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.