Sunday, December 30, 2012

I survived Christmas at sea

Position: 04°54'N, 97°58'W

Christmas at sea was always going to be emotional. For weeks we had been
thinking of family and friends coming together to celebrate the day in
Ireland and New Zealand, pining for all the food and drink and craic
that we would miss out on. Christmas Day loomed like a big obstacle that
we felt we just had to get through and then we could mentally get back
to our adventure. However to our surprise, Christmas Day on board turned
out to be quite a pleasant experience.

To start with we checked our daily distance progress and found a weekly
peak of 89 miles distance covered towards Panama over the previous 24
hours. After a few days of mediocre progress and reduced speed due to
our new rig and sail settings, it appeared that Santa had indeed
received our letter. And that was only the start of his delivery...

Mid-morning the sun came out and the clouds disappeared to treat us to a
spectacular day. We picked up an east-setting current and found some
healthy 15 knot southerly winds. We cracked open a bottle of New Zealand
Sauvignon Blanc and relaxed in the warm sunshine, munching on snacks and
goodies, and leaving the sailing to Ashling who was in her sweet spot,
sailing at five knots due east.

While there was just the three of us out here for Christmas, we
certainly didn't feel lonely. After phone calls to our families in
Ireland on the satellite phone, we exchanged some unique Christmas
presents that had been purchased in the limited stores of our last port,
including a bar of soap, a Sudoku puzzle book and a Cadbury's Crunchie.
We also opened gifts from friends in New Zealand, finding ready-made rum
and cokes from Kirsten, and some Grow your own Animals (of the plastic
variety) from Derek & Fiona. Needless to say, the rum and cokes
vaporised within minutes but the animals will keep us occupied and
entertained until we reach land. Thank you!

Even at sea Christmas revolves around an oven and later in the
afternoon, the First Mate got busy baking chocolate muffins and
biscuits, followed by the much anticipated tinned Chicken & Mushroom
pie. We ate Christmas dinner watching a glorious sunset behind us, and
turned around to find a full moon rising in a cloudless sky ahead. It
had been an unexpected but much welcomed day off and all things
considered, we couldn't have wished for a better day.

Christmas involves a lot of looking back – recounting the story of the
nativity, digging out old decorations, reminiscing on happy Christmases
gone by, remembering when it was all about Santa. However New Year's is
all about looking forward – thinking of the new year, making fresh
starts, wondering what the next 12 months has in store. After the
emotional rollercoaster that we travelled over the past week as we
missed friends and family more than ever, we're happy to put this
Christmas behind us and look forward to what 2013 has to bring.

Since Tuesday, we have gone from strength to strength with daily
distances covered, reaching a record 127 miles on Friday-Saturday. Every
midday status check has produced beaming smiles as our prayers are
answered and the little boat icon on our chart plotter inches its way
another degree closer to land. In southerly and sometimes south-westerly
winds, Ashling is powering along, eating up the miles under minimal
strain. We have also picked up a super current, which is like stepping
onto a magic carpet current that boosts our speed by 2-2.5 knots an
hour. Now THIS is sailing!

Happy New Year everyone. May 2013 bring you health, happiness, and fair
winds and following seas on your adventures too.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Dear Santa

Position: 05°13'N, 109°25'W

Dear Santa,

Greetings from the Pacific Ocean.

It's been quite a while since we've been in touch but then, this is no
ordinary Christmas and no ordinary wishlist.

We've been a good girl and boy this year, working hard on land and at
sea for our big adventure. There have been many ups and downs but
overall our trip has already delivered the hugely rewarding and life
changing experience we expected. We've just had a tough few days,
dealing with foresail and engine issues but we're back on track now and
getting nearer to Panama every day.

For Christmas this year, we would like your help as we make it to dry
land over the next 2-3 weeks:
• 15-20 knot southerly or westerly winds
• A 1-2 knot east setting current
• A helping hand for the new headsail arrangement that we put in place
this week
• An end to the strange seaweed growing on the hull and in the engine
water intake
• A calm hour on Christmas Day so we can bake our last Frey Bento's
Chicken & Mushroom pie and a Betty Crocker's Instant Chocolate Cake
• A fish on the line

And if there's room for a surprise after all that, make it a good one
please :)

Hope you are all set for your own travels on Monday night. We'll be
keeping an eye out for you on the night watch so feel free to pop in to
join us for milk and cookies, or something stronger.

Bon voyage and Merry Christmas!

Myles, Eithne & Ashling

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Little Ship calling Big Ship

Position: 04°49'N, 118°28'W

Distance to Panama: 2,363 nautical miles
Distance to Port of Refuge A (Hawaii): 2,340 nautical miles
Distance to Port of Refuge B (Galapagos Islands): 1,654 nautical miles

While midnight marks the end of a day on land, midday marks a day change
for us at sea as we switch from one 24 hour period to the next. Using
our latitude and longitude at 1200, we calculate how many miles we've
travelled in the past 24 hours and how many miles remain to our
destination. A good result of 100 miles or more raises crew morale for
the day and the boat is a happy place.

This past week we travelled more than 100 miles every day (great!) but
many of these were to the south (not so great!). Panama is to the east,
not the south, so we were effectively sailing away from our destination.
It was hard for the crew to bear but there was no denying the logic of
promised stronger winds in the south versus the danger of storms and
squalls in the ITCZ above 6°N. We did make some easting every day – an
average of 57 miles towards Panama – but it was never enough. One day we
made just 10 miles, not a happy day. Hopefully the winds and current
align better this week so we can start ticking off these degrees of
longitude again.

We continue to be blessed with relatively good weather conditions with
only a few cloudy nights so far and just the occasional squall.
Cloudless nights are enjoyable for more reasons than one. No clouds mean
no squalls, no rain and consistent weather conditions. It also means
that we are surrounded by millions of stars, some so bright that they
are reflected in the water. Some, probably planets, seem to twinkle red
or orange and, if they appear on the horizon in the dark of the night,
we often confuse them for approaching ships. As night fell on Friday, we
almost dismissed a light on the horizon as one of these deceptive stars
when we realised it was in fact another vessel.

Ever the eager communicator (i.e. dying for a chat) the First Mate got
on the radio: "Big Ship, Big Ship, this is Little Ship, Little Ship to
your north. Over." The Bulgarian skipper of a car carrier ship en route
from South America to South Korea replied, kicking off a nice little
chat for the next half hour. The difference in vessels couldn't have
been greater. There was 25 crew on board, all of different nationalities
(Philippines, Ukrainian, Bulgarian) and they were 5 days into a 25 day
passage back to Korea after delivering a shipment of Hyundais to South
America. They had a chef, they had internet access, they had 24 other
people to distract and entertain them – for Christmas "We will have big
party" the Skipper reported in his deep eastern European accent. A
party! Just imagine!

However when the conversation turned to what we did to pass the time
every day, the daily routine of being on a boat at sea was strangely
familiar – books, DVDs, chores, sleep, crossword puzzles, card games.
Even with all the mod cons on a commercial vessel, the challenge of
finding something to do to while away the long hours remains the same.
We chatted back and forth about each other's boat, our experience in
French Polynesia, his recommendation to visit Bulgaria. It was an
interesting exchange and after three weeks at sea now, a pleasant change
from our standard evening routine. It was also a great comfort to us to
see a ship on the horizon and know that there is someone else out here
with us.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Taking the rough with the smooth

Position: 05°41'N, 124°52'W

The big push eastwards is going well and we've travelled over 500 miles
to the east over the past week – hurrah! At this part of the world, one
degree of longitude is equal to 60 miles so every degree gained east
gives us a great sense of achievement.

This week had its ups and downs. The ups included news from two close
friends in Ireland of a marriage proposal and a baby on the way; we
recorded our best day of progress on Sunday with 130 miles travelled in
24 hours; and we (read Skipper) finally found the source of a deck leak
that has plagued us since leaving New Zealand.

However in the middle of all of this, we had two becalmed days when we
were either on the engine or heading back to where we had come from. We
can catch water from the sky and we can generate electricity from wind
or water. However fuel is the one thing we can't replenish out here and
every hour on the engine in this first half of our passage adds another
line to the Skipper's handsome face. And heading back the way we have
come is mentally frustrating as it feels like all our hard work to move
forward has been for nothing. However this is all part of the sailing
package and if it was that easy, it wouldn't be an adventure. We're now
back in strong 20 knot south-easterly winds, the engine is off and the
forecast is looking good. Just gotta take the rough with the smooth.

Food has become an obsession for both of us as we come to the end of our
fresh fruit and vegetable supplies. The Skipper is dreaming about juicy
steaks and has decided to bring his own knife and fork from the boat to
the first restaurant we find in Panama, to reduce any possible delays in
getting red meat to his stomach. The other day, while looking for a
biscuit recipe in a cookbook, the First Mate came across pictures of
succulent roast dinner dishes – and nearly cried. It's hard but it's not
exactly the hardship as experienced by the sailors of old. Modern
canning and drying technology have enabled us to stock a diverse and
reasonably healthy amount of food on board - salami, tinned chicken and
a variety of canned vegetables (mushrooms, spinach, peas, corn, carrots,
beans, potatoes) give us a lot to work with.

For breakfast we have porridge with canned fruit. For lunch we have
cheese sandwiches, tinned soup, instant noodles, baked beans or boiled
eggs. For dinner, we have a list of 12 meals to choose from including
pasta carbonara, vegetarian chilli con carne with rice, vegetable curry
with noodles, kidney bean curry with rice, creamy chicken bake, tomato
tuna bake, hot potato salad with fried chorizo, couscous with
ratatouille and feta. This really makes life on board a lot more
enjoyable and we take our hats off to people like Joshua Slocum, the
first solo sailor to circumnavigate the world in 1895 on a diet of
coffee, dried biscuits and potatoes. Or Eric and Sue Hiscock who cruised
around the world in the 1960s without refrigeration.

Saying that, Joshua Slocum and the Hiscocks did manage to feed
themselves from the sea. Despite Skipper's continued best efforts, we
still haven't caught a fish. We did catch a sea gull though. After
circling the boat for a few days, he swooped just a bit too close to our
wind generator and plop, dropped like a stone into the sea. Somehow the
tables have turned so it is we who are feeding the sea, instead of the
other way around.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Settling into the Northern Hemisphere

Position: 04°55'N, 133°30'W

Ten days in and so far, it's been a world apart from our New
Zealand-Tahiti ocean passage. The wind has been steady at a comfortable
15-20 knots, the sun has shone every day and the moon has risen every
night. Ashling is sailing well, and the sea and sky conditions are
putting minimal stress on her rig so we are sleeping easy. Crossing the
equator on Wednesday gave crew morale a boost as we ticked off another
milestone on our adventure. The Northern Hemisphere never looked so good.

Now it's on to the hard part of this leg. Over the past ten days, we
sailed mainly north. Now we need to head east. Above us is the
Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), a belt of squalls and unsettled
weather that sits above the equator. Below us is the south equatorial
current, a current that runs from east to west and would send us back to
French Polynesia. So for the next two weeks, we'll be sandwiched between
both of these, doing everything we can to make our way east.

We are seeing a lot more activity in the ocean on this passage. As we
cracked open our beers for the week at sunset on Saturday, a large pod
of playful dolphins appeared around the boat. We have long given up
trying to capture sea life on camera so we raised our glasses and
toasted the playful creatures, jumping and diving beneath the boat from
port to starboard and back again. At night we often see big, round blobs
of pulsating light in the water around us and think these are some kind
of jellyfish, using light to either search for food or as a defence

Flying fish are a common sight, with many small ones landing up on board
and some adult ones even finding their way into the cockpit some nights.
They never fail to surprise us – our stomachs' sink at any new sounds as
our first thought is that something on the boat has come loose or
broken. However they soon give themselves away with their pungent fish
smell. Then it's just a matter of finding where they have landed and
chucking them back overboard. In any case, all of this evidence of life
in the waters around us has completely disproved the Skipper's
conclusion, after several unproductive fishing attempts, that there are
no fish left in the sea. So the line has been cast out again today and
fingers crossed, we'll have fish for dinner tonight.

On ocean passages such as these, we sail continuously through day and
night. The waters are too deep to anchor in and one of us must be alert
at all times in case of changing weather or sea conditions. So we have a
four-hours-on-four-hours-off routine:
• 0800 – 1200: First Mate on watch, Skipper sleeps. Breakfast.
• 1200 – 1600: Skipper on watch. Lunch.
• 1600 – 2000: First Mate on watch. Dinner.
• 2000 – 0000: Skipper on watch, First Mate sleeps.
• 0000 – 0400: First Mate on watch, Skipper sleeps.
• 0400 – 0800: Skipper on watch, First Mate sleeps.

'On watch' means keeping an eye on what the boat is doing and trimming
sails (loosening or tightening the sail) or making course changes
accordingly. It also means scanning the horizon for any sea traffic or
changes in weather that we should prepare for. So for the next month,
while you are getting up, at work, having lunch, watching TV or going to
sleep in your ever horizontal and stationary bed, one of us is here,
sitting at an angle of between 45° and 80°, watching out for anything
out of the ordinary.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Crossing the invisible line

Position: 00°22'N, 137°29'W

At 0600 on Wednesday 28 November Ashling and her two crew crossed the
equator in the middle of nowhere. The sterile GPS system didn't blink.
One second it was 00°00.01'S, the next 00°00.01'N and counting.

However the crew made up for this with the required Equator-crossing
ceremony, swigging shots of gin, eating sour fruit and throwing
perfectly good, treasured chocolate overboard while calling out
greetings to appease the Gods of the Sea. All wrapped up in pirate hats
and a rather stylish mankini - you boys at Broadcast Map have a lot to
answer for! Photos may be provided to the highest bidder :)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Off on another seafaring adventure

Position: 04°44'S, 138°49'W

Saturday nights haven't quite been the same since we left New Zealand.
At sea, it's the one night of the week when we have a beer and sometimes
watch a movie. On land, it's usually just the two of us out for dinner
or having a few drinks. Wherever we are, it's generally a quiet affair
so we were delighted to hear that all the villages from Nuku Hiva were
coming together to host a Marquesan cultural festival the Saturday night
after we arrived.

The event reminded us a lot of the evening Maori performances that are
hosted for tourists in New Zealand – heavily tattooed men dressed in
grass costumes start with a haka; a group of young women wearing a
flower behind their ear and patterned dresses shook their hips at the
speed of light; kids from a local school performed a Macarena-type
dance, nervously watching each other to make sure they got it right. The
main drawcard of the event was a young Marquesan singer who recently won
something akin to 'Marquesas got Talent'. He appeared at the end but
instead of swooning teenage girls fighting to get his autograph, the
audience just clapped as politely as they had for the earlier acts.
Either he's not such a big deal after all or Nuku Hiva suffers from the
same Tall Poppy syndrome ("Easy now, don't want him to think he's any
good") we have in New Zealand.

We hired a 4x4 Suzuki jeep for a day to see some of the island and give our legs a rest. We thought the choice of car was overkill but it wasn't long before the nicely paved French roads gave way to country tracks, some of which you would hesitate to tackle even with a tractor at home. Every now and then we would come across a house in the middle of the wilderness and wonder at how people can live in such isolation. It's one thing for the locals to rely on a weekly freighter to stock the island with food and drinking water; quite another for these people be entirely self-sufficient as their nearest neighbour, let alone village, is miles and hours away by dirt track.

Nuku Hiva is different to the other Marquesan islands in that it has
four distinct regions. At sea level, it's hot and humid with sandflies
and mosquitos, which the Skipper can well attest to unfortunately.
However in the high hills of the north-west, there are spruce pine
forests and cool breezes that reminded us of springtime in the
Coromandel, NZ. The east of the island has the most beautiful bays and
beaches but we kept our distance from the waves after a recent encounter with local sealife in Taiohae Bay.

On our first evening in Nuku Hiva, we arrived back at the quay as the
crew of a local fishing boat were chopping up the few tuna they had
caught that day. A fish head went flying into the water and the water
erupted with the rapid flashing of fins and tails. Four sharks were
swimming back and forth by the wall of the quay, waiting for leftovers.
There was no mistaking it this time – these were no harmless, reef
sharks, and they were hungry. Keen to get back to Ashling before dark,
we inched our way down the quay ladder to the dinghy with fear and
trepidation, just centimetres from the sharks. The locals watched in
amusement, nudging each other and smirking at our fear of the local
predators. Then, as if there wasn't enough meat on show already, an
evening breeze came along to whip up Sweeney's skirt as she was on her
way down the ladder. It was a choice between life and modesty – life won
and the locals got a good eyeful of Primark's finest.

First Mate with Rose Corser
As a final treat before setting sail, we spent two nights at Rose
Corser's B&B in Taiohae Bay. Originally from Oklahoma, Rose and her husband Frank arrived in Nuku Hiva on a yacht 32 years ago. They fell in love with the island and ended up staying for life, setting up the island's first international hotel and a museum exhibiting Marquesan arts. After Frank died in 1992, Rose sold the hotel to a local resort chain and now runs a small guesthouse of her own which is much more personable. She is a part of the Nuku Hiva sailing folklore and known to most sailors who visit the island so we were delighted to meet her. She also gave us good advice on where to get drinkable water, gas refills and general provisions.

We're now four days into our second ocean passage across the Pacific and
so far, so good. The average wind speed is 18 knots, the sea is slight
and the sky is clear. The full moon is back again to light our way
through the night and we have the astronomy book out, looking eagerly
for upside-down dogs, bulls and archers.

Some messages for friends and family this week:

Happy 96th Birthday Grandma Dennis!

Best of luck to Duff, Rob, Dermot, Steph & Bryony on the Taupo 160km cycle!

What lies ahead...the Pacific Ocean from Nuku Hiva

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Coconuts and cannibalism in the Marquesas Islands

Position: 08°55’S, 140°06’W – Nuku Hiva

Ua Pou turned out to be a real Polynesian paradise. After our encounter with the local children, we popped into Chez Pukuee, a guesthouse in Hakahau, to make a reservation for dinner. When we asked for a menu, the lady of the house called defiantly from the kitchen “It is I who creates the menu. How about langouste?” The Skipper has long since given up learning French but funnily enough he didn’t need a translation for this and almost hugged her as he quickly replied “Oui, oui, merci, merci”. So we dined on lobster with potato gratin, followed by crepes with Grand Marnier and whipped cream. Heaven!
Our hike ended with a swim under a waterfall
Over dinner we discovered that Jerome, the man of the house, was a tour guide for Ua Pou. He invited us to join him on a hike the following morning with some other tourists and we jumped at the chance to see some of the island’s interior and stretch our legs. Starting at 6am, we hiked for six hours to reach the base of one of the famous peaks of Ua Pou. Along the way Jerome pointed out many trees, leaves and berries which are used to make medicine or cosmetics, or simply to serve as good platters for food. Together with the abundance of fruit, vegetables and fish, the islanders really do have all they need here. And a communal style of living, where everyone contributes to feeding their extended family, makes sure that nobody goes hungry.
Our hike started and ended at the home of a friend of Jerome’s, a fellow Frenchman called Piroue. He is a retired French naval officer and has been on the island for many years but comes originally from L’Orient in Brittany. When he heard that the First Mate had spent time in Brittany on language exchanges as a student, he rejoiced in your typical French style, throwing his arms out to his sides as if to welcome home a long lost friend. When he heard of our route, he threw his head and hands to the sky as if to say ‘Where do i start?’ and told us of his naval experiences in the region, stopping at the deserted and dangerous Clipperton Island three times to replace the French flag there. By the time we had returned from our hike, he had big bags of bananas, avocados and grapefruit for us from his garden, and refused to take any money. The next day, one of the other hikers came by the boat with yet another bag of fruit from her garden - passionfruit, coconuts, limes, bananas - again refusing to take anything in return. There’s so much, we don’t know how we’re going to get through it all. This must be how the Marquesans feel.

Rather you than me for dinner, mate 
Leaving Ua Pou behind us, we sailed overnight to the island of Ua Huka which is known for its 10:1 ratio of horses and goats to people. A small museum in the village of Vaipaee was quite interesting and gave us a good insight into life on Ua Huka and the Marquesas Islands of old. Cannibalism was practiced here until the early 1900s, originating from the simple fact that humans were the only available meat to eat - the only indigenous foods in the Marquesas are coconuts, taro and breadfruit. It was only when the Christian missionaries arrived in the mid-1800s that an alternative source of meat was provided through pigs and goats. Eventually the missionaries persuaded the locals that a roast pork was better than chowing down on their neighbour. Lucky for us eh?!
Another interesting aspect of ancient Marquesan culture was the mating ritual. A man could not marry until he had at least one tattoo. Women could not marry until they had been to a special school to learn the art of lovemaking and housekeeping. When a man found himself a woman to marry, he simply said ‘You are mine’ and that was it, no wedding or ceremony required. It was so simple that the men would end up with several wives so it was no wonder then that the diseases introduced with the arrival of the Europeans in the late 1500s spread so quickly to cause the rapid decline of the 100,000 population in the 1900s to just 9,000 today.
On Friday we arrived in Nuku Hiva, the third and final island we will visit in the Marquesas. This is also the last landfall we will make in French Polynesia before embarking on our next ocean passage across the Pacific to Panama. As the administrative centre for the Marquesas Islands, there are more government buildings and officials than on the other islands. There are also lots of other ‘yachts in transit’ in Taiohae Bay where we are anchored. When we checked in with the local police, we glanced through the book entries for other visiting boats. Many have arrived from Panama, taking the traditional ‘milk run’ after having started their trip in Europe or the US. However there a few yachts heading in the same direction as us. The locals call this ‘a l’envers’ (the reverse) as there are much less boats who buck the trend and sail east from Australia or New Zealand, crossing the Americas via the Panama Canal or Cape Horn.
We will stay here for a few days, preparing and provisioning for the 4-5 week trip ahead. There is a hotel in the harbour and a few B&Bs so we may even splash out with the last of our Pacific Francs and treat ourselves to a night or two of luxury on land. It has been a fantastic seven weeks in French Polynesia and we will be sad to leave this part of the world. But as Piroue said to us as we waved goodbye to him in Ua Pou – ‘Seules les montagnes ne se rencontrent jamais’ (Only the mountains never meet).  
The Aranui 3 cruise ship dwarfs Ashling
as it arrives with tourists to visit Ua Pou

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Posting comments - now fixed!

The local IT Helpdesk has changed some settings on the blog so that everyone should be able to post a comment now. Fingers crossed it works!

The Long Way Round

Position: 9°22’S, 140°03’W – Ua Pou

Our route from Manihi to the Marquesas Islands covered 500 nautical miles. The trip should have taken us five days going east. However in this part of the world, the easterly wind is king and the first rule of sailing is that you can’t sail into the wind. So it took us 10 days to reach land, alternating tacks between north-east and south-east to travel 900 miles - in essence, we’ve sailed twice the distance to get here! We grumbled a bit when we found ourselves separated from fresh meat and beer for yet another few days but there was nothing for it, we just had to take what we could get, sometimes making just 75 miles of easting a day.

First glimpse of Ua Pou
Finally we arrived into Hakahau Harbour on the island of Ua Pou (pronounced wa-poo) at 0800 on Friday, accompanied on the final mile by a school of playful dolphins. Our initial impression of the island was that we were arriving into either Ireland or New Zealand – dramatic peaks towered over the island and lush, green hills sat between windswept cliffs. Some parts looked like the Cliffs of Moher, other were like a snapshot of Great Barrier Island.

However there was no mistaking where we were when we disembarked to find the France-meets-Pacific way of life that has now become familiar. People are friendly; the town is kept well with colourful flowers and clean streets, and includes your standard establishments of the town hall, post office, church, graveyard and schools. We have observed one distinctive difference though which makes Ua Pou different to any other island we’ve visited in French Polynesia to date - everyone seems to have a new Toyota Hilux! Either this is a testing ground for Toyota or someone has found a way to make lots of money from something here. 

Our local tour guides
On Saturday we set off to explore the village of Hakahau and befriended a group of young girls who were spending their weekend climbing trees to pick fruit and using stones to crack open nuts that they found under trees. We asked them for directions to a white cross on a hill above the harbour and with nothing better to do for the afternoon, they took it upon themselves to give us a personal guided tour to the top. 

Along the way, their many questions gave us an interesting insight into the life of your average 10 year old Marquesan girl – “Are you married? Do you have children? Why don’t you have children? Do you know how to make children?  Tell us how.” While the First Mate swallowed a smile and wondered how to answer this last one, the ringleader of the group tried to be of assistance - “It’s ok, you can tell us in English if you don’t know the words in French”.

One of the girls was particularly keen to try out our digital camera and take photos of us along the way. We showed her the basics and she snapped away all afternoon, before reluctantly returning it to us at the end of our walk. We flicked through the photos over dinner and found that she was quite the photographer, helped no doubt by her three willing models.


Manihi in the Tuamotus Islands

Monday, November 5, 2012

Paradise Found in the Dangerous Archipelago

Position: 10°28'S, 142°51'W

Manihi is just like those exotic desert islands you see in the postcards, with palm trees bending over white coral beaches and clear water gradually turning to light blue and turquoise.

We took the dinghy to shore and wandered between the trees and colourful shrubs that somehow manage to survive in the volcanic and coral soil. Small huts were hidden among palm trees; some inhabited, some long deserted. Here and there we stepped over fishing buoys and nets, remnants of the once thriving black pearl industry on the atoll. On the ocean side of the land, an orange plateau extended from the white coral beach for 100 metres before dropping off suddenly into the Pacific Ocean. The scenery would take your breath away in any part of the world and seemed even more impressive when we thought about where we were – on a tiny island in the middle of nowhere within a huge ocean! Photos to follow next week when we reach land.

The small population of Manihi is based mainly in the tiny village of Pauea which consists of two shops, a bakery, a town hall, primary school and a Catholic Church (and yes, we went to mass). We took a walk around one afternoon and admired the efforts that the local people have made to keep the village neat, clean and organised e.g. recycling collection points, colourful flowers and shrubs, whitewashed walls of well-kept houses. While the island is by no means affluent, we got the impression that people in Manihi have enough to get by and take pride in working together to make their island a better place to live.

Another day we sheltered from a sudden downpour in the bakery and chatted to a local lady about the island. She explained that the last thirty years have been very good on Manihi due to the black pearl industry (French Polynesia's pearl farming industry began here in the late 1960s) and the opening of a hotel resort on the island. At one time there was a daily flight from Tahiti to Manihi. However today the island's pearl farms have closed and the island's hotel closed in October. There is now just one flight to Tahiti every three days and many of the locals are moving to other islands to find work. It was sad to hear this but she seemed quite stoic, saying "Don't worry, something else will come along, it always does." Desert island living sure does toughen you up.

Many reports from other sailors mentioned the high risk of fouling our anchor (getting it stuck) on the coral seabed at Manihi lagoon so the Skipper dug out his snorkelling gear to check out our situation. We had already spotted lots of colourful tropical fish near to shore, darting away as we came close. However our encounters with sealife got a lot more interesting when a shark popped up from beneath the boat just as the Skipper was getting into the water. Lightning speed would probably come close to describing how quickly he jumped back into the cockpit, before realising that it was just a baby, a reef shark about 50cm long. Harmless really, but don't babies have Mummies and Daddies??? 'Reefy' hung around for a while but didn't seem to have brought his mates so Skipper got his game face on (now calling himself the Shark Hunter!) and braved a dive down to find that our anchor was fine, stuck on a coral head alright but removable.

We're back at sea now, slowly making our way to the Marquesas in easterly winds. It's taking longer than it should but the swell is slight, the sun is shining and we're enjoying some pleasant sailing.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Trying times in the Tuamotus

Position: 14°27'S, 146°02'W - Manihi

After a few farewell drinks and pizza with Brian and Sue, we departed Papeete on Wednesday for the next leg of our journey. The route was straightforward – leave Papeete, take a right and head northeast. Three independent weather sources forecast the wind to be an east-southeast 10-15 knots, perfect sailing conditions for Ashling and a nice way for us to ease ourselves back into it.

Quelle surprise! We rounded the corner from Papeete Harbour and ran straight into our old familiar friend, the 20 knot wind, gusting to 25 knots. Talk about déjà-vu. We initially thought it was convergence effect ("accelerated winds created when the local wind over the island's hills and valleys collides with the dominant wind blowing at open sea" - Skipper) but after two hours, it was still going strong with waves splashing into the cockpit every few minutes. For the hundredth time, we regretted not installing a spray dodger (aka windshield) to shelter the cockpit before leaving Auckland. We also had a few choice words about the weather forecasts for French Polynesia.

We had planned to stop along the way at Rangiroa Island, the second largest atoll and lagoon in the world, but our three attempts over 12 hours were scuppered by strong winds and currents pushing us in the opposite direction to the lagoon entrance. In fairness, we had been calling the island Rangiora (a town in New Zealand) since we heard about it so perhaps our mispronunciation upset the powers that be. So we sucked it up and settled down for another few days at sea in what turned out to be nice, sunny days and clear, moonlit nights.

Sailing under a full moon is a magical experience. It's dark but it's light; it's scary but it's peaceful; you're alone but the moon is with you, watching over you and guiding you along the way. With the wind and waves aligned, the boat ploughs rhythmically through the water, leaving trails of phosphorescence trailing behind. A cloud formation appears every now and then, looking like balls of cotton wool strung together or candy floss strewn across the sky. The breeze is warm and you spot familiar stars like Orion, reminding you that while you may be far from home, the night sky is still the same. Put all that together with Nessun Dorma or the Ministry of Sound pumping on the iPod and it really feels like nature is putting on a show.

Our second attempt to break up the voyage to the Marquesas was more successful. On Sunday, we diverted slightly off our course to Manihi, another island in the Tuamotu group. The Tuamotu islands are different to Tahiti and Moorea as they are coral atolls – circles of land created by underwater volcanos (submerge a large bowl in a sink of water so that just the rim is above the water and you'll get the picture). Historically these islands were known as the 'Dangerous Archipelago' due to the many shipwrecks in the area. The islands are so low that they do not appear until you are almost on top of them. It's quite unnerving - you can see it on the chart, you know it's there, but there's no sign of it. Then suddenly a few palm trees appear on the horizon and voila! It's an island! Thanks to GPS, Jimmy Cornell, Charlie's Charts and anecdotes from many brave sailors over the years, sailing in the area is now more enjoyable, much safer and easier on the blood pressure.

We braved it through the entry pass just after high tide on Sunday evening with the help of a friendly local fisherman, anchored up, sat back and watched a fabulous sunset over a beer. Tomorrow we explore!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

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Onwards and upwards

Position: 17°S, 149°W – Papeete, Tahiti

Eithne in pool mode

One day off boat duty proved to be addictive – we went on holiday last weekend, splashing out to spend two nights in luxury at the Moorea Pearl Resort and Spa (thanks for the tip Amit Luis, it was even better than we imagined!). Every other couple at the resort was on honeymoon so when the staff congratulated us on our recent nuptials with a complimentary bottle of wine, we decided it was better not to confuse them. For two days we sat by the pool, snorkelled on the nearby reef and kayaked around Cook’s Bay, just like your typical honeymooners. We enjoyed every minute of our ‘weekend away’ and are already looking forward to our next stay on land, wherever it may be. 
The calm before the, er, storm
One of the highlights of our hotel stay was the buffet breakfast. We gorged ourselves both days, starting with the cereal and OJ, progressing to the salami, ham and cheese, before finishing with the full range of the cooked section and a few pain au chocolats to round it all off. A few hours after checking out on Monday and 30km down the road on a tandem bike, the shine started to wear off the buffet breakfast as the Skipper started to recognise the familiar signs of food poisoning. Even the bike seemed to figure out what was coming and wasn’t keen on sticking around to watch the main feature. It promptly lost a bearing and broke down so that we could get a lift home and back to the boat just in time for breakfast to come straight back up. Things seemed like they were about to get a lot worse when the head (toilet) packed it in too but thankfully the Skipper recovered before it got really messy.

With both the head and Skipper back to 100% working capacity, we left Moorea on Thursday and returned to Marina Taina to refill fuel, water, gas and do a laundry run. We’re in the anchorage this time which means that we are treated to unobstructed views of  sunsets over Moorea every evening.  Today we spent a very pleasant Sunday afternoon with our yachtie mates Brian and Sue who are moored nearby, swapping stories and getting advice on different sailing destinations over cups of tea. They are flying to New Zealand for two months in mid-November so we had plenty of travelling tips to give in return.  

Cook's Bay - a nice place to call home for a week

From here we are heading north-east to the Marquesas Islands. This is a change to our original route but from what we’ve heard from other sailors here, they are well worth a visit to experience a more authentic French Polynesia than Tahiti and Moorea. Due to prevailing winds and the approaching cyclone season, Bora Bora and the other leeward islands will have to wait until next time (‘There’s going to be a next time?’ shrieks the First Mate).  
And finally, in advance of a few events taking place this week...
Happy 60th Birthday JJ Sweeney!
Welcome home Kate & Paul!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

From Le Capitaine

Position: 17°28’ 51.2S, 149°48’ 12.7W – Moorea, by the pool

I've just been beaten badly at cards by the First Mate, and my punishment is to do a blog post.
That was 2 hours ago, and so far I've only written one sentence but spent 1.5 hrs googling marine maintenance. Very interesting but the First Mate is on my case again, so best persevere...

30 mins later, i've got this far...

Leaving Auckland. Do it. Do it now.
We left in Spring (September) but as it turned out, spent most of the time running with following seas trying to go as slow and controlled as we could while maintaining enough speed to surf with the swell instead of being pushed about like a hockey puck.
The first week was tough. Average wind speed was 25 with regular gusts of 30+ and the sea built up accordingly.  Each hour we'd monitor the average and gust speed by staring at the instruments hoping to see a 1 or 2 as the first digit but be disappointed by seeing a '3' and occasionally a '4'.

There is a Sweeney in there somewhere.
Flying the Mayo colours for Sam. Shame.
First customer at Salon de Miley
The day the sun came out
6 knots with just a hanky up.
First night in Papeete harbour
Tucked up in Marina Taina

A summary of the trip from Auckland. Based on route planning information and reports from others, we had two choices for sailing to Papeete. Leave Auckland in Autumn / spring and have an 'uphill slog to windward'  Or, leave in Spring and have a slow passage with light winds.

Out of 23 days at sea, one day was becalmed and of the remaining, we only had full sail up for 1.5 of them. The conservative approach paid off and we thankfully didn't have any damage to the sails, steering or hull. We arrived two days ahead of schedule into Papeete after three final days of magic sailing due north slowing down to arrive at day break.

Arriving in Papeete, Tahiti took a bit of planning. The island is surrounded by a reef, and so we had to negotiate our first reef pass. These are safest just after low tide when the lagoon inside stops rushing out to the open sea. The harbour is confined and so the harbour master keeps tight control on traffic in and out of the pass. Then, once through the pass, there was a lot of confusion about where we go to do the relevant jobs of 1. park the boat, and 2. clear into the country. This is normally a one stop shop, but the Tahiti officials have somehow split it across four different offices & officials.

I'm beyond useless at French, but luckily for me, it turns out the First Mate  is quite handy at it. Ever since we lined up for the approach to Papeete, I've taken a back seat and done as directed by Madame Eithne. While it's been a welcome break from the skippering responsibilities, I've been a little frustrated playing the role of a hapless mute while Eithne babbles on with all the locals. I've progressed from " j'ai un petit peu francais" to "francais pas tres bien" and finally to " mon francais- c'est terrible" to which the gentlemen at customs replied "oui". Every time I try to speak French I get a noun or two out then all the rest is in Chinese. Eithne has been awesome at getting all the formalities and repairs organised as well as taking control of all the radio work. Meanwhile I've really improved my mandarin.

After a hectic first week ashore, we're finally on holiday at a beautiful tropical island. We've slowed right down, rested and gotten lazy. It's nice.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Life at anchor

Position: 17°30’S, 149°50’W – Moorea

One week on land and already our journey across the South Pacific feels like a lifetime ago.

We have continued to settle back into life on land, rediscovering the great French institution - Carrefour! Almost ten years to the day when we ventured into a Carrefour in Suzhou, China, we set off with a backpack, a shopping list and the same feeling of doubt over how much of it we would find.

There were no live turtles, snakes or fish, and we didn’t attract a following of locals looking into our trolley to see what we were buying. However there were plenty of things that we never found in New Zealand (tinned spinach, tinned ratatouille, tinned ravioli) as well as familiar things that are crucial to many of our boat recipes - bless Fonterra and their Anchor UHT cooking cream. Faced with so much choice, it dawned on us that it’s really the most basic of staples that we appreciate. We still have a lot of non-perishable supplies on board but fresh milk with cereal, fresh ham & cheese & lettuce in a fresh baguette, and a cold beer in the evening make us feel truly spoiled while near land. 

Welders at work
We spent most of our first week in Tahiti working on the boat as we wanted to take advantage of boat yards and boat stores in Papeete before heading to the more remote islands. Some joints in the bimini frame (steel structure above and around the cockpit) had cracked during our trip from New Zealand and we arranged to have them welded closed. While we were waiting around to do this, the Skipper produced a list of boat jobs that resembled that bottomless bag of tricks that Mary Poppins used to carry around with her – no sooner is one completed than another two appear.

Welding done and a ceasefire declared on the list of jobs, we set off from Tahiti and arrived in Cook’s Bay, Moorea just before nightfall on Wednesday. By pure coincidence, a Polynesian drum performance started up at the nearby Club Bali Hai hotel as we anchored, followed by a heavy downpour. When you are rationed to 500ml of water per day for a shower, rain really is mana from heaven so we grabbed the soap and shampoo and freshened up al fresco before dinner.  

Thursday was our first official ‘day off’ since reaching land and time to stretch our legs. Many tourists rent a scooter or a car to reach the Belvedere lookout over Cook’s Bay and Oponuhu Bay. Not our First Mate. She had her runners on and we were off for a two hour hike before the Skipper knew what was going on. Along the way we stopped at some archaeological sites, including a marae dating back to 900AD. 4,000km from Auckland, it was quite comforting to see the familiar Polynesian structures and customs that we take as a given in New Zealand.

Belvedere Lookout -
Ashling anchored in Cook's Bay in background
As we arrived back at the boat, we met our first fellow yachties when an English couple stopped by in their dinghy to introduce themselves after noticing our Irish flag. Brian and Sue have been sailing around the world since 2005 and we’re heading over for a beer this evening to hear about their adventures and experiences to date. Very excited to meet some other sailors and make new friends - it's been a while! 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Nous sommes arrivés!

Position: 17°S, 149°W - Tahiti
We have arrived! We are white, tired and weigh a good kilo or two less than when we left New Zealand but the next 4-6 weeks on land should help to fix that J
After 23 days at sea, we docked at Quai des Yachts in central Papeete city on Wednesday morning. We were apprehensive entering the harbour as we had read many conflicting versions from other Skippers about where to dock and who to contact, never mind having to communicate on the VHF radio en français. We got there though and Le Capitaine, as the Skipper is called here, set off to complete all the entry formalities with the Harbour Master, Police and Customs. It’s been a long time since he parle français so it’s a small miracle that they let us into the country at all.
Dry land is A-MAZ-ING! After our experience over the past three weeks, we deliberately had no expectations of Papeete and arriving on land. We didn’t want to set ourselves up to be disappointed and furthermore, all the tourist guides describe Papeete as underwhelming and ‘just another city’ where tourists should spend as little time as possible. That may be so for people who arrive here by plane but for us, it was like arriving in paradise. We swung off the bow at Quai des Yachts and felt like we had walked into a dream. Land life, i guess, hit us all at once in an assault of our senses – colours of flowers, cars, shops; smells of land, food, people;  sounds of traffic, birds, laughter. Remember that 1980s movie Twins with Danny de Vito and Arnold Schwarznegger? We were like Arnold’s character, arriving into civilisation for the first time and finding pleasure in the smallest of things like a smile from a stranger or biting into a crusty baguette. We turned on taps and stared at the water, no longer worrying about how many litres came out or how many volts the pump was using to pump the water through. So many things we took for granted before setting sail.
Catching up on emails and Facebook, we’ve been absolutely overwhelmed with the many messages from friends and family all over the world. When we are out on our own in the ocean, it’s easy to forget just how many people are thinking of us and rooting for us to succeed. It’s hard to put into words how comforting this is – when reading all the comments for the first time, the First Mate choked up with tears of happiness and for those who have heard about Madame Ice Queen on our wedding day, that’s some achievement!  Please know that we really really appreciate it, and feel very lucky to have so many people who care and support us on our adventure.
Yesterday we moved from the busy Papeete Port to Marina Taina, 5km west of the city, where we have access to showers, launderette,  water, electricity and internet. Even our arrival at the marina was like a dream come true – after radioing in to announce our arrival, a guy appeared in a dinghy to guide us around to our berth. At the berth, another two guys were waiting to take ropes to secure the boat as we came up alongside a wall. This may not sound like much to the non-sailors reading this but berthing is one of the most stressful activities for any Skipper due to the high risk of collision with posts and boats in a confined space, so even one extra pair of hands is a valued asset.  
We’ve just had a cocktail at one of the bars in the marina while watching the sun set over the island of Moorea. For dinner tonight, le Capitaine is cooking up steak and spuds. Crew morale: 10/10

Life's always better when someone else does the cooking.
At Les Roulottes, Papeete.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Land Ahoy!

Position: 22°S, 150°W

We have sighted land! At 0400 on October 1st, the Skipper was struggling to fix one of the anchors that had loosened in its fitting overnight and the First Mate was clearing up the cockpit before finishing her watch. As the sun came up, one of the peaks of the island of Rurutu appeared on the horizon. It's a small island on the outer fringes of French Polynesia with only 2,000 inhabitants. For us, it has been our first sight of the rest of the world after 20 days and a huge psychological boost to the crew. 'Just' another 300 miles (3 days) to Papeete now...

Our third week at sea continued in the same vein as the first two, with strong weather reducing the fun and comfort factor to zero at times. As we have moved northeast, the wind has been coming predominantly from the east which has meant we have been sailing 'on the wind'. This means that both the wind and sea is coming towards us (rather than pushing us from behind) so we have been basically pushing against both to make our way forward.

This has pushed both the boat and crew to their limits. Ashling has done extremely well so far, her strong hull taking the strongest of waves and wind with no complaint. However a few deck fittings have started to suffer and the steel structure around the cockpit is showing signs of stress, so we'll be ringing around a few chandleries and boat workshops when we get to Tahiti to give her some TLC. As for the crew, well we are still here, still speaking to each other and still in good shape physically. However we both admit that these three weeks have been harder on us than expected. Here's hoping that more pleasurable sailing awaits us as we cruise around French Polynesia over the next two months.

Highlights of this week included hearing news of Rob & Steph's engagement in New Zealand (Stephanie Byrne, email deets asap!), venting the cabin as temperatures started to rise and seeing land this morning. The lowlight would have to be Wednesday morning when a large wave from astern showered the First Mate from head to foot as she stood at the wheel. Meanwhile down below, the Skipper was assessing the damage of a saucepan full of porridge oats that the same wave had caused to volley across from the cooker to the chart table, covering everything in sight. Almost a week later and we're still finding porridge in the strangest of places!

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Rockin' and rollin' in the South Pacific

Position: 33°S, 162°W

One night this week, the Skipper called out to the First Mate from his bunk - "Hey Dave". As if we don't have enough to deal with crossing an ocean, now the Skipper is mistaking his wife for his brother! He says he was dreaming of the two of them at sea, embarking on a smuggling adventure of some sort. Whatever next.

It's been another tough week on board Ashling as we seem to find ourselves moving from one squash zone (between a high and low weather system) to another. The wind builds up, the sea swell follows and we are have a few days of rocking and rolling around as we try to make as much ground as possible. Then the weather clears and we have a nice day or two before it starts all over again. The upside of this is that we have continued to make good progress and are covering more than our expected 100 miles per day. The downside is that we work hard for 3-4 days to get sails up and down and trimmed at all times of day and night; we get wet and can't get dry; and we wonder how on earth this was supposed to be fun.

The irony of Ashling's model – Endurance – is not lost on us as we realise that she has what it takes to handle these ocean passages but wonder do we? In all our dreaming and planning, we pictured us cruising around beautiful, blue waters; stopping in quiet, sheltered anchorages; and enjoying sundowners and a barbeque on deck as we watch the sun goes down. So far the passage from New Zealand to Tahiti has provided us with a much more arduous adventure - average winds over 25 knots and five metre swells. For now though, our focus is to get to Papeete, Tahiti within the next ten days and review our next passage over beer and steaks.

This week the Skipper turned hunter and threw out a fishing line with the hope of bringing in something exciting for dinner. Whatever about the fish, our regular albatross visitors were very interested; so much so that we had to pull in the line before we had a plucking incident on our hands. We haven't seen much marine life over the past two weeks but we know there is definitely something out there as the rope pulling our toed generator line through the water is now a few chunks less than what it was when we left Auckland. Probably best not to think about that one too much.

And last but not of luck to the Mayo football team as they attempt to break a 51 year drought and win the All Ireland Gaelic Football Final at Croke Park in Dublin tomorrow. On board Ashling, we'll be putting on our red and green, and cheering you on from the Pacific. Mayo for Sam!

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Friday, September 14, 2012

The First Week

A 25 year old American called James Baldwin sailed alone around the world in the early 1980s with just US$500 in his pocket. In his book Across Oceans and Islands, he writes: "The sea, especially in its moments of fury, demands first your attention, then your endurance, and finally your patience and acceptance. If you lack this capacity, the sea will soon find you out and make it known to you that the shore is where you should make your home."

Waving goodbye to Roger from NZ Customs at Marsden Wharf by the Cloud, we set sail out of Auckland on Monday afternoon with some good strong westerly winds behind us and a few dolphins to guide us on our way. We passed North Head and Rangitoto, and headed for Great Barrier Island which was to be our last glimpse of New Zealand for the next year. After lunch (thanks Steph!), we started the four hour watches with Myles settling down for a nap at 4pm. The First Mate was overheard muttering something about Skipper taking liberties but nobody on board could confirm or deny so it must have been the wind.

That very same wind increased overnight and by Tuesday morning, the sea had caught up. Then the rain arrived to give us two full days and nights of intense sailing conditions. Ashling was loving it and making great ground - we averaged 150 miles a day compared to our expected 100. However it was a tough start for the crew as we were already exhausted from the final weeks of preparation and had hoped for a quiet few days to get our bodies used to life on the water. We were cold, wet, tired and everything on board was a struggle as we switched between the bed and the cockpit every four hours. Looking at Baldwin's quote above, there was no delay in the sea getting our attention and as soon as it did, our endurance (read bumps, bruises and tears) was heavily tested.

By Thursday the wind and sea had started to ease and the sun came out, which made things a whole lot better. We crossed 180 degrees moving from the eastern to western hemisphere, Eithne washed her hair and we discovered a third crew member – a fly who was hiding in one of the lockers. We've named him Wilson and he has proved very useful in any debates, generally tending to take Eithne's side as she has apparently added fly-speak to her list of known languages! We had another pleasant day on Friday with nice winds and more sunshine, and the discovery that if we zoom out on our GPS Chartplotter, we can now fit our current position and our destination, Tahiti, on the same screen. Mind you, they are still very far apart but it is small things like this that lifts crew morale and gives us a renewed energy to keep going.
Today is Saturday and we have no wind so it's a day off. Not strictly lying around doing nothing, but doing less than what we've been doing every other day. We started off with an attempt to raise the parachute to keep us moving in whatever little wind there was, but there was not even enough wind for that and we resorted to gently rocking over and back and staying in one place for the day. Eithne got stuck into washing some clothes and airing out the boat after the week that has been, including moving some supplies around in lockers so that they don't come hurtling out when we change tack. Myles dug out the toolbox to fix up some lines around the mast and service the autopilot which has done a great week's work and deserved a day off too.

Now it's Saturday night and it's time for a beer and a movie. I think we've earned it!

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Departure

Well the time has finally come to cast the lines and head for blue water. 

After talking and planning for so long, it feels surreal to be setting off, almost as if neither of us really ever believed that we would get here. The last six months have passed by in a blur as we have severed our land ties one by one...the house, the dog, the car, work. The last six weeks have been filled with the million and one things that we needed to buy or find or fix to ensure that we and Ashling are in tip top shape for the voyage ahead. 

It has been exhausting but we are now as confident as we will ever be that we are ready. Now all that's left is to take the final step. This always feels like the hardest part as the last minute nerves kick in and that annoying inner voice says "Hang on, you were serious about this???". 

So deep breath, shoulders back and heads up, let's go! First stop: Tahiti in early October. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Route

The first two legs of our trip will take us across the Pacific Ocean, first from New Zealand to Tahiti (average three weeks) and then from Tahiti to the Galapagos Islands (average seven weeks). 

After reaching the Panama Canal in January 2013, we will make our way through the Caribbean and up the east coast of the USA over several short 1-2 weeks sailing trips. 

It takes an average of three weeks to cross the Atlantic from Boston to the Azores Islands, and a further two weeks from the Azores to Ireland. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Crew

On board Ashling, Myles is the Skipper and Eithne is the First Mate. Both originally from Co. Mayo in Ireland, we have been living in Auckland, New Zealand since 2007. 

Growing up by the sea, I started to sail as a young boy, mucking around on Old Head beach in Louisburgh. As I ventured to islands around Clew Bay, and later participated in Tall Ships races around the Atlantic Ocean, I always dreamed of sailing my own boat around the world one day. Then in 2005 I took four months off work to complete my RYA Yachtmaster qualification and started to realise that my dream could actually become a reality. I just needed to get myself a trusty first mate...

After listening to Myles' old sea stories for years, I started sailing in 2008 to see what all the fuss was about. The Coastguard Day Skipper course was a big eye opener as I started to realise that it wasn't all just about sunbathing and sundowners. I kept going, taking part in some ladies race series and indulging Myles as we traipsed around marinas for his occasional dose of 'boat porn' in the search for the perfect boat. I got my VHF radio license and took an Advanced Sea Survival course, which gave a very sobering and realistic view of what life can be like on the water when things go wrong. However it has been since buying Ashling in June 2011 that sailing has taken on a whole new dimension for me. Instead of reciting mnemonics and trying to figure out the difference between a gybe and a tack, I have been getting to know Auckland's Hauraki Gulf and finally seeing the attraction of heading off on a Friday night for a weekend adventure. 


Friday, July 27, 2012

The Boat

Meet Ashling, our 35ft cruising yacht which will be our home for the next year

Built in France in 1982, she weighs 11 tons and is a slow but strong boat. She holds 635 litres of water and 270 litres of fuel for the 50hp engine. 

Ashling has already provided us with many hours and days of adventures since we purchased her in Opua, New Zealand in June 2011. Over the next year we are embarking on a sailing adventure from Auckland, New Zealand to Co. Mayo, Ireland via the Panama Canal. 

Click on the following link to take a video tour around Ashling and get an idea of what our life will be like onboard over the next 12 months: