Normal life resumes….

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Morvargh looking her best for arrival in Brighton, meeting our welcome party (thanks Nisha!)

At the end of our first month back home and still currently unemployed (more on which later) I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the transition back to ‘normal’ life. If you don’t give a fart about such reflections, and would rather head straight to a brilliant little movie that Rosie has made of our trip, then I wouldn’t blame you. Simply scroll to the bottom.
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Rosie meeting her nephew Douglas for the first time….

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… and me, almost as excited to be reunited with Mogs.

So first, it’s busy. Having got used to feeling satisfied with getting maybe one thing done a day it’s a shock to remember  that real life has its own to-do lists. It hasn’t taken long for us both to be back to chasing our tails and having that nagging sense that there’s always something you should be doing. And this is from the unemployed one, Rosie also having to contend with a full time job as a paediatric registrar in Chichester.
It’s spacious. When you cook in a boats ‘galley’ that has everything within arms reach it feels very strange to walk across a kitchen to wash your dishes.
It’s green. I spent the first week on land with my hands in soil, taming a garden that had grown slightly wild and enjoying all the delicious tomatoes, courgettes, potatoes and raspberries Sophie had been growing.
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I don’t know why I find this so satisfying

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We’ve also been foraging……

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… sometimes with a little help from our friends (thanks Sarah!)

Restarting work is frustrating. I’m a fully qualified Gp, keen to work, and with a very understanding practice holding a job for me, and yet the powers that be don’t appear able to sign a piece of paper that would allow me to do so. Nor can they give any indication how long the process will take. National GP shortage you say? What Gp shortage?

It’s sociable. We have moved back to our old house to find it bursting with nice people – 6 of us at the last count. Rosie and I have to be careful to make time to actually spend time together, which certainly makes a change.

Smartening up Morvargh has been satisfying. All that spare time, and the presence of my hard-working dad for a week, has spruced her up nicely. We now have a website to encourage buyers

Morvargh for sale

and an article about our trip in Yachting Monthly that will hopefully drum up some interest. Please feel free to forward the site on to anyone you think might be interested…

Sea still feels like home. I moved Morvargh to her winter home in Chichester a couple of days ago with our friend Rohan and felt an incredible sense of peace and familiarity as we headed west in the morning light.

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Sunrise making the rubbish nights sleep and early start all worth while.

We had an exhilarating sail in the blustery autumnal conditions and the temptation to just keep going was huge. Not sure Rosie would have forgiven us though! Talking of whom, here’s that video:

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Home sweet home

So that’s it, we’re home!

One year, 12000 nautical miles (22000km), 18 countries, 65 islands, 33 visitors and 80 nights at sea. Reducing the trip to simple numbers doesn’t really do it justice though. It doesn’t capture the sense of scale that 12000 miles at 5 knots gives you, in contrast to most modern ways of travelling.

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It’a big ocean when there’s no wind. It can sometimes make you do crazy things…

Or the sheer variety of all those islands, without even leaving the Atlantic Ocean.

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From the least-populated island (Mopion, Grenadines)…. 

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… to the most populated (Manhattan, NY state)

Or the joy that each of those visitors brought to our lives with news, gifts from home, and their simple exuberance at a lifestyle that we could sometimes (did we really?) take for granted.

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Sophie finding something amusing off the Dominican Republic

However the greatest gift – for me – has been the luxury of leaving behind the worlds troubles for a whole year.

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Brexit? What brexit?

Selfishly heading off and having time to think, remind myself of all the beauty of the world, and spend so much time with my new wife.

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It has left me replenished, reenergised and feels like the perfect foundation for the next adventures life has to throw us.

First though there’s the fun of seeing everyone again. We are heading to our friends Nedah and Tom’s wedding in Italy this weekend but look forward seeing everyone else on our return.

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Congratulations Nedah and Tom!

 

We also have plans for a little get together in Brighton this Autumn, perhaps a little slice of imported caribbean warmth? We’ll be in touch.

Landfall at last

I have a cocktail of emotions inside as we approach landfall in the UK. Excitement to see friends again, relief that we made it and are still married, trepidation about returning to work, sadness that it’s over.

The final long ocean passage took Twelve days. No big storms just gentle winds, dolphins, whales and the horizon stretching on for miles.

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I came up one morning to find mungo grinning from ear to ear- he’d befriended dolphins who followed him as he moved around the boat, showing how smart they are. In return he selfies them.

As we crossed oceans I’ve thought of people who have crossed in far less comfortable conditions. Sailors before us with less water, no fresh food, no weather forecasting information. People sold into slavery, crushed into boats and sent across oceans in the most dire conditions. We’ve followed in their tracks, seen how the legacy of slavery continues to ripple it’s effects through generations across continents. And I think of people right now, maybe only 1000 miles away attempting to cross to Europe looking for safety, hoping for a better life, attempting to reach family. This year away from all the news has been blissful, a wonderful indulgent escapism.

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Far from the worlds worries in a botanical garden in the Azores

 

But now back to reality and to work, to contribute, to do what we can.

Now is the point when I would share the great wisdom I’ve learnt from the sea, except I’m not sure I have had any major ground breaking thoughts. Perhaps that’s because I’m writing this after 11 days sailing, never sleeping more than 4 hours at a time.

Just after being woken up for another watch. 4 hours is just not enough!

Just after being woken up for another watch. 4 hours is just not enough!

It’s dawn now, after the night watch and as the sky brightens, tops of clouds turn from mauve to pink to white, pale blue sky stretching on around me, I acutely feel my insignificance. That insignificance gives me relief, with it I feel released from the burden of responsibility I place on myself. The wind and ocean are oblivious to me, have always been and will always be.

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A perfect sunrise

It’s this perspective I want to keep in mind when I’m home. We’ll reach Devon today and hope to do the last stretch to Brighton arriving (hopefully) on Tuesday. Can’t wait.

Wonders of Whales

When all you see at sea is miles upon miles of waves an encounter with a whale causes a huge amount of excitement. The Azores are on the migration route for sperm whales and Mungo had the pleasure of meeting one, whilst I only got to learn about them in the whale museum.

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Artwork on the brilliant whale museum on Pico

Though I would have rather see one alive I did learn some crazy facts about Sperm Whales:

  • Their noses are full of oil that they can freeze in order to sink to 3000m
  • They eat giant deep sea squid
  • The beaks of the giant squid cant be broken down by the whale and usually are vomited up. Occasionally they pass through the intestinal tract and are extreted as a grey brown lump known as “Ambergis” which at one time was the most widely used perfume fixative.
  • They have the largest brain of any animal known to exist
  • A whale fetus weighs 1000kg and a whale testis 10kg!

Apart from whale museums we have been climbing the volcanoes and enjoying our last few weeks of freedom.

Scrambling up the volcano

Scrambling up Pico Volcano

... view from 2300m

… and view from 2300m

The Azores feel unlike any other island group we have visited and despite being absolutely awesome most people haven’t heard of them (well I hadn’t but that’s not saying much). Mungo wants to keep them secret so is pestering not to write more. (He’s developed inflated ideas about the number of blog readers we have!)

Compared to the Caribbean and Canaries there is little tourist infrastructure and once up in the hills surrounded by green fields, vineyards and small farms life feels relatively unchanged in the last 50 years. Seems like life was pretty good then as it is now. Great cheeses, wines, coffee and beef- Mungo’s feed-up diet has reached a new level.

Vines are surrounded by mile upone mile of stone walls to keep warm and out of wind.

Vines are surrounded by mile upone mile of stone walls to keep them warm and out of the wind.

Our arrival coincided with flowering of thousands of hydrangea and mombretia plants all over the hills, creating blue and orange lines running up an down the mountains.

Mungo doing his best hydrangea face

Mungo doing his best hydrangea face

As if that wasn’t reason enough to come here it is amazingly low priced- we brought a cafe con leite yesterday for 20 cents. Yep 20 Euro cents.

With Brexit and Jeremy Hunt waiting for us back in the UK we’ve been dreaming up ways of staying. If only we could bring all our loved ones out here. We leave in a week after (hopefully) paragliding from some of these volcanoes. We’ve lugged our two, rather large, paragliders around the whole atlantic without a single suitable flying site so this is the last chance before we’re back to the Sussex Downs. Just a mere 1200 miles to go.

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Tradition has it that it’s bad luck to sail from Horta without leaving your mark. Can you see our little Morvargh? Pico volcano in the background.

A stormy passage

Greetings from the Azores!

We made it back across the atlantic, though found it much tougher than the westward crossing due to winds that blew from all direction at all strengths, without much let-up. Luckily Rosie’s mum Laurel had joined us for the crossing which made a huge difference to how rested we felt, it would have been so much worse without her.

The most dramatic part of our return crossing was a storm that we encountered about 800 miles out.

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See that dartboard low in the bottom left? It’s just about to pass right over us…

Here’s an email I wrote to family once it was all over, capturing some of the excitement (and relief) of making it through…

What a 24 hours! When I went to bed after my 1-5am shift this morning I was almost disappointed that nothing more dramatic had happened given all our preparation (mainsail down and covered, everything stowed away, pug tied double tight, bimini down…). Then when I woke with a surge of the boat I went on deck to discover Rosie and Laurel soaked through in driving rain as they battled crazy winds with a barometer that had dropped from 1017 to 991 while I was asleep!

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The kind of precipitous drop in pressure that no sailor wants to see….

We initially felt smug with ourselves that we’d made such a detour south to remain on the ‘safe’ side of the low (where wind and waves are travelling in roughly in the same direction) before the wind totally died, the sun came out and we realised we were right in the centre of the depression! Crazy, house-sized waves moving in all directions without a breath of wind and Morvargh bobbing like a cork amongst them, sometimes reversing down steep faces. Half an hour later the wind returned and took our breath away. I have no idea how strong it was but can safely say it was the strongest wind I’ve ever been in and had Morvargh surging along at hull speed (and sometimes threatening more) with bare poles. Predict wind had 40 knots just over the top of us and I can believe it. She felt like she was in her element though and none of us felt particularly threatened. We took turns helming as Laurel provided us with food and drink and the whole thing had a savage beauty to it. We tried to take some photos but I’m not sure how well such winds can be captured. 

 

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I guess that answers it – photos don’t really do it justice. Rosie seems to be having fun though.

The initial pulse of ridiculous winds was relatively short lived but the next 12 hours became a bit dreary with confused seas and strong winds. We didn’t unfurl any sails until about 3 hours ago, and have only been able to get Henry (our wind vane self-steering) back on duty 1/2 hour ago. 

 

Looking at our track on gps our course drew a massive 50 mile circle as we rotated round the centre of the depression, crossing exactly the same spot about 10 hours later. 

IMG_7232Now there are still big muddled seas but the barometer is back up in the 1000s, we’ve all got some rest and Rosie is cooking a curry. We may even open a beer in celebration of our survival. We feel like proper sailors!

Our eventual landfall couldn’t have been more perfect – a stunning island basking in sunshine with friendly yachts and locals, a festival underway, and delicious coffee and cake. Rosie is wondering about job opportunities here…

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Storms feel a million miles away

We’re now on our way to another island to see my parents for the first time in over 10 month ,and Rosie’s dad and uncle who are currently sailing over from Spain. All very exciting for a trio who’ve recently only had each other for company.

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Saying goodbye to sunny Flores. We loved you.

 

Rosie and Mungo land lub for a fortnight

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If you must spend 2 weeks ashore then there can’t be many finer places to spend it than New York. Approaching by night (as we did) the Empire State Building was visible from 20 miles away, and the passage through the turbulent waters of neast village brought picture perfect views straight from the movies that uncontrollably run through your mind.

After a slightly frustrating 24 hours of winds so strong that we couldn’t even get off the boat (imagine this for a second. Tired, hungry, smelly, you can even smell New York) we moved to a beautifully sheltered place called oyster bay on Long Island. With free anchoring, a train line running into the city and even more of those friendly Americans I’ve written about, it was a perfect base to leave the boat while we explored. We stayed with our friends Nico and Racheli and their supercilious cats in the heart of east village, emerging from their cool neighbourhood to walk, museum and see friends. After a week if city life our friends jenny and mark lent us their amazing camping gear to explore ‘upstate’ where we walked 16 miles through wilderness accompanied by red squirrels and chipmunks. American hikers (no one simply ‘goes for a walk’ here) could barely hide their disdain for my flip flop adorned feet, but were friendly all the same.

For our last weekend in the city we gorged on company before the isolation of an atlantic crossing. First jenny and mark brought their three sons aboard for a lively night aboard the boat, then Nico and Racheli made sure we had a send off (combined with Rosie’s birthday) to remember-rooftop cocktails, rooftop Italian, Korean karaoke, nightclub and 4am pancakes with eggs and bacon in a 24 hour diner.

Now we have the adventurous laurel (Rosie’s mother) celebrating her retirement with an atlantic crossing. Weather is looking good for tomorrow so after some last minute provisioning we will be off, next stop Azores and my parents. More to follow then!

When the Pug got Stolen…

As we cycled across the bridge I struggled to see the Pug. Where was she? We left her three days ago on a beach chained to a tree to go gallivanting around New York City.

I’d had nightmares she would be gone and now I couldn’t see her. Mungo raced ahead and stood in disbelief holding the cut ends of her chain. He looked as if he was about to cry.

This was more than just a little boat, the Pug was a wedding gift made with love by Hugh and Nick. How were we going to tell them we’d lost her? Hundreds of what-ifs ran though my mind.

There were a few kids nearby fishing and I asked (perhaps begged) them to tell me if they had seen anything. Slightly harassed, they said they just arrived and knew nothing. All the expletives I could think of ran through my head. How had we survived this long without her being stolen, nearly home and now she was GONE?

FUCKFUCKFUCKCUFKCUFKCUFKCUFK. Ahh. A deep breath in and out and I tried to work out how we were now going to get back to Morvargh without the Pug. Maybe I could make posters appealing to thieves’ better nature? Offer a reward?

There was a boat hire place nearby so we went to see if we could hire a dingy to get us back to Morvargh. We couldn’t see anyone and sat down (nearly weeping at this point) to ponder our next moved. Then a tough looking guy pulled up in a huge truck. We hailed him, hoping he might be able to sort out a dingy. We told him our woeful tale ….

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How do you park a dinghy illegally?

“You left your boat by the bridge right?”

“Yep, we did, we were stupid I know”

“I know where it is then”

“WHAT? How come?”

“The council took it to the village hall as it was parked illegally”

At this point Mungo metaphorically leaned into the car and kissed this big burly guy. The village hall was closed but at least we knew where she was. Parked illegally??! A dinghy?? Only in America….

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Turned out the village hall was half a mile inland…

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And there was no option but …

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to carry her back to water

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UNTIL an AMAZING guy stopped his MEGAtruck and gave us a lift

 

Morvargh has a hair-cut

When we entered the inland waterways of the states we knew there’d be a number of low-lying bridges to pass under and – Morvargh being a one-off design – there were no record of her mast height. Cue lengths of rope, tape measures and head scratching as we tried our best to establish whether she would make it. After lots of umming and aaahing, checking and rechecking (this is not something you want to get wrong) we came up with a figure of 54ft.

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You don’t want to get it wrong when approaching a bridge like this

The first bridge was a bit of a heart-stopping moment, but we soon got used to passing under them without giving it a seconds thought, feeling smug about the roar of traffic over our heads as we glided along, often under sail.

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Our final bridge of the trip was one at Cape May canal, a shortcut that avoided an extra 12 miles through the shipping-laden waters of Delaware River. The chart recorded its height at 55ft, the lowest we’d ever encountered. We’d been up since 6am and were both feeling less than perky as we approached the bridge after 20 hours on the go. Can you guess where this is going?

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Another bridge successfully passed, even with moustache

We both felt a sense of trepidation as we motored towards it in the dark, as we’d managed to arrive at high tide making it look VERY low. As we got close enough we could read that the current height available was 52ft. I’m not sure what happened next – a mixture of fatigue, belief that we’d been overly generous when measuring our height, a simple desire to get through and on with our journey – but we decided to go for it.

As we throttled back to take it slowly we realized that there was quite a strong current sweeping us towards the bridge. We tried to reverse to slow our approach but Morvargh doesn’t reverse straight and the stern began to kick round so we stopped. We were now committed whether we wanted to our not….

I stood at the bow, holding my breath. PING. TWANG. TINKLE. Bits of plastic fell to the deck. Rosie shouted to ask whether she should reverse but I said to keep going. Every second I waited for her to be brought to a juddering halt with the metal stays holding her mast parting from the deck. Within moments it was all over and we were spat out the far side, both shaken but still in one piece.

Before we had a chance to gather our thought our path was apparently blocked by a row of red lights (normally used to indicate the side of the channel, but this time across our whole path). We were expecting to pass through low-lying swing bridge but these markers didn’t make any sense. Still being swept forward by the current, Rosie asked what to do as I ran back to take the helm and she ran forward with a torch to try and light our way. Through the murky night we could dimly make out the sharp edges of an open bridge, with a gap just wide enough for Morvargh through the centre. Phew.

Ahead we could see one final bridge, the same height as the first, but we’d had enough excitement for one night. We dropped an anchor in the channel to wait for the tide to drop and take stock of the damage.

The top of the mast is home to our long-range VHF Arial, navigation lights and wind indicator so there was plenty of damage that could be done. We had also planned to keep on moving through the night to reach New York before some strong weather was forecast, but doing this without navigation lights of VHF would have been foolish. After various tests we established that the only thing obviously broken was our wind vane, thank god. We put the kettle on and waited for the tide.

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The only thing to break

Morvargh loses another life and the adventure continues!

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Off for another sunset

Southern Generosity

I had never been to the states before and – being a snooty European – had plenty of preconceptions. And yes, we’ve been shown aboard boats that burn 240 Litres of diesel in one hour (just under half of what Morvargh’s used since leaving the UK!), politics is a no-go area even with seemingly ‘normal’ people, and the food a bit plasticky.

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A whole street of behemoths

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Luckily super-size applies to ice creams too

But the superficial-customer-service type of kindness I believed existed has been totally absent.Since arriving a fortnight ago we have been offered (in no particular order):

  • Lifts to the shops
  • A delicious dinner
  • The use of a car
  • Pilot guides and advice for the areas we’re visiting
  • An invitation to drinks
  • A kilo of fresh pecans
  • A round of craft ale in a bar
  • An oil sump pump, pulleys and shackle
  • The organised delivery of an aluminium pole to replace our whiska pole, that we have been trying to sort out for months
  • Our laundry being washed, dried and folded (yes, really!)
  • A warm welcome and friendly conversation from strangers. 

    I don’t offer this up as an example of ‘what you can scrounge in America’ but simply to show the fantastic diversity and lengths people have gone to help us. We’ve actually learnt that it is dangerous when making small talk to talk of a need for anything, as it is often delivered the next day with a smile.

    Ok, it’s a small sample size (they say it’s not nearly so friendly up north), and we are a bit of a novelty being the only British boat we’ve seen since arrival, but still. It puts plenty of us Europeans to shame and is an inspiration for how to welcome strangers. Thank you Ann, Nev, Don, Dee, Greta, Gary, Howard, Nora Jane, Bruce and Phil. Thank you America!

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    The sun has even made an appearance. Shows of our sparkly new whiska pole to its best effect!

Up the Inter-Coastal Waterway

What a culture shock – everything feels big and fast here.

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A big fishing boat off Beaufort

The huge trucks passing by dwarf our little Brompton bikes. Initially overwhelmed by choice on our first trip to a supermarket we longed to be back in the Caribbean where there was only one type of flour or butter or milk.

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Ahh the USA – land of opportunity. Too much of it?

We joined the ICW for 200 miles from Beaufort, NC to Norfolk, VA cutting out the sail around Cape Hatteras. After all the time at sea it felt surreal to be surrounded by a verdant lush corridor of forests whilst travelling.

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A little shallow for Morvargh (we may have touched the bottom a few times!)

The area of North Carolina that we passed through was flat, vast, empty and full of wonderful birdlife.

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We found this lady sitting in her nest. Is she and Osprey?

After our voyage across the Atlantic we became members of the Ocean Cruising Club (OCC). It means we get to fly a pretty flag and met lots of other people who’ve done the same thing flying other pretty flags. Everyone we’ve met from the OCC has been welcome, kind, helpful and generous (especially those in the USA).

We finally got the spinnaker pole fixed (the one that broke whilst crossing the Atlantic) and enjoyed spoiling ourselves visiting coffee shops, art galleries and eating out whilst at an OCC members dock in Norfolk.

Didn’t take too long for us to get used to these luxuries again. Now up the Cheasepeake, down the Delaware and to NYC.