totally mad given that we were both very unfit, we have never walked that distance before and certainly never done any trekking carrying 10/12kg on our back. Plus we are used to living at sea level and had never walked to that altitude before.

We had a 3 hour bus trip to the start of the trail at Besisahar. From here there was a choice of getting a bus or walking to Bulbhule. Being determined to walk the whole trail we walked. It was a very hot afternoon walk and certainly showed up how unfit we were. We stayed in Tea houses which is basic accommodation providing a room with a bed and blanket. The accommodation is either free or a few pounds as long as you eat there. The standard varied from outside toilets and maybe a tap somewhere with water to our own bathroom and in a few instances we even had a hot shower. We would get up at 6am and start walking around 7am. The views of the mountains are better in the morning plus some days we were walking for 9 hours so an early start was necessary.

Until we got to about 3000m the temperatures were pleasant though we got very hot on the climbs. There was very little flat terrain, we were always going up and down, usually up! Thankfully there were very few steps and it was mainly trails that wound their way up hill. The day we got to 3000m we had snow plus we had a 3 hour climb up a steep mountain with numerous switchbacks. The lodge at the top was a welcome sight. Unfortunately, the owner was very mean and would not light the fire. We were given a small brazier which 4 of us sat huddled around wearing thermals, hat, gloves etc. After that it was a very rare occasion when our thermals came off, it was way too cold. We had a hot shower at one lodge but the room was so cold that your whole body was steaming! We would sleep in clothes, our sleeping bag which was good to -5C plus a thick rug or blanket over us. None of the rooms were heated, most were wood or brick with lots of gaps around the windows. Most mornings the water in the pipes was frozen. It was definitely back to pre central heating days.

Due to the altitude we had a few acclimatisation days, one at 3500m and 2 at 4500m. The 2 at 4500m was mainly due to Mike spending one day in bed ill. Not with altitude sickness but with a terrible cold and hacking cough. At one stage we though we may have to descend without crossing the pass but he rallied and on day 13 we crossed Thorong La pass. This was a climb from 4500m to 5416m and then an endless descent to 3800m at Muktinath. It was very hard work walking at altitude, you have to walk incredibly slowly and your heart is just pounding in your ears. Still it was an amazing sense of achievement.

The walk down the western range was mainly across a moraine field. The weather at the top of the valley was very windy which was a bit disconcerting when you are walking on a track that is only a few feet wide with a vertical drop of about 1000m!

The latter part of the trek was around the Poon Hill area and involved climbing to 3200m again. Very hard work as most of the trail was steps. It was a lot more crowded than the rest of the trail which was incredibly quiet. The Poon hill trek goes through Rhododendron forests which were in full bloom though we had no view of the mountains from here due to the low cloud. Still, we had had some amazing views of the Annapurna mountain range earlier in our walk.

The whole trek took us 23 days and we think we walked about 250km. We both lost lots of weight despite eating like horses and were incredibly fit by the end. We were also feeling very virtuous as we did not drink any alcohol for the whole trek. Hopefully our livers appreciated it! We are really glad we did it but don't want to do it again!

Nepal was a lovely place, we can totally understand why people keep going back there. After India it was such a breath of fresh air and the people are lovely.



A Month In India

Originally we wanted to go to India for 2 months but due to visa restrictions had to cut our trip down to 1 month. This meant making decisions on which parts to visit and which to cut out. In hindsight we probably made the wrong decision as to where to spend our time. We did not particularly enjoy India and are glad that we were restricted to a month. By the end we were counting the days down to when we could leave.

We were travelling on a budget so were using trains and coaches plus tuk tuks to get around. To enjoy it you probably need to cut yourself off from the reality of the place and have your own private car and driver! In summary we found India to be over crowded, dirty and smelly. The smell of urine everywhere including on people was difficult to get out of your nostrils and the scale of the poverty was shocking. It was also a shock to see the caste system in operation and to see just how middle class Indians treat the lower classes.

If you ignore the surroundings there are some amazing sights to see and the food was wonderful. We started in Delhi. We landed late at night and the temperature was 9C which was quite a shock after leaving 35C in Malaysia. We had a few days in Delhi visiting the Red Fort and sorting out all our train tickets for the month. Then we flew to Khajuraho to see the erotic Hindu temples. The carvings are amazing and very well preserved but you definitely wouldn't want to try many of the positions at home!

Our next stop was Orccha and there was supposedly a local train that ran daily between the 2 cities. There were no classes on the train so it was a major free for all with people sitting everywhere including on our feet and on the roof. The journey should have been 5 hours but it took 9 and the train went somewhere else. We couldn't move the whole time and the smell was dreadful. Trying the toilet was not an option! We then had to get a taxi to our hotel which ended up being very basic but was one of the friendliest we stayed in. We recovered and had a pleasant day walking around the sights.

Next was Agra which despite being full of tourists was a very nice city to be in. We went to the Taj Mahal for sunrise and also visited the baby Taj and a number of tombs. The other sights in Agra are just as impressive as the Taj.

After Agra we went to Fatephur Sikri to see a fort and a mosque, stopping at Akbars tomb on the way. We then had a break from buildings and visited Kaledeo bird park. It was OK but without a good telescope you could not see anything. Continuing on the wildlife trail we next went to Ranthambhore to see Tigers. We did see a Tiger but the whole experience was not enjoyable. You get driven around very bumpy roads at high speed hardly stopping to see the wildlife until a tiger is spotted. Once you have seen the tiger they take the truck to a rest area and sit there until they can take you back to the hotel. We were with a lot of Indian tourists and they seem to treat it like a visit to the cinema. They never stop talking or eating crisps etc!

We then went to see a series of forts and palaces at Jodhpur, Jaipur, Udaipur and Jaisalmer. The fort at Jodhpur was very well done, this probably had the most in it to see and had an excellent audio guide. The places are all spread out across Rajasthan and we spent many hours on trains travelling between them.

We ended up back in Delhi with a short stop at Alwar. This is not a popular tourist spot and we understand why after going there!

The train to Delhi arrived in the north of the city and we then got the metro to our hotel in the south. The metro was very busy but I was practically the only woman in our carriage. India is very male dominated and you do not see women unless they are the upper middle class on holiday. Cleaning in hotels, laundries, ironing shops are all male jobs. It would not have been comfortable travelling as a single female.

We had one day back in Delhi and then flew to Nepal.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sri Lanka and After

Our last update we were on our way to Penang to get our visas for India. Well, that didn't happen! We were informed that as we were only in Malaysia on a tourist visa we could not get a visa for India. Our only option was to get a 30 day e-visa which is what we have done.

Our new batteries arrived and were fitted relatively easily, thankfully. After a little sightseeing we headed  back north from Penang in preparation for our trip to Sri Lanka.

We flew to Sri Lanka on 24 November. It was a tedious journey. Air Asia changed the time of our flight from Kuala Lumpur so we had a 10 hour wait for our flight. This meant we arrived at Colombo at 10pm. The taxi had problems finding our hotel and ended up dropping us around the back which was a bit off putting as we had to practically step over sleeping bodies to get to the entrance. Once inside it was fine and when we explored the following morning we found it was very handy for the train and for sightseeing.

We left Colombo the same day by train and headed to the ancient city of Anuradapura. The train was OK except for the huge cockroach that was walking around our feet. Every time I moved my feet to avoid it the guy opposite took it as a sign that he could occupy all my leg room!  We hired bicycles to see Anuradapura so set off early to avoid the heat. When we got to the museum to buy our tickets we had to sit and wait for the ticket lady to eat her breakfast! We had a nice cycle through the countryside to see a number of Bagodas (big stupas). Most of the other buildings were just walls in ruins and were hidden in the trees.

Our next stop was a local bus ride to Polonnuwara which is another ancient city. This one was better preserved and a more compact site. Entry to both sites was $25 each which was a bit steep considering what there was to see. Another bus trip took us to Dambulla.  The buses are very cheap but going on them is quite an experience. They are usually crammed full. The seats are for 3 very small people and plastic so it gets very hot. The drivers are complete maniacs. They drive at full acceleration and then brake as hard as they can when they need to stop. The have 2 horns and could quite easily wear them both out in a day and they overtake whenever they want to. It doesn't matter if its a blind corner or if anything is coming the other way. Its best not to sit to near the front as the less you can see the better but at the back you get bounced out of your seat and can easily feel sick!

At Dambulla we visited a Buddhist cave temple and probably one of our highlights, Sigiriya. It cost $35 each to go to Sigiriya but it was one of the few places we didn't mind being charged a fortune as it was so amazing. Sigiriya is an ancient city that was built on the top of a 800m monolith. Not for those who suffer from vertigo! There are also amazing water gardens around the base of the rock and rock art part way up the vertical sides. Certainly worth a visit.

Our next stop was the previous capital, Kandy. Our hotel was slightly out of the city which was a good move as the whole place is full of traffic and very noisy. The roads only have 2 lanes but most of the time there is about 7 lines of traffic (mainly tuk tuks) all jostling for position! Our first day we went to the botanical gardens and the following day we had planned a hike in the Knuckles Range. We were aware there may be leeches so went prepared with long trousers tucked into our socks and velcro around the socks to stop anything getting down them. Our shirts were tucked into our trousers. The guides sprayed our boots and socks with a dettol and water solution and off we set.

The walk was down a wide road/track to a lookout point. The guides were soon showing us leeches and they were much smaller and thinner than we had envisaged. I (Karen) was walking with a pole and had a fright when a leech was suddenly on my hand having worked its was up the pole. Slightly later the guides were behind me and noticed my trousers and sock covered in blood. When we investigated 2 leeches had burrowed their way through my walking socks. They were sprayed with dettol to remove them. It spoilt the walk having  to keep looking at your feet to remove leeches. It was also a bit disappointing as it was no where near as long as we expected and the route back was the same way as that we had already walked.

We had a another day in Kandy and decided that this was too long a stay. Our hotel recommended a walk in a park overlooking the city. We were given a map and set off on a well signposted trail. The walk was circular but part way around the signposts disappeared. We took what looked like a wide track down the hill and started walking. We then discovered it was leech alley, they were everywhere. We walked quickly so as not to give them an opportunity to get on us and then had short stops to inspect each others legs. After about a mile the path just fizzled out and we had no choice but to run the gauntlet back. It was up hill but we were  practically running just to escape the leeches. We had no choice but to retrace our route the whole way making it a much longer walk than intended!

In the evening we went to see a Kandian dance show. We are not sure we ended up where we intended as we were charged a lot of money to see an am dram performance that didn't even last an hour. The area around the lake in Kandy is quite pretty but we never made it to see the Temple of the Tooth which is a very important Buddhist temple. We have just seen one to many Buddhas in our travels this year!

We had a luxurious (relatively) trip from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya on an air conditioned coach. It was slightly more expensive than the bus and we had to buy a seat for each of our bags but it was still cheap. The route was very scenic with lots of tea plantations and very hilly. Nuwara Eliya is called Little England as it has a British climate due to its altitude. True to its name it rained a lot and  was very cold. We had to ask for an extra blanket for our bed and we purchased thick woolly hats to wear.

We had a trip to Hortons Plains and Worlds End planned from Nuwara Eliya. We were collected at 5.30am so we had multiple layers of clothes on and our new hats. There is supposed to be lots of wildlife at Hortons Plains but you don't see it as there are too many people. It was a nice walk, again with bad signage but the view at Worlds End was lovely and clear. The reason for the early start is that the view clouds up as the sun rises and as it was the rainy season, it rains every afternoon.

Our exit from Nuwara Eliya was by train. The trip to Ella is a very scenic railway ride. In fact it is so popular that all we could get were 3rd class tickets which were fine. Nuwara Eliya station is memorable for one of the worst toilets of the holiday. In general the public toilets in Sri Lanka were pretty bad but the ones in Nuwara Eliya were horrible. I think the prize for the worst ones goes to Galle station though where the smell was so bad that I never even made it anywhere near the door!

In Ella we had chosen a small hotel which according to Booking.com had amazing views. It did have the views but what we failed to realise was that to get to it we had to climb from the road up a series of steps followed by a track that was so steep that if it was a ski run it would be a black! By the time we got to the place we needed oxygen! And to top it all, a leech had got into my sandals and had a suck between my toes!  Each time we did the walk to and from the hotel one of us had a leech on us (most often Mike). It was difficult to feel relaxed as we always worried about the ones we hadn't found!

Despite the trials of the hotel we visited a tea factory which was very interesting and walked up Little Adams peak which has lovely views. Our stay in Ella also ended badly. The bus from Ella to Tissa (town near Yala NP) was full when it arrived at the stop. We were all shoe horned onto the bus with some people standing on the steps not even being able to get onto the bus properly. The driver made no concessions to the fact that we were all wet (from the heavy rain) sardines with nothing to hold onto and we were thrown around every time he slammed his breaks on and then re-accelerated. It is probably the closest we have both come to loosing it. Tempers get a bit short when you are enduring those conditions and then it's made worse by locals who have no concept of waiting and just push passed you. In fact, the locals just have no concept of personal space at all. We were charged quite a lot for this horrendous drive and then were kicked off in a town somewhere to change buses. A  relief as at least we got a seat on the next bus!

We had a full day booked in Yala NP starting at 4.30am (and we didn't get back until 7pm). We had an excellent guide and saw lots of amazing birds, Sloth bear, Elephant and a very distant Leopard. The roads in the park are definitely only for 4 wheel drive vehicles. Some of the roads were actually rivers due to the amount of rain. An excellent day and well worth the visit.

The following day we had an afternoon safari booked in Bundala which is quieter than Yala and supposedly better for birds. We saw very few birds (we saw much more in Yala) but did see lots of monkeys and Elephants. A second day at Yala would probably have been better but you never know.

Our last stop before we got back to Columbo was Galle. An extremely touristy old Portuguese fort town.  It is full of gem shops and expensive restaurants. Nice to see but not worth staying more than a day.

We didn't see much in Columbo other than the independence monument and the park. By this time we had ran out of steam and decided our stay in Sri Lanka had been about a week too long. We had eaten enough curry and rice and wanted our comfortable bed back.

Our memories of Sri Lanka are of an expensive place where prices for accommodation are at least double the price in other parts of Asia and the cost of food is the same as the UK (unless you live on curry and rice). They think their monuments are better than they are, otherwise why do they charge soooo much to get into them, and finally leeches. Against that the wildlife is amazing and Sigiriya verges on a Wonder of the World!

We returned to the boat just before Christmas. We spent Christmas day at Rebak resort. They provide a Christmas brunch with sparkling wine so we went along with friends Sharon and Lindsay off Songlines. We then met up with them again for New Year when a group of 10 of us went out for a meal in Kuah before seeing the New year in on Songlines.

Since then we have been working hard on the boat trying to do much needed internal varnishing. We are also staring to get the boat ready for its big trip across the Indian Ocean.

We are now in Pangkor where we are leaving the boat to fly to India tomorrow. We are staying 30 days in India and then fly to Kathmandu to hopefully walk the Annapurna circuit. This will probably be our last update until we return from Nepal in mid April.

Happy 2016 everyone.