Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Over and Out

For three weeks now, we have been eating and drinking, behind and before us as we enjoy the familiar company of family and friends. We have been recounting our salty sea-tales and entertaining the locals with stories that never made it to the blog. We have been reliving the best and the worst days at sea, wondering if it was really us who did it and why it feels like it was all a dream.

It still hasn’t quite dawned on us that our journey has come to an end. Most days we wake up and look out the window to see Ashling sitting silently in the calm waters of Old Head Bay. We row out to visit her, unloading clothes, books and food, and tackling the never-ending list of maintenance and cleaning jobs. Some days we head out for a sail around the familiar waters of Clew Bay. It feels like we are stopping off at just another destination and will soon set sail again. It doesn’t feel like we should be sitting down to write the final blog post.

Complete the tiebreaker - 'Sailing from New Zealand to Ireland was ...' For all the money in the world, we find it impossible to condense a journey that contained so much into just one sentence. It was a year of fun and frustration, of tears and laughter, of hope and despair. We challenged ourselves both physically and mentally to fulfil the dream of one, which became the quest of two. It was everything we expected it would be, and so much more. If we had to do it all again, we’d jump at the chance. 

We have grown, both individually and together over the past ten months. We have learned to appreciate the small things in life, like laughing until your stomach hurts, or the feeling of a full stomach, or the touch of solid land underneath your feet. We feel very lucky to have had the health, means and opportunity to embark on our adventure, and believe that this experience will stand to us for many years to come. We hope you’ve enjoyed the ride and that our adventure has inspired you to embark on one of your own on land or at sea.

As Mark Twain once said, "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." 

From thousands of photographs, we have selected the best and compiled a short film of our year at sea. Click here to watch it (duration 20 minutes). 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Thank You

Words or gifts don’t even come close to expressing how thankful we are for the support, assistance and encouragement of so many people over the past year. There may have been a crew of two on board Ashling but we took great comfort from the hundreds of people around the world who were sailing with us in spirit. 

Since Day One at sea, so many people went above and beyond to help us achieve our goal, and we are honoured to call ourselves your friends:

  • To those who followed our blog religiously, encouraging us from afar and buoying our spirits through supportive emails and blog comments.
  • To those who put a roof over our heads, a comfortable bed under our backs and some good home cooking in our stomachs.
  • To all the sailors we met along our journey who welcomed us into their hearts and their homes, on land and at sea. 
  • To the thoughtful friends in Auckland who loaded us up with wrapped gifts to entertain us along our way.
  • To those who flew hundreds of miles to meet us along our adventure, giving us an excuse to take time out and take a holiday.
  • To those who took the time and effort to capture our adventure in poetry and on film.
  • To those who have helped us by providing skills and shelter for Ashling since our arrival in Ireland. 
In true sailor fashion, we promise to ‘pay it forward’ by extending the same open arms and hearts to people we meet further down the road. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

The dream comes true

In 1996, a teenage boy in the West of Ireland first harboured a dream to embark on a sailing adventure. It would take him and his wife across seas and oceans, in good conditions and bad, and culminate with the return to the bay of his home in Co. Mayo, Ireland. On 14 July 2013, that dream came true. 

At 7pm we took a right turn at Roonah Head and pointed Ashling's bow to Old Head. For the past four miles we had been flanked by four speedboats with local friends and family bearing Louisburgh, Mayo and Irish flags. We saw smoke on land and realised that it was bonfires burning in our honour. We saw car headlights flashing and almost reached for the Morse code handbook before we copped it was a signal to welcome us home. 

Then we rounded the final corner and faced a mirage of colours at the pier, a crowd that went on and on and on. After ten months of writing about our trip, we find ourselves lost for words as we try to describe how we felt - as it was, we just about held it together enough to motor up to the pier and greet everybody. 

It was like Christmas, a wedding and a school reunion all rolled into one. Thank you, thank you, thank you for such an outstanding reception that went far beyond our wildest homecoming dreams. What a perfect ending to the adventure of a lifetime. My God it's so good to be home! 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Almost there...

Position: 53'24°N, 10'28°W

Reporting in from 16 miles south-west of Cliften, 34 miles south-west of
Old Head and 10,600 miles north-west of Auckland. Ahead of us we can see
the familiar outline of Croagh Patrick as we sail along on a lovely
sunny day.

Excitement is building on board. ETA at Old Head between 7pm and 9pm.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Off the coast of Kerry

Position: 52°30'N, 15°34'W

The Atlantic ocean continues to surprise us with light winds and even
becalmed conditions this week. On Tuesday we drifted through dense fog,
peering ahead into the mist with just half a mile of visibility,
half-expecting a ghost island or ship to appear at any moment.

The sun returned on Wednesday morning, along with a pod of about thirty
pilot whales as we changed over watch at 4am. Within minutes they
surrounded the boat, their bulbous heads surfacing every few minutes for
air. However unlike Mr Minke, there was no need to deter these
fascinating mammals as the largest of them measured just 3m long. They
stayed with us for a few hours, their calls and cries reverberating
through the hull of the boat and leading the First Mate to confirm that
whale song is not quite as therapeutic as it sounds!

We are currently level with Tralee, albeit 200 miles offshore, and still
on track to arrive at Old Head on Sunday evening. At this stage we
estimate to arrive sometime between 6pm and 9pm. Check the blog on
Sunday for a more precise time.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Homeward bound

Position: 47°34'N, 22°21'W

After travelling over 15,000 nautical miles since last September, we are
now down to the last 600 miles of our journey. The past five days since
leaving the Azores have been slow going as winds in the North Atlantic
remain light. Like our first passage across the Atlantic from Florida,
we are pleasantly surprised to find it is not at all the fearsome ocean
that is usually portrayed in the movies.

We're finding it hard to believe that we're on the last leg and that the
Skipper's dream is finally within reach of fulfilment. We look back at
this time last year, when we were frantically preparing to leave our
land-life, and wonder how on earth we have made it this far. This
passage always seemed so far away, a trip that could only take place
after overcoming many obstacles. And now we're here, doing it, at last.
In a way, the dream has already come true.

Using these final days at sea to reflect on the year that has been, the
author cornered the Skipper on his most poignant memories of the voyage:

Highlight: Three days in Ensenada Naranjo, Panama, arriving after 54
long, stressful days at sea. A secluded beach and lush, green jungle in
a safe, sheltered bay, all to ourselves. Dry land never looked, smelled
or felt so good!

Favourite destination: I'm hard pressed to decide between the Marquesas
and the Azores. In many ways both island groups are very similar and the
perfect destination for sailors and landlubbers alike.

Favourite anchorage: Cook's Bay, Moorea. Sheltered, stunning and close
to beer, bread and coffee

Favourite marina: Shelter Bay, Panama – friendly sailors, great
restaurant (that does a mean half roast chicken!) and a swimming pool!

Most challenging time: Finding ourselves in gale conditions just days
after leaving New Zealand. Physically and emotionally exhausted after
packing up our life on land, the big seas and grey skies made us wonder
if the doom-and-gloomers were right and that we had indeed made a big

Scariest moment: Going overboard to scrape goose barnacles off the
bottom of the boat, mid-Pacific, just days after sighting sharks in the

Most used tool on board: A miniature 8cm flat head screwdriver used to
poke, prod, screw and scrap all sorts of things every day. I often call
for it saying "Please pass me the..." and before I finish, it's in my hand.

Most rewarding repair to Ashling: Replacing the rigging, after hands-on
schooling from Mike Barker in Panama and Irish Pat in Cayman.

Most useful alteration to Ashling: Installation of reef rings for easier
reefing. A small change, but I'm grateful for it every time we reef in
strong conditions.

Most used medical supply on board: Arnica – I was highly suspicious at
first, but it's great for treating bruises. Of course, it would be
better have something to subdue the First Mate to prevent her bashing me
in the first place : -)

Second time round I would: Install a dodger before leaving NZ, visit
Isla Providencia (Caribbean) en route to Grand Cayman and invest more in
cockpit comfort, and some caffeine pills to help keep the First Mate's
eyes open on night watch!

Skipper's essentials for crossing an ocean: A strong boat, a sat phone
and a Sweeney. The boat goes without saying. The phone proved invaluable
for both getting weather info and words of encouragement from many
friends during the toughest days. As for the Sweeney, all jokes aside,
Eithne has brought a whole lot more than deckhand skills to the voyage.
Her courage and determination helped us overcome every obstacle, and
were it not for her communication skills, the whole experience would
melt away in foggy memories.

Our current ETA in Old Head, Louisburgh is Sunday 14th July. Visit the
blog towards the end of the week for more details.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Adventures in the Azores

Position: 38°32’N, 28°37’W – Horta, Azores

After finding our feet in Flores we hired a car and explored the most westerly of the Azores islands. The island is aptly named for its abundance of colourful flowers which decorate the rugged, natural landscape and take the edge off the windswept cliffs that drop off sharply into the Atlantic. 

Craters of the island’s seven original volcanoes have now become seven beautiful lakes which are home to many birds and plants found only in the Azores. We drove through quiet, quaint villages and revelled in the sights of white-washed, orange-roofed cottages sitting pretty in lush green valleys. For a moment, we thought we had got ahead of ourselves and were already in the west of Ireland!

We sailed for two days to the island of Faial and the port of Horta. Since its first inhabitants arrived by ship 500 years ago, Horta has leveraged its strategic location between North America and Europe to become the sailing headquarters/centre of the Atlantic. Every year over 1,000 boats stop here on their way across the Atlantic to Europe, touring the islands, topping up on provisions and relaxing over Gin Tonicos at the famous Peter Cafe Sport.

With Ashling safely anchored in the sheltered harbour, we rented bikes to see some of the island and hike around the crater of the extinct Caldeira do Faial volcano. The greenery, the silence, the natural beauty untouched by man were breathtaking ... especially when we were freewheeling down the side of the volcano at 50 km/hr.

Four miles across the bay from Horta is the island of Pico, home of Portugal's highest mountain which we visited by ferry and bus. The island reminded us a lot of Rangitoto in Auckland, with its perfect symmetrical cone-shaped volcano and harsh, black rocky landscape. However while Rangitoto prides itself on conservation and tourism, the people of Pico have found a way to make money from their volcano. 
On the west of the island the locals have cleared away the black lava rocks and used them to build walls. Where possible, the cracks in the remaining rock surface are filled with soil from neighbouring Faial and used to plant vines. The small, short walls shelter the vines from the wind and sea-breezes, and enable a thriving wine-making industry, some of which has apparently graced the table of a Russian Tsar in years past.

We love it here! The Azores have been the first place on our journey where we have automatically felt at home, despite knowing absolutely nothing of the language. It may have something to do with the Ireland/New Zealand-esque topography (they have pohutakawa trees here too!) or the ease of navigating life on a small island. While each island has its own unique personality, they all share the same admirable pride that comes with surviving in isolation and using whatever nature provides to be self-sufficient. With six other islands to explore, we aren’t at all ready to leave and yet, Ireland is calling. One thing is for sure – by plane or by boat, we will be back!

P.S. The Skipper has uploaded a map of our daily positions since leaving Auckland last September. Check out the link on the right hand side of the blog or click here to see it. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Having a whale of a time

Position: 39°23’N, 31°10’W – Flores, Azores

Happy Holidays! For seven days straight, the sun has shone in a clear, blue sky and the light wind has been just enough to keep us sailing. We have been sunbathing and sleeping, enjoying the welcome surprise and thanking the source - the Azores High, a high pressure system that brings calm winds and hot, dry weather to these islands all year round.    

To make life even better, the ocean erupted with life and we had regular sightings of skipjack tuna, loggerhead turtles, striped dolphins and Minke whales. The tuna skirted ahead of the boat for six hours, their purple and yellow backs sparkling in the sunlight, teasing the Skipper whose two fishing lines trailed limply out the back. The reddish-brownish loggerhead turtles were very cute, placidly paddling through the water and raising their heads just an inch to watch us pass by. Every day we were visited by dolphins who surfed the bow of the boat, squeaking and clicking to each other as they jumped and dived around us.

The whale sightings were a first and made us slightly anxious. In the open ocean, whales have been known to mistake a boat for another whale, occasionally capsizing or damaging them in their efforts to introduce themselves. The 10 metre Minkes gave us a fright when they surfaced just metres from the boat, measuring about the same size as Ashling. While we were excited to see them, we were wary of how up-close-and-personal we got. Our defence tactic is to turn on music to indicate that we are not another whale and to the Skipper’s delight, the First Mate’s Westlife album is in the lead at driving the whales away in the fastest time. He has even identified a specific track that works better than others (First Mate sighs!). 

The light winds disappeared completely as we neared land and we turned on the engine for the final 36 hours of our crossing. After a calm night under a full moon (well, 92% of one), we arrived at the Azorean island of Flores early on Sunday morning. It is the most westerly point in Europe and for sailors, a milestone that marks the crossing of the Atlantic. With its green hills and colourful flowers, it was a sight to behold after three weeks of open ocean. 

Arrival in Lajes, Flores

Monday, June 17, 2013

Marriage 24-7

Position: 37°55'N, 43°27'W

Halfway across the Atlantic Ocean, we celebrated our fourth wedding
anniversary on Thursday with a bottle of Chianti and a bag of Tayto
crisps while sitting on the deck in the sun.

No doubt about it, crossing an ocean on a small boat with your husband
or wife brings a whole new meaning to the 'for better or for worse'
clause. Every time you open your eyes, they are the only person you see.
Every time you open your mouth, they are the only person who hears. They
are your cook, your doctor, your only option for social interaction in a
floating room for weeks on end so it pays to make it work.

We've learned to communicate in different ways, generally minimising the
verbal. Like the Skipper's monotone 'uh-huh' after he wakes at 4am,
which tells a caffeine-filled First Mate that he's not quite up for a
chat. Or the First Mate's raised eyebrows that say "How exactly has this
improved my life?" when the Skipper excitedly tells her how he has
replaced a screw/bulb/belt. With both of us living the same day every
day, there are only so many questions to ask and we no longer even speak
in full sentences anymore e.g. What would you like...? Shall we check
the...? Have you seen that...?

We've learned to take responsibility for different tasks, and work to
our physical strengths and talents. Ever the Equal Opportunities
Advocate on land, the First Mate finally accepted that some tasks (like
reefing a sail in 30 knot winds or going overboard, mid-ocean, to check
the hull) are best left to the Skipper. Instead she has channelled her
energies into – shock, horror – the galley, shoeing away intruders with
a wooden spoon and mutterings of mess-making and 'my kitchen'. She isn't
quite the perfect little housewife yet but the Skipper is starting to
think another ocean or two might just clinch the deal.

With no TV, internet, deadlines or expenses, you would wonder what else
is left to argue about but even the simple life has its moments. We do
have the occasional disagreement and there are times when even a boat
twice the size would still be too small –walking out the door and
slamming it behind you doesn't quite have the same effect when the only
door leads to the head (toilet)! However even in the heat of the moment,
it's difficult to forget the fact that we are in the middle of nowhere
and all we have is each other. Arguments are resolved quickly and soon
forgotten as we move on to the next challenge the boat or the ocean
throws at us.

It has been a year of marriage like no other and who knows, at this rate
we may even still be speaking to each other when we reach our destination!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Lost & Found in the Bermuda Triangle

Position: 35°19'N, 59°31'W

One week down and we're almost halfway there already. The winds have
been strong, but kind; the sun has beamed down every day and even with
two becalmed afternoons, we've made some great progress. On Saturday we
came within 200 miles of Bermuda and considered stopping for a quick
steak and a beer, but decided to keep going and enjoy more time in the
Azores instead.

Every year over 1,000 sailing boats make this west to east passage
across the Atlantic, with most leaving the USA/Caribbean by the
beginning of June - the start of hurricane season. Some stop in Bermuda
to break up the long passage; almost all stop in the Azores before
continuing to the Mediterranean in time for the European summer. Already
it's clear that we are among the latecomers as we have seen a few
container ships and tankers, but no other sailing boats.

Fact or fiction, there is no shortage of stories about strange
happenings and disappearances in the waters near Bermuda. Crew and boat
are still present and accounted for but we must admit we've had a few
disappearances of our own this week.

• 1 boat hook (a long pole with a hook on the end)
• 1 winch handle (for winding winches)
• 1 towed generator (a steel propeller that we tow through the water to
generate electricity)

We had only ourselves to blame for the boat hook and winch handle.
Living in the boatyard for six weeks, we had gotten used to putting
something down and finding it exactly in its place when we returned a
day or a week later. At sea, the boat is always moving (even when
becalmed) so if you want to keep something safe, you need to secure it
each and every time you put it down. Too late, we remembered this just
as we watched the boat hook and winch handle slide down the deck and
tumble into the big, deep blue.

• Saragossa seaweed
• 'Jelly boats'

We were calling them Jelly Boats for lack of a better name but our
onshore sea-life expert Ethna has informed us that these are Velella
(try saying that five times quickly with a few rums in you!), colonial
hydroids that look like a small jelly fish. We first mistook them for
some plastic packaging until we looked closer and saw a translucent,
blue, gas-filled, oval disc, bearing something that looked like a sail.
It uses its 'sail' to position itself to the right or left of the wind,
sailing northeast-southwest or northwest-southeast across the water.
It's like nature's version of a sailboat! Birds inspired the design of
aircraft and deep water fish inspired the design of submarines, so we
wonder if the Velella may have inspired sailing boats?

Not found:
Fish. We have upped our game since the Pacific with a new 'yo-yo' rig,
thanks to our friend Phil in Fort Lauderdale. It certainly looks the
part with bright yellow line and fancy, colourful lures. However it has
been trailing behind us for three days now and no results yet. No doubt
about it, there is definitely something out there but so far it seems to
prefer steel towed generators to pretty lures.