Stormy Sardinia

So, at this very moment we are sat at anchor in a beautiful little bay but it’s not quite the tranquil setting that your thoughts might be conjuring up at this very moment. There’s no evening drinks on deck, no peaceful moments watching the glorious sun setting after a day of swimming and relaxing. In fact, I’m writing this now because neither Chris nor I can sleep. The wind is howling and Under the Stars is swinging on her anchor, but she is holding, which, over the past month Chris and I have come to appreciate. To be honest, we are relived. There is no thunder or lightening and everything that is occurring outside at this moment had been forecast but we had no time to avoid it as we spent yesterday hiding from two pretty large storms. We have had a month of them, of dragging anchor and of sitting, much like we are now, hoping that some disaster or other doesn’t occur.

 

 

Anyway, we are having fun despite the storms. We have spent the past month with cruising friends, all of us battling the elements together. We had an amazing crossing over to Sardinia, not great sailing but fantastic ocean life, including Sperm Whales and Green Turtles. The Sperm Whale family has to be the highlight of our trip, certainly for Harry, who has been whale spotting from day one. Evidently Pilot Whales just don’t cut it. The whale was a true gentleman and cruised the length of our boat, just meters away, before diving at our stern. As we turned to leave we saw, what we assume to be a mother and calf, resting beneath the surface. It was a real treat and I am still a little starstruck.

 

Since our arrival we have had a wonderful time with family and friends, both of which got to experience a little of the stormy nature our our journey. Clare had a baptism of fire that might have broken a lesser lady. She outdid herself. Being rescued from our dingy on the high seas by two Frenchmen, in 30 knot winds, whilst battling swell, pounding rain and two yelling children, was not quite the ‘welcome to Sardinia’ that I had in mind. Anyway, Under the Stars has fared well over the past 5 months, not to mention Chris, who’s skippering has been tested on a daily basis.

In the next few weeks we will head back to the UK. Chris will not fly with the kids and I as he is doing a yacht delivery to Lanzarote. He will return about 10 days later. We have a place to haul her out for a year, on the North West coast here in Sardinia. We would love to sail her back to the UK but the expense would eat into our budget for our next adventures, the money we will save will hopefully, have us on our way sooner. So, we are excited for phase two of our journey; the Caribbean. We are, understandably, upset to be leaving our home. She has become much more than that, she’s almost a member of the family. To all of you who think I’ve gone completely nuts, when you have put your faith in something for so long and under some pretty terrible conditions, when that something comes through for you, you treasure it. A lot. It will be a wrench to leave her, to say the least. Yet, we are so looking forward to the adventures to follow and in order to have them, we have to return to ‘normal’ life for a short while. Chris will need to shave, the kids will need to bathe (this may come as a huge shock to them) and I will need to put on clothing more substantial than swimwear.

It has been a fantastic journey and a great start to our life at sea. We have learned more than we could have ever imagined, mostly though our mistakes as you can imagine. We have had the time of our lives and not because it has been easy, it’s been tough and there have been times when Chris and I have wanted to quit. Tonight may be one of those times but come morning, even with the wind whipping up a hooley all around me, I will feel at peace. There is only one place on earth that allows me to feel such contentment and that is on our cherished floating home.

 

Just another day in paradise or so you might think…

As I write this, the kids are causing chaos in my bedroom. It’s really the only space to play fight in our little yacht. They are slightly ferrel and should have been fed hours ago but our tiny gas oven strongly objects to hard work and is currently staging a protest. I have haphazardly shoved all the food that I can fit  in it, we are SO hungry, so I should have expected as much. We wait and we wait. It may be midnight before they are in bed and for obvious reasons this matters more to Chris and I, than to the kids. We were ready for sleep by midday. I’m hoping the mosquitos do not strike tonight, you know it’s a problem when the kids wake asking if they have Chicken Pox. Poor little things.

Daddy and his girl

We were meant to arrive in our little, not so pretty, bay this morning but the engine decided it too, had worked hard enough (despite the fact that we were under sail for most of the journey). Chris spent at least an hour sweating over it. As with so much in life, things break at the most inconvenient moment imaginable. We were coming into a very busy port, just as a huge ferry raced up behind us. Under sail and being forced towards the rocks we managed to dodge the worst of its swell, it wasn’t pretty. Still, we made it.

Best crew ever

Minorca is all that we anticipated, exquisitely beautiful yet busy, very very busy. At one point our yacht was involved in a heart stopping game of dominos, boat after boat nudged and bumped the other, as the wind did outrageous things, making us all a little crazy.  The North of the island seems quieter. It has a huge marine reserve (Hurray!) they are all over Spain and despite our not being allowed to anchor in a lot of them, this makes us so happy. There’s certainly more fish than we anticipated and having heard about the Great White in the area, we are not at all surprised. There seems to be so much out there.

We have had some great sailing lately and no eye popping waves, which makes my heart sing. As you all know, I love the waves when surfing, I loathe the waves, when sailing. We spent a wonderful week with friends, 8 of us scrummed into our tiny home. It was lovely and we only ran out of water twice, however, the water maker came to our rescue and our fantastic friends, well, they just seem to suit boat life. Thankfully. We have my parents with us now, so we’re in for another week of fun! It’s lovely. Next week, we will passage plan for Sardinia. A two day sail and another overnighter.

rain

We have changed our plans a little. Having rushed about for two and half months, the trip feeling more like a yacht delivery than a cruise, we are slowing down. Heading to Greece would see us doing endless overnight passages, only to arrive and haul Under the Stars out, within a matter of weeks. That, we feel, would not do Greece justice. So, we have formulated a new plan, thanks to some cruisers we met a few weeks ago. We have found a spot in Ragusa, Sicily.

Whilst the yacht stays in Italy we will gear up for another year of work and then, the BIG Atlantic crossing.  How life will change when we return to land. We do not really live even a day ahead here, the weather dictates our every move, I’m sad for this to change for a year. Still, we’ll adjust and look forward, enjoying time with family, friends and of course, Woody. He has been hugely missed on this journey. Thankfully he’s in good hands. Here’s to the next two months of, who know’s what and all the crazy joy that brings us…

Biscay trouble

So, it all began really well. I guess we had to be tested in some way, I just hadn’t expected it to be so soon. I’ve put off writing this for well over a month because I’m not entirely sure what to say about it all. Sailing is great, we love it but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little afraid of it now. France was a dream, there was so little to challenge us. We had no broken engine, no broken sail, no broke anchor and most importantly no waves, not of any consequence anyway. That changed when we left La Rochelle for our two day offshore Biscay trip. The plan was to cut right across to Gijon, Spain. We had several reasons for this, the most important one being the large shooting range we would have to cross if we hugged the coast. The former just seemed safer. We waited and waited for a good weather window, finally it came.

We headed out early that morning. The waves were up. I do remember feeling that they were too high but we had checked every forecast around and they were predicted to calm right down by that evening. It was all manageable, or so we thought. As we headed away from sight of land the squalls began. At first we were pleased, they had us flying along and a really good speed, upwards of eight knots. But as squall after squall hit we were reefing and reefing the sails but we couldn’t seem to reduce our speed. I wasn’t keen on that feeling. We watched the grey clouds edge away above us and believed we were clear. But as the last grey cloud disappeared from sight, the wind did not. It was nearing 25 knots, not horrendous but not what we were after either.  Chris checked the weather three times on that trip, this was unheard of for us. We don’t usually need to. This should have been our first alarm. The weather was not doing what it was supposed to. We should have turned for land right there. Something felt off and we knew it. As the evening neared we were exhausted. The wind had had it’s turn with us and now it was the waves who wanted a go. At 9pm the night began to close in, it’s an eerie time I always find but being 80 miles from land makes it worse still. Chris went down to check on the kids and I took to my feet to watch the rising waves. They were messy and erratic. Not rolling as they had been all day. They were big, perhaps three meters and we had been pitching and rolling along with them for hours now. We were almost at the continental shelf and had read that it could cause problems but for the most part it was okay in fair weather. The weather wasn’t fair but neither was it stormy. As I turned behind me I heard thunder and looked up as a huge wave crashed over the Bimini and flooded into the boat. Looking down I saw the guardrail dip below the water. I was leashed in, thankfully. I turned to see two more just like it looming over my head. I yelled for Chris. We came back almost as quickly as we had been knocked down. We were still upright. Chris rushed into the cockpit to find me shaking violently and unable to breathe. Thankfully, he took control and we turned stern to the waves and basically surfed them back towards land. It was a long night. Neither of us slept but as the sun rose, the waves calmed and we relaxed a little. We headed for Bilbao, through the shooting range, having received permission over the radio. A huge pod of Pilot Whales joined us, with their calves and so many dolphins.

Whilst in Bilbao we knew that we weren’t the only ones to be caught out that day. Another yacht had arrived and they had aborted their crossing too. The experience had been altogether too much for them and they were finished with their trip entirely.

This experience has made us cautious and it has shaken our nerves. Since this event, we have been caught in 40 knots winds with the sea whipping up a frenzy but it felt so different somehow. So much more controlled. The waves in Biscay appeared to build almost instantly and they came from nowhere. Threatening everything we held dear. I just did not think it would happen to us. It happens to bold sailors, we are not bold. But the weather does what it does and we have been in situations since that have made me uncomfortable but not fearing for our lives, thankfully.  We are better prepared now. If the sea builds we place the washboard in and we have the sea anchor in our lazaret ready to go. Hopefully, we will never need to use it. We were naive trusting the weather as we did, it was stupidity. We do not do that now. If we head out and it feels off, we head back in. I suppose we learnt our lesson early and with no harm done.

On a lighter note, we have made it to the glorious Mediterranean! What a place! The kids have snorkelled to their hearts content. We have seen whales bedside the boat, not sure what type, so I’ll just say the BIG kind. Sunfish, flying fish and endless dolphins. We are blessed to be here on this journey. It is not easy, we have had more breakages than I can count. Including engine failure at 1am, whilst at sea with zero wind. It’s always a challenge but the highs allow the terrifying lows to pale into insignificance because when it is good, it is so so good. I will always be wary of the sea, I cannot trust her anymore but then I should never have done so in the first place. She holds our home but she is not always an ally. We carry on with tentative steps, gently pushing ourselves onwards because nothing worthwhile ever came easy. My fear will ebb, I am sure of it and in the meantime I revel in the downtime at anchor, in the calm, flat seas and the most magnificent sunshine. And as Chris and I have recently come to conclude, sailing in either heavenly or hellish, for us there does not seem to be an in-between. And when it goes right, the thrill is un-parrelled. Of course, when it goes wrong…….well I’ve explained all that already. Ta da!

 

 

Bonjour. We’re in France

We have made it out of England. Finally. After waiting for a few weeks to finish jobs (I say that but Chris is fixing something as I write…boat life.) and wait for good weather we made it. We decided against a Biscay crossing for the kids sake and the sake of my stomach, sadly the latter suffered anyway. It took us just under two days to get from Plymouth to Lorient. We were exhausted and couldn’t really face the thought of navigating into a busy marina at low tide, so we dropped the anchor and waited until morning. At 6.30 we rose, very sluggishly, in order to reach Lorient’s marina at exactly high tide. But missed it again. Even now I’m not entirely sure how. I think our speed and probably our motivation was ebbing. We admitted defeat and sailed on to Belle Ilse. At this point we were conflicted. We hadn’t cleared immigration and all the information we had been given was very contradictory. We had called the office and left messages. Although, our French is disastrous, so I’m not sure exactly what we were leaving a message regarding; the only word we could make out was ‘message.’ Unsurprisingly, we haven’t heard back. Still fighting sleep we pushed on to Belle Ilse and dropped the anchor in a small, rocky, beach cove. Rocky coves are not ideal as the anchor can become wedged but we had little choice. At our first stop we encountered divers, as it turned out  their frantic waving was NOT a warm welcome. Best not to wave happily back. I discovered. We hoped to get a great night’s sleep. It wasn’t to be. Chris set our new anchor alarm. It was highly efficient and a little over zealous; nothing like keeping us on our toes. By now, as you can imagine our petite passengers were becoming mutinous. I wasn’t far away myself. Having been out for three days with no shower, we were determined to settle somewhere long enough to breathe.

We headed out towards a little marina on the coast but once again we we didn’t make it. Immigration were still off the radar and we didn’t want to step on land and risk a large fine. This meant reaching a port of entry, not a small marina on a beautiful beach coast. So, off we went again. This time headed for La Rochelle. We arrived twenty hours later and a little sunburnt.  But we had a great sail. The wind was on our side and we tracked along at 6 knots for nine hours with barely any tacking. By midnight the wind grew tired and we were at a standstill, no amount of sail adjustment was giving us any speed. So for the last leg we motor-sailed, into La Rochelle. By now we had been out for five days and as, on a boat, you need to ration water, we were afraid to wash and very smelly. Having run out of water on a day sail back in Plymouth, I wasn’t going to make that mistake again. La Rochelle marina is huge with 3,000 berths. I have to be honest. I hate, hate arriving at marinas, even our home berth in Plymouth. Chris is a fantastic skipper but there is so much that can go wrong in a few short seconds and I’m not sure the butterflies will ever settle. I’ll take dropping the anchor any day. But marina’s have water and power and fuel, not to mention, actual, real, stand up showers, as opposed to a hose on the end of a tap, in the head where there isn’t room to swing a cat. It’s all good though and we are thoroughly, crazily, happy to be away and exploring incredible places with our little family. It is an idyllic life, of sorts. It is not the romantic ideal that so many people tell me they imagine. It is cramped and exhausting and challenging and sometimes, terrifying. It’s hard work. Even writing this post, I have had to go and be assistant to Chris, who is working shifting cables and creating small boat miracles. Things that will make our lives so much easier living abroad. But with all that said, who doesn’t dream of sailing away, off into the sunset and we actually get to……

If you’re interested in following our journey feel free to track us on the link below:

https://eur-share.inreach.garmin.com/UnderTheStars

 

 

 

Boat life really begins….

So, we moved on board when the kids finished school in July. We had such a great summer with lots of visitors and plenty of swimming and sailing. The weather is turning now with winds reaching upwards of 30 knots but we’re picking up some great techniques on how to be safe in the gusty squalls. Our plans have had to change, again. Chris is still working hard and most of it is being poured back into the boat, unsurprisingly. We now hope to get to the Med this coming Spring (April time), spend until the end of summer cruising the beautiful islands. The Caribbean may have to wait for now. If we were to head across the Atlantic this coming winter (2018) then we need to have enough time and money to get out before hurricane season hits. To be honest it’s looking less and less likely as Under the Stars needs a fair bit of attention. But, we’re hooked on sailing and we’ll take it in whatever form it comes. We’ve made friends here, which has been great and to be honest the Marina is one of the friendliest places I have ever had the joy of living. I guess it’s the love of the sea or, for some, wine on the deck in the evening that makes it this way. We live in 4 very small rooms, 3 of which are our bedrooms. So really our life revolves around one room, the Saloon & Galley in one. It’s fun, if not, a little stressful at times and, as anyone who has visited knows, very damp! Last Friday she got hauled out, ready for three months of prep before we head to France and make our way to the Med from there. So Exciting! Life has changed, as with any dream, somehow you just don’t seem to mind the bad days as much. It is home and despite, at times, being scared of what the ocean is capable of, I wouldn’t wish it to be any other way. It’s been a dream 9 years in the making but finally, thanks to God, we are living it. All be it in the chilly UK waters but what does that matter, it’s still the ocean after all.