• Cape Point,  Hout Bay,  Richards Bay,  Simon's Town,  South Africa

    Fleeting in Nature

    The photo above shows a fleeting moment of affection between two young impala in Hluhluwe Imfolozi game reserve, about an hours drive from Richards Bay.

    Being immersed in nature is a truly wonderful thing. Whether I am walking through autumnal deciduous woodland in England or swimming with man-eating sharks in the pelagic waters of South Africa, I always

  • Southern Pacific Ocean

    When inception becomes reality

    We’re currently on day 12 of our journey from Galapagos to Pitcairn Island and today is the first day I’ve not felt sea sick – woohoo! Don’t get me wrong, it’s not been unmanageable and I’ve not even been physically sick, but I’ve had vague, underlying nausea and a general lack of enthusiasm to do anything particularly active for fear of feeling even worse. Today, I have a new spring in my step. The day is splendid with decent wind for the most part, glorious sunshine and the sea seems a little calmer. Now that my underlying sickness has disappeared I feel like I actually want to get up and do stuff. So far it’s been a very productive day – the galley has been cleaned, a cupboard has been fixed, a cup holder has been mounted on the wall, the washing up has been done, I’ve showered and now I’m writing a blog. Fingers crossed I stay feeling this way for the rest of the journey!

    It’s hard to believe that after all this time at sea, we’re only about half way through the voyage. It’s very different from your run-of-the-mill long haul journey in a plane or by car or train. Firstly, we’re travelling at the speed of a fast jog towards our destination. Secondly, gravity is all wrong here. It reminds me a little of the film ‘Inception’, when gravity in the dream world becomes abnormal if the dreamer is, for example, falling in the real world. For those who have not sailed a small boat (or seen Inception), the closest thing I can relate it to is one of those simulator rides you find in theme parks. Your whole world is constantly moving in sporadic and unpredictable ways, never going up-side-down (hopefully), but often picked up and lifted, then dropped back down into the waves, or brutally jolted from one side to another. Now imagine trying to live your life in those conditions – sleeping, cooking, washing, going to the toilet etc. when the room you’re in is being jerked and shoved in unpredictable directions. Not surprisingly, everything becomes much more difficult. Everything takes about 5 times more effort and about 5 times as long to do. It’s even more difficult when you have sea sickness to contend with as well.

    There have not been any major hurdles to overcome and overall this trip has been relatively easy going. We’ve had rough seas for the last couple of days which are finally starting to abate, the wind vane had a problem a few nights ago which was fixed within the hour and probably the worst thing to happen was the freezer breaking, which happened to be crammed full of frozen food. Luckily we’ve manage to save pretty much all of it by some clever space management and by turning our fridge down to act as a freezer instead. I’ve particularly enjoyed coming up with new and interesting dishes to eat as some of our food items have been gradually going over. For example, our sliced bread started going stale and mouldy and we needed to figure out a way to eat a lot of it quickly. Bread and butter pudding I thought seemed like a good way to use it up. Whilst I’ve eaten bread and butter pudding numerous times in my life, unfortunately I have never actually made it myself. I know that you layer bread in a pan with raisins and other fruit (we used bananas) then cover with some sort of custard and bake it. I’ve never made custard from scratch in my life and come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever even made the powdered stuff. With no recipe books on board and no internet access, I turned to a dictionary for help. Custard is defined as ‘a dessert made of eggs, sugar and milk, either baked, boiled or frozen’. Well that was good enough to give it a go and luckily we had all the ingredients, including some powdered vanilla stuff that you’re supposed to mix with milk to make a vanilla drink.  So, armed with my dictionary definition of custard and some mouldy stale bread – I began the pudding. Amazingly, it turned out pretty good!

    Out here, in the middle of the Pacific and over a thousand miles away from the nearest land, we’re essentially trapped in our little 36 foot boat because immediately surrounding us is an incredibly hostile environment. Having said that, I don’t feel particular trapped out here. Our little boat is a bubble of comfort which is well equipped to keep us alive and well, even in this difficult terrain. There’s also something quite liberating about being so far from civilisation, we’re free to go wherever we want, behave however we want and are not bound by the trivial rules and bureaucracy of modern society. It doesn’t even feel lonely in this seemingly barren place. We get visits from birds at least once a day – what they’re doing in the middle of the Pacific over a thousand miles away from land is beyond me! Dolphins, porpoises, sharks, squid and flying fish have also put in an appearance.

    Right, I think it’s time for some lunch followed by some episodes of game of thrones. I introduced Alex to the series last week and now he’s hooked – I think we’ve watched about 24 hours’ worth so far!

  • Southern Pacific Ocean

    Pitcairn Bound! (We Hope)

    As I write this we are at position 04 degrees 04 minutes S, 092 degrees 05 minutes west, sailing SSW at approximately 5.5 knots. We’ve slowed down a bit and come off the wind a touch because the wind and seas built last night to the point that Bob was launching off the tops of waves and slamming down hard on the other side. We took 2 reefs into the mainsail and perhaps 1/3 of our large (140%) genoa is unfurled. In conjunction with bearing off the wind a touch (now about 55 degrees apparent) things are much more comfortable.

    We are bound vaguely for a point about 20 degrees South, 120 degrees West at which point we will exit the wonderful belt of trade winds and, for the last week of our voyage, pick our way through the variable winds toward our destination of Pitcairn Island, which is located at about 25 degrees South, 130 degrees West. This is our plan, but, in common with the vast majority of plans that rely on the magnanimity of the weather gods, it is subject to change. There’s a very real possibility (50% I’d say) that we will find things a bit nasty as we go further and further South and decide to bail out to one of the other island groups that are more to leeward. The winds should be fine for the most part – 10 to 20 knots are the norm at the moment in the trade wind belt – but there could be much more wind (and potentially head-winds) once we enter that region of variable winds closer to Pitcairn. Furthermore, the dominant swells even as far North as we are currently are approaching us from the South West and do not promise to change in the near future. These swells are generated in the far South, in the Great Southern Ocean by powerful storms – some of the worst storms in the world in fact. At the moment they make for a bit of slamming, but the further South we go (and the closer to their source) the larger they will become, and we may well find it very hard work indeed to continue crashing into them. We shall see!

    Assuming we make it to Pitcairn (and I sincerely hope we do!) we will have the pleasure of the company of some of the best people on the planet. The island has a population of about 50, which is an increase over that of 2003 when I last visited. I think then it was about 40. I’m very much looking forward to seeing the lovely couple once again who hosted me at their house back in 2003 and I sincerely hope that some of the things I’ve brought along with me can be useful to the islanders. In 2003 the sorts of things that made good gifts were machetes, cake mix, chocolate and so on. Also liquor. We have all of these on board, but I wonder if they are sought-after commodities any longer. In 2003 the island received two supply ships per year. Now, I suspect this number has risen considerably. I would hate to turn up and impose myself upon their hospitality without having anything to offer in return.

    At any rate we have at least 3 weeks before we’ll need to worry about that. At the moment all of my focus is internal to our little world – this small hole in the water made of plastic which we call our home and which is slowly but surely trundling through the miles into one of the most remote places on the planet. There are almost 3000 miles to cover (less the 250 that we’ve done in the last 2 days). That’s about the same as a crossing of the entire Atlantic Ocean in terms of distance, but in all other respects it is vastly different. For a start, we are sailing away from ‘civilisation’ rather than from one civilisation to another. Pitcairn Island (and indeed, all of the island groups ‘nearby’) offers very little in the way of yacht services. In fact, there isn’t even a real anchorage. The closest boat yard that I know of is in Tahiti, some 1200 miles from Pitcairn and 3500 miles from our current location. It is therefore of paramount importance that if we wish Bob to take care of us then we must be particularly diligent in taking care of her.

    Update at 1415: as the seas continued to rise we were back to jumping off them. We’re turned off the wind about 20 degrees so as to be going a little more with the wind rather than with it, and it’s much more comfortable.

    We’ve been surprised by the amount of wildlife even out here in the middle of nowhere. Flying fish abounded this morning, a number of birds have come to say hello and I even spotted a shark this morning lazily meandering back and forth in the characteristic way that they do. He didn’t seem too interested in us and didn’t hang around for more than 10 seconds or so but it was a pretty cool sight nonetheless.

    The shark reminded me of a time when we were sailing down to the Caribbean and encountered the worst weather I have ever seen. The feeling one gets when one is in the middle of such a tempest is difficult to describe, but I would say that awe plays a large part in it. There is something very majestic about a violent sea. So there I was staring out over the mountains of blue and white water, and with every swell Bob was being jettisoned up 30 feet to the crest of a wave before falling down on the other side. At the highest peaks it was possible to see a great distance. Each time felt like a different frame of a surrealistic film, since every glimpse out over the crests was slightly different than the last. In contrast, between these glimpses from on-high the world was contracted into the tiny space between one wave and the next, where seemingly-vertical walls of water hemmed us in on all sides. We were all very tired and our brains weren’t really functioning as they should have been, but nevertheless I remember clearly one such wall that rose up right next to the boat, and within this wall was a huge billfish – a marlin I think. That moment lasted quite a while, and I got the distinct feeling that the marlin was just as surprised to me as I was to see it, for ours eyes were on the same level no more than 20 feet apart and from what I could tell we were both staring at one another as if to say “what on earth are you doing here? Don’t you have somewhere better to be than this?”

    As for now, I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.