Sunday, 23 June 2019

St. George's, Bermuda, 23rd of June 2019



A Detour Home



While sailing to Bermuda, we became conscious of the fact that we had lost some of our spirit of adventure which, as you know, is a prerequisite for enjoyable sailing. And the reason for this was clear: we were retracing our own footsteps, repeating the very same things we had already done in 2003 and again in 2012. But then we realised that we didn’t have to follow the same tracks as before but, instead, we could take a completely different route home. This realisation restored our high spirits, and we are raring to set off! 


We are now all ready to leave the protected harbour of St. George’s: our fuel and water tanks are full, provisioning has been completed, and our good boat Sarema and her crew have been blessed. Tomorrow, when we depart from Bermuda, instead of sailing to Azores as we had originally planned, we’ll head N-NE to places we have never visited before. And if we get lucky, we might even see some icebergs there!  

Saturday, 22 June 2019

St. George's, Bermuda



From Barbuda to Bermuda


When we neared Barbuda from the south we were amazed at the island’s flatness. Contrary to the more southern Caribbean islands, there was not a single hill, not to mention a mountain, to be seen. We later learned, however, that there is a ‘highlands’ area on the eastern side of the island where hills rise to a staggering height of 38 metres! 


Just two years ago, 6 September 2017 to be exact, Hurricane Irma caused catastrophic damage to the island destroying most of its structures, and the entire population of Barbuda had to be evacuated to Antigua. Now most of the residents have returned, and homes and some of the tourist destinations have been rebuilt. Hurricane Irma had also caused havoc to the corals around the island but luckily, sea grass beds were thriving. Most of the shallow sea bottom at Cocoa Point, where we were at anchor, seemed to be covered with sea grass and there were dozens of big, beautiful hawksbill turtles feeding on it. 


After four days of turtle watching and beach strolling under the scorching sun, we were more than happy to continue our journey further north, in anticipation of a colder climate.
On the way to Bermuda, the first three days were plain sailing as we had 15 to 20 knot south-westerly winds and made an average of 140 nm a day. But on the fourth day, we reached the horse latitudes, a belt of calm air and sea between the trade winds and the westerlies, and thereafter it was first motor-sailing and then plain motoring for the rest of our one-week voyage. 
The origin of the term horse latitudes is not certain but it probably comes from the fact that in bygone days when there was no engine power available, becalmed sailing ships were forced to dispose of their horses in order to conserve precious water for the crew. The idea of the term referring to a playground for seahorses is much more appealing however!


During the first two days we were seriously fishing for tuna, but to no avail. It was to be a mahi-mahi - take it or leave it. The first mahi-mahi we hooked was far too big for us and to the satisfaction of all parties concerned, the fish got away. The next day, we caught a considerably smaller  (115 cm) mahi-mahi which we consumed with gusto. We’ll continue fishing for tuna after Bermuda when we are in the Gulf Stream. It won’t matter whether the tuna has blue or yellow fins as long as it is not as big as the one we caught there In 2010 when coming from the Northwest Passage. The tuna weighed about 35 kilos (Pekka’s estimate), and it was a real struggle to get it aboard, not to mention to consume it.





Wednesday, 5 June 2019

English Harbor, Antigua


While sailing from Brazil towards the Caribbean, we had been admiring the moon as she was getting fuller and fuller. What we didn’t realise at the time was that it was the first full moon following the northern spring equinox which meant Easter and, in our case, very bad timing! Although we arrived in Prickly Bay, Grenada already on the 19th of April, due to Easter holidays we had to wait until the 29th before our good boat Sarema would be hauled out at Carriacou Marine Ltd’s boat yard in Tyrell Bay. 


We had been there in 2005 and again in 2011 after which the place had undergone a facelift under new management. The boat yard now had a store, shower rooms, a laundry as well as a restaurant. To our delight, despite the facelift, as before there were a number of goats, big and small, roaming the yard, eating whatever edible trash they could find, and dozing underneath the boats.


While waiting for Sarema to be hauled out, we made a nostalgic tour from Tyrell Bay to Union Island, Tobaco Cays, and Sandy Island. The iguanas of Tobaco Cays seemed to be doing fine despite the dry season but, sadly, the corals in the reef protecting Tobaco Cays were not looking good at all. There were large areas where all the corals had died, and consequently most of the beautiful, colourful fish had disappeared. 


We had visited Sandy Island in 2005 when there were no more than remains of the island with only a few palm trees left due to Hurricane Ivan which had devastated the area the year before. During the past fifteen years, the island has gradually risen from the sea and has at least tripled its size compared to our previous visit. Although the island now had dozens of palm trees, here too the underwater world seemed to be suffering (from pollution, global warming??). 


In Carriacou, we only had just over a week to get Sarema ready before we had to sail to Martinique to welcome our children and grandchildren. The time was far too short to do any proper job on the boat but at least the hundreds of speed reducing barnacles were removed from the bottom, and the hull got a new coat of paint. The deck was not painted until the day before our family arrived when we were already in Le Marin, Martinique. Talk about hustle and bustle! On the 11th of May, everything was as ready as it could be to receive our new, eagerly awaited crew.



Time flies when you are having fun, and the two weeks our children and grandchildren stayed with us were gone far too quickly. When the children flew back to Finland, we too continued our homeward-bound voyage, first to Dominica and from there to Iles des Saintes, Guadeloupe. We are now in Antigua and will sail from here to Barbuda, the last (ever!?) Caribbean island that we'll be visiting. 






Friday, 19 April 2019

Grenada, 19th of April 2019


Port Stanley, Falkland Islands


Two days before we made landfall in the Falkland Islands the Furious Fifties flew into a rage and tore our number one genoa to shreds. This sounds worse than it actually was as the sail was well past its best before date. With the shreds wrapped around the forestay we arrived in Port Stanley in the wee hours of the morning, dropped anchor in front of the town centre and went to sleep. Only a few hours later we awoke to a blast of a horn: there was a port control vessel next to Sarema and we were told to immediately move further into the bay to make room for a fleet of Taiwanese and South Korean fishing vessels. The fleet comprised more than fifty huge, strange looking vessels specially designed for catching jiga, a type of mollusc that is considered a delicacy in Asia. Fat chance the jiga has of surviving such a fleet!


Near the town centre, there is only one small floating dock for visiting boats which is also used by cruise liners’ dinghies to disembark/embark their passengers and naturally, the cruise liners have priority. Because it was the peak of the tourist season there were cruise liners arriving almost daily which meant that any sailing boat using the dock had to leave it the evening before or by seven o’clock in the morning at the latest. During our stay, we had to move in and out of the dock repeatedly in order to get fuel, buy groceries, visit the Historic Dockyard Museum etc. Leaving Sarema unmanned at anchor was not an option thanks to the brutal winds of the Furious Fifties that forced us to re-anchor a number of times. 

Upland Geese (Chloephaga picta)

The price of fuel was a pleasant surprise, only 60 Falkland pence = c. 85 US cents per litre. All kinds of fresh produce, on the other hand, were both scarce and pricey undoubtedly due to the geographical location of the islands. So, instead of buying plenty of salad ingredients as we had originally intended, we stuffed our deep freeze with mutton and lamb chops. A kilo of mutton didn’t cost much more than a kilo of carrots! 



Crash before Calm


48.56,737 S, 54.08,437 W
Just two days after leaving the Falklands we heard a loud bang from the deck: the pad eye of the inner forestay had broken, and the forestay with the jib and the Profurl was swinging violently from side to side. Before we arrived at the scene the Profurl had already made a tear in the mainsail and ripped apart most of the protective netting at the bows. Once we had managed to bring the forestay under control we wrapped the sail around the forestay, tied the package together with all the halyards available, and attached it to the railing.


The following morning we took the sail down and detached the slightly bent Profurl aluminium profiles most of which had to be taken apart by means of an angle grinder. The jib was mended and then transferred to the outer forestay which was conveniently vacant due to the loss of our number one genoa earlier.


As usual, we dropped a lure into the water every morning and took it up in the evening. After about two and a half weeks of continuous fishing without catching a thing, we came to the obvious conclusion that there were no fish in the ocean. However, one evening when reeling in the lure it became apparent that there were fish in the ocean after all, a little while ago at least two! 


One day there was a beautiful yellow bird sitting on the railing. Where he had come from only heaven knows as, at the time, we were more or less 600 nautical miles off the Brazilian coast, and we hadn’t seen another vessel for days, not even on our radar. The bird stayed two days with us and then disappeared as mysteriously as he had arrived. All we could do was to wish him the best of luck on his journey to the unknown!

    Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus)


Refuelling in Salvador de Bahia


We had known already in advance that this time of the year the leg from the Falkland Islands to the Caribbean would not be easy windwise. So, it didn’t come as a surprise when, except for the few windy days at the beginning of the leg when the pad eye broke and one gale some time later, day in, day out we had no wind, little wind or headwind. We tried to sail as far to the east as possible in search of winds that never materialised. Finally, we gave up and headed for Salvador de Bahia, Brazil to replenish our empty fuel tanks.

     Upstairs, Downstairs

We spent three days at anchor in front of Isla Itaparica where we removed the jib from the outer forestay and replaced it with our number two genoa. After this brief and ‘undocumented’ visit to Brazil (checking in and out of the country alone would have taken us at least two days), we were ready to continue our voyage to the Caribbean, hopefully non-stop henceforth!

                    A golden mackerel, aka mahi-mahi (122 cm), and Pekka in his tropical sailing outfit, the altogether. 


Hats off to Sarema


By the 9th of April, our good boat Sarema had logged a total of 100,000 nautical miles since her launch! Sarema may be a bit slow as big girls sometimes are but, more importantly, she is extremely trustworthy, steadfast and persevering. Many a time when we have been drained of all energy, she has bravely carried on and taken us to safety. We are extremely grateful to her for all the miles she has carried us and for the wonderful adventures we have had the privilege of sharing with her!


Ten days and 1.338 nautical miles later, on the 19th of April, we dropped anchor in Prickly Bay, Grenada. It had taken us 54 days to sail 5,692 nautical miles from the Falkland Islands to the Caribbean. The voyage was so long and wearing (=boring!) that we developed an allergy to sailing, long distance sailing in particular. Hopefully, our condition is not something that a few days under swaying palm trees and an occasional rum punch wouldn’t cure. We’ll soon find out!


Thursday, 21 February 2019

Port Stanley, Falkland Islands, 20th of February 2019


Sailing to the Ends of the Earth




We left Puerto Williams on the 18th of January and headed for Caleta Martial, a traditional anchorage where to wait for favourable winds before rounding the Horn or crossing the notorious Drake Passage. Although we were in the windiest place on Earth we had to resort to motoring for lack of wind in order to get to the anchorage. The situation changed dramatically during the night when the winds started to pick up and didn’t seem to know when to stop. We couldn’t remember when last we had experienced such a gale if ever, with wind speeds between 50 and 60 knots, in gusts over 70. Naturally, our anchor started to drag, and we had a real struggle getting it up. We then moved into a smaller bay nearby that gave us a little better protection against winds. There we went as close to the shore as we dared, dropped anchor in five metres of water and let go more than 60 metres of chain, and this time the anchor held. 


Strong winds kept us in Caleta Martial until the 21st by which time the seas had calmed down considerably. We motor-sailed to Cape Horn where we saw two cruise ships in front of the island, and a stream of dinghies carrying passengers to the lighthouse. As it seemed far too crowded for us, we took the compulsory photos of the rock and the lighthouse, and continued our journey down south. 


We had prepared ourselves and our good boat Sarema for the vicious winds and high seas of Drake Passage. All the jerry cans that we normally carry on the deck were hauled inside, the dinghy was tied exceptionally well with brand new lines to the davits and filled with fenders so as to leave as little room as possible for the freak wave that would inevitably crash down on to our boat during the crossing. But what we eventually found was a calm and tranquil Pacific. In fact, there was so little wind that we had to motor-sail most of the way to Antarctica. We later learned that calm conditions are actually not so uncommon to find in Drake Passage which in this case is known as Drake Lake.


After five days of motor-sailing we arrived in Enterprise Harbour where we tied Sarema to a rusty wreck, a nesting site for the Antarctic tern (Sterna vittata). Our arrival didn’t seem to bother the birds too much as they have probably become accustomed to seeing a number of boats there every summer the wreck being one of the safest and hence the most popular anchorages in the area. 


Although we had had an extremely gentle crossing of the Passage, we stayed two days in Enterprise Harbour just to get our bearings so to speak. While in Antarctica, we noticed that our conception of time and distance indeed differed from normal; hours stretched into days, and objects that seemed to be right next to our boat were, in fact, miles and miles away, the latter probably being due to the sheer magnitude of things in Antarctica.


Later in the evening, a Russian boat came alongside us, and to our big surprise, the captain of the boat was Daniil Gavrilov whom we had last seen in 2013. Daniil had organised the RUSARC sailing event from Saint Petersburg to Frans Joseph Land, wherefrom we had continued to the Northeast Passage. It would be interesting to know the probability of a chance meeting like this!


From Enterprise we sailed to Cuverville Island, only about 25 miles to the south. When nearing the entrance to the anchorage there seemed to be far too much ice and not just any ice but huge icebergs blocking our way. Fortunately, a closer inspection revealed a narrow passage between the blocks through which we were able to motor into the anchorage. And Hurray! - we had entered a penguin-lovers’ paradise!


On a rocky promontory to the north of the anchorage, there was a breeding colony of hundreds of rowdy and smelly gentoo penguins. We spent two days taking photos of the penguins or just watching them go fishing, return from fishing, or groom themselves which seemed to be their main preoccupation.


It was good to see that they didn’t seem to mind our presence at all but went about their daily activities as if we were invisible. And maybe we were to them as one gentoo almost bumped into Riitta who was standing still on the beach. 


One day when returning to the boat, an ice floe with a leopard seal sleeping on it drifted by. We had heard lots of stories about leopard seals attacking humans and their dinghies. Most of the people attacked were walking on sea ice when the seal sprang out of the water at them.


Quite possibly the seal mistook their upright posture for that of an emperor penguin. The only human killed by leopard seal was a British scientist who was snorkelling (2003). As we didn’t intend to go walking on sea ice or snorkelling for that matter, we were not particularly concerned about our own safety but that of our dinghy.


Before we left for Antarctica, our friend Ezequiel in Puerto Williams told us how he had barely managed to escape a leopard seal although his 15 hp outboard engine was running at full speed. He also advised us never to leave our dinghy in the water but always lift it up.


Also, Daniil had had a bad experience with a leopard seal, which he called the polar bear of the south. The seal had made more than 50 holes in his dinghy, and when the dinghy was being lifted up, the seal had lunged from the water like a torpedo and bit into the dinghy one last time. According to Ezequiel, when you see a leopard seal on ice, give it a wide berth but when the seal is in the water, stay on board. Just to be on the safe side, we hoisted our dinghy and for the rest of the day stayed on board!


From Cuverville we continued first to Port Lockroy and then towards Hovgaard Island. As we approached Lemaire Channel the ice situation ahead didn’t look very promising. A French cruise ship nearby called us on VHF and told that they had been unable to go through the channel because there was far too much ice. We thanked them for the information and told that we would at least give it a try. And try we did for hours on end zigzagging between and around icebergs, bergy bits, growlers, and through brash ice. 


When we finally reached Hovgaard Island it became clear that we could never reach our intended anchorage as the channel on the north side of Pleneau Island was still partly ice-covered. We tried to find a way through the rocks further up north but the water there was too shallow. When our keel hit the bottom we had but one option and that was to turn around. By now dusk had already fallen but as we didn’t have a decent anchorage where to spend the night we decided to continue further south to Petermann Island. When we got there we saw, to our huge disappointment, that three big icebergs had run aground in the only anchorage we knew in the area.  


As the passage to the south looked too ice-studded to our liking, we made our second U-turn of the day and headed back to where we had come from. On the south side of Hovgaard Island, we found an indentation with less than ten metres of water and dropped anchor there in the midst of hopefully grounded icebergs. It was now well past midnight, and because we were dead tired after spending the whole day trying not to collide with icebergs, we went straight to bed without even bothering to check whether our anchor was holding or not. Thankfully, there was no wind!


Because of our more or less improvised anchorage, we awoke already at 4.30 a.m. and headed back into the ice- infested Lemaire Channel. The conditions there had improved somewhat since the day before, and we had no major difficulties finding our way through. We now continued to Paradise Bay to see the whales that are known to congregate there. Unfortunately, the day was grey and drizzly which hindered photographing but a few days later we had two separate encounters with whales that we were able to record.


While on our way back to Enterprise Harbour we saw the distinctive tall dorsal fin of a killer whale coming from behind a bergy bit. We slowed the boat as we could see more and more fins coming towards us. After a while, there was an orca family of twenty or more feeding all around the boat. What a treat! What surprised us was the colour of the orcas which was not black-and-white like in the Arctic but more yellowish-brown. The culprit it seems is small yellow-brown phytoplankton that often stains the colouration of the otherwise white eye-patch and underside of orcas in the Antarctic waters.


The next perhaps a bit too close encounter with a whale took place just a few hours later. There were whales in abundance in Gerlache Strait feeding, diving, breaching (=jumping), and slapping their pectoral fins or tail flukes. We saw one humpback jump quite close to us on our starboard side. Riitta went to sit on the deck with her camera to wait for the second jump as whales often jump several times in succession. But lo and behold, the whale materialised right next to our boat as if ready to jump again! At this point, there was nothing we could do but hold our breath and hope for the best. Luckily, the whale, like the sensible creature that he is, opted for an immediate panic dive, and we were able to breathe again. Nowadays, whenever we see a whale nearby we kindly ask him not to come too close to our boat!


While in Enterprise Harbour waiting for a low pressure area in the west to move further to the east so that we could again cross Drake Passage in favourable winds, a French Caledonian boat came alongside us. After tying their lines the boat’s captain said that he recognised our boat and that we had met before in Sand Point, Alaska. We remembered well our arrival in Sand Point: it was in October 2013 in the middle of the night, we were coming from the Northeast Passage, the weather had been nasty for several days, and for the last few hours we had been struggling against 45 knot winds and a countercurrent in the narrow passage leading to the harbour. Because the harbour was full of fishing vessels, we went alongside the only sailing boat we could see. As we were wet through and dog-tired, we retired soon after our arrival, and because they left early the following morning, we never actually met. It seems that we had to sail all the way to the ends of the Earth to see Jean Pierre and Janine again. What a small and strange world this is!


During our visit to Antarctica, we had been extremely lucky weather-wise as we had had a number of sunny days, the temperatures had seldom been below zero, and there had been either no wind or only a moderate breeze.


But then the weather changed overnight and, on the 6th of February, we awoke to find leaden skies, snow- covered decks, and it was sleeting so hard that, within minutes, we were soaking wet and cold to the bone. It was clearly time to bid farewell to Antarctica, to its snowcapped mountains, magnificent glaziers, gigantic icebergs, and our favourite Antarctic inhabitants - the penguins!




Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Puerto Williams, 15th of January 2019


Puerto Williams
Club Naval de Yates Micalvi


Farewell Patagonia!


On the 2nd of January, after 54 days of sailing in Chilean Patagonia we finally arrived in Puerto Williams. Of the total of 52 nights we spent at anchor, we shared the anchorage only twice with another boat - a local fishing vessel. And during all this time, we saw only three other sailing boats in the canals. 


For weeks on end, whenever the daily showers allowed, we saw nothing but snow-capped peaks of the Andes, the sea, and the sky but not a trace of animal life on the shores or the mountainsides. Although the landscape surrounding us was absolutely magnificent, within a few weeks it began to lose some of its charm, and after about two months we had become almost indifferent to its splendour. 


While crossing Golfo de Penas, we learned that our radar was not functioning. Pekka had installed a new magnetron in the radar while we were still in Puerto Montt but apparently, the radar belonged to the cluster of devises that had, for some reason or other, decided to malfunction after our departure from Puerto Montt.


Because there is no technical assistance available in Puerto Williams we had to sail to Ushuaia on the Argentinian side of Canal Beagle to get the radar repaired. Our dinghy, the better and at the moment our only one, had started to leak, and it too had to be fixed.


We had been fortunate enough to meet four Argentinian sailors in Puerto Williams who in addition to inviting us to a wonderful lunch at Micalvi Club House also provided us with the contact information of Roxana, an efficient lady whom we met at Club Nautico AFASyN in Ushuaia. 


Upon our arrival, she immediately contacted Gustavo, a radar specialist who managed to “repair” our Furuno. It turned out that Furuno Finland had sold us a completely wrong magnetron that was meant for a much bigger radar. We had bought it in 2013 as a spare before we had set sail for the North-East Passage. Thank God we did not have any problems with our radar while traversing the icy passage!



We returned from Ushuaia to Puerto Williams last Saturday, and yesterday got our last zarpe from Armada de Chile. While waiting for our next blog update, which may take quite some time, remember to keep your fingers crossed and/or thumbs up (the Finnish way of wishing good luck!) as we are now all set for a bit more adventurous leg i.e. from Cape Horn to Falkland Islands - via Antarctica!