Monday, February 25, 2013

No longer life as we knew it

Position: 19°35’N, 81°37’W – Governors Harbour, Grand Cayman

During the many months of planning for this adventure, we focused on the boat and what-if scenarios at sea. We gave little thought to our time on land during the year, imagining ourselves lounging in hammocks, cocktails in hand, watching the sun go down in beautiful destinations. The last thing we imagined was a difficulty in reverting back to life as we once knew it. 

So after a few days on land, we were most surprised to find ourselves missing our baby Ashling and itching to get back on board. It was great to have free reign to drive around town, go out for coffee, catch a movie in the cinema or potter around hardware stores and chandleries (boat supply shops). However we found that instead of relaxing, we were actually becoming more stressed by restraints like opening hours, checkout queues, even the weather. We had to plan what to do, when to go where and how to go there. 
We were also overwhelmed by the selection of things to do and struggled to make decisions on how to spend our day. We felt productive after purchasing something, even if it was just a $2 screwdriver – a dangerous thing in a country with a high cost of living. We got frustrated with ourselves when we realised we had spent half the day on the internet or watching TV, feeling we had wasted precious daylight. We felt that we were missing out on part of the day when we didn’t see the sun set in the evening or eat dinner outside.  

Forgive us if this sounds silly but in our small world on board, we have everything we need, we decide when to do what, and we alone dictate the pace of our day. It has been quite unsettling and completely unexpected for us to feel like this on land, especially as we have looked forward to it for so long. We can now empathise with those sailors who extend their cruising plans for many years, delaying their return to a land life that they no longer understand. (Parents, friends and employers – don’t panic, we empathise but we’re not going to join them :)

We moved back on board for a few days to calm our confused minds and do some maintenance jobs, some which have been on the to-do list since before we left New Zealand. Like a car or truck, boats need constant attention to keep them looking and functioning as well as they can. Exposure to salt water and sunlight means that everyday materials like steel, plastic or fabric deteriorate quickly if they are not cared for regularly. We polished stainless steel, replaced loose screws and even got under the boat to scrub the hull clean.

Replacing screws in cockpit lockers
Polishing the bimini frame

That done, we were back in our boat zone and happy to leave our baby once more for another weekend on land, eating, drinking and seeing some more of Grand Cayman. 


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Offshore banks in the Caribbean

Position: 19°35’N, 81°37’W – Governors Harbour, Grand Cayman 

There’s always something to watch out for or worry about on a sailing passage.  And it’s always something different. From New Zealand to Tahiti, we watched for any damage to the boat from strong winds. In French Polynesia we worried about running aground on the shallow reefs. From the Marquesas to Panama, we kept a close eye on rationing our supplies to make sure we didn’t run out of food or water. And from Panama to the Cayman Islands, we had offshore banks – and I’m not talking about the financial hideaways where certain Irish politicians stashed taxpayer’s money over recent years.

The Caribbean Sea consists of over 7,000 islands, reefs and cays. In between these, there are several ocean banks – large expanses of rock lying under the water and reducing the water depth from 2,000 metres to just 10 metres within minutes. Boats can run aground on the shallowest parts of these banks or capsize in the turbulent waves caused by the disrupted flow of water. On our way to Grand Cayman we navigated through two sets of such ocean banks. We passed the first during daylight without any incident, and breathed a sigh of relief.

Something to raise the heart rate
As we approached the second set – the Rosalind Bank and the Thunder Knoll – we checked the electronic chart and cross referenced it with our navigation bible, Jimmy Cornell’s World Cruising Routes. The electronic chart warned of uncharted depths, and showed countless shipwrecks and spots of shallow water scattered within 20 miles of our position. However Jimmy advised us to continue over the bank as even the shallowest depths should not be any risk to Ashling, who needs a minimum of 2m water beneath her. Jimmy is to sailing what Jamie Oliver is to cooking and our motto on board is ‘In Jimmy we trust’. So we ploughed on through, following the path of some commercial ships going the same way and had an uneventful, albeit sleepless night. 

Grand Cayman on the horizon
On Friday morning we spotted the coastline of Grand Cayman, three days ahead of schedule thanks to strong 20 knot winds along the way. We turned on the VHF as we approached land and eavesdropped on conversations of other boaties, giggling at the new languages and accents - “Rah-ja dat. I bin sittin' ‘ere for lang time now and dere be no fishes ‘round ‘ere mon.” What a change from the mumbo-jumbo Spanish that we heard just five days ago in Panama. 

After completing the usual customs and immigration formalities, we anchored in Governors Harbour on the north-west of the island and dingyed ashore to see our first familiar faces since leaving New Zealand last September. Friends from Ireland Cara, Justin and 5-month old Eden were waiting excitedly on the dock to greet us with champagne and so many hugs that we were almost winded. We were tired from our five day sail and they were tired from a week at work but somehow we found enough energy for a delicious steak dinner and many glasses of wine until the early hours.

Already they have gone above and beyond to welcome us to Cayman and make us feel at home in their home. We’ve had delicious home-cooked meals, walks with Bossy the dog, watched a gaelic football match, drank pints of Guinness and even enjoyed a night on the couch watching Midsomer Murders. It's hospitality at its finest and we are loving every minute!'s still good for you
Sunday dinner: all you can eat carvery

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Caribbean bound

Position: 09°22’N, 79°57’W – Shelter Bay Marina, Panama

Second time lucky. Our advisor Roy Paddy boarded Ashling on Wednesday morning and we set off for the Canal at last. 

From the start we wondered about his surname so after briefing the Skipper and crew, we asked him about his family history. He looked 100% Panamaian so we couldn’t have been more surprised when he told us he was actually part Irish! His surname can be traced back to an Irishman in Barbados a few decades ago whose difficult Irish surname was probably replaced with the traditional international Irish nickname by the locals. Roy soon showed that he had inherited the irish sense of humour when the Skipper asked him how long he had been working on the canal: “Working here? Well actually today’s my first day”. He was just having the craic and has actually been working for the Canal for 25 years. However the initial look on the Skipper’s face was priceless! 

The transit across three locks and Gatun Lake took two days to complete. We passed countless cargo ships, barges and tugboats, all of whom made Ashling look like a little toy boat going at snail-pace speed in comparison. Every year approximately 250 yachts or pleasure craft transit the Canal, compared to 12,000 cargo ships, so we really are in the minority. It was a busy day for the crew but we did manage to take some photos and footage along the way. Click here to watch a short video of Ashling and her journey through the Panama Canal. 

After completing the Canal transit, we said goodbye to Mario who was only too happy to be heading home to his wife and newborn baby after spending three days on board. We also bid farewell to Caroline and Johannes, our Swedish friends who are embarking on their own adventure to circumnavigate the world over the next 18 months – and some people think WE were crazy?!?! We will be following them closely on their blog and hope that our paths/routes will cross again one day. 

We are now at Shelter Bay Marina on the Atlantic side of the Canal, enjoying some R&R and preparing for the next leg of our trip – a 600 mile sail north from Panama to Grand Cayman. It’s been a month since we first touched land in Panama and it’s time to get our feet wet again.