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5000nm in 50 days from Brazil to UK

As I write this log entry, Lista Light is crashing through the North Atlantic majestically, talismanically– huge swathes of white water peel away from her leeward flank, tumbling into a hissing mass of white spume. Its hard not to get carried away! Her bows, pressed on hard by a full suit of red canvas seem to relish the job of calving open the remaining few miles of seas ahead which separate us from our eagerly awaited landfall. She heaves and pulses as her 35  tonnes powerfully broad reach at 8kts.  It is a moment of sheer delight for us all – our private moment shared only by gannets, shearwaters, petrels and fulmars. We revel in that special feeling that surviving a long ocean passage delivers. But it wasn’t always this way on this leg, which started nearly two months ago in the tropical heat and human clamour of Brazil . . . .

Last anchorage in brazil
Last anchorage in brazil
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We were keen to depart Cabedelo, Brazil, as soon as possible to pass the hurricane belt before it really started to hot up, and arrive in the UK before the arrival of the September gales. Our departure, inevitably, was delayed. First there was the matter of a friend offering us use of his workshop and therefore an unmisable opportunity to rebuild the open doghouse to protect us from the sun, wind and rain. Then we became meshed in a special community of sailors who had trickled in from far off exotic places – an incredibly merry band of Lithuanians, Canadians, Israelis and every nation in between who helped lift our spirits and helped us through the work, then  finally, with papers signed and boat overloaded with fresh fruit and veg I contracted an itch my foot that seemed to be slowly making its way north too. It turned out to be a parasitic worm i’d contracted from a dirty beach needing medical treatment. Me, not it. Untreated the doctor confirmed it could have caused severe problems chewing its meandering journey up through my body and we would be in deep trouble, deeply offshore.

The charming port captain and immigration office had given us 72hours to leave; we managed to get out by the end of the week.

The broad plan had been to sail to the archipelago of Fernando de Noronja, grab a night there, then head as close to the wind as possible in order to lay a line for the Azores, if the wind angle allowed it. In the event it didn’t allow either stop off.

The first 5 days were more brisk than forecast and with more East than South in it, we chose speed over heading– plenty of sea spray, canvas pressing and life aboard was noisy and uncomfortable. Kath succommed to seasickness early on but Theo remained mainly well. Our fruit mountain was barely nibbled between long shifts feeling queezy. We passed 60nm inside of Fernando de Noronja, and closed on the equator on the afternoon of my birthday, 15th July, NNE of the corner Brazil. The wind died a day or two later, and we used the engine to maintain progress through the doldrums. Tbe boat felt sluggish though. Once we had become properly becalmed it was clear why, the prop was utterly covered in a coarse grit of barnacles on both sides from our time in port – and despite new antifoul the hull was bearded in gooseneck barnacles. The strong tidal flow in Cabedelo combined with plentiful nutrients had created quite a garden.

Curious counter currents and wide patches of orange Sargasso weed floating in the water created a mysterious atmosphere for diving into the vast ocean so early on. We had no choice and soon we were in, scraping free a cascade of barnacles which descended to the abyss along with bolts of blue light. The uneasiness of being in such deep ocean was replaced by wonder at the strange perspective on the world, the vast hulk of Lista marooned above at the surface, in the doldrums, and little fish living off the weed communities all around.

The wind was light or non-existent for a good 500 miles. The line squalls which had plagued us so badly in the South Atlantic were not troubling us, thankfully, aside from one evening where all canvas had been lowered and a 50mph squall rattled us from our sleep, lifting heavy canvas from the booms and whipping lines painfully across naked skin as we scrambled on deck to secure anything loose. It was a timely reminder to keep alert and reef early, something which kept our attention throughout the remaining voyage.

 

The notion of being in this part of the ocean during July and now August became worrying. Cyclones develop here which become hurricanes, and whilst we knew the likelihood of a full blown hurricane was unlikely, anything close could be horrendously dangerous too. This is a quiet part of the sea without shipping lanes or land for many hundreds of miles in any direction. Passing the supposed safety of the 20°N  line was a huge relief.

 

The Doldrums were wider than expected, but finally the North East trade wind did arrive and hold for a 1500nm stretch. It is normal for the wind to come in with North to start with, but this year we received a strong Northerly component for the whole time, and later on we would see a very disorganised azores high failing to form, something the other very few sailors and rowers out there so late in the season would attest to. For now though we headed NNW toward Canada day-on-day.

 

The regime fell into place, and bright warm days were spent teasing the rig to find the optimum sailplan for sailing to windward, not our favourite point of sail, but comfortable at least spreading Listas waterline across a few waves. Kath washed and dried endless nappies, Theo played on deck or atop the gangway, working out  how to crawl on a pitching deck. It was necessary to constantly supervise, but it was a happy time reading him books and spotting the scarce wildlife we found. Even with 1200 litres of water aboard we did become nervous about our usage, given our preference for washing him in fresh water over salt. We all bathed on deck daily, and aimed for squalls when they appeared to collect rainwater (our new cockpit roof covering 4sqm of clean collecting surface. We received nothing for 3 weeks and started ration!

Sleep proved challenging throughout the voyage – probably a combination of being short-handed and having our vulnerable baby in our care. The deck is safe day or night and we rarely don a  harness, but even so we began wearing the AIS personal alarm for some peace of mind. A sailing couples recent tragedy off cape horn was hard to shake. I worried about her, Theo, all of us, the boat, tankers, everything. Kath was breast feeding and mostly caring for Theo and I took the majority of night shifts. I was keen to protect Kaths sleep after her staphylococcal attack in the Pacific, and the extra demands on her body now. With worry and fatigue I just couldn’t get into the pattern of sleep like we have before. In stark contract contrast there was Theodore. Whilst I grabbed a hour here or there – I watched the miracle of our baby taking a siesta with me, clambering all over me in our bed until he finally flopped to sleep in the most contorted positions seemingly unaware. He slept a perfectly average babies sleeping routine throughout regardless of whether we were sweating in the doldrums or crashing along hard on the wind!

The wind died once more – this time the infamous horse latitudes This would be the penultimate challenge as we began preparing for the westerlies which should carry us home. We had reached the latitude of the Azores but were some 400nm to the West, equidistant to Newfoundland. After some nervous weather routing calls from my brother via the satellite phone on a dwindling reserve of minutes we finally gave up hope of tacking towards the Azores for a break and accepted our fate further North. We hadn’t seen ships for weeks then all of a sudden a flurry passed as we crossed the Europe to Caribbean route. We hailed a small canadian sailing boat on radio, obviously carrying AIS because of the high chance of fog in his home sailing ground. We chatted as we did to the container ships, amiable chat delivered in bullet points punctuated by the obligatory “over”.

 

The Westerlies really didn’t form til the 45 degree line, and then the grey skies and grey seas heralded the final phase of our voyage, the westerlies had arrived. As they had in the South Pacific, they came with a succession of depressions bringing brief gales with wind on the quarter – and Lista light flew on the new wind. After months of sailing hard on the wind we could finally throw out the sheets and breathe a sigh of relief – for this is our sailing weather! Life aboard was back on a  more serious footing  and nappies became impossible to dry. The daily totals jumped up to 150nm a day and the noise levels increased with the crashing waves. The wildlife arrived in buckets – first curious long finned pilot whales approaching us in a lull between winds, then dolphins screeching by wrapped in a  phosphorescing cocoon as we cracked on over a new fresh wind in a moonless night, and tiny storm petrels gurgling and giggling in our wake, pursuing us relentlessly for nights on end. Familiar species arrived, those which we hadn’t seen from the deck of Lista Light for seven years – the Northern Gannet, Fulmar, and our shearwaters.

 

We’ve just crossed imaginary depth contours onto the great sole bank, and brushed past trawlers from Spain and Ireland. We are close in on the Scillies but won’t stop, we have nearly made it back to England. We have sailed across the North Atlantic the long way, 50 days and 5000nm in her company, and our baby boy Theo surely must be this years youngest transatlantic voyager, not quite aware of it at a ripe old 9 months of age!

Chile: Chiloe and the Gulfo de Ancud

We have been sailing in the most amazing place in the planet. That is simply no exaggeration. This blog falls into three parts, and is a little unusual! First, a gallery, some of the images are beautiful and we are genuinely pleased with, there are others with us in…! Second is a little playful poem of our time here, and the third a wordy account which is more descriptive of the shenanigans and landscape but, alas, will never do this majestic land justice.

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December Patagonia painted her carefree side,

green waters and soft airs the raptors glide

Brazenly sea lions, seals and shearwater in us confide

With too-fair weather flooding an endless tide

Januarys’ legacy  much the same,

whistful contrary wind, unrefrained

Golfo to Penas would to us be tame

Warm sun carressed our sturdy dame

On weighing anchor from Curious tortel

A change to the wind the skies did foretell

Mother nature had rung the bell

On our weather that had started so very well!

The mountains glowered and the sky scowled

Old Lista’s joints quivered as the sreaming wind howled

Southing and Easting chalked up cheek by jowl

Her crew cowered from the elements so utterly foul

Day on day the wind did rage,

But relentless we traversed charts from page to page,

For the sea hemmed tightly by steep sides of aged

Rocks,  rarely registered a ripple on the guage

Over mountains we sailed and down again,

In Natales we sought respite from the lashing rain

The isobars reveled the demonic mane

Of the wind unrestrained  by rain that came!

Lista flinched, blinked,clawed in deep

Bowed tward the wind to keep her feet

Whipped seas on her brave face did beat

But never did she resign her seat

On and out we beat our track,

75miles to windward we her nosed back

Through a feisty chop her bows did hack

Until we met our week-old track

From here on south anchorage beared

The names so famed  of men who dared

to tread waters of dread, in haste and ill-prepared

The cruel sea mocked their souls so scared

At nights to the rocks we meshed our lines

To make home in her tight rockwalled confines

Interlaced and intertwined

Far from the wind it us couldn’t find

Though Icy tongues licked  the way

Lista sailed freely day on day,

eternities of adventure come what may

upon which our dreams had for so long had lay

Too soon the the port of Williams required

To report the arrival of Lista, her zarpe retired,

But surely of Patagonias secrets we never have tired

Two lifelong dreamers,  Patagonia has sired

 

 

To sail in Patagonia, with her majestic glaciers tumbling to the sea, her steep fjords, literally thousands of islands and hundreds of thousands of miles of remote waterways was why we had weighed anchor 6 months before in the Caribbean and set sail. There were other motivations too, like learning about the continent we intend to cover overland on foot (www.5000mileproject.org), learning the spanish tongue, and putting Lista Light in cooler waters but the most compelling was to sail in a remote and inaccessible land where few are lucky enough to tread. It would put our boat and her crew to the test in some of the least forgiving weather and waters the blue planet has to offer, but the rewards would be indelible. There would be incident of course, some risks which worked out and a couple that didn’t, and some natural encounters that came rather too close for comfort; we would see mother nature in all her moods!

This log sees us to Puerto Williams, Chile, 55degrees South, the Southernmost town in the world.

NUMBER CRUNCHING:

Miles sailed: 2,211nm

Anchorages: 65

Of those we shared with other craft: 14

Anchorages without lines required: 20 ….therefore 45 that did!!

Crew: 4

Connections to shore power: 0

 

The names of the great sailors of the world are synonymous with these wild lands, from the discoverers like Magellan and Sir Francis Drake, to the subsequent circumnavigators Cook, Fitzroy (with Darwin aboard) et al looking to head west, finally to the early yachtsmen brave enough to put their small craft in these tumultuous waters, Slocum, and Tilman. Without modern navigation, a map, modern shipbuilding materials and quite frankly the sense not to stick to the farmstead and cosy nights of cabbage broth and the times crossword the chances of returning home were not handsome, of those expeditions that did make it home many had only 10% of the crew still clinging to life and fewer still to sanity aboard their creaking galleons. These waters consume ships with an astonishing appetite, even now. That said, times have changed and with a good pilot book now available (Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego Nautical Guide- Mariolina Rolfo & Giorgio Ardrizzi) and plenty of successful predecessors giving us confidence to have a try our odds were better but it was not without butterflies that we finally set sail from Pto Montt to discover our own Patagonia aboard Lista Light, our 77yr-old lady. We poured over old books, primed sailing friends for all they were worth and excitedly acquired charts and a new GPS. We whispered to our old boat in the hope she would look after herself, and us. We bought rope, lots of it (an extra 440m to go with the 1km onboard), and boxes of fresh supplies and then prised ourselves away from our unlikely suitor Pto Montt for wilder waters.

Its difficult to put into words a place like Chile’s southern patagonian lands – the weather is so raw, when it rains it is beautiful, and last for days with layers of cloud and mist mingling with the mountains, and when the high pressure arrives and the sky clears entirely, it is beautiful too, at night it is chillingly astounding, by dawn and dusk mesmerising, in the mist enchanting…..

 

The log has been broken into sections, working from the

 

The Northernmost Fjord – Seno Reloncavi

Fjordo Quitepeu

Valdivia

Renihue and Parque Pumalin

Golfo Corcovado to Golfo de Penas

Tortel to Pto Natales

Magellan Straights to the Beagle Channel

 

To turn the corner up into Reloncavi is to walk into a film set for Lord of the Rings – the sky laden, the mountains seem inseparable and old (which they are not, in geological terms at least) and impenetrable but ofcourse in between the mist and the brooding giants was the fjord we would make our home in and as we pressed on in the mountains parted and enveloped us – we were going intothe Andes in a sailing boat!!

Our first dabble into Patagonia was into the Northernmost of the fjords which has its own reputation of ejecting craft attempting to enter ill-prepared or in contrary weather. Winds were unfavourable for first attempt but not superstrong and we hugged the coastline in the spitting rain, testing the north shores for an anchorage but failing to find the bottom with suitable swinging room, or the anchor not seeming to set with the limited scope we could offer it. In retrospect we just weren’t trying hard enough to get tight to the shore. We crossed to Caleta Martin and had an amazing encounter with the resident Kingfisher as we pieced together our existing lines to tie in having discovered the holding was useless. Our new shiny rope was too new and shiny to use! We revelled at our new surroundings and probed the sky with our mobile broadband dongle. As well as ‘Hansel and gretal’ (for our lamentable learnings of spanish using childrens books) we had become known in Pto Montt for asking everyone and anyone for a wild place “with wifi” – a contradiction of course but necessary for us to finish edits on the seabird book  and start preparing for our new project www.5000mileproject.org. One flaky little bar of reception, we would have to move on

 

Rio Puelo

The coming day was to mark the start of a horrendous 48 hour period which would be best forgotten. We had wanted to bathe Lista Light in a fresh water river having spent time in the infamous Pto Montt, riddled with shipworms. We have good paint on the bottom but thought of being eaten out by worm was enough to warrant us doing something about it, and the one thing salt water worms really need, is salt water. We deliberated repeatedly but in the end committed to the rio puelo which locals use for this purpose. It’s the bottom of an incredible river which begins in Argentina and crashes down over the Andes before meandering into Reloncavi. Of course there were no charts. We timidly approach on what looked like a sensible track before the echo sounder blinked and barfed and the bump that followed confirmed we had softly guided her into the bar. Several more heart-stopping attempts to nudge our old boat against the flow of the turbulent river and we reached the river proper and after a dog-leg chugged up in 4m against the flow. There is something uneasy about the flow of these rivers and the texture of the bottom swirls the water into eddies, bulges, layers slipping underneath others – all silt laden and opaque like angry milk, no telling what hazards are concealed. The instructions were pretty sketchy about where we would be best placed, with sufficient water under the keel at all points of tide, but protected against the melt water carrying trees and other debris. Would we always be able to leave we wondered, and what if the river flooded badly and we lost the protection of the islets? We dropped the anchor, cut the power and quickly were swept back onto it with a firm jab at the chain. After some deliberation and much staring at fixed points we made our way to find some local knowledge. The kayak was quickly swept downstream until we found our rhythm, paddled hard and crept up against the flow. After an hour of bumbling around in the woods trying to find an inhabited house we final bumped into some young guys who confirmed we should be ok, “no te preocupa” – don’t worry. We were a bit worried because the tide was about to turn and leaving the river on a falling tide wasn’t clever – there had been big boulders which were now covered, any of them would sink the boat. Also we didn’t know how much water would be left in the river when the tide did drain out.

What started then was a 36 hr vigil mapping the tide depth every 30 mins to see when it would start to steady out and drop no further, or when it would top out. With every gust of wind the boat dragged over her chain and then was rammed back upon it by the river. Each scraping of the chain sounded like th anchor was dragging. We didn’t want to use a stern anchor for fear of trapping a large tree, similar to the graveyard of dead hulks that was uncovered within 20m the first time the tide dried out. We nearly paid the price with our boat.

We spent the day mostly worrying but also to a trip out in the kayak to map every ugly rock that showed at low water in case we may need to make a hasty exit.

The next night, tired and edgy we kept up the vigil, every now and then checking our bearings. Difficult to pinpoint marks on the foul dark night but all seemed as well as had been. It had decided by this stage to leave the river on the next opportunity with daylight and a rising tide as the moon was waning and we had less water on each tide, we just needed to stay hooked for that night. Then it happened at about 0300- a wind from the SW had picked up and we seemed to hear more grating that we had got used to – by the time we made it to the hatch 35 tonnes of wooden boat had been driven forward and to starboard, against the river, with the chain stretching out to port bar tight, and then the river had taken hold and forced her downriver once more, but astride a sunken boulder. Without the force of the gust the river had her 50’ length pinned midriver on her keer with churning water bow and stern. 20 sqm of hydraulic action and lista was in the way. The engine was powerless. I felt sick. It was hopeless – the anchor winch was also powerless to against such an incredible force. We scrabbled together the tide times to see if we should be lifted off or would remain stuck until the water drained and either lay over into the oncoming river, icy water filling the hatches or grind a hole through the hull on the rock, both meant losing the boat.

 

At that moment another racha (strong gust) swept through and heeled Lista Light over with its ferocity, just enough that the force combated the river and with engine full astern she somehow grinded our way backwards and, critically, past the pivot point on the rock. With the big rudder hard into the direction of the river with the water swirling and churning to pass the obstacle for the first time the drag at the back of the boat outweighed the bow and we suddenly spun off sideways before being jabbed back into the anchor.

We stood, cold, wet with the decklight beams refracting off the horizontal rain, in shock. The engine lightly kicked over in astern to hold us to the anchor.

We had to go, without waiting for daylight, but at least knew where the hazards should be. With all the melt water the river was much stronger than the tide, and so we would have no steerage,a depth sounder with no light, the torches we pretty useless as the misty rain consumed them , but staying there was worse. Thankfully the anchor broke loose when we pulled it up, and Lista now quickly swung down river dodgy imaginary hazards on a digital GPS screen. What had taken 90 mins to do upstream elapsed in a hazy 10 minutes of following a dotted line whilst occasionally bits of river bank swept by close and fast. By the time we cleared the bar we drove the boat to the middle of the Fjord, cut the engine and drifted and drifted with no hazards about and drained from our welcome to patagonia.

 

Sotomo

If the Puelo river was not the best introduction then our next two homes were. After the general trauma of Puelo we crossed over to Sotomo, dropped anchor and lines didn’t move a jot for 2 weeks! We worked, we swam in brutally cold water, warmed up in steaming natural thermal pools, then swam again to cleanse off the sulphurous mud! We kayaked several miles across the Fjord in fair weather and a rather sketchy trip in foul weather, feeling small and endangered amongst the fierce wind and chop funnelled by the precipitous mountiainside. We played like children – even a trip to the shore 30m away to collect kindling or flowers, or tend lines would end up in an hour long mini-transect into a pristine jumble of plants and birds and species we only ever knew by their sounds. The paddle back was more often than not highjacked by a group of dolphins or sea lions coming to sniffle at their new neighbours. We didn’t have bad days in Sotomo.

Even in bad weather it was a majestic place to be, with internet access, and the nearest neighbours a mile or two away. Still in wintertime we spent the evenings huddled near the fierce woodburning stove. We had taken enough old parts of the dock from Pto Montt that we could mix in a small amount of tepu/arryan to get the heat up – these are species which can be burned green.

We visited the house one day and were greeted by an enthusiastic chap, utterly incomprehensible and clearly a little simple. We asked where the nearest track was for running and he giggled. We gestured up the hill, to that he giggled and nodded, so off we went in search of the connection to the road. He followed, in wellies. We picked up the pace a little to test his resolve and he kept smiling and running with us, and he was pretty handy too. Kath and I took the lead despite not knowing which corner of his sheep field would lead to a road. We scraped through some scrub to reveal . . more scrub, and a dwindling sheep track. Wrong way. We turned, our friend there was delighted at our mistake but ran down to us and then followed again. This routine went on for a bit, we saw some lovely parts of his farm cut into the hillside as he ran behind us in his wellies; waterfalls, dripping vegetation, and everyone of his animals and down to the kayak again. we began to realise there really was no road here, only sea.

 

Quintupeu

We took to that sea corridor in late September, now clear we had to replan post the debarcle at Puelo. To allay any fear of marine borers the locals seemed to dread penetrating our tough paint we decided that a 200nm detour north was required, via our albatross fiends in the South Pacific up to the tranquil meandering river at Valdivia, a safer option. Before that though we decided a 7-day intensive spanish course was needed if we were to make the most of our immersion into homo sapiens so headed south over the Golfo de Ancud and up to a very special part of chile, Fjordo Quintepue. On the way there we passed Mani again, motoring north, close enough to yell to us detailed instructions of where to tie up in this 4mile long steeply wooded fjord, finally we were sailing into the unpopulated Andes. The entrance was easy to find with GPS but without it would have justified its name, which means “seek and you will find” in the native indian language. We’d ghosted along on light winds below a heavily leaden sky that morning and set our sights on tacking up wind into the fjord, but with contrary tide and our windward performance combined to make it thoroughly impossible. Again, the reputation in this area is fearsome, leading us to carry reefs in the sails even though we were doing 1kt at best. The scene when it did open up was spectacular. Truly incredible waterfalls ripping scars into the sheer rock faces, thick forest hanging onto the thin soils and layers of mist and cloud shrouding the icy mountain tops. The edges looked hostile and after some milling we finally found the notch in which mani had left his little lines. It really was little more than an indentation but with water deep until the slimy rock walls it was deemed “sheltered”. IT didn’t feel it, one look West to the prevailing wind showed a 4 mile fetch of open water, then us, then 4 m of water, then the cliff! There is no other safe option in that area though, so we made fast with two lines each fore-and-aft and called it home for a 10 days.

What unfolded in that place is hazy but fondly held memory, where one unusual story is still very vivid. 

No radio contact, nearest neighbour was an occasional visit to the salmon farm nearby by Quentin and an assembly of salmoneras with varying quantities of teeth on display. At weekends our kingdom (ha! How quick these extranjeros had assumed property rights!!!) was invaded by a couple of big tour boats but the only other traffic was the wonderful Canadians Steve and Meredith on s/v Silas Crosby. We gorged in mussels and wine and cream until we felt amorous and ill at the same time. We kayaked up the river and learned nursery rhymes in spanish. We took too many photographs as we became spellbound by the set, somehow excitedly nervous it may display its beauty for the last time that day and never re-awaken, which of course it would.

Having lost all contact with the weather forecast we finally conceded that we should at least base ourselves near to the Pacific entrance to make the hop up to Valdivia in order to get that out the way before meeting crew in December further South, should good weather arrive. As we emerged our first task was to gain further permission from the Armada who we had to contacts for a few weeks to head North. The diversion to Calbuco was fairly miserable, the wind contrary and all coves we sought to stay the night in full of salmon farms and mussel beds. Time after time we nosed in a simply couldn’t find room to swing at anchor, and with no option to tie to shore because of the long intertidal zone we nosed into harbour at Calbuco instead, in the dark and without full protection. The usual paperchase followed to gain permission to leave, which nearly cost us to lose a day because of missing a tide.

In the end we made it through the tidal race in poor weather and had to anchor short of the Pacific off Faro Carona. The North East with made it a unpleasant anchorage and we would have been much better off in open sea.

For the sail up to Valdivia we sought the help of the Humbolt Current, and 30 hours later we were releived to pull around the corner out of the swell into the river at Bahia Corral. The final 80 miles had been fast powerful sailing on a following Pacific sea, but the first half day reminded us of the misery of ocean sailing when conditions are not in favour with bits of boat crashing about and nothing much we could do about it!

Valdivia

Valdivia itself is a beautiful riverine setting, reeds surround the low town and the pleasant river weaving its way through the old partially germanic town. Beyond the façade the buildings soon lose their way to chilean functional chunks but for the few streets around the river and the almost unbroken fine weather made it hard to believe we were in one South Americas wettest parts. We were the only boat to anchoring in the river, the best place to be. We had some simple objectives for our time there – for Lista to bathe in fresh water, for us to build a website, and for us to prepare Lista for the South. The first took no effort, the latter were helped immeasurably by meeting young dutch couple Bram and Viv, now good friends, who in the days we were there got married and had a baby with little fuss. Very dutch. Both are modern people in every way and were able help scrub away some of the cobwebs to get the me through the website business, and Bram also gave sensible pointers on the business of welding for the rope barrels I had long dreamed of. Things did very nearly unravel on finding the “Ultima Frontera” bar one night after combining my unpracticed liver with Germanic strength beer and a fair thirst from a day fighting with bits of metal the room soon spun and my neck craned to hold the horizon still, whilst my face fizzed, and all I wanted was a cold floor to cling onto. I spent that night on the deck, and the following morning in regret. Apart from that blip most went to plan, and aside from accidentally becoming “aliens” and having to flee to Argenitina with expired Visas there was little drama. We worked all day and met some of Valdivias more curious people by night, but there was little distraction from the real business of getting ready to head south.

 

Renihue and Parque Pumalin

We had taken too long up north and in doing so had opened the door to the summer who walked in most unexpectedly and over the coming months would make the miles sought to make South much more difficult than we ever imaged. The big high pressure in the Pacific, combined with depressions that chunter unobstructed around the Southern Ocean ensure there is always a Westerly component in the wind offshore, but on meeting the impenetrable Andes it has little else it can do but to break North and South. By waiting too long in Valdivia the high pressure had snuck South, below us, as the earth tilts and bears its South pole to the sun and we were therefore getting a much higher proportion of winds from the South than planned. We wouldn’t overtake it until 48degrees South, after Golfo de Penas.

Arriving back into the protection of the Islands again, and bound for Parque Pumalin, put us in good form. The colours of Chiloe and the white capped mountains behind are breathtaking. Having waited for a day to get the right wind we made the seventy miles at an average of 7 kts – the relatively flat sea making Lista light feel like a racing boat. Her 30+ tonne heavy, long frame is a dream to sail in these conditions and countless days in Patagonia we would be grateful for her sturdy construction and versatile sail plan (given all journeys seem to be either with a head wind or a tail wind, an nothing in between, being able to sail close to the wind is less of an advantage).

Actually we arrived too early, not something we regularly encounter. Having been funnelled into Renihue we were left mooching around until the tide would give us scope to enter the tight line into Fjordo Largo, the protected crook at the head of Renihue. But we didn’t wait. We had some info from a pilot on the idea for getting in – “just watch your rigging in the trees”, i.e. go close. No decent charts exist of course, which is pretty much the story for the south too if you want to dabble off the main channel.

We were excited, the wind was starting to pick up and we couldn’t wait. Mid-tide, with the strongest part of the flow following us in we started to make our transit close to the wooded bank, being swept along through the milky green water. At least we were on a rising tide.

Unfortunately, having learned to go very close in navigating fast rivers in Venezuela we took the instructions literally, rather than metaphorically, how they’d been intended perhaps, and on the penultimate bend . . . . crack! Not again! This time we had run aground on something that felt quite round, and had connected near the stern – you can feel that even through the heavy hull. That was at least some relief, unlike the Puelo situation earlier. With the tide sluicing past us at 3-4kts there was no way Lista could reverse off. Nor go forward. The bow had been swept forwards and was pointing just clear of the cliff on the north bank a few metres ahead of the bowsprit, not on the line we wanted to take should we get off the lump. At full revs the prop whirred and slashed at the opaque water but soon white smoke from the straining engine filled the air and we feared for the beast so had to cut the power to half, still in astern, just to take some of the pressure off the flooding tide. Once again we were wedged.

Probing around with a make-shift jib pole we set about working out what on earth we were sitting on. Having found the object, couldn’t resist to try and lever the stern out with the pole which of course and inevitably sheared off at the end – completely disproportionate to the forces that had us pinned.

A plan came to mind. If the tide was rising then this was a temporary affair, we would be released, but perhaps we would be pushed straight into the bank as we came off our obstruction. If we could lay an anchor out to the starboard stern then as Lista became free she would swing out into thechannel rather than straight ahead into the bank. If the kayak could cut across the stream to the relatively slow flowing far bank then the anchor could be walked up the far bank and dumped in the exposed sand some way upstream.

Kath deployed to the kayak and clinging on, I lowered the little anchor and some chain into the kayak.

She started to sink. (Kath, not Lista).

The propwash combined with the flow of the current was spilling over the tail of the kayak and soon it became clear the whole lot, kath included would be go under unless we bailed out of that idea quickly! Kath was terrified, a fairly reasonable reaction as the gushing water fills ones wellies and swirls all around at pace, whilst ones house is teetering on a rock.

Together we first hauled man (woman) and anchor out of the kayak (paddle long gone!) and as we dumped it all on deck and the shock of it subsided Lista started to move. The tide was freeing us up!!

Full astern again, sod the white smoke!! Lista naturally kicks to Starboard, into the flow and away from the bank and luckily the net result against the rushing water was that we somehow crabbed sideways, giving just enough clearance with a jab of power forward to take us clear fo the rock bank ahead, and into the deeper water. Without much steerage or time to dry the tears we swept through the remainder having made quite a drama of it. And we drifted for a while as the great big Fjord opened up in front of us, drizzling and shrouded in wisps of sodden air. Welcome to Pumalin.

 

If I had a blank piece of paper and were to let my mind run for a while about where I would dream to call home what I’d probably do would be start with a safe harbour for Lista, which is something that to really understand you have to have sailed in a few miserable places, and to have arrived. I’d have a rainforest, because rainforests abound with life more that any other ecosystem, and you need to want find it, but you will. I’d scatter in waterfalls and scribe long rivers of perfectly pure water. I’d have neighbours, but any non-native ,mammalian ones would have to be a few miles away. I’d like a few clearings too, nothing intensive, and some horses and livestock to provide for me. I’d invent a view that changed by the season, month, day and hour. I’d want to know it well, but not perfectly, so it could still surprise me easily. I’d like it to be in the real world too though, and to be there it would need to have some level of organisation to allow the whole thing to sustain itself economically. I’d want to share it so people knew it was worth keeping like it is, just perfect.

I have just described Pumalin. Home of Doug and Kris Tompkins, two people we had hoped to meet to see what ideas they may have for the 5000mileproject. They had set up multinational corporations but both were outdoor people, not just suits, they’d done expeditions in the past –set up entire National Parks (or private parks) to protect land threatened by destruction and although we didn’t know which direction it would go in we thought it would be worth sounding out the ideas with them. Best case they would have contacts in their previous companies and fund the project, worst case humiliation and rejection, but we would have to get used to that if we were to get the project running so we may as well risk it.

They are well known in the world of Conservationists. We thought they may be about and asked in the small steadings by the grass runway whether or not they were in residence? In fact, was there a residence? After a degree of miscommunication we were connected by VHF to say, yes they had landed, but were leaving tomorrow, had 10 guests already but if we really wanted we could pop over now before dinner and have a quick chat. We’d hoped to have them over to the boat for high-tea for a laugh but it would appear their schedule was busier than ours.

We paddled back to Lista, changed into something more fitting for a meeting, and jumped in the kayak to make the 2miles over to their home which was pointed out to us on the other side of the lagoon. We had a quick chat about what we wanted from the session as we splashed our way over and then landed the kayak. As we scanned the tidal beach there was one track to follow, so we did. My wellyboot sole chose this moment to fall off. We arrived sweaty, with flapping rubber flipping around my feet, ready to try and get some ideas in our 20 min slot. I get quite removed and calm in these situations, a bit like the sensation needed to get through a doctors appointment, and we were both reasonably calm. As it turned out we eventually found Kris in the chicken coop with her guests, relaxing in the long grass. She was obscured by her large hat, and I was obscured by her large dog greadily chewing a stone, the chickens ambled around the outside in the worlds most perfect chicken coop. Then a barrage of questions were delivered from Kris and one of her guests. It was unexpected to have so many direct questions fired when in fact we were hoping to learn a bit more about her, it was challenging actually. She eventually passed us over to doug . Kath describes the meeting in a blog, click here. 

When we finally returned home (Kath had to quietly point out when it was polite to refuse their hospitality, and sadly this meant turning down drinks and people to drink with, a rarity in our lives ….!) it was without a fully funded project, but we’d met people who had taken a vision and language similar to our own and turned it into this massive area we walked through. It’s an incredible achievement, and it’s hard to imagine that individuals can create so much. We left on a high, and the litmus test was that nobody said that it was a ridiculous project, or couldn’t be done. I think we amused them slightly. We got a couple of interesting contacts – had enjoyed a bizarre outdoor dinner, met their curious guests, played in the kitchen and eaten spring lamb for the first time in literally years (which would not be repeated until the Falkland Islands!!).

As the two planes containing the guests flew over head Lista light the following morning, nesslted quietly into the north-east corner of this pristine lagoon, they wobbled their wing tips to our waves and kath cried. It’s a small plane thing I think – in this wild environment, with the freedom to soar over head, all the anti-jet sentiment is lost and she always feels emotional!

During the time there we worked on the 5000mileproject and on the boat to get her fit for Fiona and Tayo due to arrive in a week or so. We ran the route would be visiting again in a year, coaxed out the rainforest birds and bought a lot of honey. Gallons of the purest honey in the world. Everyday we needed to get off the boat at least for an hour, either in the kayak or on foot. We talked a lot with the guys living Pumalin, as best as our spanish would allow, and began to understand the model there.

Before leaving we filled up with old timbers from a derelict salmon farm building long forgotten, which in slightly compulsive behaviour I cut to exact lengths for the woodburner and stowed in blocks. Worse still I was proud of my work- dear dear.

We left trying our best to avoid retreading our steps onto the rock that had tormented us on arrival.

 

Golfo de Corcovado to Golfo de Penas

We left the relative solitude of Renihue on a calm day and made our way West once again to cross over to Chiloe, meeting place for my sister Fiona and friend Octavio (Tayo), near Castro. With calm waters and steady wind over the low outer islands Lista again proved to be a kind sailing companion, these conditions flattering any ship! With mainsail, mizzen, staysail and jib all drawing we made between the islands with ease, sailing single handed for much of it as Kath worked below, making minor microscopic changes to the wheel in the fine weather as Lista Light sailed herself. We glided past beaches, strands, wooden churches, mussel beds, spooked lazy Sea Lions off bouys, forced the comical steamer ducks to their frenetic half paddle-half flying escape, and drifted serenely when the wind died altogether. The last 3 miles took 3 hours in the blazing sun.

First we were able to meet with an old friend Mani, who was anchored off a shore whilst working on the massive wooden boat being built by young Chileno couple Natalia and Vicente Segers – who turned out to be kindred spirits and wonderfully warm and generous friends. We tied up alongside Mani on a mooring deemed suitable and rode out some bouncy nights at anchor whilst catching up during the day. A couple of mornings in we were politely awoken by Mani who pointed out we were adrift, tied together, and within metres of the shallow shore. No panic. We quickly popped on the engine and made for deeper water before untying our leish. It was all very bizarre, but very civilised! Apparently the large thing we were tied to under the water wasn’t actually very large or very attached, and so we had dragged.

We were given use of the boatyard and any wood we’d like which was an incredibly kind gesture. It was in fact a dream, but not wanting to get in the way we really didn’t make much use of the generosity shown. I made a bookcase from one off cut which was reluctantly given because they didn’t think it was of sufficient quality to use, they had wanted to give me a brand new piece instead. The wood was cypress, highly coveted because of its resistance to rot, but not a wood we would normally select on account of how long it takes to renew – hence our unwillingness to receive it. But to wonder amongst the workshop after hours was a real privilege. The hulk which yard was built around was planked but not finished, a curious design but still inspiring to see any wooden boat of this scale taking to life.

 

And that’s it for part one – part two to come . .. . !!!

Tortel to the deep South

Leaving Lista Light in Pto Montt, Chile, whilst we explore on foot

Puerto Montt, on a good day

I had hoped to write this diary four months ago… brimming with autumnal joy on finding Chiloe and its bucolic inhabitants, but then a few mishaps, minor disasters, mass pilfering, depression and evacuation plundered the mix and the weeks unravelled into months. You are, thus, spared the gushing outpouring that would likely have manifested (although I will have to mention something of Chiloe, South America’s second largest island) as I write in cold-headed judgement, tethered aside a marina, in wood-smoked, tumble-down Puerto Montt.

Imagined Chile…

You see, we had meant to be tucked away by now, in a caleta. (inlet) somewhere in the wilds of southern Chile, in Her fabled lands of rugged mountains, moss-drenched woodlands and frosted grasslands. A land where Sir Joshua Slocomb dodged ‘savages’ as he sailed around the world in the late 1800s and where characters from Tolkien’s chapters I am sure wonder freely. In our quest for such an abode, we asked all poor souls whom we stumbled upon, in case they should know of the address,‘We’re looking for somewhere wild, remote…with wifi’. Hmmm, yes, I’m not sure it’s altogether achievable.. We shall see.

We had been working with our friend, Natalia, in America on our Caribbean Seabird Atlas. Weeks had shoved their way into months as we all three scrutinised and edited figures and text, until we thought we were there, before a new round of editing surfaced.

Finally, we were ready to leave Puerto Montt, after over two months of residency. This time, however, Lista stuck her heels in. To be more correct, we managed to flood the engine with salt water and our steed finally spluttered and wheezed to a holt. Loaded with fresh produce for our new home in el campo (the countryside) we swapped sea lions and spiralling mountains for puzzling days bent over the engine. Then one day, treasure popped onto the computer screen in the form of the much coveted and temporarily misplaced term, ‘Paid work!’) Hearts soared at the prospect of earning our keep surveying seabirds back in our old stomping ground; the Caribbean, except it was not to the Eastern Caribbean that we were to fly, but Jamaica.

Whilst in Trinidad last year, we had contemplated in ever decreasing circles whether we should work on Lista Light in Venezuela as there were reputed to live fine shipwrights specialising in wooden boats. After weighing up a barrage of vastly opposing opinions, we finally decided that it might not be the safest place to ‘set upon’ Lista, with a slum teeming with guns at the boatyard entrance and rumours of boats being mysteriously impounded. During the process, we investigated statistics on the most dangerous countries in the world and sure enough we were happily ensconced amongst some of the winners, including: Trinidad, virtually every country in Central America, Venezuela and I’m pretty sure Jamaica didn’t miss a showing either. Hence, we were trotting off to another dodgy destination. Not that it didn’t involve an element of heart ache over the whole flying thing, after avoiding taking to the carbon guzzler in preference to our trusty wooden whale, but we just could not turn down this golden egg of an income, even if was only for a few weeks.

Bridled terns

We found the tiniest yellow-warbler nest woven with crispy leaves, slivers of plastic and spun with spider webs. Bright marmalade coloured chicks threw open their gaping mouths as we peered at them, while their parents rustled in the bushes snatching flies and larvae to pop in.

For a couple of nights we camped on the cousin island, stalking out during the night to search for returning turtles heavy with eggs. Before we arrived, fresh marks and excavated sand marked their nests, but much to our disappointment, no ladies returned during our stay. We were visited by hoards of cockroaches which scuttled into all corners of our rucksacks, pots and sleeping bags and the most beautiful iridescent Jamaican mango (an endemic hummingbird) sipped nectar above our head. Brown pelicans crashed through the sky, plunged into the sea, to spring out of the water with a sack full of water and fish fry. Ranks of magnificent frigatebirds, blackly circled the island like awaiting jurors.

For the first couple of days we worked with Rik, a turtle and conservation biologist from Florida who did the turtle surveys and on his last evening we has a decent chat; wonderful. Conversation had become a rare and precious repast, after the last months in Chile with a dictionary perpetually glued to our noses. To be able to actually express ourselves was a huge relief. We had met some really wonderful Chileans but our Spanish abilities were so appalling that it was really only those who could speak English or who were used to dealing with ‘estranjeros’ (the unfortunate term for us gringos) and slowed the tempo to a three year old’s pace (on a good day) that finally this crazy language with its rrrrrrrrrrrrrs and els, ellas and endings could occasionally be deciphered.

Peruvian pelicans and boobies luckily do not speak

What we had not anticipated before pointing Lista’s bows to southern Chile was the accent that was to await us. Only now, after returning from Bolivia, can we fully appreciate the state of our folly. We have reliably been informed by several sources that it is the most difficult version of South American Spanish on the continent! That Columbian, probably followed by Peruvian and Bolivian Spanish are the most pure and decipherable to us Johny foreigners and that if one can master Chilean Spanish, one should be able to understand all others! Oh bitter joy. Meanwhile, we return to ‘beloved’ Puerto Montt to a cacophony of completely incomprehensible high speed questions void of, ‘Ss’ not only at the end and beginning of sentences but callously removed from the innards as well….aaaahgggh

Back on Jamaica, after establishing the addresses of each land and seabird on our posy of islands, we retired to the fabled Blue Mountains, a haunt I had conjured marvellous images of, after Emily a friend who lives on nearby Cayman, waxed lyrical of the misted tree pocketed hills. In fact, contrary to popular press, Emily adores Jamaica and after our short stay, so did we, ranking it as one of the finest islands that we have encountered in the Caribbean.

We had been given a driver for safe passage between the island surveys and the guest houses. Our colossal black Jamaican was a picture of meek dutifulness, always on time, seldom uttering a word, even with my repeated questioning. It was only when Rik had to call him, that a slightly earthier side of the dulcet goliath was revealed. He was as ever driving, but rather than hanging up after their conversation, he left the phone on, at which point, our wee, ‘goldilocks’ must have developed a disposition for road rage. With mobile vibrating from the pitch, he roared at some poor motorist at the top of his powerful lungs a string of expletives that would turn even the most proficient of ‘cusses’ green!

The fact that we could not really understand one another was another minor floor in the driver-ecologist relationship. This predicament was not, however, as bad as with our fishermen whom motored us to the islands and with whom I had not an iota of an idea as to what he was saying and he didn’t even speak Spanish. Then again, should a poor Chilean find herself in Glasgow, Newcastle, or deepest Devon I’m sure she would be delighted with the variety of British accents?

We did finally succeed in engaging our driver in conversation, with the subject soon straying to gang warfare on the streets of Kingstown. Recently the leader of all things drug and gun orientated had been extradited after pressure from the Obama administration. Our driver soon assured us that actually the man was a hero and a pillar of the community, ensuring children went to school, buying their uniforms, dissipating neighbourhood disputes and generally maintaining the community’s smooth functioning. It appeared that the majority of Jamaicans viewed him as a sort of ‘Miss Marple’ figure and would rather have kept him. At which point I asked, ‘Sorry, what was his name?’

‘Meeester Coke’….

‘Oh, I see…..!’

Once the survey work was completed we found a Bed and Breakfast in the Blue Mountains where we could write up the results. The landlady’s (Susan) brother, John picked us up from Kingstown in his clapped out Nissan and we slowly spiralled up and up into the sky. John was one of the happiest men I have ever met. He adores Jamaica, but particularly the Blue Mountains and most particularly his patch of the Blue Mountains where every day he tends his tomatoes, dasheen and plantains. Crystal clear water always flows through his valley, his extended family perch on its hillside; he is in heaven.

The family dog

So we settled down to Jamaican family life, tapping on our laptops during the day and running in the late afternoon, scrambling higher and higher up the mountain’s hillsides. ‘Dashuan’, or ‘Da-bling’ as we christened him, emerged from bed sometime in the midmorning and asked us what we would like to eat and when and then told us what we would eat and when! With a flourish, sudsu/coocoo/mealiemeal (maize flour boiled) would arrive with an assortment of beautifully presented variously fried/curried/fricasseed chicken offerings. He was very cool and sang a lot. We were not cool and tapped… and we both laughed rather more at one another than with one another.

The B&B family

One afternoon I asked if I could take a photo of him, his brother and Susan and suddenly the relationship was transformed. He took photos of us working from his phone and lounged in the hammock by our side. I asked him whether he had travelled; he had been in a plane once, but didn’t enjoy it and would not go again and that he didn’t like water, so boats were out of the question, but most particularly he did not like the big toad that his sister had found in the garden.

We left the B&B one morning, walking up the track and watching the Jamaican red-billed streamer hummingbird guarding his red, flowering bush from potential rivals. (Hummingbirds love red and orange hues, indeed, a friend of Rik’s smothers ruby lipstick on his mouth at the start of the nesting season and hummingbirds flock to feed)! We hadn’t been altogether lucky hitching in Chile and weren’t positive of our chances in Jamaica, when to our relief a small black jeep came to a dusty halt. I moved an elegant posy of forget-me-not blue agapanthus picked from the road side off the front seat and as we snaked down the hill. I peered at our driver from the corner of my eye.

Deadly long red nails curved around the wheel; a slim ebony figure was wrapped in a turquoise silk Chinese embroidered dress; bare feet pushed the pedals, while flame red platform sandals were cast by their side; an orchid tattoos furled around her neck and a hallow of sassy, frizzy hair framed her striking face. We had scored, Anna was wicked. Her strong, deep voice boomed the most unusual sentiments; opinions we rarely found in others as we discussed law, HIV, teenage pregnancy, environment and her business. It was instant attraction for us all. I was determined to remember her and wanted a photo, but of course our Grace Jonesesk character would not concede and I limped away squirming like a spotty pink teenager.

Cayman sunset

Next stop was Grand Cayman. Not my favourite place, exemplifying all those nasty worldly traits of consumption, environmental degradation and glitz; monopoly land in a great shining gold-studded bubble. We hadn’t seen Emily for ages, however, since she had lived with us aboard Lista Light when we arrived in the Caribbean and her frantic carrot juicing, stunning smoothies and jokes began to soften the cruise-shippers’ ‘paradise’. We also hatched a training programme to run a decent distant each day; first five, then six and soon fifteen miles were clocked off.

Emily and her carrots

The reality of being herded through airports, the artificial world of Cayman and Miami, the barrage of cities, of buying prepared food, had transpired to render life rather depressing. It was, however, soon to become even bleaker. On arriving into the Arica bus terminal, northern Chile, after a thirty-thee hour bus journey from Santiago, a thief grabbed our bag….

We had been carrying out a ‘rubbish experiment’, to keep all our rubbish for ten months, to see what shape of a mountain we created. We had accumulated a hefty amount during our travels, especially as it transpired that most cafes, cheap restaurants, diners- food gaffs in general- no longer wash up and everything comes in smart little polystyrene boxes (later to gather in little pieces on the ocean currents) with plastic cutlery to decorate. OH JOY. We carried a container, knives, forks and cups (causing the flight hostess to raise an eyebrow) but we didn’t always remember to carry them or created dissent when asking not to have packaging.

Rubbish

Needless to say, the thief did not take the rubbish bag (oh, I would love to have seen his face if he had) but the most precious bag, with Dave’s laptop and the new wiz-bang camera we had brought for our seabird work and all our Chilean and Jamaican photos (hence the lack of photos in this log…).

View on La Paz

In misery we sat for the next eight hour bus journey to La Paz, Bolivia. The next days were full of bowler hatted ladies, with long black plaits joined at the end with a sort of curtain pulley devise. Gaudily striped cloth wrapped across their backs covering bulging clandestine items and rather than one skirt, they wore several! This all transpired to give the appearance of a rolly-polly Russian doll. We searched the streets for jungle gear, with clapped out cars and buses belching out clouds of noxious fumes and more bowler hatted woman pressing fresh oranges for glorious juices, or sitting under mounds of avocados, fake watches or perfumes. Street sellers abounded, candles in one area, plumbing pipes in another, it was just a matter of finding your desired item, not an easy task at 3700m with lungs bursting as we pounded up another vertiginous hill. What was clear, however, was that woman were the workers, whether steel mongers, butchers or road diggers, where exactly the men were and what they wore, will forever remain a mystery.

Crazy La Paz streets

La Paz plaza near our hostel

La Paz ladies

Bowler hats

Woman at work, La Paz

During the nasty buying session, in a city just like every other in the world, with flashing adverts and honking abuse, we found Isabel, while perched on a bucket and dining on chicken stew on a heap of rice. She is an avid high altitude climber. German by birth, she has lived in Argentina for ten years and scaled most of South American’s more tricky mountains. She keeps returning to Bolivia as it holds some of the greatest terrain.

Isabel and Dave, street food

Exactly one year ago, she was climbing an icy mountain near to La Paz. Her companion suddenly fell, pulling her with him in a 400m decent. She broke her ankle and he severely damaged his skull. She remained on the glacier for two nights, crawling when she could during the day, drinking ice melt and propping her head up by night to prevent sleeping to her death. Her climbing partner died. On the third day a rescue party arrived and she was transported by mule off the mountain. Soon she was climbing again with crutches and when we met her she had made a first ascent up an icy Bolivian mountain. It was great to have a friend in the city and we moved to her labyrinthine hostel and sampled the delights of Bolivian street food together. (To read an article about her near-death climb follow this link:

http://espn.go.com/espnw/features-profiles/6787819/isabel-suppegrave-climb

We stood on the top of a car choked hill in La Paz looking in turn from ‘flota’ (clapped out bus) to colectivore (shared taxi) and back again. We were about to leave our altiplano home and head for the steaming recesses of the Bolivian Amazon jungle. We had been warned that the road is deemed to be one of the most dangerous in the world. Great.

As clouds of chocolate dust blacked out any sight lines and our taxi driver sped down the hillside at break neck speed, I was beginning to think that the bus might have been the better option. It was hideous. I closed my eyes and prayed. We were on a single track mud road and to our left the world stopped and began again hundreds of metres below, somewhere near to where the last passengers had fallen to their peril. The child in front kept winding down the window and we kept asking her to close it as our lungs filled with the grit and earth billowing over us. She did it again, but this time a stream of vomit protracted out. The driver was a moron, intent on passing everyone even though there was no room. After another, hideous, perilous move Dave boomed from the back seat, ‘No necessita conduciar como un niño..’ (there’s no need to drive like a child) or some other probably incomprehensible Spanish) but the roller costa ride never stopped.

Somehow we avoided death and were deposited into a town, Caranavi, in the dark and found a bus to transport us onwards for the night. I couldn’t close my window and a surprisingly icy draft lashed at my neck. I kept waking up sure we would miss our stop. I could just make out tall trees, concrete houses, dogs, corrugated roofs and tumbledown villages through the monochrome night, furling along the road. Nine hours later we were deposited on the side of the grit road as light gradually smeared across the sky. A school, houses, a café and a smattering of shops marked the village, El Palma.

The start of the journey

Soon we were heading for the Amazon, our first foray into this mighty rainforest for both of us and my dream wilderness. We clutched machetes. Our bags bulged with food: pasta, garlic, oil, peanut butter (heaven) flour, yeast and some carrots, as well as the MSR stove, hammocks, bird book and a handful of clothes. The fields, plantations and secondary woodland heaved with multi-coloured birds, dragonflies and butterflies; we were in our element. This was soon to change.

We were hacking our way through fairly dense secondary rainforest with the shadows growing longer and longer, hoping to find a hunter’s path. Miraculously it appeared and we decided to hang the hammocks before it became completely dark. We placed our ruck sacks in a bright orange survival bag, downed some pasta and headed for bed. It was only 7pm, but pitch dark. Thus ensued one of my worst ever nights. We have both walked in rainforests in Asia and the Caribbean etc., I have trekked and camped for a couple of days in Sumatra and Malaysia, but this was just not the same. We were on our own, in disturbed forest, close to a path along which animals and people hunted and I was becoming increasingly scared

It was all completely irrational, but it was stony black and the unfamiliar sounds emanating around us very soon morphed into those of jaguars, peccaries and warring tribes. The reality is that jaguars generally keep well clear of gun wielding humans and two bundles in the trees would not be associated with prey; peccaries would similarly ignore us hanging above them as they trundled past; and humans would not be out at night, as every other hunter is. This of course is all clear and logical in the wonderful, warm, light of day, but not at all relevant in my lonely hammock and I proceeded to become more and more petrified, hardly able to breath or move for fear of triggering an attack!

Then at about 2am it started raining and didn’t stop. Needless to say, we had not tied our hammocks particularly well and torrents of water began to gush into our beds. We hung freezing in a pool of water for fear of getting out and being snapped up by some passing hunter! Suddenly, I heard an almighty crack and Dave swearing. I looked through my green gauze and Dave was upside down scraping the floor!

I had been bursting for a wee for hours but couldn’t bear to face the world beyond my zip. Precipitated by Dave dangling upside down, we both gingerly put our feet on the forest floor. I looked down at my trainers with my head torch. Hundreds of glittering eyes stared back at me: armies of ants, spiders and every imaginable invertebrate crawled across the floor, while ants the size of puppies marched across our hammock strings. We hurriedly returned to our sacks and willed away the darkness, growing colder and colder in our wet hammocks.

We were both fairly keen to beat a hasty retreat home after this first disastrous night, but soon puckered up and headed onwards. As the days crept by, we developed a routine. Each day, at 4pm we began to search for a campsite; somewhere open was the most desirable, preferably near a river or stream. A triangle of trees was selected so that the feet end of the hammocks used the same support, so that we close. The space under the hammocks was slashed and a centre pole cut and lashed into place with climbers. A tarpaulin was hung over it to provide a roof and the two machetes planted near the hammock head ends, within rapid hand reach for the night time. Dave would miraculously start a fire, even with sodden rainforest wood, mustering his deep, growling, hunter-gatherer instincts. Then the pasta would be wheeled out, yet again.

The dandy himself

We stumbled across many temporary hunting camps, often with chilli bushes and if we were really lucky pawpaws and plantains which could be added to the ‘feast’. Porridge was the king of dishes, mixed with powdered milk, salt and occasionally, as a special treat, honey. Strict rationing prevented ‘over-indulging’ on porridge and the limited supply of petrel for the stove necessitated the cooking of a hefty batch of pasta on the evening’s fire. This was unfortunate, as the soggy gruel would perpetuate to breakfast and sometimes even lunch the following day. If pasta failed to make an appearance, however, we would suck a teaspoon of peanut butter and a boiled sweet.

Fire man

Evening meal and home

All who know us will realize that such behaviour is highly unusual. We are variously known as gannets and prime porkers, with very healthy appetites. It was an interesting experiment and oddly neither of us suffered from pangs of hunger. The repercussions of the diet were not altogether savoury however. Whenever either of us bent over or sat down and then regained our feet, we would dive into convulsing head rushes and just about pass out! The other product, or should I say lack of product, is perhaps desirable and exemplifies a reduction in wastage, with both of us not needing to ‘relieve’ ourselves for three whole days!

Jaguar prints

We searched for hunter’s paths heading west, following footprints and searching for old cuts in vegetation. We were aiming for a lake and a river and hoped to follow it north to Ruenbaki where we could find a bus back to La Paz. The topography of the forest varied as we scrambled 200ms over a series of hills and then down into the river terraces. The forest morphed from tall canopy, with little undergrowth; to low trees and scrub on the hills and what appeared to be mainly primary rainforest.

Amazon, tall canopy

Metronomic clangs echoed through the trees as we swung our machetes, taking it in turn to clear the way. Our eyes constantly scanned the forest floor, in case a fer-de-lance or similarly venomous critter might be looking back. Yet in twelve days, we didn’t see a single snake, only one young, tiny snake brought dead to us by a village child and another that positively ‘flew’ through the undergrowth to avoid us, as we neared a community on our way home. We did see plenty of tracks of cats, jaguar, deer, peccaries and colossal tapias.

Tapia print

We were regularly joined by macaws squawking over the canopy, trogons swooping for insects, woodpeckers cackling, green oropendolas chattering or toucans yelping as the light faded from the sky. Mixed flocks of darting tanagers and other brightly coloured ‘ball-ball’ birds would dart by our sides with a rare glimpse in the binoculars blowing our minds away. We lingered longer on the penultimate morning, watching an Amazon kingfisher darting along the river, knowing that we would soon be leaving this haunting place. To our delight, at the fork in the river was a sun bittern one of our favourite birds, whom we became ‘acquainted’ with in the Orinoco. This fragile, slim wader is a fairy amongst birds and can only have evolved to become a ballerina. Even its call it’s a weak shimmering note barely uttered before retreating.

Male collared trogon

It was both of our first wilderness experiences. We have both walked and lived in remote places for days and months, but never alone and never quite like this. As the days passed and we walked deeper into the olive green world, we knew that if either of us were to become badly injured, we could not seek help. It was as if we were reverting to the Stone Age, or some ‘Jurassic Park’ reality, as darkness fell and a sliver of smoke curled through the sepia trees of our camp. It had become our longest period without adverts or news and the longest period without a mirror! It was incredibly simple and archaic. Each day, all that we needed was water, shelter, fire and our machetes to hack a path. Without our food stores, however, we would not have managed. As we walked our wonderful charismatic French friend, Pierre’s words pulsed through my head, ‘You will never die’.

Pierre had worked for the SAS equivalent in the mountains of France and also walked for two months in the Venezuelan rainforest. He was alluding to the fact, that there is always water, but he also said how very hungry we would get and that one of the main hazards to watch for would be the machete.

And he was right.

Female collared trogon

On about day six, we came to a fork in a path and wanted to investigate the lower direction. Dave decided to cut a stick to mark the decision point, as it was easy in the tangle of vegetation to lose one’s way. I watched him slash the branches off and with a flick the tip of his own finger. Blood gushed out, it was hideous. I sat him on my pack, the missing piece had gone and rain was quickly soaking him. I grabbed the first aid kit and bundled Dave under the tarpaulin. The rain complicated matters, but we eventually managed to dress it. We weren’t sure what to do next. We were concerned that if the finger should become infected, we should not be heading further away from civilisation and decided to find a camp as soon as possible and see how it was in the morning. As Dave stood up, however, his knees began to buckle and suddenly I was supporting him in my arms and as I lowered him back onto his bag he no longer responded to my calls, ‘Dave, Dave, Dave……’

After what seemed an interminable length of time, with my imagination leaping wildly, he came round. Apparently he had been in an immensely peaceful place with dulcet music washing over him. He had heard me calling, but didn’t want to leave…

Luckily, we had packed a couple of energy drink sachets and we whipped one out of the first aid. These are highly recommended in such circumstances and gave Dave a boost before he tried to get to his feet. We never found the other part of the finger, no doubt the ranks of assiduous ants found a good use for it. Unfortunately, the finger was the same finger that Dave had planed through in Trinidad and now there is not really so much left of it.

Jurrasic jungle hut

Paradise tanager

I adore rainforest, but on day five, as the evening grew near, I began to doubt the point of journeying day after day for years through the Amazon, a plan which we had been hatching. I was shocked by myself, but this raw environment was manifesting all manner of emotions to which we both had not previously felt. Dave in contrast, was relishing the honest, simple routine. The decision, however, was soon to be made for us. On arriving at the river we were met by villagers, the first people we had seen in six days. It was all rather shocking, but what was evident was the difficulty we would have in crossing countless large rivers and hacking paths close to them.

Largo Azule

Another campsite

Of all the encounters we had during our rainforest odyssey, I think it was the leaf cutter ants that won both of our hearts. They forged highways through the forest; trembling, bustling, lines of determined workers, lugging ridiculously large weights upon their backs. Their trails were so impressive that they created new routes for other forest dwellers. On awakening after that first, dreadful, night, we found that the local brigade must have taken a shine to our orange survival bag, as lines of neat holes had been cut along its seam! In other meetings, we stumbled across armies marching up-side-down, clinging to branches with full loads or forming pink incisions through the forest as they waved their petals on our high.

One of the many rivers we crossed

On preparing for ‘el jungle’ (pronounced ‘hoonglay’ in Spanish) we had anticipated mosquitoes, snakes, even hostile tribes, but there was one element of the natural environment we had not thought of. On the third night, in the hills, we finally clambered into our hammocks for another 12 hour stint, gradually tuning into the sounds that occupied that neck of the woods. It was a windy night and we were both expectantly cold. Leaves clattered from the canopy above our heads. Steadily we began to drift asleep. Suddenly a gigantic ‘SCREECH’ and almighty ‘CRACK’ pierced the night. Flung into searing consciousness, our senses tingled as our world appeared to tear up around us. It suddenly dawned on us, a tree was crashing down to earth, but would it crush us? We were pinned to our hammocks, cowering in the darkness..

The fateful campsite

The next morning we peered out. A massive tree had fallen less than 50m from our hammocks, wrenching smaller trees with it and crushing all the vegetation below it. We had always scoffed at insane Health and Safety pro-formers warning teachers not to lead classes under trees. I mean, how utterly ridiculous, the likelihood of falling trees are pretty remote? Well not so in the rainforest! Gaps in canopy are really important to these habitats and a necessary feature of the ecosystem, allowing light to the floor and new plants to succeed. Falling branches can perform a similar function. The combined effect from the weight of bryophytes, climbers, vines and other aerial plants, with shallow soils, excessive rain and landslides, increase the likelihood of tree falls in tropical rainforests. Needless to say, this would still not stop me from teaching children under trees. Rather die under a tree, than under car? Future camp site selections did, however, involve some neck craning for trees with a lust for freedom!

we have the tarp. Sorted

The only other slight discomfort from twelve days in glorious rainforest was our feet. My mother had ranted on numerous occasions about foot rot and I had scorned her concern. Of course, as mothers generally are, she was right. Even after relentless powdering and airing of paws and clean, dry (well almost) socks at night, we both succumbed. I suppose having all day, every day, wet feet is the perfect environment for fungi?

Rotten feet

On the last night we couldn’t find any suitable trees. Aye, an odd predicament in a rainforest, we finally stumped on a motley cluster, close to the path that would lead to the village with the school that we had slept in on at the start of the expedition. We were, however, near to the banks of the final, large river that we would have to cross and so we walked down to its sandy terraces and feasted on the last of the rations- very garlicky pasta and chocolate semolina. Our bellies were popping as we watched skeins of screaming parrotlets, macaws and oropendolas flapping home to roost the sunset. The moon was massive and lit the way to the river where we scrubbed the pans.

Interlopers

Our bedrooms were not such a pleasant experience! I was pinned against a tree which I knocked periodically through the night and which was also the local ant M25. We awoke to our wet day clothes, packs and hammock swarming in 30,000 termites, marvellous! We pulled everything to the river and after beating all our possessions free of the intruders and a fat millipede which had coiled into Dave’s rucksack, we cooked breakfast. Guzzling plump crumpets with the last of the honey, we watched an Amazon kingfisher perusing the river and then a gaggle of red and green macaws flew into a tree on the bank of the river, bliss.

Amazon kingfisher

One of the hundreds of stunning forest butterflies

Lineated woodpecker

Red and green macaws

Finally breakfast

The rainforest experience was after all mild in comparison to the journey we would have to repeat back up the mountains to La Paz. Neither of us was looking forward to it. We walked for miles along sand tracks in the blistering heat, past grazing cattle and yellow-rumped caciques. Finally we slumped by the side of the road to await the bus, which would leave the jungle far behind. A group of children clustered around us and giggled at our Spanish, until a rattling orange cloud rising into the air, singled the arrival of the bus. Thus began the ascent.

Amazon indians

A village in the Amazon

Crossing a river

We stopped frequently for passengers, including a consignment of hardwood doors replete with massive, scuttling cockroaches and a thigh-high boy with a bucket of oranges. We sampled the road-side food, best of which were the bags of plantain crisps with treasure on the top in the form of a boiled egg in one bag and a salty, smelly hunk of cheese in the other. Orange peel littered the bus, leaving the young boy’s bucket empty and further citrus purchases necessary. Oranges and grapefruits had been a surprising crop of the rainforest. When nearing the village on the Rio Quequeba we had seen coils of citrus along the path. On arrival we found a grove of citrus bursting with mouth-watering, massive, fruits.

As the light faded we wound our way higher and higher up into the Andes. On the last journey we had travelled the final Andean descent in the dark, so this was the first time that we saw the view. My God. Incredible. Millions of hectares of rainforest swept in never-ending misty verdure beneath us. It was awe inspiring, representing one of The? last wilderness on earth.

Rainforest view

My eyelids soon grew heavy and I decided that firmly shut eyes were probably the best way of combatting the terrors of the ‘Death Road’. A couple of hours later, we heard a pop and soon everyone was out of the bus changing the tyre. A slick tyre, which had probably last seen tread twenty odd years ago, was replacing the relict, to join the other ‘skates’. We swallowed and piled back on board.

Dave was determined to stay awake in case this might afford us some safety, but finally a groggy sleep overcame him too. I don’t know how long we had been sleeping, when suddenly we heard an almighty, ‘Crunch!’ We were jolted awake with the rest of the shouting bus inhabitants. What now? Were we about to die? I looked out, pressed against Dave and my window was a massive boulder, overhanging the cliff. The man in front of us told us to leave our seats, in case it collapsed in upon us. Women were demanding that we should be let out and finally the door was opened and everyone piled out onto the moonlit road. It was 2am. The driver must have fallen asleep and swerved into the cliff, but what if he had swerved right? In the silver light of the moon, we walked across the road and gazed over the edge. Darkness and air, spiralling far beneath us…

As I am writing this and you are reading (well looking for the photos!) you know that we did of course survive and did not join the other deceased, forever resting and intertwined in climbers amid the skeletons of buses and cars at the bottom of that Andean precipice. Dave is indeed alive and well. His finger is still attached, if somewhat smaller and he is currently knocking holes into the wood burner to create an hot water heating system. When I married Dave, among all his rampant gifts, I did not know quite to the extent that Wallace (of Gromit) lurked within the Northumberland beast.

At work, just not the hot water heater this time..

After three days of buses (Chile has an incredible bus network) staring out of the window for the first 30 hours at mile after mile of the driest desert on earth (The Atacama), we managed not to lose any of our possessions to any wayward Chileans. To my Devon-woodland sensibilities, the desert was pretty oppressive, just nothing, apart from rubbish glinting and flickering on its inhospitable surface. In some respects it is honest. Car tracks, down-hill biking runs and wanton fly tipping scar its surface. Unlike the proliferation of the tropics, vegetation does not conceal human ravishing. On returning to Puerto Montt, I was chatting to a lovely man in the marina and I mentioned the desert. A smile flickered across his dark face. He countered that every four to eight years that same acrid yellow landscape blooms with a kaleidoscope of colour. The sky finally opens and flowers besiege the Atacama.

Andean Gulls on the pass from Bolvia to Chile

Crossing the Andes

Puerto Montt

Lista in Oxxean marina

After seven whole weeks away, we raised our heads above the marina wall and both heaved a sigh of relief on finding Lista’s two masts still above water. But as we drew open the hatch to step down below, we were soon to discover that Lista had decided to provide us with a welcoming display. We gazed in horror at a landscape of green; every surface was covered in mould, from the wooden spoons, kettle and saucepans to all our clothes! Our eyes moved upwards to find a ceiling glittering in plump, droplets! Lista had turned into a grotto!

Mould

Droplets

So here we lie in Puerto Montt, attempting to head south again. Chile has been our home since we arrived into Chiloe’s avian soup, in April. Unlike all other port entries we were overseen by a party of cormorants, steamer ducks and a Peruvian booby or two. This was due to our arriving into the altogether unlikely Chilean island of Isla Pascua (Easter Island or Hanga Roa) more Pacific in culture than Chilean. Although Chile mainland is hardly uniform, being such a very long thin country, it spans just about every climatic zone of the southern hemisphere, producing olives, grapes, citrus, plums and milk.

Southern lapwing on the shores of the marina

We did receive one unexpected visit from the Armada de Chile, who oversee all movements of boats within the country. We were tucked up in bed one icy night, when we were suddenly awoken by gruff voices. We both ran up on deck to find four short swarthy figures, in ankle length Russian grey coats, squished into a tiny dinghy. Their torches beamed a milky light in the mist. It was the oddest of apparitions, as they appeared to be floating in the air. They requested our position and destination, apologised for bothering us and were on their way! This is the law in Chile, for all who sail its waters; all movements must be reported. We stumbled back to bed, awaking in the morning to the distinct feeling that it had all been a dream.

For two weeks we sat in a deserted bay in Chiloe, with the saministas chugging past each morning to check the salmon pens and inhaled our first autumn in four years! We burst onto the lanes on our bikes, speeding towards Ancud, northern Chiloe and its principle city, in search of provisions. Austral parakeets screamed above our heads, two men stood by their yoked oxen adjusting his load, woodland made way for fields, fencing sprouted, tendrils of lichen spooled off wire and tiny corrugated iron houses puffed wood smoke. We were in heaven. It was as if we had landed in Devon, but one hundred years earlier. Bandurras (black-faced ibis) probed the grassland, wildflowers swayed in the breeze, fat filthy pigs snouted, orchards hung with ripe apples and seaweed dried on racks. There weren’t hedgerows exactly, more pockets of grassland amongst woodland, browsed by docile Ayreshire-looking cows, swinging their ample udders!

Four hours later and we had pedalled up and down every pot-holed, bone-shattering track in sight, but were still a good four hours away from Ancud and there was no way we would get there and back before midnight! On arriving at a metalled road we decided to turn the opposite direction from Ancud, in pursuit of an empanada sign. We cycled up a farm track and found a farmer to practice our Spanish on and his agri-tourism venture. He muttered that his wife was away and our heart’s sank as he shook his head at our empanada request. To our delight, however, he soon returned with hunks of cheese sandwiched between doorsteps of fresh bread. We bought apples, more cheese and homemade plum (the best), rhubarb and apple jam and were off in search of the village shop which he gestured with a flick of his hand to be, ‘up that way.’

An hour later and numerous hand flicks later, we had still not found the village shop. Even a lady whom clearly had hundreds of hens and most definitely eggs refused us a sale. It was growing dark and our chances of finding the fabled village shop appeared more and more remote. I spoke to a couple of grinning men parked at the corner of the road. They gestured down the hill. Completely phased and believing that the entire island of Chiloe was sending us on a merry goose trail, we skulked towards a farmhouse requesting butter and potatoes. Oh joy, a be-aproned woman somewhere in her late forties appeared to nod and we apprehensively followed her flailing hand into the kitchen.

A rather odd scene greeted us. A massive, fifties log burner stood in the middle of the kitchen with pots puffing upon it. Tomatoes were heaped in containers around the room and the old father sat at the kitchen table beaming. Blaring from the end of the room was a huge TV with prancing Señoritas in fishnet stockings, frilly tutus and nothing much else… Oh the rural idyll! The knee-high mother (have you seen ‘Les Triplettes de Belleville’ a wonderful French cartoon- well this was the grandmother!) beckoned me into the next brown room and grinned at piles of cheese sitting in the bookcase. I had decline as we had just bought our own Chiloen cheese and returned to the kitchen to commence the oddest supermarket experience. We finally left with potatoes, tomatoes, lamb/beef (we would find out later), eggs and butter (not home churned, but supermarket!). As we packed our saddle bags I noticed yellow, red and blue flags billowing above the farmhouse wall. It suddenly dawned upon me, the village shops were in fact the farmhouses! Farmers sold their produce direct to one another and the flags that we had passed along the way were signing that dairy/vegetables or meat were on sale!

As we rode up and down dale, eyes straining through the gloom, we heard the oddest croaking from a line of trees on the side of the road. I was sure that toads were serenading their ladies from the creek down below, but the chorus appeared to be resonating form the canopy of the trees? We pushed through the undergrowth and finally found the songsters, Neotropical cormorants- all black cormorants grunting like pigs! Chile was proving to provide all manner of surprises!

Neotropical cormorants

During those first blue high pressure days, we couldn’t understand why everyone wouldn’t want to live in Chiloe, it was utterly stunning. We cycled the tracks, eventually reaching Ancud to gather boat stores. Along the way, we stopped at an old wooden farm (wood being the vernacular building material of southern Chile) gazing at a tit-tyrant (similar to our blue-tits in size) plucking insects from the top of the apple trees. A farmer appeared and beckoned us into his orchard gesturing at the wind falls and offering us to fill our boots! We asked whether we could buy some milk from him. He walked away, leaving us wondering whether we had offended him, but returned with a ladle and empty plastic bottle. He strolled across the road, poured the morning’s milk from the churns that were awaiting collection into our bottle and sent us on our way. Our first real milk in over two years, bliss!

229chiloemilkchurns

Of course, just like fair Scotland, there is a reason that everyone does not flock to live in Chiloe or southern Chile and for that you must ask Gill, Dave’s school friend. Gill arrived with her two girlfriends, Sarah and Nicola, for a week of Puerto Montt-Chiloe’s finest weather: wall to wall, grizzly-grey-constant-rain and chilling-to-the-bone! Such weather is conducive to staying inside, so in true packman style we ate and ate, baking bread, oatcakes, stews and soups until the lot of us could barely roll down the hill from the moor above the marina!

Captain Gill

Nicola, Sarah, Me, Dave and Mani

On the voyage to Puerto Montt form Chiloe, we realized, far too late, that we had left a vital part of our life behind, the bikes! We had tethered them together above the cove near Lista’s anchorage so we didn’t have to ship them back and forward on the kayak every day. In a couple of days, my birthday dawned and we decided to catch a bus to Ancud, hitch to the bikes and cycle home. Living in a freezer also necessitated decisive action, so on arriving in Ancud we decided to search for a wood-burning stove as well. A likely candidate caught our eye, but we decided to rescue the bikes first and we walked out of Ancud to find a lift.

Cars passed us, but they either waved ahead, suggesting they were about to turn off very soon (and didn’t) or slammed their foot on the exhilarator leaving us in a soup of grit! I had thought it would be easy in the countryside to hitch, but apparently not. Finally a pickup stopped and elated we piled in, only to be dropped three miles down the road, with another seventeen to go! We sat despondent by the side of the road with rain pouring down our backs. Suddenly we heard the rumble of a bus, the first in hours, but it was driving the wrong way, back to Ancud! Dismally we thumbed it to stop and arrived back into Ancud four hours later, having achieved precisely nothing.

Starving, we grabbed some food and ran to the bus station for the single bus of the day about to leave for the little settlement at the top of the hill (Faroe Corona) above the cove where we had left our bikes. We piled in with all the toothless country inhabitants and their sacks full of wheat and buckets of matter. The charabanc rattled off crunching over pot holes and depositing people at unidentifiable abodes, no doubt nestling somewhere in the woods beyond. We asked whether we could catch the bus on its return from the last stop a couple of miles away, as the bike ride home would take us forever. As we walked up the hill and down the other side, I joked to Dave,

‘Imagine if the bikes aren’t there?!’

As we rounded the corner, we looked in disbelief at a vacant cove, void of bikes. Oh streuth, we couldn’t believe it, such a sleepy country corner, it couldn’t be true? We ran to the local cottager, but her answer was indecipherable and the shaking of her head did not look positive. We hailed a passing car, but the stocky brute in the passenger seat looked like he would eat bikes for breakfast, rather than keep a cosy eye on them. The lady from the cottage appeared motioning about the bus. The next bus would not arrive until tomorrow afternoon, leaving us nestling in the freezing beach.

We ran back up the hill, wheezing in heavy coats. Dave screamed off in front as I pelted down the other side. Just as I reached him, I heard the throb of the bus’ engine. We have now had two thieving incidents in Chile, the first in over three years away from home. This Chiloen was idiotic on our part, but the other was callus. After speaking to Chileans it appears that this is highly usual, that everyone thieves from one another, well perhaps a slight over exaggeration, but there is certainly a problem. It’s such a shame and quite unexpected, as the Chileans themselves are in the main very decent, kind, people.

After a pretty dismal day and a failed birthday, we returned back on the bus to Ancud and decided that we should buy the log burner and at least achieve something from the day. The only question was how on earth we were to transport the solid iron critter back to Lista. The lovely ferreteria (hardware store) sales lady came to our rescue, producing two delivery men whom shipped us and our stove to the bus station, where we man-handled it to a bench. We weren’t sure how the bus company would view the stove, but we needn’t have worried as it was merrily pushed into the buses belly along with all the other passengers’ odd Ancud purchases.

The same problem arose back in Monty. We heaved the stove to the side of the road, but before we had to time to ask, a lotto seller was hailing a taxi for us and we were on our way to Angelmo. The taxi deposited us by the seawall and we gazed into a black hole, searching for Lista, it was now 10pm and was raining. We pulled and pushed and deposited it by the water’s edge. Now the trickiest manoeuvre of the whole escapade; the kayak trip. Dave paddled the kayak over and I waited in the mud with our precious acquisition. We planted it between us and tied it to the kayak, so if took a jolt for freedom, we would have a better chance of finding it.

I sat bolt upright at the front of the kayak, shaking in my attempt not to destabilise the cargo. We both jerkily paddled forward, aiming for somewhere in the middle of the blackness that engulfed us, hoping that we wouldn’t meet any boats and that Lista might eventually emerge from the night. Finally she appeared and we contemplated the ultimate hideous manoeuvre; how to deposit the woodburner and ourselves aboard Lista, looming some 1.5m above us, without us all ending upside down in the cold, oily water. I managed to extricate myself first and with a powerful lunge, Dave and the wretched stove landed in an exhausted heap on the deck!

The woodburner and the daft trout

One day whilst tapping on the computer in ‘Woodburner Corner’, in the usual full regalia of fingerless gloves, woolly hat and several jumpers, I heard a voice from outside. We peered out to find a pair of lycra-clad men in a rowing boat. In a couple of breaths they had invited themselves and their wine aboard. This was to repeat itself throughout our stay in Puerto Montt, as Jose,el jefe (boss) of the local rowing club and Hernan, joined us for evening meals. Jose was by far the king of communication, possessing the superior language skills and gleefully translated every single word that Hernan, Dave or I uttered, turning the event into a sort of game show. If this didn’t work, the conversation would nose dive into slapstick humour as the most transferable tender. After a meal aboard Lista Light, we would all crawl home/to bed shattered form the strains of trying to understand one another.

Hernan and Jose

And more food..

Within weeks Jose has spotted Dave’s natural rowing physic and the Thoroughbred was invited to represent Puerto Mont in the championships against Valdivia. Jose has gleaned that Dave had represented the great (?) Sheffield University in rowing competitions, but he appeared oblivious or failed to understand Dave’s protestations, that he had only rowed a couple of times for Sheffield and that their boats were very old and wooden and that the whole experience had not altogether been a success. Ever the optimist, Jose, Hernan and Gustavo (all typical broad, 5 foot nothing, Chileans) thought it time for a practice and so Dave, 6ft 2 willowy Northumberland joined them……

Dave with the team, Puerto Montt 'training'

Before Dave became too comfortable at the oar, the race day beckoned and we jumped from toe to toe shivering at the rowing club gates in the icy morning breeze. Our chariot soon farted into eyesight, well actually was pushed down the drive and the wretched battle bus was loaded with a pyramid of three 10m rowing boats. Dave, Jose, three others and I squished in (once it had reached the top of the hill) and we began the jarring four hour journey north. Valdivia was not bad for a city, with a huge river furling through its centre. I found the University’s stunning botanical gardens and Dave, Jose, Hernan and co. finally reached the starting line. As they sprinted off, Dave looked back to check the opposition, but could only see a blur of oars disappearing into the distance as the real 21 year old thoroughbreds disappeared, leaving the Puerto Montt veterans to limp home!

 

Chile definitely attracts interesting people, within weeks of hooking up to the marina we had met Mani (our wonderful Fin) Charlie (American-Mexican ocean wonderer) the ‘Seals’ who have made the tip of Chile and the Antarctic their home and the marvellous Frenchies, Pierre and Leo. Pierre sent us into stiches with his stories delivered in his husky French accent and it is just such a shame that living on a boat means that now he has floated far way to somewhere deep in the Pacific.

Cochamo approach

Dave with May and Charlie

Cochamo hut

One day Charlie decided to take May, his Norwegian friend, Dave and I to Cochamo, a valley in the Lake District which ascends into thick Chilean temperate rainforest. We crunched through frosted grass and crossed braided rivers on bridges made from fallen trees, finally arriving into the campsite field. It was like an amphitheatre, framed by towering Andean mountains, dotted with fiery southern beeches heralding autumn, with southern caracaras thermalling above.

Stunning autumn colours- southern beech

Crossing braided rivers on the walk to the hut

A walk in the mountains

The forests were cloaked in lichens and mosses, with mighty alerce soaring into the sky. These are the grandfathers of Chilean forests; conifer trees that can live for over 4, 000 years. They are also highly desired for their wood. Their bark breaks off into perfect, sleek leaves, like slate and is traditionally used as shingles on roofs and also as overlapping waterproofing on the sides of building. They are mighty trees, but have been over-harvested. Now as with many tree species, the Chilean government has banned their felling, only dead trees can be harvested. Unfortunately, this regulation has led to people ring-barking trees, to ensure that the alerce die and can be harvested.

Cochamo river

Ascending..

May

Mist started to descend nearing the mountain top

We spent four days in the Cochamo valley. It was the most beautiful place we had seen in Chile. One morning Dave and I skulked in a thicket in the hope of finding Chile’s national bird, the chucao tapculo and its relative the black-throated huet huet. They both sound like their names, which should have made things easier, but they also both have a habit of skulking, like the pursuers in the very dark recesses of thickets.

Suddenly we heard the huet huet and Dave replied. Incredibly it appeared fascinated by the lanky interloper at its front door and responded gradually hopping closer. From between the scratchy foliage a beautiful slate and fire coloured over-sized robin peeped. Then an explosion from a thicket at our ankles signalled the chucao. He dashed into the open for an instance, only to charge into the dark recesses of a bush. Returning to the campsite, a cow and calf had moved in and so had a chucao, right by our tent!

That night, another visitor arrived. Returning to our tent, a fat sandy mouse flew through the air in a panic. We eventually showed him the door and he skittered off. The same mouse, or one of his relatives, clearly had fun with our food supplies in the cooking hut during the night. When we all sifted through our food the next morning, we found that the mice had gleefully nibbled the sugar, pasta, honey and herbs, tasting the merest of samples from each!

Cochamo team

Dave and Julia Von Meyer

If you have got anywhere near the end of this never-ending tale then you deserve a stiff brandy. I had wanted to mention the stray dogs that in turn haunt and ravish the cities of Chile; a weird tramp underworld, with leaders and gangs pursuing literally the ‘underdogs’; the lowest of matted-haired shenzies. Of the drunkards being savaged to death by these feral packs, under the chill Puerto Montt stars. But I have run out of time. Then there are the wonderful Von Meyers, our Chilean- German farmers with whom we buy sumptuous unpasteurised milk and adore. There is the oddest Chilean customs of kissing, virtually everyone you meet, leading to my having to kiss ten young spotty rowing boys. I ask you! I do my best to hide now, but never appear to succeed in dodging the squelchy embrace. There is the food; sliced glow-in-the-dark bread, stuck together with spam and yellow cheese pages, sloshed down with Nestcafe coffee for breakfast and lunch. There was to be the comparison between April at home and in Chiloe: the snow drifts of the Cheviots with piping curlews, humping toads, wheatears and stoats, but the bell has tolled and I must leave you to finish your snoring. Meanwhile, we will climb into bed, four hours behind you in multiple woollen layers, with a hot milk and dream of England and Chile…….

Sailing from Equador to Chile via Easter Island

new camera so some startling images this time

Ever since the beginning of our sailing adventure in July 2008, the idea of crossing the boundaries of relatively well-trodden sailing areas had always tickled me – and whenever Katharine and I had contemplated life beyond the Caribbean Seabird Surveys I had always pitched the idea that it should contain a trip into the deep Pacific – just to see, just to experience a wild place.

Within six months we would aim to live in two highly opposed wildernesses, leaving the intense, seething, effervescing swampy rainforest of the Orinoco delta, to greet the wild, tempestuous, phosphorescing southern Pacific Ocean. Lista Light had wet her 75yr old sturdy timbers in the Pacific, but never before in the infamous roaring forties, even mentioning the words made me slightly nauseous, yet definitely curious and eager with anticipation. Intrigued. Would the rushed preparation be enough, and would our experience to date have equipped us sufficiently for seas in which an accidental crash jibe costs more than just blushes and mild profanity? Could we arrive this time with two masts intact, or would it be a question of arriving at all?

This account deals with the trip from the Equator to Chile, the long country that extends 2000miles from within the Tropics to the tip of Cape Horn, but barely reaching 100miles wide. The winds determined that a wide detour should be taken all the way around a huge high pressure which swells and contracts and generally gyrates around the mid-South Pacific, and acts as a ginormous roundabout for sailing boats, especially old ones like ours that do not head at all well into the wind. But gentlemen don’t go to windward as the adage goes……..

6th March 2011 The journey started on an ill-footing. Aside from complications which arose from risking an entry into Galapagos in an unaccustomed port, there was one final requirement to pay fees to leave, which resulted in an uncomfortable and awkward discussion with crew on account of our own liquidity issue because of the lack of a bank on the island. The hope and keenness to get underway – forever under the pressure of the Austral winter approaching, and excitement at embarking on our longest voyage yet was somewhat overshadowed by the awkward repercussions of the money discussion. With such a huge and unique experience at stake, and such small living quarters it was more than a shame. The first few days of any voyage are about minor milestones and finding a rhythm of life, and this seemed to take a while.

slightly unfortunate habit of following ships....

Added to this was the fact that just South of the equator there is a large area of water dogged by a lack of wind and intermittent squalls described in Jimmy Cornell´s World Cruising Routes as “an area to be avoided if passing south of the Galapagos is between longitude 90degrees West and 95 degrees West and latitudes 3 degrees South and 8 degrees South . . which appears to be an extension of the doldrums…”Lista´s least favoured conditions. With no suggested antidote aside from keeping on a starboard tack headed South and the only hope of better weather being South of the area, we had to reluctantly accept to use the engine, something Kath and I always feel is our Achilles heal – ready to undermine us. We sailed the miles we could, eaking South, and recorded some terrifically diminutive daily totals. We bore out the gaffs creaking groaning and downright flogging as best we could. Sails went up, then down. We rolled, we collected water in the squalls and we prayed that every zephyr beyond the 5 degree line should bear the beginning of a substantive wind. Hopes more often that were eroded by short-lived breezes evaporating into thin, static air. We busied ourselves where possible but the sea began to feel very big.

As with each little wind, the issues of crew harmony soon petered out and life aboard improved: Diary 8th Feb 1800 Ships Log: “Crew unity returning to the ship”.

As a concession to modern technology and general prudence as to the conditions we would more than likely punch Lista Light into further south, we had bought more things with plugs on before we left Panama. This latest toy was to give us nothing less than time travel – the ability to see into the future and foretell fair weather or foul by downloading forecasts via a mobile phone. The phone is a tremendous beast – much like the early 1990’s mobile phones in a kitsch leather case and pull out plastic aerial, you’ll never lose it in your pocket. As ours was only properly installed in March its early use on Lista Light involved one man teetering on his toes holding up the additional omnidirectional aerial near the helm somewhere, and another downstairs driving the tangle of wires to ensure a connection to the laptop was maintained through the various connection processes – highly reminiscent of early beeping-pipping-squelching dial-up from home. But our home is in the sea and it risked our solitude being shattered.

Marine technology seemingly knows no bounds, but has the slightly unfortunate habit of cacking out at the first opportunity given the hostile environment of humidity and salty air, and because of this, and our need to find wilderness we chose not to use the phone for any calls to home, however tempting it may have become, to preserve our illusion of solitude. We are probably in the last era to enjoy it that way. Nothing worse than setting the expectation of a call, and necessarily the fear of not getting one, with the ones who were worried for us at home, then accidentally pouring a great big mug of hot chocolate over the damned phone and creating all sorts of panic. So we used it once on the first leg to Easter Island until the wind blew.

The effect of that forecast and the effect of the hollow wind on my psychology is described by my log of the day:

9th feb, 2011 DL Personal Log “……Terrible day from a sailing perspective. Our new toy [iridium] told us that no wind was due for 4 days, after that who knows. Felt totally dismayed and defensive. Had coming south been the right thing to do? There were no other options really but I jumped to my defence even though nobody questioned it. Probably a sign of insecurity, I should have checked the weather more thoroughly (though again we had no choice on departing Galapagos so had no options as to leaving date).February is a short month and I was hoping to get to Easter Island by the end of it……. ……At least with the weather forecast it allows us to stop searching for signs of wind endlessly and drop the flogging gaffs. On the downside we retreat from the signs of this environment a step further as technology removes the imperative to read the “real” signs. This is a shame. This vast ‘land’ still feels big, especially at 1 ½ knots, but it’s shrinking.”

another light day

Several visitations rewarded us for turning off the engine and listening. Firstly Mr West visited. To start with just a hum, then clearly the clatter of a helicopter. I wondered if it was the coastguard but we were a long way from the nearest land, and as the craft came alongside, 100ft away inside the little two-seater were two jumper clad guys who waved and smiled, in the middle of the vast expanse of nothing! They were a fish spotting crew which fly from the massive tuna catching vessels, legal or otherwise, in the Pacific. As they disappeared into the distance it was hard to imagine what sort of a state the fish stocks will be in if they are being marshalled from the sky as well as the sea – technology is surely their greatest foe.

Stranger things have happened at sea they say – as we flopped about going nowhere, the silence was interrupted by a disturbance on the water – unmistakably whales. From the South they made a direct course for us. It was like a game of British bulldog, but we were marooned! At the last, perhaps 20ft away about 15 Pilot Whales dipped under Lista to re-emerge on the other side, making haste. A louder blow came from where they had been and it was very different. Where the Pilot whales snuffle this beast was ejecting a massive column of steam and splutter, and even from a distance you could see it was colossal. We scurried up the deck to get better vantage points and following the same routine but keeping a more cautious distance aside and underneath the whale went. As it emerged you could see a huge lightening in the ocean as its body glided forwards, and we took the best pictures we could muster amidst the panic. To be in the presence of what seemed to be the great Blue Whale, or his slightly inappropriately named cousin (he reached 27m you see) the Pygmy Blue Whale was breath taking. Some miles into the distance its blow was still evident as it disappeared to the East and into a squall on the horizon, and we excitedly documented as best we could a rare sighting of this illusive beast – if it proves to be – the Blue Whale, the biggest animal to have EVER roamed planet Earth.

terrificly large blue whale?

In this state everything seemed big – the fauna surely but also the concepts – our depths measured in kilometres rather than meters, our course should follow the Great Circle route rather than a direct A to B, the ocean so big it could only be thought of in terms of imaginary grids of Longitude and Latitude to break the scale a little. The currents feeding this water were conceived as far away as Antarctica. Our position was divided by times zones not hours…..

And then, just as quickly the days had been filled with hopeless frustration, they were replaced with wind, hope and brown rice (Kath and I had taken the opportunity to shove an a mini-“lent” period of eating just rice for three days as a much needed cleanser) – the voyage began!!!

12th Feb, 2011 DL Personal Log “Sailing for once – spirits immeasurably uplifted! Nervous of course that this is temporary but 3kts for 8hrs has at least equalled our last two days runs ….. Day spend grazing rice, sitting on heads trying desperately to expel my foul innards laden with explosive gas discretely – clearly impossible, and embarrassing!”

The next 14 days to windward on the South East trades was superb sailing as we blasted away the miles under full canvas, balanced, and heeling into the deep ocean. For each wave we took across Lista´s port side we delivered equal punishment back to the sea as Lista buried her flank and the sea recoiled sending out a mass of foaming spewing water. Pushing an old working boat to windward is punishing and for Lista Light it took its toll. The sounds witnessed from inside, in our bunks, were harrowing – crunch, groan, silence than another heavy crunch and creak. I would run to the hatch expecting to find a full gale blowing but it always seemed ok outside, so I’d return to another half slumber. The toll was that fact that as the timbers are stressed by the sea small amounts of water seep through – move the planks enough and more water comes in. The bilge pumps were going every 50mins but were pretty stable so although plenty of water was coming in, it wasn’t getting any worse at least. The rig was pulling hard, but sheets and sails stood up remarkably hour after hour, day after day on the same point of sail.

life in the cattle shed, cloths to help us stay in

All good things come to an end and eventually, during shaking out a reef, the gaff on the main mast jammed and seemed to be flexing far too much. It had been a make-shift spar for the last season which had managed and therefore not been replaced. The epoxy glue holding the 2by4’s together had failed and needed renewed. Over the course of the next few days prime spruce which I had harboured since the topmast job, was butchered into reinforcing bars on the gaff, new spans spliced and the jaws re-leathered. All in all, the new gaff was like a brick but wouldn’t break at least. All the while we put lista hard on the wind.

nothing lightweight about this beast

By the time we reached the 20 degree line our crew´s physical condition was beginning to cause real concern. It had started with headaches, but progressed to missing meals and watches complaining of heart pains. A heavy cloud hung over the boat. He had undergone major heart surgery some years ago but felt strong enough to sail this leg with us. To manage that he was on a regime of pills and daily blood pressure readings. The readings increased, as did his stress level exponentially and before long he looked rough. All we could do was fill in the watches and try to improve the diet, removing salt and suggesting less sugar as a weak but immediately available remedy. By now it was pretty clear to all that he wouldn’t be going further into the Southern Ocean and on the 22nd we convened to agree that in effect a medical evacuation was needed and we would divert to Easter Island. Confirmation of that seemed to improve matters and by the 27th February, when we landed, having had to push the boat to the wind for a couple of days on the motor, he seemed much better and his wife happy.

Kath and I were transformed though – as if the news that we would be a twosome had somehow meant we should prepare. As we had done all sail changes etc to date, there shouldn’t be much change there, but we would have to stay alert for twice as much of the watch time, and the boat would need to be shipshape. There would be one small team of Kath and I focussed on one goal, sometimes lean is better, and it would be a great challenge for us.

We have over the course of our little adventure encountered a small number of men and women who we have referred to affectionately as “Mum” and the unlikely, firmly pressed, crisply cut, square jawed figure of the “Armada de Chile” is fast becoming our latest, respectfully of course. We already have our own tremendous Mums who have laid these slightly cracked eggs that we emerged from, and it´s no discredit to their persevering concern that we look elsewhere too, but in travelling away the few select people who have been generous enough to consider maternal, anxious, apprehensive and honest concern for our hapless floating circus, have borrowed the badge, temporarily.

armada de chile and a friend

On arrival to Easter Island we had radio’d in advance, explaining the cardiac problem and requesting permission to land. Soon after the Armada arrived in a massive pirogue which they clattered alongside Lista Light, tearing off the doorway. Once aboard in the cockpit, we had two men from the Armada, one man from the Sanitation department, one from the Immigration service, and one from the Agriculture department, all settled in and thrusting their paperwork in front of us, joking, and bypassing the extraneous sections with a dismissive flap of the hand. Officials bypassing paperwork, helping us with our homework?!?!? They were such fun in contrast to anywhere else. Finally, I was taken off with them to be showed around the various departments in town and to complete all the paperwork possible before being delivered home safely. Over the next few days they showed genuine concern as to our crew, to us and our journey. I was emailed weather reports, without requesting them, helped to mount our little sign showing where home was (a memento dedicated to them), and attended to whenever we appeared at the office.

The Armada request that yachts must call in everyday to report on position whilst in their waters and a detailed passage plan to Chile mainland had to be completed. I made up some numbers for that. It seems a heavy burden in terms of administration but for once you feel the information will actually be used so I resent it less. Ultimately, they were generous, put up with our absolutely appalling Spanish and smiled with us – my first email on arrival will be to let “Armada de Chile de Hanga Roa” know we are home safe from school….thanks Mum.

seemed to know where he was going…

grid lock

Isla Pascua was an unplanned stop but not unwelcomed. It’s a lovely little island in the middle of nowhere – dreadful anchorage- one has to paddle through the surf to get to shore, but that’s half the fun. About 20 or so yachts a year make it off the beaten track to visit here, and of the 4 we shared the “anchorage” with, all had rolled their inflatable dinghies in the surf losing outboards or paddles to various extents. Even our own 18 ft kayak was nearly pitch-poled by a big wave as we carried several hundred litres of water back to the boat at night, and on another occasion a cresting wave picked us up as we arrived through the surf break and simply wouldn’t let us go until we had surfed 50m towards the harbour wall!

The island is famous for its Tikis – Maui statues which speak of a former civilisation. They are lovely of course, but the real draw for us was to go a play in the hills and see a modern town infiltrated by guachos on horseback, leaving mounds of muck on the sculpted pavements and galloping full tilt bareback through the streets and past cars!! It was great fun – clearly the kudos of a suped-up Nova had been replaced by having a horse. The guys tearing about rode bareback and bare chested, or carrying a guitar, or posturing like surly youths behind dark shades. Mrs Lowrie was in heaven.

running therapy

We made use of the chance to idle the streets and in the course of fulfilling some bureaucratic mission spent days walking miles around the little town eating wild guavas, avocado and picking up local meat and veg. It ´s not a cheap place, but the empanada from mr Empanada Man was excellent and an economical option. With a beaming smile and then a pout he gripped his hips and thrust into midair shouting “KAAA-BBOOOOOOM” in order to describe the effect of his home made chilli sauce. It was very good but was so hot it just made my nose run and my testicles ache bizarrely – I’m not sure that’s what he meant.

empanada mans worker, a passionate young chef

In our short visit we managed to eat from his store 5 times. We also ran out into the hills a couple of times and got a real feeling for life beyond the staple diet of tourists, out into the agricultural area where people smiled, caracara’s sat atop lamp posts and guachos herded their cattle on horseback. The tikis are ok too.

daily commute

Back at the boat we prepared, but we are never really prepared. A solo sailor called Paul emerged aboard “Rebellion” too late to spend much time with but what a man. A Dutchman, the same age as us, he had spent the last year and a half in Patagonia using Rebellion, his 30ft little boat as a base for climbing icy peaks with a group of crazed climbers. His images and imagery were startling and we looked at our big floating home with all her chattels with guilty luxury for Rebellion was lean and he had lived aboard her for 8 years in some mean situations. He also liked to free-dive so I suspect he’ll not be about long – catch him if you can for he is a special man. We traded canned meat which we didn’t want any longer for bobbled fleeces and holey socks. He seemed pleased enough, and we wished him bon voyage.

3rd March 2011, Departure Day.

Sailing as a twosome once more. On the one hand, we have sailed some raucous legs with just the two of us, but on the other hand we have thoroughly buggered ourselves up with the smallest amount of temptation – neither of us could be accused of being overly cautious. I think very little of going to the masthead, gaff tip or boom end on a pitching sea and yet demonstrate the agility and grace of a floundering wilderbeast, I borrow the poise of a newly born deer (my nickname whilst, bandy legged and freezing, guesting for my brothers pub league football team by the home crowd was, “Bambi”) and how I haven’t come a proper cropper I’ll never know.

little job up top . . .

Kath, a beautiful innocent young flower of course (she’ll read this you see), and for all the radiation of poise and grace I’m afraid offers a similar plethora of opportunities for calamity. Sorry Love. We’ve have crashed bikes, chopped fingers, infections, popped spines, squished hands, the full gamut really and with two aboard, we really didn’t have any spare limbs on this two-man sprightly birch. So we departed as two with some trepidation quite frankly.

our first visitor - juvenile masked booby

Despite a decent weather forecast and all the preparations we could hope for we had a mildly shoddy start to the voyage. Firstly the forecast,a Northerly wind, in which we had invested a good deal of hope for the first tricky portion of the journey, took a while coming. One imagines a soaring gallant, determined, smashing exit to soaring guitar solos and great applause – we dribbled out of Hanga Roa at 1kt. It was awkward to know when to stop waving. As we awoke following our first balmy night watch Isla Pascua was still firmly in view, you could see individual trees and make out her features easily. It felt a touch embarrassing.
When the wind did arrive it blew firmly from the North for only a day instead of three and before we could adjust to our new ocean dwelling homestead, we were in the face of a brisk South Easterly wind, the ONLY direction we could not sail to our advantage. We tried to ask Lista Light for the impossible though and tacked upwind for a day or so, making deep switchbacks in the ocean, until we conceded that we were making no progress at all and dropped the sails. Alone this would have been frustrating, but ramifications from lifting the boat badly in Trinidad that had played out in our constant apprehension as to the amount of water we are making, came to a head.

5th March 0600 Ships Log: “Wind and rain for 3 hours – collected 10 Gallons. Steering on and off the wind to keep boat moving but controlled in the gusts. Boat wet. Bilge at 35 mins, need to check it doesn’t keep escalating”

It did.

6th March 1200 Ships Log: “Horrible last few hours since yesterday. Jib tore bringing it down yesterday, wind making our progress hopeless – hove-to. Boat pissing in water from starboard side – needs tingle. ….. ……Misery. Hate boats. Hate sailing”.

The bilge pump was being automatically tripped every 20 minutes, a process that was taking 3 minutes to complete. We hadn’t even pushed Lista that hard, and hadn’t reached the thirty degrees of Latitude South, nevermind the seas we would surely meet at forty degrees. On that scenario, another couple of leaks and we would be on a cycle of water evacuation we couldn’t keep up with, in one of the most remote places on earth. Given the number of joins between planks under the water totals a length of over 1000ft of possibilities, and a hole of 5mm would easily flood us, we were in a pretty black place. Nausea crept in. We hoiked up the floor boards and thankfully found the leak in an accessible location – not so much dribbling as bubbling in. It was quite exhilarating to see! In a bizarre moment a little crab ran past my sodden fingers as I experimented with plugging the gap between the frame and the hull but could do nothing but chase the ingress around. I guess we must have shipped him on the anchor chain in Hanga Roa or perhaps before. Not sure what he has been living on (not wood I trust) but he seemed well enough.

applying a tingle underwater

At least we knew what we were dealing with. Drip, drip. There is really only one option for fixing leaks properly underway and that is from the outside. It´s not completely unusual for old wooden boat owners have some breathing apparatus on board in case of this scenario, and we were no different. I couldn’t prevaricate any longer so got on with it. The water wasn’t too cold, but there were two challenges. The first came from the movement we were facing. Lista was “hove-to” with minimal, opposing sails up, effectively drifting slightly sideways creating a “slick” to disturb the oncoming waves but still underway in a seaway. The job required was to find the bloody leak from the outside which is incredibly difficult, and bang on a “tingle” (sheet of copper) with 60 copper tacks, bedded down with putty which is trying to swim away. Each tack head is approximately 5mm across, the tack three-quarters of an inch long and the hole being aimed for is a pin-prick. The target is moving quite a lot. The hammer prefers landing on the squidgy digits pinching the tack. The operator of the hammer is a rag doll involuntarily performing gyroscopic acrobatics as the hull rolls the target from near water-level to 3m down in the big blue abyss.

Free-diving to start with and using a plastic bag to test different areas on the hull, I counted my way down the planks from the outside, and Kath communicated with me from the inside via a series of knocks to determine if the crack I was blocking was the offender. It´s not obvious and Lista refused to sit still. Finally, I covered a small hairline crack of about 4cm long on a vertical seam. It was barely a millimetre wide but when I covered it I heard the dull but frantic tapping from inside to confirm it was the one. X marked the spot.

The second issue humbles me completely. Flaming sharks. Despite the possibility of even seeing one of these persecuted beasts is incredibly rare, I was determined one would take an interest in my underwater dabblings. We had caught and returned a little fella on our way South from Galapagos, and had seen them hunting off our deck lights in theGalapagos, neither instance greater than an over sized haddock, albeit with decent teeth. They are by-catch in the tuna fishing areas and we had seen tuna about. Robin Knox-Johnson had had to fire flares at an overly inquisitive beast during a similar operation on Suhaili mid-ocean. The rest is totally unfounded of course, but logic gets watered down in the big blue and as one looks out into a distant galaxy of penetrating rays of sun and tornados of air bubbles spinning off the pitching bow, all sorts of illusions are triggered.

key part of beard removed for mask. Mormom?

Thankfully, the job at hand took all of my energies and before long I had tunnel vision, and I was re-assured as Kath eased my childish fears by going on shark-watch!! The great (?!) thing about bilge leaks is that at least they are quantifiable and any remedial action is too. As soon as I came to the deck we drank hot soup and watched the bilge switch like expectant parents – a scene which lasted for 75 glorious minutes until she spewed water out. Not perfect but at least we had our contingency back for the Southern Ocean proper, where a similar operation would be a another matter completely in the cold water without a proper wetsuit.

an example of rubbish in the pacific gyre

We had additional woes though. We had transported Lista from a sleepy birth in temperate Britain, to the scorching sun of the tropics, 10000miles later to the cooler air of the South and, with the constant motion to windward of the last month in particular, she started to leak through the topsides too. We had caulked a bit in the Galapagos but the problem was the worst that we had ever encountered. Each day, wherever we looked, a new leak seemed to spring as the waves soaked Lista’s usually resistant decks. Seats were sodden; our clothes, especially my pants and socks on the top shelves, were wet through; bedding touching the outside of the hull wicked in wetness from the ocean; corrosive saline water poured onto the oven and rusted all it made contact with.

Our spirits were damp through, Pt Montt never seemed further away. Each time we discussed it we said “IF we get to Chile….” Or “wherever we do end up . . . .” never daring to dream. We even considered veering off to New Zealand seriously!! In these first few days we genuinely couldn’t see the light. We hadn’t stowed properly before we left in a rush to catch the promised but rare supporting wind. Anything not stowed had hurled itself across the boat. We tiptoed around it. Our thoughts were constantly interrupted by the crew issue which raised our own blood pressure. It seemed our technology was giving in too, as a result of leaking decks. The dead list now included an engine alternator that wasn’t booting out power sufficiently (just a belt as it turns out), failed cabling not charging the anchor batteries (we remained philosophical on this as it would only be a problem IF we reached land!!!) and the blessed hob which really was important.

8th March 2011, 2000hrs Ships Log: “Motoring down long undulating swell. Finally over 30deg line which is great but very slow considering 1200rpm. May hove-to again tonight. Water [fresh] flowing freely from breather pipe in engine room – appears lost a decent amount. DL tried underwater epoxy “take-two” on soddin’ cooker – corroded by salty deck water – its killing us. Storm-Petrel on horizon too quick”.

The oven issue was resolved but gave us a fright. Gas on boats is a bit terrifying to most but we’d had few issues to date. The damn thing does however tend to resist my fixing attempts – the first attempt had caused quite a stir as I’d chanced on the type of rubber washer to use – turned out not to be as thermo-resistant as my test had suggested. That was quite exciting. The current fix still survives.

8th March, DL Personal Diary: Added some tar/foil flashing to cabintop edges for that industrial effect. Frustrating time trying to mend oven [boat moving] which responded by catching on fire complete with pungent smoke, and resplendent with mandarin orange flames. The washer I used was not suitable and my means of testing with a lighter perhaps requires some modera…… (even ^$%*ing pen broken now!!!)…

Pen pitters out. Text commences in new, stronger ink.

“…Both of us harbouring concerns for the weather/conditions ahead. It takes us so long to do sail changes. A long roll has developed on the sea from some distant storm and we have Lista´s bow pointed directly towards it. I hope that we’ll survive this flawed journey and that we may get Lista home. The reality of dangerous pursuits isn’t as joyful and fanciful as their concept, formed in nervous excitement and hope, or [in] reflection, distorted gracefully and distilled into a couple of glorious memories”

Writing retrospectively I think what a miserable git I must have been, at the time we were nervous and it felt really grave!!

more broken stuff - dismayed

kath applying some love to a sail. Light air woes

And then 8 days in and only 300 miles South our moods were transformed with the arrival of some supporting winds, however fleetingly. My mood is so inextricably linked to the wind, at that point elated at being here with Kath, and fascinating books, poetry, plenty of man-jobs to do, unbelievable flights of pelagic birds making their living out here, the peace; sometimes anxious and despairing about the lack of progress and the big swell speaking of gales so distant it seemed we could never reach that far.

Kath recording the fauna religeously

For the next 5 days the sails went up and down more than an Essex girls´ undergarments, as adage goes. We got pretty slick at it and it was just the tonic. Miles to windward were sailed slowly in bursts during which Lista was balanced beautifully and we turned off the auto-helm all together, making only minor interventions if necessary, sometimes hours apart. At nights more often than not we accepted our predicament and hove-to or left a minimal rig up, both headed to bed and slept with one ear open.

sails down, time for a swim

westland petrel photoshoot…

westland petrel photoshoot…

westland petrel photoshoot…

westland petrel photoshoot…

Listas oven worked hard

The time-machine (Iridium) couldn’t be persuaded to tell us about the weather, as it turned out afterwards our chosen application had been disconnected erroneously so we lived on hope. We communicated with the vendors and they reset the password, but in a cruel twist the new password contained the letter “n”, the very digit it turns out that had stopped working on the laptop keyboard – it seemed cursed! The crosses on the chart didn’t move far from one-another. This phase reached a height on the 14th March – heaven on earth

calm start to a fine day of no progress!

14th March 2011, DL Personal Log “Heaven on Earth. Morning broke after a mostly uninterrupted nights sleep, all sails down, not a proverbial fart of wind. I rose as the sun did and the scene was mystical, beguiling, tranquil but gargantuan at the same time. The sea disturbed only by a low milky roll, only the tiniest of wavelets texturing the expansive sea. To look on all sides as the sun stretched its arms was to feel somehow inundated by the oily swell, it had the appearance of height on all sides, as if Lista sat in a small crucible, like a hare sat in a scrape in an open Dorset field.

As the sun exploded its kaleidoscope of colour, the blue, green, greys, pinks and turquoise lit the sky and sea, as if one great plain encompassed all dimensions. The tan bark of Lista’s sails, her horse rug cushion covers and oiled wood came alive with deep reds yellows and mushroom tones and the morning began slowly, I woke Kath as it was a surreal experience.

the first members of the gathering arrived

As we rose, gathering our senses and captured photos the petrels arrived. First a Juan Fernandez petrel in the distance, then one, then two Westland petrels alighted aside the boat. Idling at some distance at first, they slowly grew in confidence to approach our rolling hulk, peddling slow and fast, directly and in circles as their big grey paddles propelled their duck-like frames. 400nm from Isla Pascua, strictly speaking, in one of the most remote places on earth, a commune was gathering. A red-tailed tropicbird flew overhead, the petrels sat metres away. Soon we were swimming with them, a petrel´s eye view, imbibing their thick musty smell as they grew increasingly intrigued.

juan fernandez petrel swoops by

westland petrel photoshoot…

westland petrel photoshoot…

westland petrel photoshoot…

it looked better that way up

juan fernandez petrel reflecting beautifully

our man showing his bill for identification

striking red tailed tropicbird

[Back on board] their intrigue focussed chiefly on my toes, dangling in the water. They preen, splash, and rile each other. Against all better judgement we couldn’t resist to feed them, to sustain them with our human fare. I had the feeling we had what they wanted if not what they needed – from the can cupboard we present nasty little Vienesse canned chicken sausages, which I squidged in my toes to get close to the waterline, and which they pecked at with their sharp beaks [including a nip at my toe!].

Kath a long way from the boat with her friends

Our own breakfast was served on deck, hot cardamom coffee, freshly baked oatcakes and guava jam. The petrels circled patiently allowing outrageous footage of their each and every plume. Their eyes glistened. Their heads glistened too as they washed fastidiously. Each of their daily routines we stole on camera and in our minds and hearts, parenthood must feel a bit like this – each small turdy emanation from the critter becomes inspiring in its own way.

breakfast on the deck with friends

small squabble over dinnertime

a puffer fish. Not sure where he has been hiding.

time for some woodwork

So days filled with soul searching, strategising hopelessly about the course of our lives, tending to sails, anxiety about weather ahead have been supplanted by a glorious day of natural delight. The long 3-4m swell is glistening, the smallest breath has picked up, a sign we may move soon .. . . “

As we approached the 37 degree line, just as quickly as our moods had transformed, the wind arrived. The clouds had started to scud across, we sailed powerfully with full jib, mains’l and mizzen on one reef, wind just aft the beam. Just as quickly we started to think about tactics for shadowing wind on the sails rather than trying to harness each and every ethereal gust. We did get a weather forecast from another online source and it spoke of the wind that would explain the big swell, and we got prepared for our initiation. We were dog tired but united, enthusiastic and eager once more to test ourselves and Lista in some big weather.

change happens so rapidly

17th March 2011, 0611hrs, Ships Log: “A different Landscape greets the damn eye. Slate grey waves gnarling with white…”

new weather and new clothes required

One last wind dip followed, in which we removed our fair-weather solar panel mounts and I soldered the tow generator rectifier, in preparation for meeting our increasing power requirements through the longer nights and heavier seas for the Autohelm to chew over. It was a nasty job completed in the sink to capture the bits that tinkled everywhere. A wave broke right over the cabin and flooded the worksite, so I couldn’t believe it when the thing actually worked.

18th March 2011, 0000hrs, Ships Log “Made the vicinity of the 38.5 degree line so making for Puerto Montt more now. Also swell is fairly bumptious and cutting across our starboard flank, so losing a few degrees may lessen the impacts from occasional marauders. Clear night, full moon. “

Our crossing had started at last, the bilge was behaving and we were surging along for the first time unconstrained by the wind – COLD AIR!!!! COLD WATER!!! TIRED BUT EXHILARATING!

Before long it blew a gale first from the North West as the eye approached, then the West through to the South as the eye passed south of us. As if on cue, a huge albatross appeared like a juggernaut by our side, a sentinel to the gale. I’d never seen one before and was completely overtaken by how big a gentleman he was, and how beautiful his big, black eye could be.

Wandering albatross require strong winds to soar

Wandering albatross (New Zealand) charging at us

With plenty of sea room and the wind supporting our course, we had 3 reef main and mizzen, and a high-cut jib pulling like mad horses – the feeling is indescribable. By now an increasing quantity of the bulk of Lista has been crafted by our own hands, not least the main mast and all its rigging and the feeling of 35 tonnes of Norwegian wood surging forward at 8knots, 10 knots and more, made me want to scream to the screaming wind!

220cm wingspan black eyed albatross amongst waves

The waves were regularly 5 to 6 metres and streaked with foam but we never seemed threatened at all. In her belly, attempting the impossible to sleep, the thuds were bone-crunching but atop she didn’t seem phased. The evidence of the bilge not being triggered more rapidly was comfort enough she was coping. This was never going to be a rapid passage, as we were being highly conservative with the rig due to being a little short-handed and soon we shortened to the 3 reef mizzen and staysail but still enjoyed the ride at 6-7kts and the waves slipped underneath Lista Lights stern quarter. Lista showed her colours – 3 degrees of easting were made in 24hrs rather than the 3 minutes (miles) as before!!

life got rather lively

Lista Light surging through the swell

For these days all the preparation and all the days of swinging, clattering and collapsing sails was worthwhile – the sea seemed enormous and endless, we had found our wild place. It´s difficult and perhaps unnecessary to conceive the space beyond the horizon, but knowing the raw statistics of how far anything manmade was to us was all part of it. We saw one ship in 4 weeks, a tanker making for Cape Horn, 7nm away. I don’t except he saw us. The weather was perfect in many ways for Lista Light, filing her sails beautifully for she baulks much more at calm weather. For days we made tremendous progress directly East only occasionally losing the breeze. The squalls in the southern hemisphere don’t seem to follow the pattern of the Atlantic. Often the wind came before them and the squall itself wasn’t threatening, nor did it leave such a hole behind it. On numerous occasions they seemed to pass us by, by a whisker, but never did they cause the same step change in wind volume as they do in the North.

fine weather returning

We got to understand first hand the by-catch issue related to fisheries. We had been trolling a brightly coloured squid to see if an albacore would take it. We only eat fish if caught on our own line (and that are not vulnerable) and in reality rarely bother trying. In this case, we’d already had some minor success catching a small blue-fin tuna which went back in (endangered enough it should be on CITES list), and an albacore that was too big for us to eat, which similarly went back in after casting slime all over the deck.

mixed feeding frenzy including bossy bullers alb.

The birds were taking an interest too. They seemed to take something from the water around the lure and seem savvy enough not to take a disco squid in place of real food. Until that is a Sooty Shearwater, capable of diving to 60m, managed to get foul hooked. Given all we bleat on about as ecologists this was a bloody nightmare, its little body being dragged across the sea helplessly at 6 kts. We felt awful and dragged him in to see if there was anything that could be done aside from the terminal. In the event the hook had gone through the soft tissue of the wing and its sharp barb was doing its job in preventing it being removed. Kath held the bird and I managed to twist it out hoping not to snag any tendons etc. It was so unfortunate and whilst it sounds incomprehensible at these times the adrenaline does take over and the opportunity to see the bird close up made it a rather incredible experience.

We were concerned for his plumage and general shock levels as he was bleeding a fair amount and looked dishevelled. Shearwaters are typically cavity nesters so we opted to get him into a dark place to calm down, and then return him to a dark hole on deck where he should preen before seeing if he could take flight. After a few hours in the cabin we went to check and he couldn’t be found. We searched around and eventually found him in the study, head into a dark frame recess. He pecked at Kath´s finger and his eye looked bright.

Sadly a sooty shearwater caught but did fly away

We thought this a decent sign so took him up top where he made some ungainly progress ambling around the deck, before pecking at the bulwark posts now and then. I lifted him onto my lap to see if we could extend the wing, and immediately he leapt clear of the boat and flew low over the waves into the distance – hopefully to preen, rest, mend and feed. We’ll never know how that bird will fair but the lure didn’t go back in the presence of feeding seabirds. I can only imagine how many incidents like this happen daily in order to fill the worlds tuna cans.

At about 94 degrees West we received our next big blow.

23rd March, DL Personal Log Wind arrived, fine to have a forecast – meals all ready, decks clear, on the right tack, anticipation, lust and loathing in alternate spoonfuls.

Lista Light bashing through more screaming wind

In the event the wind blows strong, but without the waves of the last gale. That said wind speed alone making it a miserable affair. We’ve spun in the heavy wind, and in the vile blackness and solitude, I summoned motivation to tear down the mains’l and allow us safer but slower passage on mizzen and stays’l alone. The main is a beasty but could be coaxed down with a gaff vang plus a degree of profanity, I have given Kath the night off, as her staphylococcal infection looks rather grim and pussy open hole, cavity, oozing and bleeding etc.

nights from the authors perspectiv!

I spin and grapple and cling to lucidity amongst the gale – I cling more to the engine block in attempts to catnap. In context I have the utmost respect for solo sailors we know today and those of yesteryear. I woke Katharine in the morning and asked her to remind me never ever to let me pursue to oft voiced desire to go sailing on a long solo leg in Lista or in a glossy ocean racing boat. During the day some excerpts from the ships log are as follows:

23 rd March 1800hrs Ships Log Making Haste, Lista quivering with the motion

24th March, 0000hrs Ships Log ….Horrible . . . .Water everywhere, thank god for decklight

slightly bedraggled we cherish hot drinks

24th March, 0957 Just put up staysail – squally. Started dog antibiotics this morning. Dave shattered, working all night.

Wandering albtr at 3.5m wingspan makes waves small

24th March 1152 Just pulling up pants when seawater came pouring through starboard window in the engine room. Nasty.

That was Kath on the aft heads – the engine room has no opening windows, or none that should open….

24th March 1800 Been in bed after misery of last night. Kath manning the ship all day. Had chocolate Torte and Whiskey milk at 1500 as a pick me up. Put on heater with my dodgy wiring [by-passing thermostat] – thermomstats have no place on this ship – max power!

25th March 0015 ….. desperate to sleep forever . …

KL feeling the regime.

25th March 0658 missed the 0600 log as wandering albatross has been busily performing round and round the boat – seemingly sitting on main mast on the updraft! All lovely, some sun. Hot water bottle up jumper.

KL again – I am much too much of a pedant to miss the log like that….!

DL Personal Log continues…. Still nervous about the boats’ condition – sounds over the top but with 35tonnes hitting these waves and only one crack, split or hole and we could lose her so very easily. 700nm away in cold water is not the place for cockiness, we remain slightly austere with a sense that only the sight, smell and cosseting arms of a protected bay will make me believe it is over. Bigger voyages in more dangerous seas by more heroic people are so easily found, but for us this is an immense journey.

The sky was on fire

And that was the worst of the weather over, and yet again the fears unfounded. The frames of Lista are so utterly massive we trust them more with each test, but it still seems like an uncivilised thing to do to a 75 yr old lady. As to the gales, they stoke your enthusiasm to fight during the day and make your spirit soar as you exchange blows – but on a howling night with only spray whipping your face, dog tired, freezing, hands numb, no moon, dark dark dark, they are no longer sought after.

big pans of hot slop kept spirits up

The wildlife remained mind-blowing. These birds thrive in the most hostile conditions that we can conceive, but the roaring forties are probably considered a touch moderate for most of them. Perhaps the furious fifties and screaming sixties are more like it. The wandering albatross makes the odd heavy wingbeat amongst its dynamic soaring, to substitute for the very stiff weather his frame is built for, and seems to alight more often with a loud splash. We were enthralled by them, firing off endless images as they stun us with their aerial grace and agility, at times sheer power. Monochrome maybe, but they all have unique characters and each fulfils its niche in harmony, most of the time.

chumming the ocean to bring in birds

The bullers albatross will remain my favourite, not the largest but the most beautiful, if a little bit of a bully amongst the other petrels. The sooty shearwater is the pluckiest, sizing up to the large albatrosses in a scrap for the scraps, and the Juan Fernandez petrel not only the most ever present, but also the most aerodynamic and striking in flight. The wandering albatross (NZ) wins the badge for sheer scale and beautiful inky eye, and the ducks, the Westland petrels for giving us a good look, and the white-chinned petrels for their loyalty and habit of attracting the other birds to our feeding times. And to the storm petrels we give our utmost respect – in a bizarre twist of taxonomy these wee fellows are actually more closely related to the albatross than the other tubenose families, quite remarkable given they only weigh a few grams and have perhaps 10% of the wingspan.

white chinned petrel always the first for meals

black ewyed albatross a rowdy eater

new zealand albatross a consister sentinel. Fine.

Whitefaced storm petrel an unlikely relative above

Two black eyed albatross in harmony

Chatham island albatross, spreading his wings

a wild perspective on the bleack eyed alb

Sooty Shearwaters in flight before a dive

Sooty Shearwater dive up to 60m deep, and get wet

Closer to land the great skus arrive

Chatham island albatross coming into land

Together, they filled every day to the fullest and made the time fly. Each twist and turn caught the eye, and each was recorded in Kath ´s wildlife diary, perhaps the first comprehensive chronicle of avian fauna on this route, complete with some stunning images. We hope it will become a useful resource in mapping the ranges of these ill-studied, remote species.

Kath documenting it all

The book, Albatrosses, Petrels and Shearwaters of the World, by Derek Onley and Paul Scofield, was an incredible asset in this task and helped immeasurably in identifying these cryptic species.

One last drama played out over the final days. Through sheer exhaustion Kath´s body had come under attack from what we self diagnosed to be a Staphylococcal infection. The poor girl had had a similar bulge on her eye in the Galapagos, which the doctor had used a scalpel to slice open and clean out so we had some idea of the drill. Kath´s new site was a touch embarrassing and bloody painful – right on her port-side bottom cheek!

We cleared a site on the table and swabbed everything in sight with antiseptic – our friend Dan, a nurse by trade, had drilled me on the need for absolute hygiene to avoid making things worse. I’m not altogether sure everyone receives the same emphasis as we did! (amusingly the spell-checker has just proved I cant even spell the word) With Kath in position, and the operating theatre pitching and jolting in the swell I extracted a very shiny scalpel from its small medical foil packet and aimed it toward the lump – hoping to hell it was the right thing to do.

The red sore was about 1cm raised and 4cm across inflamed. The skin parted so easily around the knife and Kath barely uttered a noise despite no anaesthetic. The skin recoiled back to open a hole about 2cm across in diameter and gushing with slop. We had some local antibiotic spray left from the Galapagos, and so administered that after messing round for a bit trying to pull anything out that didn’t look like it was invited to make a home there. The problem being I really didn’t know which bits should have been there! After some time presenting Kath with digital photos of the progress as and when it happened (top customer service I thought – is this the ultimate innovation for the NHS patient choice agenda?!?!?) she seemed more alarmed at the perspective she was receiving on her own lady parts than the pain, so I started to pack up the show and dress her wound as best I could with a pad and several meters of sticky tape all over the area. The operation was at least over, success would be determined in the coming days.

Each day, amid the ocean swell we ripped off the dressings and had a scrape about, each time presenting images to my patient so we could make a joint decision as to which of the white bits constituted bits of Katharine that needed to stay, and which should go. Kath was incredibly brave. I realised I had a pretty poor bed-side manner during the dressings stages as my tools flew everywhere and my tape refused to stick to the sodden bottom skin. I have to admit, once over the initial reservation as to cutting up my wife, I actually rather enjoyed the minor-operation part. Oh dear.

25th March, DL Personal Log: “concerned as to Kath´s staphylococcal boils – may need to make some calls on that if they don’t start to heal – we are now treating another on her neck. I suppose I shall be next – God I hope it´s somewhere civilised……”

Day by day, and with the help of a course of dog-antibiotics which we had managed to acquire, the swelling subsided and ground-zero seemed to return to less mountainous proportions.

26th March, DL Personal Log: “80’s [degrees] seem to pass more slowly .. .we are daring to dream of a landfall after receiving a favourable forecast. It´s giving all the experiences of being at sea a sense of urgency – they will be over soon and muddle up in my crappy memory forever by the clutter of land.

Caught an albacore tuna of a decent size [fast growing little critters]. The birds hailed his arrival of course and they shall receive the lion´s share of the interesting bits, they are fine companions.”

the bloody reality of eating fish

We nibbled away at the Easting for the remainder of the days – switching between broad reaching and goose-winging – a point of sail that gives a ketch a rare sailing advantage over all other rigs, being able to bear almost full canvas to a following wind with sails out to either side of the ship. In light air it can be a touch sensitive though, and had a predictable result:

29th March, DL Personal Log “A bit of tiredness has crept it. Despite engaging and warm chats most of the day Kath and I exchanged sniper fire today over some petty issues. She (we) nearly lost the mizzen mast due to a miscommunication resulting in a preventer not being applied to the boom and the inevitable crash-jibe. I shouted “make up the preventer!”, the wind stole it and blurted back to Kath, “make up the running backstay!”. The gust did the rest. How our toothpick mizzen stood up to the slapping it received I’ll never know, but that was to be our only ´cockup´ and we were forgiven thankfully. The squabble couldn’t last long before descending into timid laughter at ourselves. That was about as fraught as our exchanges became in what was a remarkable trip between us both. Never on land is it possible to manage such harmony for days on end in our little wooden box!!!

mighty pelagic birds on a mighty sunset

And with that, amid an albatross and petrel filled sky we made landfall in Chile – our spirits soared – pride, relief, salted nuts, wedding champagne and emotional overload – then a deep, deep slumber…..

delighted to arrive with two masts this time!!!

Transiting the Panama Canal and sailing into the Galapagos Islands

The new ratlins

Lista is gently rocking from side to side as the sun ebbs below the horizon. Dave is constructing our new ‘bean-pole’ to heaven, a stairway of ‘ratlins’ (a ladder of wooden bars attached to Lista’s stays) which will provide rapid access to the top of the mast and I have been painting the seams between the planks on her hull. A normal day of mending and constructing aboard our floating stead, yet there is very little of the normal about our present abode…

Sealion

As I dangle my purulent paws (my sister’s coinage) over the dinghy’s side, three sea lions effortlessly glide on their backs past my big toe and nonchalantly intertwine below Lista’s hull. On the spreaders above Dave’s head a magnificent frigatebird lords and from the cap’n’s lofty ladder he traces the passage of a giant manta ray.

Bluefopted boobies and a marine iguana

Finally we have arrived in the Galapagos, after 17 days at sea from Las Perlas Islands just south of Panama. A journey of inhaling, spluttering, wafting wind, but rarely wind adequate to thrust our cart horse off her starting blocks.

The line up

Although Lista was unable to attract wind, her ample bowsprit proved the perfect perch for a passing posy of red-footed boobies. An enterprising young lass finally cracked how to land amid the updrafts and backwinds of Lista’s sails. Thence followed hour upon hour of meticulous preening, with a resulting ‘do’ the like of which a Parisian salon would surely be proud. Her presence soon attracted other red-foots and over the next five days the number on guard grew to three, with occasional extras attempting landings, to be swiftly cursed and booted off.

Preening boobies

Our seabird work in the Lesser Antilles was invariably swift: diving into the sea, scrambling onto an island and interrogating all nesting inhabitants on details of name and brood size, before crashing through the surf to the next outpost. There was seldom time to watch their day to day antics. Having one of our 17 species on the bowsprit finally allowed us to observe their behaviour ‘beyond the bedroom’:-
• 0500-0700: Early morning fishing foray.
• 0700- 1600: Preening, punctuated by four to five rapid fishing manoeuvres.
• 1600- 1800: Last light fishing foray.
• 1800-0500: Head neatly stowed under wing, occasionally extracted to check on proceedings.

Feet

Although we had plenty of interest from passing boobies, juveniles in particular, whilst surveying the Lesser Antilles, none had actually managed to land whilst Lista was underway. Our passage from Trinidad to the Galapagos clearly proved more desirable in local avian circles. Barely were Trinidad’s wooded hillsides and rusting oil rigs receding, before an osprey decided to perch atop Lista’s main mast just as day was being snuffed out by night. Our magnificent mascot stayed for over two hours before a particularly harsh swing of the gaff sent it toppling into the night sky. Additional guests to the voyage included a brown booby (incredibly, with yellow webbed feet locked on the wire span atop the gaff of the mainsil, rather than the main mast master suite option) and a brown noddy which preferred our crew mate’s head.

A new perch for our brown noddy

Thus, I return to the theme of ‘visitors’ (invited or otherwise). A theme that has sprung and coiled its way through previous logs, but in our often lonely peregrinations, one that has become a crucial element. On departing Trinidad, Meghan and Joe hooked a ride to Bonaire. On night watches, Joe regaled us of his adventures after ‘Walking out one Midsummer’s day’ from his home in Dorset, meandering through South Devon, France, Eastern Europe and Iran. A young carpenter by trade, he sawed and joined his path to the front doors of eccentric Austrian’s and to the richly laden tables of Serbians. Meghan conjured an entirely novelle view of Australia, growing up amongst her extended family, ‘coached’ by her intrepid granny on bush tucker and survival, before unleashing her energy on rowing and then the world.

Joe and Meghan

On reaching Bonaire, Meghan and Joe departed for Venezuela to begin their South American travel odysseys. We sought Sam, the sole reason for our repose in Bonaire. Sam is not a rare bird, nor an acronym for a bird study, nope, Sam is real human flesh and a Yorkshire man at that. He has run the rugged skylines of the peaks and fells of dear England, but finally retreated to the least soggiest corner of the world amid the Mexican looking cacti and spiked acacias and aloe of his ‘kunuku’- meaning small holding or farmstead in English parlance, not ‘nooky’ as it might suggest.

The kanuku with Sam, Meghan and Joe

So commenced four or five precious days of bliss. We ran along salt lakes with dabbling flamingos, up stony, spiky tracks, along boulders and cliffs with views out to sea. A crested caracara broke through a lattice of thorns and as the light waned, we watched nightjars (pauraque) flitter from their road side perches, gaping mouths, in pursuit of moths. Serin, Sam’s dog, accompanied us in donkey avoidance training mode, but the straining lunges on the leash suggested she had not quite grasped the topic.
Sam’s crested caracara image bellow

Sam’s crested caracara image

Aviary dismantlers

Dave, Sam and Serin

Aloe hunting for lista’s garden

Sam and Dave ringing a soon to be released parrot

Sam is a psittacine specialist; he knows all there is to know about parrots and their allies. The endangered yellow shouldered Amazon parrots of Bonaire are the reason for his allegiance to the island. He is currently setting up a charity, ECHO, to conserve the parrots and their habitat. It involves a multitude of priorities from habitat restoration, release of illegally captured birds to education. To find out more about his exciting work check out: www.echobonaire.org; to support Echo and have your donation matched look at: http://www.razoo.com/story/Echo-And-The-Yellow-Shouldered-Amazon-Parrot and to find out the latest news visit: www.facebook.com/echobonaire.org
Sam’s yellow shouldered Amazon Parrot image bellow

Sam’s Yellow Shouldered Amazon Parrot image

Dave attracts amour

The goat farm

My preconceptions of Bonaire were primarily of its arid nature, with its xerophytic vegetation testimony to this. On Lista Light’s arrival the heaven’s opened and after a four hour wait in the doctor’s surgery, I stepped out and in to a river, newly formed and forging down the high street. Corrugated iron sheets were busily freeing themselves from roof tops and flip flops were speeding past atop the torrents of water. Lista was of course revelling in the unlikely weather and bucking at the seafront, whilst heading rather too close to the concrete promenade in the unusual onshore wind. Journeys to Sam’s kunuku transformed into a mud fest, as we skidded towards ponds and plummeted into watery potholes, with the pickup spluttering in disgust at our antics.

Muddy shoes, but a calmer Lista

The final lunch dawned. Sam boarded Lista with a pan of steaming mushroom soup. Whilst in the Caribbean we frequented local markets, gathering tips from the women (the fruit and veg. markets are chiefly the preside of wizened, garrulous women) about how they cooked with delights such as: coconuts, soursops, christophines, ginger, okra, yams, sweet potatoes, callaloo and bread fruit. There were no apples, no strawberries, few carrots, occasional lousy looking lettuces, definitely not mushrooms. So we did not eat mushrooms or any of our native fair. Incidentally, the Chinese had a complete monopoly on the garlic! The Caribbean is perfectly suited to growing it, but no doubt some political wrangling ensured its import (such ploys were evident throughout the chain, most blatantly visible in the fish markets funded by the Japanese to elicit pro whaling votes). Back to the veg. stores; tomatoes, though present, appeared not to be a food eaten locally, thus the stock base for so many ‘English’ meals was wiped from our menu and replaced by coconuts. We steamed the sweetest imaginable pumpkin, sipped ginger and lime tea; nutmegs and ginger infused coconut curries and ‘oil downs’ simmered on the stove, replete with pigs’ ears and bread fruit. The result was an explosion of new scents, textures and tastes wafting through the galley, but also a heightened reverence for our own humble English fair. We stopped drinking milk and not a single spoon of clotted cream has passed my lips since our enchanted April at home. The fragrances of gooseberries, black currents, parsnips, swedes, brussel sprouts and wild strawberries lie unmolested awaiting our return, along with the scratch of a hedgerow and the call of the curlew. Briefly, however, we were transported to the hearthside with the creamiest of mushroom soups.

Wild honey, not on the menu, unfortunately

Our next landfall was Panama, amid waiting tankers and container ships, like a doctor’s waiting room for giants. Horror stories of boats being pronged by tankers or swinging, marooned on tearing lines as the lock water swished away beneath them, mingled with reports of monumental waiting periods clanged in our ears. We were under pressure to head east and south before the austral winter would ramp up the high latitude waves and wind along our proposed passage to Chile, so a long period of waiting to transit the canal was a worrying proposition. Thus primed, Dave swung into action and within the day we had an agent and two extra line handlers (a prerequisite) a heap of tyres and lines (also a must) and a meeting booked with the canal officials.

Arrival

At the allotted time, two pressed and laundered figures stepped aboard Lista. They sidled into a vacant spot beside the buckets and soap nuts and we eyed each other between lines of washing and heaps of wood awaiting construction. Not exactly the ‘super yacht’ or pristine ‘cruiser’ they were accustomed too, but soon Dave had them snickering and the wads of forms and counterparts were to our relief being signed. Lista was measured and evaluated to ascertain whether she nestled in the under 50 ft. category or the far pricier 50-75 ft. category. Unfortunately, even after our protestations that we could ‘shorten’ Lista by removing brackets and bowsprits there was no appetite to shorten the bill and she nosed in, by a matter of centimetres, into the higher category. The ‘heads’ (throne) was inspected (I’m not sure what they expected to be lurking there?) and bottled water was requested to sustain the pilot who would accompany us through the canal. Two days later and we were steaming to the entrance of the canal and awaiting our pilot to join us. With minutes before we were due at the canal gate our pilot (Denzel Washington) jumped aboard from a tug and we sped towards the entrance (Lista does not really speed) with Denzel wildly calling the guards to request that they wait for us to pass (an unlikely order…?). A large arrow swung menacingly to the right channel, but we were steaming left and so pressed on.

The gates open to the Panama Canal

Miraculously, the gates were just grinding open and we slipped into place behind a glitzy motor yacht. On the command of our pilot’s whistle, four line handlers standing atop the canal’s concrete walls on either side of us, hurled a monkey fist attached to a coil of rope (with hawk eye accuracy and gaucho precision) at the onboard line handlers (the crew and I). On receiving them, we attached them to our lines (two; from starboard and port astern and two from the bow) and quickly fed them back to the waiting handlers. Thus, Lista was ceremoniously walked, lines held between the crew and the line handlers, along the canal network like an over grown infant. On reaching Gatun Lock, the line handlers secured the four lines to bollards and we secured ours to Lista’s Sampson posts. The line handlers disappeared and we were left to the gushing water, with the four of us paying out and tightening the lines as the water level dropped and rose accordingly. So this charade progressed, until we had passed through Gatum Locks and were finally in the inner sanctum of the canal and found a large buoy to spend the night amid the towering rainforest.

A line handler

The other side of the line

The water drains out as we move down locks

An anxious cap-i-tain

Bossy cap-i-tain

A relieved cap-i-tain

At 0600 the next morning we were up and motoring towards the next set of locks (Pedro Miguel and the final lock; Mira Flores) with our second pilot (Francesco) who had been drafted in that morning. With ranks of sodden washing steaming in the first sun in days (the washing had become progressively damp and stinking over the past day or two in the incessant downpours) we plugged our way towards the Pacific.

Canal washing

The rainforest surrounding the canal was stunning and a large part likely untouched (well apart from the drowning and cutting of swathes to make way for the canal’s construction). We passed the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute buildings on Barro Colorado Island and wondered at how weird it must feel to be in one eye ogling forest hard wood giants and through the other to be watching man’s own counterpart, the mammoth ocean liners chugging passed. A second canal is currently being excavated, to allow passage of even larger super super tankers. Bulldozers and trucks are flailing amber earth and gauging out further chunks of rainforest. Humans are a bizarre bunch, research has proven that we are happiest and most healthy when surrounded by green living communities, yet we seem hell bent on their destruction and with them our own?

Liner and forest

Panama Canal forest

The neighbour

Mira Flores Lock

The new bridge

A brown pelican perched atop the final lock gate and marked our entrance to the Pacific whose vast, lonely recesses we were about to explore.

The guards

We slipped into an anchorage amongst other yachties variously waiting for a canal passage or for fair winds to take them to the Galapagos and the Pacific islands beyond. An improbable skyline of skyscrapers and giant flashing TVs outlined Panama City, providing an unusual backdrop for our country bath tub. The ensuing days continued as many others, with construction projects to equip us for the southern seas, including a new dog house and square rig, as well as final edits to the seabird atlas as we bided our time until the second crew member arrived.

Pamama City syline

At work

Planing

Every day, Dave scrambled off on his bike, memorizing the locations of feretarias (hardware stores), marine stores (virtually non existence/extinct) and various sundry suppliers along Panama’s choked and labyrinthine cityscape, as he collected spares and fittings for our journey. We found gas, water, fuel and a fantastic fruit and veg. market. This was the highlight of Panama for us both! Replete with panniers and the bike trailer we found the entrance into what looked like a prison. Beyond the gates an Eden of every possible tropical fruit and vegetable beckoned. Sellers specialised in oranges or watermelons, pumpkins or tomatoes, similar I imagined to the ancient Roman shop keepers selling only one commodity from their open fronted ‘stalls’. Plump, glossy fruit towered all around us and I was finding it increasingly difficult to resist the need to gather specimens from all. Sparkling old men eyed us and the trailer and unleashed torrents of Spanish, with even our painful quasi Spanish-French offerings failing to subdue their chatter, due to our lofty status as the hallowed bike trailer owners.

The blurry end of one day's outing..

Finally, we left the market and teetered down the dual carriageway with a trailer loaded to the gunnels, panniers stuffed and bags bursting. These shopping forays have become a signature note to our travels, as mountains of provisions are stuffed into Lista’s folds to full our bellies for the weeks at sea. As I speak, avocados, onions, cabbages, lemons and figs (finger bananas) sway in their nets above my head on our tenth day at sea and ranks of cans and bags of pasta, rice, beans and flour fill the lockers.

Fruit nets and Lista stowed

The trailer and loaded bikes have been a talking point wherever we have shopped and locals have grinned and giggled or stared on in disbelief as the crazy English packhorses have lurched away, often pursuing us with stray packets of nuts or pots of jams that have sought freedom. The volume of food necessary for ocean passages is daunting. One night nearing Christmas, we sat under two loaded trolleys in a crowded Panama City supermarket with, ‘Jingle Bells’, echoing down the aisles in Spanish, I could barely rise from my haunches to gather another tin of pigeon peas or a packet of oats. From Grand Canaria to Morocco (not exactly the same- see the log…) St. Maarten to Trinidad and Panama, cashiers have stared goggle eyed at the mountains of stores passing their till. This is invariably followed by the fight to use our own ruck sacks and cloth bags, universally disputed and maligned, before we topple off to a pillar outside. Then much to the horror of the desk bag handler and tip extortionist, rather than calling his assistance to stack a gleaming range rover, we attempt to work out how on the earth it will all squeeze aboard our flea bitten bikes. On the Panama night, finally departing, with Dave and the trustee trailer bobbing over pot holes in front of me, merrily passing the ‘no bike’ sign onto the dual carriage way, I watched as packet after packet of noodles and oats leapt out. It was the funniest sight and we guffawed in the carriage way siding at the unusual course our lives were taking.

Finally, after this rather chaotic amble through our passage to the Pacific, we are nearing the Galapagos where I began this story. We cannot, however, arrive without a mention of Las Perlas Islands, these enchanted wild islands where we watched thousands of Neotropical cormorants pour into our wooded bay in a whirring, swarming frenzied feeding mass, following unknown sensory cues and inherited migratory lines.

Hoards of cormorants

Leaving Panama City on Christmas Eve

Scrambling from Panama City’s gaudy skyline on Chrismas Eve, we arrived in Las Perlas on Christmas day and swam with the biggest rainbow parrot fish I have ever seen. Dave and I roasted a chicken, garlic, onions and potatoes, sautéed pumpkins and courgettes and created a lemon-passion fruit cheesecake, before retreating to our cabin to devour letters and cards from home and to re-read emails. These nuggets brighten our days, whether from Anne talking of pickling, jamming and stoking the fire, Carole describing Tallula’s misadventures, Roddy sewing seeds, Lucy finding hinds in the coombes, the other Lucy amongst broad beans, Andy flying his hawk, Jane with her quails, Jenny in the sodden lanes, Fiona atop a mountain, Kate eyeing her long baby, Mary and Colin (Wallace and Grommit) inventing a fine solar powered plant incubation device, a rye Rosco comment or a line of banter from Tom… They all feed peals of laughter, before crushing our home sick hearts and sending tears rolling down our cheeks.

Christmas Lunch

Decorations..

Outside, Martha’s bunting flickered in Lista’s rigging, while down below her Christmas stocking and Jake’s Christmas pants ribboned the galley. There was no Christmas tree, but the brown pelicans, magnificent frigatebirds and brown boobies provided the decorations on the trees on ‘bird island’ by our side. On New Year’s Eve we paddled to an island across the sound with eggs and bread dough. We collected fire wood nestled amid the flotsam of flipflops, trainers, plastic bottles, floats, dolls and fishing nets. Sipping wine and munching on bread sticks flamed by the fire and eggs fried in clam shells, we both agreed that we had never dined in a finer restaurant. Slinking into our hammocks, our night’s sleep was not quite as idyllic. Unbelievably, I felt sick after hardly a nose gay of vino tinto, whilst Dave spent the night on the local midge menu.

The view from our campsite

The Henessy hammocks

Eggs and bread sticks

On route to the Galapagos, the infamous doldrums deflated our sails and progress, eventually sending us unexpectedly to the shores of Manta, Ecuador. We flung the hook to catch a couple of days of deck work, as we still had not conquered the leaks that created mini pools down below. The fishermen appeared interested and sidled over to offer help in blue and yellow fibreglass skiffs, recognizing a boat in need (well, technically she was sinking, with only the bilge pump keeping her ‘alive’) and to request, ‘cigarrillos’, coco-cola or at worst, ‘agua’.

After such kind offerings it was rather unfortunate when a port captain arrived and bustled down below without an invited, looking for… I’m not sure exactly? We had hoped that the sight of girt holes in our decks might allow us an emergency stop, as long as we did not venture ashore. The squat, swarthy Ecuadorian was not convinced and our pathetic Spanish was obliterated by the onslaught of verbiage. Brandishing a dictionary we found the crux of the matter, ‘cancelar’, or fee, a word that was to become very familiar and that appeared to be growing by extortionate amounts from this increasingly vexed man’s lips. This was swiftly followed by an internationally recognised sign; our captain clutching his wrists alternately and beckoning suspiciously to David. Nasty. In deadlock, Dave motioned to go with el capitan and collected the boat papers. Instead of money, the captain was receiving David, clearly not the desired outcome. Within a split second the stage setting had flipped and he was barking that we must leave immediately, no $5000 cancelar, not even $20, but departure, ‘or else’!

Finishing the decks

We rapidly wrenched up the anchor and limped off with gaping holes in Lista’s decks. A couple of miles off the coast of Ecuador, we ‘heaved-to’ and watched waves cascade through the holes as we pitched in the rolling sea. Determined to stop the ingress, we worked until late into the night under fading head torches. Rotten planks were prised up and new wood fitted; degraded oakham and pitch were gauged out of seams between decent boards and then ‘gagged’ with fresh oakham and sealed with hot pitch. Pouring pitch is a tricky manoeuvre at best and became more and more elaborate. The seams are meant to be neat, regimental black lines. Our seams meandered and soon derailed into ‘Picaso-esk’ brush strokes, whilst we deteriorated into a giggling heap.

Drafts of fishing pirogues churned from the shores of Ecuador, often in shoals of three or four. Generally, one man drove and one or two men sat by two 10m-odd bamboo rods, posted astern trawling long-lines. After the ‘el capitan’ incident we were rather concerned that they were fleets of co-conspirators on a mission to capture us, that we had misunderstood his flailing hand gestures and we were again destined for prison. Luckily, they waved and parted around us, often yelling for the ubiquitous fair. They were not all as convivial, however, with one operator clearly irritated by our presence, snarling and clenching his fist at the suspected gringo fishing competitors.

Local long-liners

One large boat with at least ten men aboard was crisscrossing back and forward posting out his miles of lines. Clearly concerned that we might destroy one in our propeller, he hailed us on the radio. Thus commenced a Basil Fawlty style conflab, where void of hand gestures we stuttered, screeched, ummed and ahhhed in our mutual misunderstanding of one another. Undeterred, ‘el pecador’ continued to radio, ‘Leesky Lie’, checking our progress and ‘rumbo’- how round we were??? (we subsequently found to be ‘our course’) and generally chat. Of course, I too rather enjoyed airing my flaky Spanish and so I proffered my name, age and where I came from (unfortunately, last night’s lesson had not provided any more lucid topics). Eventually the boat and his lines faded on the horizon, but ‘Leesky Lie’ will most definitely live on!

Lava Heron

Our friend Sñr Sealion

Galapagos is famed worldwide for its natural endemic wonders, with island speciation causing remarkable evolutionary twists, with finches using tools, boasting small or fat beaks and tortoises with long or squat necks in their race for the survival of the fittest. Here, is the birth place of evolution, the setting for Darwin’s laboratory where he began to understand and visualise the concept that would shake Victorian Britain, its religion and preconceptions. I had been warned of litter and tourism and so my hopes were low. Dave had visited before, over five years ago with his parents on their Pacific crossing and observed both the tourism monster, but also revelled in the ruby Sally light-foot crabs, boisterous sea lions and a horseback ride atop a volcano. Unfortunately, this time, the sailing has clearly taken its toll on the poor old boy………..

Too much sailing for David

Our Galapagos was unusual. We sat at port and worked on Lista. Instead of churning off on tourist boats and guided excursions in search of wildlife highlights… the wildlife came to us! Massive green turtles snuffled air by our side (there was no size comparison in the Caribbean where turtles are on the menu) eagle rays flipped in mid air, blue-footed boobies launched an arsenal of attacks on the shoals of fish; dropping like daggers from dizzying heights at 40 degree angles. I donned mask and clutched sand paper to begin relieving Lista’s hull of its barnacles and weed accumulated from our ocean passage, only to find that it had all gone! The cleaners had been in; large spotted fish and potentially, the sea lions had wiped her surface clean! ‘Tube noses’ a group of birds we were accustomed to viewing only far out at sea, buzzed across the bay’s surface, including rotund, Galapagos shearwaters and Galapagos (or wedge-rumped storm-petrel) and Elliot’s storm petrel pattering the surface for plankton.

Elliot's pattering, wedge-rumps either side

In the early morning we were rudely awoken by magnificent frigatebirds chittering on the main mast as an interloper attempted to oust the present occupant from its perch. The blue-footed boobies whistled (the males) and honked (the females), tiny Galapagos penguins lanced bait balls of fish below Lista and work was ceaselessly halted by the latest visitor to the boat.

Magnificent frigatebird on the topmast

Galapagos penguin

The view from the ratlins

Lista, true to form, was transporting large quantities of water through the bilge, necessitating frequent pumping. With the floor boards up we traced the leek and Dave plunged below with an air tank and copper ‘tingle’ (equivalent to a metal plaster). Of course, being the Galapagos, he was not left for long without attracting an audience. As he tapped the copper tacks in place, a sea lion nosed into view and for the next hour rolled and shimmied around him, disappearing under the keel, before bursting out in front of him, in a never ending game of hide and seek. Meanwhile, I painted Lista’s seams and a fish bit my big toe, a sea lion swam between my legs and two young brown pelicans could not resist paddling right at my side. Complete chaos!

Cleaning the hull in company..

Brown pelican

Very regal sealion

One morning we awoke to a brown pelican on the cabin top, two sea lions in the kayak seats and a pelican at their bow. Clearly they felt they would do a better job running the ship! The sea lions and the pelicans could not be more different in temperament. The pelicans were animals of necessity whether feeding, fishing, preening or roosting. In contrast the sea lions appeared to revel in play and mischief. They plunged after shoals of fish, quickly to be distracted for play. This involved biting at pitiful puffer fish until they blew up and floated on the surface and cavorting after one another or us. One evening, a young sea lion apparently ‘flipped’, just as I have observed each of our dogs suddenly going crazy with exuberance in the garden and running round and round in circles. The sea lion swam in ceaseless circles and arcs, jumped from the kayak, jumped back on, tugged at the seat and then spat it out…. and so the frenzied play proceeded until the final affront, when it leapt from the water onto a pelican that was minding its own business on the front of the kayak!

All too much effort

New inmate

All aboard

Less welcome arrivals were the flies, droves of them. Particularly ferocious buzzing would signal amour. Horrified, I discovered clustered of hard eggs in little snowy bouquets, stuck to the side of a fish bowl or near the ham. Fly strips, supporting tens of sticky comrades dangled like macabre Christmas decorations from the salon and galley, but it was near impossible to abate the onslaught and soon armies of maggots were marching across the sink top or along the chopping boards. Maggots had arrived in unexpected places in the Caribbean (within washing that was put out to soak for example) but never on this scale. The mystery of the invasion was never solved…

Dave’s warm recollections of the ride on the volcano and my need to be atop of a horse, pulled us a way from Lista and on to an official tourist tour (it was mandatory to have a guide). We managed to wrangle a trip with just the two of us and decided that rather than being driven up to the volcano we would run. Thus we dragged ourselves ashore in the early morning and ran through the streets of Isabela, out and up through a panorama of black larva, scrambling climbers and cacti. After about one and a half hours of running and the start of the more verdant vegetation zone that marches with altitude up the slopes of the volcano, a truck finally hooted and heaved us aboard. Crouched in the back, we watched the vegetation grow until tall trees lined the road dripping with moisture and epiphytes. It was a wonderful contrast to the arid low lands.

Looking to the volcanoe from the boat

We were deposited at a hut where two horses were waiting. The guide alit and we drank copious water and changed, whilst the pick-up roared off. As we sat and chatted, with rain trickling off the roof of the shelter, sniffing mint leaves, it suddenly dawned upon us that we were missing a horse; surely the guide was not going to lead us? Troubled, we broached the subject with him. A misunderstanding had indeed occurred and it appeared that he was expecting to guide us as we walked. The whole point of the trip was the horses. Thus ensued a period of plotting and scams in an attempt to procure some replacements. Finally, with a tap of his heels (one of many beguiling traits) our grinning guide summoned the pickup and we roared back down the volcano in search of horses.

We supposed our guide and pick-up accomplices knew of a hacienda and suitable horses. Apparently not. We veered down a soggy track, screeched to a halt and after much neck craning reversed back down the pot-holed track. Our fingers locked around the pick-up bars and rain sluiced down our backs. With a flourish, the green plastic poncho that our guide had been sporting along with white sun glasses (he was really more at home in his beach bar than showing tourists the soggy volcano) was thrust through the window. An old grey nag appeared out of the mist of the rain, tethered on a grass verge. I desperately hoped this was not to be our mount.. but no one was around and so our quest continued. Any gaucho plodding down the road was hailed and his horse demanded, but alas the plot was failing. We rocked up to the gates of a small holding. Everyone disgorged out of the pick-up and a shy young farm hand was hailed. He shook his head at our request. We stood defeeted. Finger bananas were demanded and we all sat and munched. Finally, the guide aired the options, either we continued searching for horses which would require more money (we had already paid substantially for the non-volcanic event) or we drive back to town. We looked up. Nodding down the road was a chestnut horse with a farmer slouched atop, the owner of the farm. The guide attempted a final appeal on our behalf and can you believe it, he agreed!

They all filed back into the pick-up and with a wink, Houdini departed and we were left open-mouthed at the gates of the farm. Not entirely sure what was agreed, we never-the-less were given two steeds. I motioned potential routes and the farmer nodded gleefully. Finally we had horses (ponies) and we headed off up the road. My wee bay mare was as quick as a train, her walk equalling Dave’s chestnut’s trot (not forgetting the poor gelding had already been ridden by the broad farmer once already today). We walked and walked and occasionally trotted and cantered, exploring any tracks or turning. Wood pasture, guavas (a rampant invasive) cattle and high tussock grasses stretched in a patchwork at our side. It was utterly beautiful and better still we were alone!

We found a park trail and dodged under the entrance banner and meandered through the bush, finding a grotto where a sign indicated that wild boar were caught historically. A greenhouse came into view and with it two waving gents, motioning that riding was forbidden, but appeared quite happy for us to continue on our way. As you will know, Dave’s legs continue for some way. Folding them up, like a long frog, is not the most comfortable of postures. After the hour and a half mark, the stance was clearly bearing its toll and the horses began to protest at yet another detour. Sadly, we turned around, lacking the know-how of whether a potential circular route would ever return us home. It seemed the farmer had similar concerns, as when we finally rocked up, he was standing outside the gates with the relief in his eyes matching the horses!

Basking in our unlikely luck, we meandered home stuffing passing pawpaws and munching on pineapples and bananas given to us by the farmer. On reaching the main road, a bus flashed us. We had fatefully bumped into the tourist operator who felt aggrieved that he had missed out on part of the proposed guided walk fee (we had only paid half, feeling this was fair as the ‘goods’ were not delivered and we did not actually do the walk). He insisted he would collect us on his return from the volcano. Meanwhile, we sloped off unmolested. Not wishing to be press-ganged by the man, we haled a clapped out old truck and the Señor and Senora allowed us to hop in the back. Water boiled through the seam between the ply board and the cabin as rain sloshed down. We were dripping but elated on avoiding our foe (even if I did cower out of sight whenever a vehicle overtook). We did return to the tourist ‘outfit’ to discuss the misunderstanding and after remonstrations and their final play at looking greatly aggrieved for our failed excursion, we all parted amicably.

The bureaucracy was not quite as fun. That is, apart from the initial visit when a boatload of officials boarded Lista with their top sniffer dog. Whilst the dog and handler snuffled through our belongings, one yellow-shirted guy mock steered at the helm, whilst the other snapped photos. The yellow-shirted guy then padded down stairs looked through the book collection smiling, bounced on the seats and ogled the ancient paddle wheel. Meanwhile stealth dog had found the pork netting and was busily chewing, clearly her last breakfast was already waning and her ample nose had sniffed out not drugs, but a tasty wolverine snack.

Not one of the inspectors..

On the downside, during our 17 day visit, we accrued twenty meetings with the port captains. Our Spanish was shocking, but we ‘habloed’ onwards and thought we were getting somewhere until yet another change of guard would come to the boat and ask us, ‘What we were doing?’ and ‘When we were going?’ Nearly daily we would slog to the office and arrange meetings, to be told to return at another time and so it went on and on and we thought they would have surely been sick of the sight of us. Eventually, on the final day we had spent all our money, nada remaining and with no cash machine or bank accepting us we were ready to depart with new supplies purchased and the final fee paid. All so we thought, on arriving to the captain’s office it appeared that an extra fee was due. Our crew mates who had arrived back from outings, were reluctant to lend us the money and so we were trapped, with officials who had been keen to boot us out now preventing our departure.

There was one hope. As we were working on Lista a local guide had motored up to us with his children and asked of Lista’s origin, but particularly of how our solar power was working. He was a gent, interested and interesting, but we did not catch his name and away he went. One evening, whilst walking through the town a couple of days later a man stopped us on his bike, it was the guide. He invited us to a drink at his friend’s cafe. So we sat and chatted to this Ecuadorian- German about natural history, the Galapagos, solar energy, tourism, the environment, his music and Lista. He was a kindred sole and the exact point to our visit to town was soon forgotten.

Mathias

Thus, on the eve of our departure we sought Mathias with the uncomfortable request of a loan of US$160 which we could not repay until arriving in Chile some months later, where we would finally have access to cash machines. With a chuckle and a broad grin he marched us off to the ‘capitanaria’. Greeting and shaking all the officials hands he confronted the captain and outlined the plan. Somewhat ruffled by Mathias, but clearly impressed by his style, the captain allowed our benefactor to write a cheque, signed our exit papers and finally handed over our passports. We shall never forget Mathias’ incredible generosity and human spirit, a gem amongst so many inferior men. As I write I am painting and Dave is constructing, to ensure that not only the cash is returned but a package fit for a maestro is delivered to the Galapagos.

Sanderling in the surf

The best liquid

Hitching a ride

New leather for the gaff jaws

Peli line up

Snout

There are so many more memories: from marine iguanas basking in heaps by the sea shore, indistinguishable from rocks; running along the beach and past a giant tortoise; sitting on a bench with a sea lion lying beneath; to drinking blackberry juice and the TVs blaring from every restaurant and corner store. We shall never forget the Galapagos. Mathias refersito it as, ‘Ultimo paraiso’, the name of album he composed. He’s right, I hope it remains so. Most of all, I shall never forget the ‘dance’ of the sealions; somersaulting over and over in a gravity-less dream, her liquid eye watching mine and her flipper briefly touching mine, together we twirled, in a never-ending, dance of the sea lion.

My friend

Lightning Strikes and Looking for Santa in Trinidad

The last four months have again been hectic. Aside from writing a book and preparing a 35tonne boat for an ocean crossing (criss-crossing) of 6000nautical miles we have had time for little else. The indulgence of working in the riverine environment of the Orinoco, with her laconic natural chorus and gentle lapping wavelets was left well and truly behind us as we returned to what lay in store in Trinidad – a nation of only 1.5million people but somehow they make their presence felt to the tune of 10million. Trinis, like all Caribbean nationals, are terrified of the quiet and have innumerable ways of preventing it from ever happening. Newly emerged jungle dwellers and seabird surveyors (aka Kath and Dave) don’t much like noise. Not a match made in heaven…..

the anti-orinoco. . .

no match for our kayak

Trinidad was as frustrating as we thought it may be. It’s a complex place wherein, like many developing countries on the cusp of developed status, a two tier society is highly evident. The yachting community arrived, decided they’d like to stay a while because it was blustery outside (i.e. north of Trinidad islands can be effected by Hurricanes – Trindad south of 12 degrees N is seen as safe), spent lots of money on nice shiny things, but didn’t trust that the Trini selling them to him gave him the right change. On the other hand the Trinis didn’t actually really invite the yachtie, they were much more interested in the promiscuous girl from the oil industry who had seen the world and didn’t require dinner under candle light to be coaxed into bed. That’s unfortunate because they could have got on well if everybody had been invited in. Unfortunately though only a few of the Trinis really wanted the yachts there because they would spend silly amount of money. Only 2 miles away the locals seem to have missed out on the trickle down of cash and all they see are very rich people with very big frowns on there faces in Taxis. So they rob them on occasion which is rather bad sport but they dislike them so much that its justifiable to them. The yachtie, in response (or in preparation?), digs a deeper furrow in his forehead, clutches his bag a little closer and sends out a highly toxic vibe to all and sundry.

friendly chat in chag.

Lista nesstled with the vultures, so to speak

So Trinidad has a little problem with yachts. On the other hand when one sheds the boaty cloak and heads to the interior a very different place exists. Parrots fly overhead, maxi taxi drivers yelp and honk their horns, loafing youths do what loafing youths do do, sexy mommas shoe horn every available bit of glistening black flesh into strips of lycra, old ladies cuss the weather and open up into toothless, gaping smiles, a burgeoning middle class look impeccable on their daily merry-go-round and complain about the heat (which I still find bizarre), and no-where else in the world have I found a people more willing to smile, cheesy but genuinely true. And then there is the multicultural mix.

The scene is a chinese takeaway. The Indian shouts “hey Chini, I wan reeeess wi dat” to the Chinese man running his take-away, who shouts “hey black man, yah chaaawn mein, he don”. The black man shouts “hey white man, why you no say nuthin?”, the white man realizes that the black man wasn’t really that pissed off at all at him and smiles widely, but still feels very inhibited about shouting “hey, black man” back – but does so anyway and it feels ok. Everybody shouts. A hefty fellow walks in, “Hey, fat man, you ha too mush already!!!”, and woe betide you should arrive with any physical affliction, or have been generous with you eating lately. It will be noticed, and regurgitated verbally, loudly, for all to hear. The Trini, of any creed, says what he sees.

last outreach session in our floating classroom

Up against it.

The Atlas rolled on, as did our deadline to leave Trinidad and start to prepare for a South Pacific voyage to the roaring forties, an area of ocean bestowed with some reputation in history for mountainous waves and howling Westerly gales. A friend of my parents’, Jeremy Burnett, words sat heavily on my mind “There must be no question about the boat”. She has to be strong. We did have questions and so entered yet another maintenance phase to see if we could build confidence in her old timbers.

Lightning strikes On the self imposed deadline for completing the Atlas, Lista hummed with electrical and creative energy – Kath in the Saloon taking the whole table with a gazillion books to reference and cross-check, I was wedged into the study creating digital maps of the seabird locations. The weather is typically the same in the Trinidad. Nice quiet mornings, building to thundery showers in the afternoon, replaced by calm evenings.

look at all those tall masts

So we were not at all alarmed as the skies built around our churring aqua-office. Neither were we alarmed at the sound of distant thunder. Lista Light has a mast of 48 feet, made of wood, and we were surrounded by 100 other boats, a mix of plastic and steel vessels with masts reaching to the stars, shrouded by tall hills on three side, all much better grounding points for lightning than little old us. Then a loud crack got our attention – but only briefly. There was electricity in this thunderstorm. No drama, just a cursory look to the anchor to check we were not being pulled about by the gusts. As we settled once more BANG. Ears ringing, a flash arc’ed over the saloon, then nothing. I knew from that instant we had, against all odds, taking the hit. My left ear was ringed loudly and was to give a clue to where the strike had hit us. Quickly Kath made a check of the floor sections to ascertain we weren’t leaking and I ran to the engine room to investigate the smoke and smell. The scene was not dramatic in the least. A bit of a whiff and some light grey smoke. Kath came back to confirm we at least hadn’t blown a hole through a skin-fitting, but with some bits of plastic on the floor asking where they were from. It turned out the lightning had struck us and travelled inboard through the point where the bowsprit “whisker” stays connect to the side of the hull. It had earthed down to the sea leaving a scotch mark on the outside of the hull, but also, and unfortunately, popped into the cabin via the lighting circuit and blown all the fittings on the starboard side clean off the wall.

sheer force burned our electrics completely

I like the way Katharine describes the aftermath best. She said “ It’s like somebody has been in our house with us”. And it’s true. The phenomenon is like having another worldly being in with you. A destructive beast. The electrical and static energy in the atmosphere was felt by people 300m away at the shore who knew a boat must have be struck. I made a quick inventory of which of the boats electrical systems had been effected.

force of impact/current exploded the wall fitting

This blog is no place for such an inventory suffice to say anything electrical and expensive was destroyed. Total bill? c.£3000 for a DIY fix it job. ow. We could have done without the extra work but I suppose it’s a terrific experience to have encountered first hand.

A little respite from boat was called for, so we called for Farah and James. Farah is a Trini who Kath met outside of the boat world and outside the seabird world, a real friend! We had hooked up last year very briefly but too briefly. This year we all needed a break from our various toils (us Atlas/Boat, Farah getting ready to emigrate and closing out her job, and James writing a book on Brian Lara) and sought refuge in each other.

charming couple

Farah is stunning girl, cheerful and bright (and showed us how to eat termites), only vices seem to be too much cleaning of dishes and too much looking after people (rather than planet – surely her calling). James is “our man in…..” Trinidad, a life in the BBC World Service beckons. He is instantly accommodating and can drink a decent pace, his vice being cricket (and not helping Farah enough with domestic toils, tut tut James).

vital r and r at chez farah n james, in the rain

We decided to be silly and irresponsible and drink too much and dance oddly. It was absolutely fantastic. We all flew. The music was full and furious, the drinks flowing and my head…. Spinning. Odd feeling. Oh dear. Drink for the guys and an extra drink for the bar (me) routine no longer working. The scene in the morning was rather morbid. James and Farah who live in a rather proper gated complex had a 6’4” reprobate determined to lie out on the front lawn much to their grave embarrassment and shame of the neighbours. I had been ill too (much as a 16yr old would be). I was mortified. This could have served as the great awaking as to life post booze – a great night but at too great a cost in terms of time lost. I haven’t drunk in excess since- truly!

how not to lift a wooden boat

Back to the boat. We hauled her out once more – it really went quite badly as the weight of the boat was shuffled between two straps. She is a sea creature and this process isn’t kind. This time the yard had determined they should lift her on crossed straps which effectively put 15 tonnes onto each of the two points. That’s an awful thing to do to a 75yr old boat. We would normally use at least 4 separate straps. They did it without us knowing, as the straps were under the water as we floated on against a strong side current. The effect, plus multiple lift and drops to get the positions right (on one occasion at a 20deg tilt!!!) was that she cracked quite a few seams and added significantly to the workload.

a great man and friend

We had some big aspirations as to the work, and worked furiously amongst a slightly eccentric crowd. There was Bob – a lovely but complex man who could easily be misunderstood. He has a great mind and is highly spiritual, but unfortunately has had to struggle with health issues of both body and mind – as with all the great people in life. He seems well though – and we enjoyed his company immensely – and he ours, so we shared fresh oatcakes during our breakfast meetings and he shared his thoughts.

he didnt get this big on fruit juice alone . . .

There was the fisherman next door who often presented only his burgeoning buttocks over his side rail. Industry was slow on that ship probably due to the slightly aromatic nature of his daily “cigarette” but he was a warm man, generous too. He provided me drill bits, Kath provided him a healthy fruit shake which I’m not too sure what he made of. Certainly he didn’t reach his proportions on a diet of fruitshakes.

smiler

wonderful Sarah who smiled us through it all

Then there was Chuck – a stoic, bi-polar yard manager who warned me he would cause us a delay and charge extra well before we hauled out. He said all the yards would but only he would tell us he was going to in advance. We went to him because I appreciated his honesty. There was a glint in his eye too and I though he would enjoy our project. I told him, “yes chuck, and you will initially scorn us, then realise after a week we might just have a clue and admire our effort at very minimum, then by the time we go you’ll have grown to really like us and offer us a huge discount”. It’s happened at the last two yards so I felt confident. I was wrong!!! Not much interest – Trinis of any creed don’t have much warmth towards old fashioned things, but certainly friendship. No discount – Trinis only ever take 10% off if they have put 20% on before.

guardian angels, dennis and gill

Finally, but best of all, Tea-bag. Te Bheag, I mean. Of all the places to meet kindred outdoor fell-running spirits one would not expect a dusty boatyard in the Caribbean. But it was so. Gill and Dennis were our sort of people and we quickly spent every available moment with them – cooking, deliberating, watching films in the Lista Light home cinema, mostly hours of chatting, running. We adored them, vital people. They were truly generous too in our time of need so we leave indebted to them.

75% injury rate – Para Olympics. We completed some big jobs during that 3 weeks, before Lista insisted she see the water again before she would crack up completely in the fierce sun. The biggest job was adding a metal keel to her, a project to prevent the voracious Toredo navalis ship worm from making any ingress. It involved a lot of work we hadn’t tried before involving manually lifting the whole boat (– it can be done, promise!) and some welding. Proper boy jobs, I was delighted.

getting the hang of things

new protective keel bedded in with gunk

Kath on the eco-gas run

Then our luck changed – I was careless and put a significant portion of my left digit into the Makita Planer. That really hurts – its meant for shaving down Oak, it made small change of quite a bit of skin and nerve, thankfully no bone or ligaments. The upshot was that after a day in the hospital (wonderful, wonderful folk there, and another story entirely involving Kath being called into action to swab a mans gun-shot wound in the operating theatre we were sharing) and two nights in agony we were delayed. Kath worked busily to fill the gap until, in haste, she dropped a 100kg plank on her hand and it inflated to the size of the proverbial balloon. Careless times two.

tweedle dum and tweedle dee

Not to worry, two young guys who wanted a ride to Bonaire pitched up to help us get going, and but some strange coincidence, the girl too had lost the use of one arm to a broken wrist a week before. So we were to be three-quarters disable on the crew of this next sailing leg.

when we ask for a mand - we got … a hand

Looking for Santa.

At this festive time, and in relatively dire straits there is only one course of action for a one-armed team trying to re-caulk a big boat – we looked for Santa. The bizarre nature of the task coupled with the Trinis latent light heartedness made this a comic interlude to our dry labouring days. Talking to anyone with an eye on the wooden boat scene to find somebody to help us change planks and get lista going, only one name consistently can up, and it was that of a gentleman named “Santa”. I really needed Santa. Santa was reputed to be the best wood worker in Trinidad and perhaps the only man able to perform big wood projects. Through his slow conjugations (he was renowned for being very slow and but equally as thorough) he had managed to sprout a tremendous beard, and through his years the beard had turned white and so he became famed as Santa. There was no talk of reindeers or sleighs, though no doubt that would be a simple task for a man of his credibility, but we needed him, and his little elves, fast as our boat baked in the Trini sunshine.

Off I went looking for Santa. I asked first of all in the woodshops, amongst the dust and shavings – this would surely be the place. In November, the run up to Christmas, the conversations I was having to track down the fellow became increasingly abstract.

“Hi, good morning”
“gd morning”
“I need to find a man called Santa, do you know him?”
…befuddled…..”Santa?”
“yes, a man called Santa, big beard, no sleigh”.
“You lookin for Santa, noooo, you a month too early, he don com til december!!!!!” smirk.
“yes, yes, But I heard he was here, one of the guys at the yard referred me to you”…..
“well, have you been a good boy this year??”
Ok ok ok. Lets get to business.
“I have. And the only thing on my Chrstmas list is Santa and a bloody big caulking hammer. Have you seen him”
More giggles. I’m not getting to far. “Aaaah, dat Santa, de boss may know where he is”….
Ring ring – the questions gets asked. I wait trying to glean from the heavy trini accents whether we are in luck. “oooh….uh-oh, ooo, uuh-huh, o”. phone down. “De ting is, Santa gone loco. We no know where he be, tink Grenada, but he gone loco, quite crazy, having some problems”. Bugger.

Alas after two days trying to track him down there was a certain relief to knowing the parameters of our little problem, we would have to just set-to ourselves. A slightly deranged but very strong man going through some mental crisis wielding a large hammer was probably not going to improve our chances or returning to the water as quickly as we’d like. With Santa no longer on my Christmas list we got back to business with a new resolve. “Rest by Work” as the saying goes. Some days later, with the archangels from Te Bheag coming to our rescue, Lista plopped back into the water and pointed her nose towards Bonaire to meet a man about a parrot.

Dennis at work

Tales of parrots in Bonaire and transitting the legendary Panama canal to follow. We have 3 months of food to stow for our big voyage in the South Pacific and the real Santa is due tomorrow . . .

Rio Macareo in the Orinoco Delta

Sunrise Tukupita

An eerie supernatural moaning started, slowly seeping through the trees, flooding into the river and enveloping the canoe. It pulsed and swelled, filling the caño like a fearful beast, but before we could bare it anymore it stopped, with three resounding barks. Floating down stream through a thickening dusk, Lista’s incongruous shape grew out of the gloom and we slipped aboard.

Lista amongst the trees

For two weeks we hadn’t seen a single person. I think it was the longest period in both of our lives and it was wonderful. We were cocooned within the trees, in the daily ebb and flow of the muddy waters that filled and discharged from the caño upon which Lista pirouetted, neatly executing 180 degrees on her anchor, with centimetres between her stout behind and the thick wall of forest.

One of the neighbours, a Yellow-crowned Parrot

We had decided to escape from the thick soup of plastic bottles, carrier bags and polystyrene that lapped in Chaguarmas’ Bay, Trinidad. Away from the delinquent jet skiers, like ‘water boatmen’ who revved in concentric circles around it, but lacking purpose or beauty. Petrel is cheap, so there’s no incentive to stop this particular human weevil, even if a green turtle is just surfacing for air or a devil ray is slipping by. Natural beauty is rapidly ebbing away from this once forest enshrouded country and with it its soul.

and another, a Squirrel Cuckoo

Actually, we had been planning an escape for months, almost two years ago we had aimed for South America, along the way we had found the most beguiling of seabirds and so had begun an odyssey in the Lesser Antilles, involving the need for each and every one of them to stand in line and be counted. We had swum through boiling seas, crashed against rocks, climbed crumbling ‘ghauts’ and severed Lista’s sacrificial keel as she grounded in churning surf in unchartered sea. But our commute to work had also involved swimming through azure waters as iridescent fish sparkled below, the staff had starred up at us with charcoal eyeliner and gleaming white tails and the neighbouring company’s workers had lolled in the trees, with serrated mains and long talons languidly watching the new oddball employees.

The canoe was king

Finally we had reached South America and woven our way up the Orinoco Delta. For four weeks we basked in her beauty in a dual universe of seabirds and forest. The seabirds were below deck, fluttering through our laptops as we wrote the Seabird Atlas, the flooded forest at our sides as we paddled through its shadowy first and last light.

Yellow-rumped Cacique and their nests

On the first day’s voyage upstream we could barely eat, neither of us wanting to go below, afraid to miss the scenes that were unravelling at ours side. A huge caramel river framed by a wall of green. Suddenly a shock of yellow and black and the hanging basket homes of the bubbling, yellow-rumped caciques would swathe a passing tree. Next our heads would be screwed to our backs as we craned into the sky at swallow-tailed kites riding the thermals. A snort by Lista’s bow and a pair of Amazon River dolphins, marshmallow and grey, pierced the water at our sides.

The rivers mouth, first evening's arrival

On the third day, we sneaked from the main river; from the Wareo people in dugout canoes sitting on back eddies; in motor boats ploughing to fishing grounds downstream; in their stilt houses swinging in hammocks, but mainly at our sides grinning as we performed our bartering charades pirouetting and gesturing wildly as we attempted to describe what was on offer on our floating market. We slipped into a side caño that grew narrower and narrower when finally the branches barely cleared Lista’s rigging and weighed anchor. We had considered a fruit tree, a palm tree and a standing dead tree as potential Inns in this invisible road map, but we couldn’t really tell if this was the spot.

Wareo village with Chavez poster!

The shoppers retreat after stripping us!

The local taxi

At first light we would set off down a new fork in the web of tributaries and every day we would find new species. It was startling in richness, starling in its lack of humanity. A despair in humanity had been growing for some time, in its disregard of wild things, its lust to tear down forests for ply board, to chop seabird chicks’ heads off, now that they were accessible at the flick of a switch on an outboard motor, to roast the last remaining turtle, to drag the last fish from the ocean depths, to pierce ever deeper for oil, relentless, without regard for the future, someone else to blame, the world will cope, it has in the past……….

 

225macaw (600 x 587)Here, there was peace. Gradually the forest grew accustomed to us and us to it. It may have been our imagination, but it seemed that day by day we softened into the backdrop, while the wild things stepped into the light. Blue-and-yellow macaws exquisite and inconceivable to our Devon-Northumberland roots screeched daily overhead, but one day a pair circled us- actually broke their roost-to-fruit-tree-and-back routine and flew to us, staring down at the deck from on high before flapping and squawking away. More and more residents appeared; a branch that bent into the water was the daily platform for the most elegant of sun bitterns. She stood and occasionally uttered a crystal purr. One day, she was joined by another two bitterns and together the trio danced. In and out of overhanging branches they pointed like ballerinas in their love dance. One would jostle forward, the other side step past, then retreat, before pirouetting forward once again.

Sun bittern

The pair

The dance

One morning the tree tops were full of green oropendolas, as the noisy seventy-strong gang hopped and glided from branch to branch peering for insects. Then aloft, the king of the troop began his dawn salute. The oddest coconut-wind chime cascade of notes were issued, ending in a polite bow, upon which the poor fellow appeared to fall off his perch, but head to toes, righted himself and began the farce again!

The bowng Green Oropendola

Nearly every morning and evening the white-chinned toucans would perch a loft and together croon their yelping call to one another. Head jerking backwards, clapper beaks opening and woofing like a pair of puppies; the squirrel cuckoo would go about her rounds, scolding at the lack of plump invertebrates; the monkeys would appear and shake branches at us and the green-and-ruffous kingfisher would exhale a piping call, dash past Lista’s beam and dive deep into the tangle of forest roots.

Yelping White-throated Toucan

There were no hoatzins in our neighbourhood, so we would had to paddle upstream for a meeting at No. 3 overhang tree, the doorstep of which had been stripped of leaves. They really are the most extraordinary of creatures with their ruminating, leaf eating ways and startled crown of feathers. Their grating calls could be heard long before they themselves were seen communally fanning wings after a downpour or on one furtive instance, humping! They are known as the ‘stinking bird’ and this fact alone has saved them from the shot gun, as their fettered flesh is of no value. For the Piping Guam which rummaged in the tree tops and the pair of black Curassows that hurriedly retreated, the same cannot be said, their flesh is valued and consequently our sightings were few.

An Hoatzin

And another

Back at the boat the guard dogs were growing in number. Seated for lunch, a dragonfly would suddenly dart past one’s ear and cease the goliath proportioned horse fly that was just about to nuzzle in close for its lunch. They did appear to favour Dave, perching on his knee, paddle or fork with whatever brazen manoeuvre it took to be close it seemed. Perhaps it was Dave’s beard that had sprouted and bloomed, a habitat in its self that attracted his Dragonfly adorers? Nevertheless, a maximum of ten were counted ‘on guard’. Unfortunately, Dave’s admirers did not seem as interested in the ‘feet flies’, the infuriating critters that would sneak up on our ankles and bite long and hard, apparently immune to flailing our hands.

One of the fleet of admirers

I pormise he is bigger than he appears!

Another species, same love

Every now and then we would see a line of wake making its way across the river that would catch our attention and an aquatic inmate would reveal itself. One day it was a snake, head held high pelting to the bank; once a caiman wooded scull just piercing the water. Then finally one day, it was an otter!! A giant otter diving for fish, a spectacle I had dreamed of, but the best was to come. It was Sunday, we had taken the morning off, exploring well upstream finding black-collared hawks, savanna hawks, yellow-crowned parrots and red-bellied macaws. We were sleepy in the hot sun and barely looking at the banks as we slid home. Suddenly we saw a kafuffle in the left bank, followed by a snort. We stopped paddling, the branches parted and three, whiskered heads emerged. Three giant river otters, caught out by this odd white log upon which two over-sized monkey sat. I’m not sure which party was more intrigued, for the curious band reared right up and edged closer to investigate! We were flabbergasted, hissing exclamations under our breath. Then suddenly the leader snorted and dived, followed swiftly by the other two and they were gone, a trail of bubbles marking their spot. We craned out necks behind, binoculars straining, when more than 50m away they emerged and slipped into the forest.

Amazon Giant River Otters

We were surrounded by water on all sides, yet by the sixth day we had still not dabbled a toe into it. Plucking up all courage, Dave bashed the water with a paddle, just to let the inhabitants below know we were coming in and after an amount of standing and prevaricating, we finally both jumped in. Chocolate water rushed up our noses. Within seconds we were both clambering back on board. Refreshing is not something you could call that first dip. There were grounds for distrusting the hummus soup: sting rays, anacondas, electric eels and piranhas to name a few!

Another of the 'guard dogs'

We became pretty sweaty working below decks, so whenever it rained we would pound up on deck, with soap and scrubbing brush and shower in the torrential rain. I imagined rows of eyes watching from the forest these pink bodies, but apart from the distant rumble of the steel barge heading up river or the odd whirr of an outboard motor, no one came. In addition to there being no people, there were also no lights, no over-head wires, no rubbish, no human signs, just a million stars at night and the screeching parrots by day.

Common Piping-Guam the barrister of the river

We moved to three anchorages during our sojourn, the middle anchorage was a very different tributary with very little remaining forest, mainly scrub, low trees and palm trees stretching into the horizon. With it came a very different group of inhabitants, the most regal of which was the bat hawk who chose Lista’s mast as his preferred look out. Unfortunately, this strapping young sergeant had a penchant for our dragonflies and swiftly reduced them to wings drifting on the breeze or hanging in webs on the rigging.

Bat Hawk

Bat Hawk

All that was left...

The chorus changed from the whoops of the hornbills and the wind chimes of the oropendolas to the sonorous donkey blasting of the horned screamers. These improbable ‘turkeys’ perched high on trees, eeeyawed across the swamps, when really it appeared that no tree should support their weight and that no bird should make that call.

Horned Screamers

Sounds and scents had become an important part of our world as we ingratiated ourselves with the locals. Calls would often allow us to pinpoint the chorister and soon we grew to know who was who just by the chat. The smells were less revealing, beyond our unpractised senses. They ranged from hay, to cloves, to ‘horse’ urine, both beguiling and causing us to recoil equally, but the perpetrators or their purpose often foiled us.

Perhaps it was one of the Hoatzin trio?

New open habitat

Our third and last anchorage was similar to the first with its high forested banks. Here, we were anchored by our own hoatzin corner and a slender-billed kite who had bagged the highest and best perch atop a dead tree from which he issued a sickly wheeze across the tree tops. Black-necked araçaries, miniature versions of the toucans, sent a cascade of twigs and leaves down to the river as they gauged themselves in their favourite fruiting trees.

Slender-billed Kite

Black-chinned Antbird

 

bcabnest

Our paddles often took us into the flooded forest, over logs and through thickets, allowing us silent access into this green, wild world. Nests often hanged from branches midstream to dissuade predators. We would carefully peak inside to see if they were inhabited. One evening we watched a tiny black-chinned antbird bobbing and scurrying in the low undergrowth on her hunt for invertebrates. As we moved away we noticed the reason for her frantic activity, a bedraggled nest hanged from a plant emerging high from the water. As our noses peered in we found four tiny chalk-blue eggs! But nothing could prepare us for the next sight. We rounded a corner and noticed a hummingbird buzzing from leaf to leaf in pursuit of insects. This is an often unknown part of a hummingbird’s diet; as well as nectar they need protein, most importantly when feeding chicks. We sat watching from the canoe and saw her dart under a huge ‘elephant ear’ leaf and then we noticed her nest. The tiniest cup of moss and lichen sewn neatly with spider web! Suddenly she flew from the cup and quickly we paddled across and looked in. One tiny white pearl and a speck of rufous fluff apparently recently emerged from the ‘ticktack’ egg that lay at its side. We returned five days later to find two tiny chestnut chicks.

Hummingbird nest

Hummingbird sitter

Exploring the flooded forest

As the last day grew closer, we regrettably planned our departure. There was, however, one slight hitch. On the third week into our sojourn, Dave had heard scratching in the folded main sail. Various possibilities from mice to massive insects flashed through our minds, but it was not until dusk that the latest arrivals made themselves known. At 5.45, something fluttered from the sail, followed by another and another. On guard, we counted out twenty bats! Thus, we were complete, with a force of dragonflies nailing the daytime bloodsucking intruders and the bat shift nailing the night time molesters! Now, however, we would have to let them go.

Young bats

Bat upclose

Another one, just so beautiful!

Bats are one of my favourite animals; queens of the night, they use their incredible system of echo location to navigate through a featureless world. They are pollinators, pescivores and insectivores; munching their way through tonnes of insects each night. We would rather have kept our new friends, but an ocean passage, new habitats, unknown predators, not to mention introducing new species to different countries was not acceptable. Finally, on the morning of departure, at 5am, we hoisted the sails to prevent the returning bats from sliding into their new floating home. It was heart breaking, swarms of bats, far more than we had counted, flew round and round Lista as we moved away. Five little pups clung to the sails, their mothers returning for them. As the sun grew, slowly the circling bats retreated and with them the Orinoco and all her hidden secrets. We were returning to civilization, but leaving the real world.

Smooth-billed Ani family

The cause of the feerful noise: Howler Monkey!

Savanna Hawk

Water Hyacinth raft

Can you find the animal??!! A lichen with legs!

THe beard

Butresses

more rooooooots

April to June 2010

We knew our return to the Caribbean after the UK bit would be hectic – but we looked forward to it as you would removing a plaster, morbidly keen to see what lay underneath in the four weeks we had be errant at home. What had been happening was that several hundred thousand migrant seabirds had arrived back into our Survey area for the briefest and most necessary of visits to terra firma.

two headed booby

The object of the game: to meet a boy/girl, fix up a pad, do a little flirting perhaps, and then perform the most rapid non-immaculate conception, followed by a re-ruffling of feathers and last ditch fishing trip to fatten up for the incubation period. The courtship is truly endearing;, beak clacking, perhaps a little dance if you are a Booby, some furtive glances, coy strutting, perhaps a little fish passed to the object of ones desire. The fact that some of the species will pair bond and the likeness to our own courtship and marital allegiance, and major investment in very few young is what creates an affinity and warmth for these seabirds. I remember a meeting with Katharine back in 2005 in Leeds in which we followed a alarmingly similar routine, all the way up to the regurgitating part and no further I may add, too many strong drinks in Normans bar had unsettled the Land girls otherwise iron stomach. Oh, I didn’t eat it either so I suppose the likeness is limited.

Booby chick after a shower

We completed a mildly epic trip back from the UK to Lista Light all in a day involving all major modes of transport in a disappointingly smooth trip from the point we ruffled the Allpress household at 5-ish to chugging over to Lista in one of Grenada’s offshore islands at 8pm in a borrowed dinghy (thanks Gus). It was a culture shock that left us both uneasy. Lista was well though.

Lista sat patiently

Theme one for this log is New Life. As we sat on the bus to complete some arbitrary bureaucracy in leaving port I looked from my feet upwards. I exclaimed slightly. Unwittingly I had managed to give new life to each and every garment on my body, excluding my pants (in itself an irony as male visitors to the boat will know that leaving me a pair of pants (clean please) is a condition of passage), every item was a relic of somebody else’s wardrobe! In the NGO sector we are no strangers to proper accreditation so fittingly a role-call of donors follows:
– Shoes – David W, thankyou, they live on and are my boat and near-shore primaries.
– Socks- Carole, I believe they are yours, thank you, although I may well have stolen them, in which case replace thank you with sorry. Christmas isn’t that far away.
– Shorts – Jake, I am indebted. They are rusting around the eyelets but as you know nothing on Lista lasts for ever. I give them at least another 18months in my custody before they will become too indecent
– T-Shirt – Tom, cheers. I think you left it in Scotland at Tamsins wedding (which is quite frankly a little ambitious on your part) but in not stealing it back when you visited in Trinidad you are a gentleman
– Cap – Lucy Land, many thanks. Being donated a Jewsons cap is perhaps the crowning moment in any DIY-ers life. To the uninitiated Jewsons is a channel tunnel boring megalithic giant where B&Q /Wickes are perhaps a cappuccino swizzler.

Kath was similarly attired. Re-use is the ultimately efficient form of recycling so far from being embarrassed at our cladding we are fully proud. A smattering of finer first hand threads do prevail in my wifes wardrobe to be used sparingly as fineries but for all else we are grateful and think of the donors each time we don them. I’m sure she agrees.

We packed up and sailed on our first mid-distance trip as a twosome, 360nm from Grenada to St Maarten. Aside from tearing the head off yet another newly mended jib it was a superb trip lasting 72hours and with no sleep accomplished. As we approached St Maarten/St Martin slightly dazed from the exertion we were left with a final choice of going Dutch or French – the island is divided across the middle. Everyone will have experienced extreme tiredness and the overriding condition in which it leaves a person is indecision, especially on ultimately unimportant matters. The wind was taking us North East at 6kts and the memory of the French part being marginally more responsible environmentally than the Dutch side (i.e. they had a nice green recycling mecca) meant we added an hour or five finally getting around to Marigot Bay, Saint Martin.

total sleep required for lista and crew

We had an appointment to make with family friend Douglas who had flown in from a conference in Miami to sample a different sort of mini-break. The transaction was this – for helping us in being the important third person on a rapid trip to a remote, ill-visited bird island named Sombrero, taking him out of phone contact and into a deepwater anchorage, and creating some risk around actually returning him on time to deliver his keynote speech, we would feed and water him for a day or two and get him close to some unique nature whilst enjoy sailing and living on a boat born in 1935. To boot he would need to offer us some of his brain for a day or two – Douglas’s top trump is his ability to find the winding mountain passes over and through grey, amorphous masses of rock and soil and snow and excrement that form the problems we put in front of achieving our goals in life. It’s a good skill. It also involved a light amount of lubrication and fine food bestowed upon us in the delectable French port Marigot, (thank you very much!), which accounts for day off number one of the summer season. I think we delivered too – aside from the birds we were counting on counting we also met several large blacktip reef sharks on our daily commute which certainly raised the heart rate.

Some photos attached of Summer Survey season days 1 – 31 (St Maarten/StMartin, Anguilla, Saba, Statia, St Kitts and Nevis).

Douglas and some birds

Talking about birds making love with lisaliscious

Scarlet Tanager looking incongruent

Moonscape of Sombrero, bird heaven

the new survey boat is online

An organic approach to baggywrinkles

Teaching Seabird Monitoring on Anguilla

Going through monitoring with legendary Saba-Sue

Mangos roll freely down steep Saba streets

2 year anniversary involved 8mile yomp

The dishwasher complaining to me about mess prhaps

rolling back the development in St Kitts

Some pelican feeding action

Adult Breeding Brown Pelican in St Kitts

Theme number two arrived in Nevis, fresh off the trot from a major migration he arrived to settle in the most unlikely of places. He is incorrectly dubbed the “Least Tern” and I am indignant about this. He is small in size (21cm long and as little as 30grams) and thus in the original name I can concede the logic but looks are surely deceptive. He is a hero.

Least Tern magnified somewhat

On Nevis, a small habituated island he survives shoulder to shoulder with man. Bearing in mind just about 99% of seabirds in this region have been marginalised to live solely on offshore un-inhabited islands he has chosen to fight out a living amongst the invasive species that now grace these islands – humans, cats, dogs, rats, mongoose, manicou, goats, cattle, etc etc. And as if in defiance he has not only chosen to assert himself as a marginal player in the new domain, he is putting up home right next door to his foes.

on bikes in search of predators and seabirds

As often is the case from a literature review, prior to arriving into Nevis we had a historical record of these birds nesting on a windwardside beach, but often our surveys conclude these populations were just that, historical. We unloaded the bikes instead of a more rapid circumnavigation in our super efficient dinghy (15mpg over a 7hr trial test for a 14’ RIB is truly exceptional) – we do many more miles per gallon on them. We trawled all the likely spots without much hope, popping down tracks off the main road to the beaches and coves and vantage points with sight lines. On foot we photographed the vacant beaches as proof and moved on. By 1700hrs, hungry and hot and a little bothered we were becoming resigned to a day of null data (which whatever scientists say about being just as valuable is simply not as rewarding!!) we were yelled at from the sky. We had left the bikes at the end of a trail where it terminated at the 2 mile long beach alongside a van, a load of pirogues (open fishing boats), a clear sand-mining area and next to the horse racecourse. He Swooped – Ki-dik, ki-dik he said – he meant to ward us away.

David and goliath?

This meant he was breeding here. We scoured the beach for evidence in the shape of an egg 2cm long, sand-coloured, and merely laid in an indent in the sand. A needle in a haystack. But just like an old metal-detector, the closer we moved to the nest, the more frequent the calls, and aggressive the swoops. He led us to our nest. Perhaps, in the off-season when loafing in Canada/US, he may like to re-think his defence strategy.

cryptic

Our next meeting with this species was in Montserrat, chuffing Montserrat. We looked forward to a return here as a British overseas territory with a curious blend of Caribbean culture but with a Union Jack, and indelible Irish heritage, and as home to our discovery last year of a previously undetected population of breeding Audubons Shearwater. We had high hopes that the explosive volcano that has divided the island and curtailed mans presence in the South may lend an area for seabirds to breed undisturbed. With the independence of a dinghy, and a small amount of last minute unplanned diplomacy with the police boat at the perimeter of the exclusion zone we planed across to the former capital, metres deep in ash and lava. Above this grey and throat clogging, eye watering, sulphurous landscape were some white dots about to disclose their breeding locations to us.

turtles could test then could Least Terns?

standing still wasn’t a good plan

Three months prior the lid was blown off the Soufriere hills once more and the sea boiled for weeks as the land regained 500m to the East. Without chart data of the new shoals and with the wind blowing steadily it was a pretty miserable journey around a turbulent sea in a small dinghy but it was fantastic to prove their presence here – in the middle of the capital of Montserrat! Not even an inch below the new pyroclastic flow, a finger thrust to just the first joint would reveal a frighteningly hot substrate, to our side lay fully hardboiled iguana eggs and yet our friend, the indomitable Least Tern had made a new home.

the Least Tern in a defensive mood again

Photo diary from days 32-61.

1000th person reached in our PR campaign

Schoolboys branded with our Tropicbird tattoos

Redonda un-expectantly swathed in green herbs

for a brief time the goats cant keep it down

all these suds from just 6 soapy plant buds!

my first solo taxidermy on a dead common tern

sadly the flies had got to his head before I did

Baking day reinvigorated, condense the pain

The perfect survey vessel drawing only 8cm

Least Tern chick, as cryptic as its egg stage

I would like to see 8 and 5 reversed

Beautiful Brown Noddy with chick

Good advice!

Bridled Terns departing on a fishing trip

Juvenile Least Terns taking a break

Finally, escapism – we (Kath and I) need it sometimes, from the briefest of moments when we are content and balanced, or more likely when our lives are chaotic and at worst without direction at all. Its best to get it before the threads start to unravel but I’m not totally sure we have mastered that art just yet.

Kath is voracious in her ability to fire up contacts and sessions and the next “outreach” opportunity to be spun in between actual surveys. The emails fly at all hours (of my 160 odd unread emails I’m ashamed to say perhaps 50% are emails on which I am in cc, all from Katharine!). As a caring husband my duty should be to watch out for signs off over-exertion but I’m guilty as I can’t resist adding more people to our tally, turning the cells in our spreadsheets from red to green. I spend my time instead working out how we can squeeze in one more survey, leave one less unanswered question. Our work and home merge together and whilst it’s a wonderful time, it can be a little disorientating for us; perhaps I get dour, Kath stressed.

Another little media opportunity booked in

On account of surveying 8 countries since returning, and delivering seabird conservation chat to nearly 1300 people for 2010 in countless govt meetings, public awareness presentations and school visits and with 2 days off in those 61 days we did recognise a need was bubbling.

What we needed was a quick fix, and in the newly opened Caribbean Cinemas in Antigua, and amongst DVDs we had collected in Vigo, Spain, but never opened, we found it in buckets!!

So there are two films to note. This is perhaps misleading in suggesting I have seen more two films and have selected the best two out of a gamut of runners, broad in genre and budget, meandering through world cinema and Hollywood, and expansive in the annals of time. No. I have only seen two but in their own ways they were superb!

1. Knight and Day – Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. Has the boy finally cracked thee may ask (but of course I do like MI:2 more than is reasonable for a grown man)? But no – its pure escapism – right rollicking adventure, total nonsense and admirable for that. It has a cow scene in it too which is commendable – Our bovine friends never feature highly enough I feel except for that scene in the tornado film in which the rather unfortunate daisy is plucked from her mid-west pasture by a marauding twister and hurled into outer space. Shame really given their global significance as land managers, religious icons, biomass accumulators ready to deliver a protein source across in each and every continent (perhaps dried and vacuum packed in the very bottom one). In fact, any shortcoming of these doe-eyed, long-lashed, high heeled, highly tinkered with descendents of the days when large mammals appeared and thought that leaves and grass may be tasty, if hard work to eat, is more our own if we cram too many of them into the wrong places. I digress: Baddies, goodies, smug heros, sassy heroines…. aaah, exactly the way cinema should be, no?

2. Les Educacions de las Hadas. Some Spanish actors of ridiculously procrastinated maternal and paternal names strung together like a dna helax mapping the families history. Foreign language so we can appear high brow and flit it into conversation as if we are world cinema aficionados. Soft (but an altogether odd shape, with some rather crunchy bits in it – bit like a Toblerone i suppose), mildly bumbling but I suppose a little gritty, warm, gooey, frustrating but ultimately a hyper-charming tale set in the Spanish woodlands, amid a back drop of slightly odd protagonists. One other notable success is that it includes a child actor who isn’t totally irritating ALL of the time. Bravo.

Right-oh, Its blowing hard outside as we nestle alone amongst the Bird Islands of Antigua. Hurricane has been season quiet up to now. Off to check the anchor snubber and work out where that drip on my head is really coming from….

Laughing Gulls loafing

Last months of November to March 2010

Mum, Sue and I, Tyrrel Bay Yacht Club

After a long barren stretch of visitors by nil, slowly, stealthily, they began arriving. First came my Mum and God Mum, Sue, in mid November, arriving amidst the chaos of a new mast with stays dangling in mid-air and piles of wood and scatterings of nails strewn about the deck ready to impale. Never-the-less the Land girls stepped aboard into the greenhouse, brewed cups of tea and regaled us with home chatter. We frog marched them through dry scrub woodland, up hills and down to wee coves and had Mum plunging into the not too desirable sea. Gifts rained down upon us, with Dave advancing from one fetid pair of swimming trunks to a full suite of 7 colourful beauties. Other similarly thoughtful and wonderful treats appeared, until the real treats of the show disappeared as quickly as they had alighted.

Vicky at helm with Max and George

Then Ross, Vicky, George and Max stormed into our lives with an army of colouring books, imaginary games, snorkelling, running, ‘Happy Feet’ and giggles. Max, whom Dave and I had only formally met as Vicky’s ‘bump’, would twitter and chirrup to himself from behind a big toothless grin, while Georgie would invent the most dramatic fishy stories, with a cast of gnashing Barracudas and sly pirates. George definitely stole the show with a number of heart-stopping stunts, incoudinga :a headlong dive down a sheer flight of steps in Carriacou to a concrete-stitched-chin ending; procuring a stack of stones in his bottom and very sore eyes. Indeed, some of the most lasting comments of the stay were voiced by the poet himself; when Uncle Dave had tenderly cooked a tagine for the young hooligan, he responded with, responded with, <‘>That’s not tasty, that’s not even a little bit tasty<‘>. What can one say? The other beauty was when sailing to Carriacou, ‘Mummy, I’ve got hot breath’. After which a torrent of sick was unleashed. From that day onwards, seasickness will forever thus be labelled… ‘Hot breath!’.

Ross is feeling the start of 'Hot Breath'

Dave and Max at the helm

On Christmas Eve, Jake and Martha arrived replete with homemade stockings, Christmas bunting for Lista and a Devon flag. We sailed to Isle de Ronde, north of Grenada and became acquainted with the practice of sundowners. We ate like Kings: homemade bagels, bread, lasagne, curries and vintage wedding cake. A Hawksbill Turtle turned up, quietly grazing the Turtle Grass under Lista and then a Sting Ray, gliding effortlessly through the water. We swam ashore to find coconuts and attempted to reach the lagoon on the other side of the island, but after being squewered and pricked relentlessly by the barrage of vegetation and insects, we turned back at the peak of the hill and back aboard Lista for Carriacou.

Jake and Martha arrive

Stockings....

Christmas day in Isle de Ronde

Martha's stockings had multiple uses...

With Jake and Martha we were able to start the second round of seabird surveys, so we set off for some of the most brutal islands where their seamanship would be most valued. First was Battowia, one of the main contenders for the Queen of the seabird islands in the Lesser Antilles. True to form, towering sets of waves piled around her cliffs threatening to engulf our dinghy as we attempted to find a break through the surf to board her craggy cliffs. Oblivious to the crashing waves and strong currents, Magnificent Frigatebirds perched like lines of waiters in the gully before us, whilst Brown Boobies wheeled in the sky above us, until a particularly bold individual would come to check us out, nearly cart-wheeling into the water as he craned his neck to take a look at the oddest shaped, featherless birds.

Magnificent Frigatebird glides past Battowia

Jake, Dave and I, off to survey Battowia.

On the island, Red-footed Boobies were busily gathering sticks for their nests or pinching off their neighbours. Others were sitting on eggs or a fat, white, fluffy chick. Chicks peered down at us form their precarious nests, whilst parent’s sat tight, though some beaks were certainly a little out of joint from the intrusion. The Red-footed Booby colony is magnificent, likely the largest in the Lesser Antilles. Its residents spill into the seas around the island, furnishing them with colour and interest.

Red-footed Booby on nest

There are plots to develop this last seabird bastion; hopefully they are fictitious rumour mongering. The islands very geography should render such suggestions ridiculous. The other hazard which is real, however, is harvesting of seabirds. This archaic practice still continues, yet seabird numbers are believed to have declined by at least 10 times since man first colonised these islands (based on historic texts and archaeological evidence from seabird middens) and cannot sustain it. Traps, fishing lines weighted down with plastic bottles, hanged from the trees where the boobies nested and frigates roosted, a dead bird hanged ensnared. The remnants of a booby meal was found, tens of boobies had been taken. To date, we have only found three decent Red-footed Booby breeding colonies in the whole of our Lesser Antilles study area on Battowia, Les Tantes and Diamond Rock, all in the Grenadines. The problem is that local people viewing these splendid colonies may believe the birds are numerous, yet beyond these precious sites…lie empty islands.

Fiona at the helm

Soon came Fiona and runs up and down the hills around Hog Island, as well as a hash along the rugged southern coastline of Grenada. All manner of Caribbean fair arrived on the table from chillied coucou (Caribbean for mealie meal, sudsa, ngoli, nshima etc). to banana bread. We dissected the outreach strategy and began a multi prong approach to wage war on the interests of Caribbean youth, with seabirds the victory shield. Seabirds were to be constructed, quizzes created, stories told and objects identified. Seabirds are A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! Ultimately, wild woman cameraman of the year was born, alias Fiona and with our new, waterproof camera (the last slipped to its watery death somewhere near Isle de Ronde, should you be floating that way) we launched our next battle on the most ruthless seabird islands.

The Sisters, lying to the South of Diamond Rock

Fiona scaling Diamond Rock's ramparts

Back to Isle de Ronde, with Dave’s dinghy, raised from its salty coffin and kicked into action. The three of us stormed the islands North of Grenada, Les Tantes, Sisters and Diamond Rock, the rivals to Battowia’s seabird crown. Fiona, hot on our foot filming those amazing seabirds and the Lowrie duo. Needless to say, award winning footage was created and will be coming to a screen near you, should you linger too long or too close to our sights…

Red-billed Tropicbird

Red-billed Tropicbird chick

Along with Battowia, it was Diamond Rock that stole our hearts. An extinct volcano rising forthright from the sea, cheek by jowl to Kick-em-Jenny, which lurks below the surface. It is brutal, sheer, resplendent with Devil’s Nettle, acacia and cacti, but home to so many nesting seabirds. Brown Boobies watch over their single chick, Red-billed Tropicbirds reel and squawk and Red-footed Boobies nestle in the trees above.. and that is only when the migrant breeding hoards (terns, noddies and gulls) are not in residence. When they return chaos really does break out, with Laughing Gulls cackling, Sooty Terns gliding through the sky and Brown Noddies launching aerial attacks on any who wonder too close to their nest.

Space is limited, Brown Boobie and a Red-bill

Inquisitive Brown Booby

It was Diamond Rock, where one of the greatest spectacles, ‘a Blue Planet moment’ occurred. As we stood on the cliffs, countless Brown Boobies (of a magnitude we had not yet witnessed) circled above us in a huge gyrating flock. They would sweep past us, many examining us with their quizzical look, then descend in one magnificent dive en masse, before returning in their arch around us.

Brown Boobies fill the sky

Brown Booby spectacle

Close up Brown Booby

It was on Les Tantes, where one of the worst spectacles of our study materialised. The day before we had been surveying an easterly Tantes island and noticed a man on the main island with a bucket. The next day we landed on the main island to survey. Finally, we reached the spot where the man had been the day before and on the ground lay heaps of Brown Booby chicks’ heads and wings. Nearby was a discarded coke bottle and an abandoned tin of tuna. Brown Boobies, like many seabirds nest on the ground and like just about all seabirds, they have not adapted to mammal predators (there were none before man colonised their islands). They provide the most pathetic easy targets, their big, fluffy chicks staring up at the man before he swiped them and cut off their heads. The carnage continued around the island’s perimeter, with only a small handful of chicks remaining. There appeared no thought for the future, Brown Boobies will be wiped out from the island in a couple of years at such a rate of slaughter.

Brown Booby chick remains

There is no tradition for this hunting, it is not ingrained in island culture, as the residents of the islands today did not arrive until at least the 1700s. The most obvious floor in the need to take seabird chicks, eggs or adults, is the abundance of food on the islands. Fruits and vegetables are hanging from the trees all year round. Kentucky Fried Chicken is the international dish. Obesity is spiralling out of control, even in the 1970s 22% of men and 58% of women were obese in the Caribbean. Today the average fat intake for individuals is 160% of the suggested daily requirement and for sugars, 250%. The average calorie consumption across the region is 2,800 kcals (Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, http://www.behindthemedicalheadlines.com/articles/obesity-in-the-caribbean).

Locals, eating their way through the last, dwindling stocks of wildlife on these islands, can hardly be justified. Heaps of dead iguanas cooked on open fires, turtles slaughtered, a Humpback Whale (that we had just seen breaching the day before- a spectacle neither of us had before been privileged to see) slaughtered using motor boats on Bequia (allowed due to apparent ‘aboriginal’ rights), sharks, dolphins and conches taken, lobsters speared, ever smaller fish species netted, fights breaking out over seabird egg harvesting rights etc. Yet no one appears bothered that all of the above is declining and on its way out, that at this rate there will be no more tuna to eat, or lobster to find, that under our watch species are slipping away.

Diamond Rock

Now back to the visitors. After Fiona disappeared to her multi story snow hole in the glens of Scotland, we were variously visited by a number of guests, none of whom I recall Dave or I inviting? The first didn’t even bother to wait for Fiona’s departure, before steeling in behind the freezer one night. On returning from a survey we noticed a ticking. To numerous and stinking. No alarm clock appeared to be firing nor generator stuttering… finally the noise was isolated and the villain identified. A cicada! Of course! And just as it is thought lucky if a cricket decides to churr in your house, so we felt graced to have our new visitor, happily plucking his belly.

Next came a thud in the night …Only moments before, all had been gently snored, to be awoken by a flop and a flap. Dave sat bolt upright ready to wrestle with bandits or the anchor whichever came first, but as he staggered to his feet he found no such foe, just a large and rather shocked fish! It had managed to leap from the water nearly 3m high to Lista’s bow and then perfectly and harmoniously synchro-glided its way through our 60cm wide hatch to the foot of our beds! In the morning all that was left of our guest was a fishy bouquet.

The new library near to whichour cicada sings

The most sinister of our uninvited guests were cockroaches. ‘Cockroach’ the word no yachtsmen likes to mention and scuttles away into a dark hole (just like the antagonist himself) on the mere splutter of the name. Indeed, the only reason I can now mention the aforementioned is due to the ‘were’ in the sentence, as nothing has scuttled across the sink for a very long time.

Holes in bananas...?

Droppings....?

The winner for the most curious invasion arrived in Mustique. Dave and I awoke to droppings scattered all over and under the saloon table. Casting our investigations further, more were found on the bed, by the bed, near the galley work top… It was suggested by a very astute sister-in-law, ‘Are you sure your visitor wasn’t just Dave getting up to pesky midnight antics?’ But, soon the mystery was further unravelled by Dective Land where on glancing up to the spoon rail she observed bananas with cavernous holes in them, no Lowrie could create such holes without an implement…? Or could he? Various suspects were muted as the perpetrator, but the criminal was only finally confirmed after chatting to an acquaintance who lives on the island and was complaining about the mess created by the resident bats! Frugivorous bats!!! That night we set out to catch the thieves red handed and armed with camera and banana we waited.. Before falling asleep. It was a night later, with the table once again resplendent with droppings that we returned to find the bats in our banana trap taking flying dining passes! These new guests were most welcome and would often flit past our bed as we read at night, happily entering or exiting through any hatch they stumbled across.

Banana eating bats in Mustique

After the bats, all other guests paled. The earwigs were swiftly dispatched, the fish that mysteriously flew onto the kayak or Lista’s deck at night were returned to the sea. Until the birds arrived.. who were whole-heartedly hailed- and included, a brief appearance from a Brown Booby and then a Magnificent Frigatebird each alighting on our new mast and formally christening it. A juvenile Brown Pelican whom decided to take a break from fishing and sat for sometime preening and gazing into the distance, her beak dripping a constant stream of brine.

Magnificent Frigatebird christens our new mast

Brown Pelican aboard Lista

..before she spots a fish

One more guest was to arrive, David Wingate from Bermuda. He is the same age as Lista Light and was the driving force behind rediscovering and re-establishing the once believed extinct Bermudan Petrel or Cahow. His seabird knowledge is phenomenal and Dave and I learnt of his quest to find other endangered petrels in the Caribbean and his long career of conserving seabirds and the natural world. With him we discovered Dominica in our efforts to find the Black-backed Petrel which is thought to still nest in the steep rainforest clad mountains of the interior. Dominica is stunning, it is called the nature isle of the Caribbean, long may it remain that way.

Dominica's SW coastline

Magnificent Frigatebirds along Dominica's coas

Surveys with David W and Stephen Durand

Roseau, Dominica's capital

From the highest peak, Mourne Diablotin

Citrus orchards

Dominica produce

Black-capped Petrel Surveys

Preserving a Back-capped Petrel skin with DW

Montserrat over 90 miles away vented ash

Whilst being visited we have been gathering data for the final seabird survey for each island in the Lesser Antilles. We have only three more months left of the study after which the three month write up of the Atlas will ensue. During the surveys a fiendish AUSH hound has emerged.. ‘AUSH’, being the acronym for Audubon’s Shearwater, the nocturnal seabird that breeds on islands in the Lesser Antilles, the whereabouts of, previous to our research was not known. This AUSH hound takes the form of a long, muscular individual, with the rare ability to scale cliffs and sniff our AUSH burrows, for the bird nests in cavities and holes on islands. No other AUSH hound have been recorded until today.. When it can be divulged that the hound is no other than David Lowrie himself… But what has made the surveys possible has been the addition of a decent dinghy, the first, Dave rescued from the graveyard, but now we have a proper super dooper dinghy through a grant from Rufford Small Grants Trust. This has enabled us to motor to islands quickly, using less fuel and with less danger than aboard Lista.

AUSH hound at work...

Audubon's Shearwater, Catholic Rock

As well as collecting data, we have been presenting to schools, universities, NGOs and governments about seabirds, their threats and their future conservation. Dave has produced the film and we have ambushed schools: David transforming into a female Brown Pelican before the class, I have been flapping my wings in the telling of fishy stories, feathers have been thrust into paws, David has leapt onto cupboards to illustrate tree nesting while I lay my eggs on the ground. Our final onslaught was launching a poster competition asking, ‘Why are seabirds important?’ The Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds (SCSCB) Bird Life International (BLI) and RSPB donated prizes for the three winning entrants and their schools, now we must just wait for the entries…….

Teaching on Petite Martinique

July to December 2009

It’s January. I know this not because of a fresh, crisp frost etching its way across the window pane, or fumbling with frozen hands to saddle up on the bike, the trusty hayless horse, to peddle through the sharp wind to meet the 0644 from Exeter St David’s, or because the otherwise abundant hedgerows are dormant, offering their last winter berries for the fauna to scratch out a living on. No, I know its January because we are off once more, sailing North to complete the second year of the survey. It’s exciting to be started again. That means June to December 2009 passed in rather a haze, and without a strong seasonal variation it’s difficult for north Northern Hemisphere descendants to gather their bearings. Because of the El Nino year and various other underlying conditions it was the quietest hurricane season on record in the Caribbean – and the difference between Wet and Dry season here has become indeterminable. We have two full masts though so something must have happened in the meanwhile…..

local boat, new boat,and daves boat

June 2009 was not without incident and ended with the last day of surveys in Grenada, and losing Megan. Well, we didn’t lose her, she went back home. Megan has been with us for 5 months, spending every living and sleeping hour within our 50’ wooden world – what could have been a fairly fraught experiment for either side turned into a mini-family, a floating one. By the time we were waving goodbye in the airport we were all a little tearful which is testament to how the wee Megan from Seattle burst into our lives and is one of our best friends still.

megan and her cricket

Megan in our last outreach session – still smiling

To honour the departure of our girl, we put together a series of “must-do” activities which was quite frankly a disaster. After a bout of some nasty little staphylococcal critter the Goyave Fish Festival on Friday had us fighting over the bowl on Saturday, and some nasty little Grenada chap, Saturday night’s dancing and good humoured merriment had Katharine searching for the British Consulate on Sunday we were all a little shell-shocked and looking jealously at Megan’s ticket out of Grenada. I was resting at this time, without belt or shoes, in a rather dark and urine-scented cell, with a few other chaps for company trying to remain composed and philosophical, and definitely in command of my falling down trousers, whilst internally losing all sense of proportion and feeling not a little harassed.

 guilty?

The night had started well, until a flamboyantly flung arm (one of mine, it seems) tipped over a mannequin near the dance floor, and the stitch up that ensued was seamless. The officer arrived instantly, the owner announced a 2000USD fine, I said no, Katharine diplomatically suggested I’d fix it, I agreed, they did not, I was dumped in prison, and the officer in charge went home. One of my fellow inmates suggested that at 2000USD I could have a “real woman”, another chipped in “and not just for one night!”. Fortunately sense was seen by the police, belatedly, and we returned to the safe haven of Lista to decide whether to stay in Grenada or go elsewhere.

After presenting our interim findings to the SCSCB Conference in July we put down our notepads, tucked away the binoculars, laid to rest the rat traps and dry bags, and focussed on giving our survey ship some love.

When faced with a large and mysterious project it is quite normal to resort to a nice checklist – ours had 50+ jobs from “replace main mast”, and “rebuild cabintop”

funny how a little drip can hide a bigger problem

to some slightly less toxic items like “order mainsail” which keep morale up during the descent into utter destruction. The spreadsheet was crafted (“spreadsie” my shameful nickname pursues me) and the total estimated work effort exceeded the days available by only 13, a success – efficiencies in process would win us back the days, no problem! This sounds all a little organised and belies the hours spent staring, bemused and baffled by a piece of two-by-four, or wrench or some such, or grasping at handfuls of sodden wet mouldy wood. The survey at the time of buying had indicated things may require attention in the next two/three years…. I hadn’t quite understood the gravity of those loosely guised statements.

what do they say about eggs and omelettes?

The grizzly finances needed resolved too. We had expected our mast job to be an insurance claim but in the end, after much effort by several parties, and many of our own hours wasted trying to cost up a viable way forward it ended up being a write-off. This was a sad moment, and any boat owner would feel offended, defiant, uneasy at the jargon in the industry “total economic loss”. In actual fact it was more testament to the dearth of wooden boat building skills in the world, the high cost of labour, and the limitations of the right lumber being available in the Caribbean (to say a few trees were harvested during the colonial years would understate the wholesale deforestation of some islands, a hard-to-shake habit which seems to continue into the post-liberation years). The insurance company in this case were efficient and helpful, not the nasty evil corporate story people eagerly expect.

As it was there was a decision to be made – we could have salvaged the vessel at that time, cut our losses, and enjoyed sundowners rather than spend the following lifetime prodding and sniffing timbers for signs of aging, and burning effigies to deter the dreaded ship worms. Instead we effectively re-bought her by undertaking the works ourselves, to at least craft a spar to get us going. What should have been a tough decision actually seemed to form itself quite quickly – Lista was our home and both Katharine and I are fairly prone to make emotional decisions. So, I type this whilst in our new (old) little study, and might just take a little break to prod some frames in a minute, you know, to content myself she is still a strong-un at the age of 75…..

We embarked on the renovations knowing that we knew too little, and that the ones that knew too much were out there in the undergrowth somewhere but didn’t know how much we needed them to help us know but needed to be found. Clear twas not.

In the old wooden boat world there are hidden gems, old goblets of untarnished wisdom, ancient mariners, crusted in salt whose advice is enshrined in practical experience, blisters, grunt, in fine barques on the sea, but in as many failures in the sea too. To find these grumpy old men one needs to sift through a hundred thousand new ones, made in Taiwan, shiny, practical, effervescing, full of suggestions but having never actually having come eyeball to eyeball with a stand of potential trees to find the chosen one. To succeed in the small matter of making a mast we decided to find these old gits (and I use the term fondly and respectfully to describe anyone of any age who has bothered themselves to experiment in old salty ways) and emulate being one, this seemed the only way to success.

now then, which one?

So it was that we headed off on the first Monday back from Antigua to the Forestry Department of Grenada’s government to speak to Anthony, a friend and contact from the seabird work and Mr Forteau whose permission was required. In the event I was told to return the very next day to pick up a lift to the mountain. I did, and was deposited in the forest on the leeward side of the great Grand Etang volcano, to look at the remnants of a plantation that had survived Hurricane Ivan. It needed to be straight, I had been told, with tight eyes, I was told, enough girth to the top, easily felled and retrieved, without too many branches, and taken in the lunar cycle when the sap would not be rising. I was told by friends on a Norwegian vessel, Embla, that folklore had it that permission must be asked of the tree and its inhabitants one month before being felled. In the event this was a non native Caribbean Pine tree imported from Jamaica, stifling native flora and fauna, not supporting it – so we went ahead without a whisper……

The beast was tentatively earmarked, and I descended from the Volcano to the sea on my rusty bike in a sort of trance at how things seemed to be unfolding. Actually, a trance is no state to be in when neither set of brakes work and you drop 2000’ in 3 or 4 miles but all ended well.

To get this far took some brains and some grunt

On Wednesday, Katharine, Shorty, Bob, Rasta and Lal returned and before we had really finished explaining the probably fall path Bob had severed the tree and it came crashing to the floor. Voila.

Unable to find a place to do a quick u-turn . . .

After some amount of struggling, and closing the main arterial route across the Grenada it was deposited onto the largest truck available at the port (17’ flatbead, for a 51’ tree) by lunchtime and weaved its way down the mountain to be laid onto trestles at the yard by the end of the day. A small series of good fortune and some very open minds had allowed us to get this far, and the extreme generosity of the Forestry Department to allow us to unpack our world on their porch. From then on its was our daily routine to paddle to shore, jump on the bikes across the hill and spend the few weeks turning a round tree into a square stick, into an nice round again using planes, chainsaws, draw knives, just about anything sharp, and then plenty of sand paper, and a lot of searching in old books and my new circle of salty folk that know these things to get the right methods.

Cosmos watching on, he was very optimistic

We made friends at the forestry department and it became our window onto Grenada. Each day we became a little more grubby, and the inhabitants of the capital St George became intrigued – and yelled to our passing bikes “you D ones making dee spaaar???!”. Men and women arrived at the department to look wistfully at the wooden pole and share wisdom, or pride at their tree. Then we left it to rest.

Thankyou to Mr Forteau and Jerry in Forestry

We managed to eek out a couple of like minded folk during this time and took a minute or two to drink tea and find fireflies and local horses….

 Time to relax with the local equines

Nearby, Albatross of Nikoli and Sylvie were inspirational, him with his burly manner and adventurous mind, and her with wisdom and that freedom to laugh and fetish for seashells,

The magical sylvie

and Devi and Hunter on Artic Tern (another seabird, how apt!) , a fascinating couple who took time to dig into Grenada and find out so much more than we had time to, and Dave on Epicurus with little Lolita. The list goes on – I hope we all remember each other and smile.

 We loaded lista with lumber and headed off

August and September nearly broke us. We turned attention to the Hull of the boat as various parts of rigging etc were being shipped from the UK and no more could be done for the mast itself. The final step was to boil the rigging and let it sit

Boiling the rigging in 8gallons of linseed

I had become more and more annoyed that the constant head clattering which was the fault of the genes and diet of my parents to grow me into such a long thin tree, rather than the broader shorter “trees”, that are the men and women of Flekefjord who put the boat together.

ouch!!

Either way I wanted more headroom without spoiling Lista’s low profile from the shear line. Katharine and I spent a week removing the furniture and floor, shifting Lead ingots, swearing a bit, replacing the odd bit of timber and putting it all as it was. To one who had known the boat, apart from the odd nip or tuck she is ostensibly the same, only 5” down. This is often reminded to visitors who otherwise care less just to satiate our own need to justify the ridiculous effort involved for such a minor amendment!

If you cant go up, then why not try down . . .

Then there was the making of a |Caribbean bed. A Caribbean bed must be large enough to fit two long people, spread slightly wide, without so much as the longest of armhairs making contact with thy neighbour. It’s is simply too hot for these sticky liaisons in the tropical night. Romance thoroughly dead on our ship the end game was removal of 5 bunks to make one big Scandinavian platform shrouded in reclaimed planed timber so it seems more in line with a sauna than a boudoir. Our ferret hole for the past 12 months was a cramped memory from about September onwards.

We also decided we ought to have a study for our very own Darwin (Kath) so a bit more sawing, some more swearing and some more nails and discarded timber on the deck and that was soon arranged.

Kath starting to get in the swing of it . . .

My memory of these days is a little hazy but involved not doing as much running as we promised ourselves – losing the kitchen so eating very badly, jumping overboard a lot to de-clog all orifices of sawdust,

Sanding in the heat , in need of a plunge

and wondering how this was helping in anyway to searching for, promoting and generally enjoying the natural world. Our survey boat needed mending I suppose, but my nerves were a little frayed, I believe Katharine will testify to this.

But we had much natural world alive and well below the water line and it was that we tackled next. Alas the slipway became free and after a few false starts involving some scuba tanks and fixing the haulout cable we were trollied up into the trees alongside Tyrell Bay in Carriacou – pigeon level as it was. This is to be extolled – the best yard in the world – on our own, surrounded by foliage, and clear lapping waves on the seaward side of our railway, and only a few steps up to a dark path to our rustic shower and toilet. No ordinary toilet though, it became the euphemism that taking a number two was going to see the frogs. I’m “off to see the frogs” was a trip into the dark chirruping world of microscopic frogs that lived in the bowl. They kept one company in the night, and only on a few occasions did they seem to suffer fundamentally from the inevitable flush. And of those I suspect they re-emerged sometime later as the population of chirrupers didn’t seem to diminish in our time there.

Our view for 4 months doing mast work etc

On the slipway we made a very big mess again. The boys from Windward arrived -shipbuilders with mixed Caribbean and Scottish blood, and a fettish for setting to on dead wood. Before I had quite got my list of priorities together a good portion of our port flank was missing in pieces on the ground.

A new view from the bedroom . .

In fact we just carried on ripping off old boards until we had removed all the soft wood and had allocated all of the 100ft of new boards we had procured off the ship before us (Scaramouche of film fame in “Pirates of the Caribbean”). Then they set to on putting it back. After a slight artistic difference in which I was reminded that quality and time were on opposing axis I conceded that tree-nail fastening was not an option, and that galvanised dumps would have to do here if Lista was to return to the water at all. This is a real shame because wood-on-wood fastening is what has granted Lista her relatively good condition into her 8th decade, but we know where they are and can perhaps work out the nasty galvanised dumps and threaded-rod when we have more time, and the 2” thick hardwood timber has taken its form.

Sanding Antifoul – not nice business

Katharine got intimate with Lista’s bottom, and I got pyrotechnic about Lista’s traces of Shipworm in her keel. By the end of two weeks we had replaced 6 planks, 5 frames or parts thereof, replaced a 12’ section of deckbeam, one end of the cabintop and about 60’ of deck planking until the dumps ran out. We reused as many of the monel metal dumps as possible, and we both learned a huge amount whilst helping the guys cutting in new sections and strengthening the hull.

Painting in those new planks but they still shrink

We happily returned in Caribbean colours to the blue waters, short of a mast and with a deck filled with wood scraps to dump at sea, but with a renewed hull and ready to move once more.

The paintshop had 4 colours, we ordered them all

October was all about Tom and Trinidad. Tom is very good at getting things done, and forcing and indecisive mind into action one way or the other. He is very bad getting waylaid in the bar though – and as a result within 4 hours of him landing we were considerably merry – which plagued me for days to come. I think it’s the sugar in the beer. Anyway, poor Tom had to endure a shambolic deck state and our new sleeping arrangement downstairs in which everybody is very much in it together, with no real separation between the cabins. Tom chattered as he does, and we all got ready to head south on a galvanising mission to Trinidad.

Lots of bespoke items, plenty scope for mistakes!

In the few days before we left Katharine and I chased up bits of work which we had set running months before naively expecting much to be done. On almost every count we were running up against the locally referred to GMT “Grenada Maybe Time”. Very frustrating and pretty unforgivable but we did manage to get the metalwork we required in the nick of time, and set off into a mixed forecast just after dark bound for Trinidad. Given our one mast the going was slow and Katharine and I hopelessly tired but Tom seemed eager as is his way, moreso following his 3rd coffee of the morning by 9am, and somehow we puttered through the odd squall to arrive into Trinidad well ahead of Tom’s flight home.

Capn tom manages most of the night shift

No pirates, no nothing – mind you none of the navigation lights had worked and without our main mast rigging we must have been almost invisible.

Trinidad is a beautiful country and, so long as one can avoid getting shot or stabbed (the crimewave currently rife in the urban areas) then there are wonderful things to see, and very friendly local people to meet. The hire cars in the 10USD/day category are pretty appalling though and our’s bristled of former glory, LX don’t you know, but little still worked properly. In our stead we trooped our bits of metal to the galvanising plant some million miles to the south of the country, and then headed up to the hills to go someway to remedying my poor performance in celebrating Katharine’s birthday earlier in the year. A trip to the curious and amazing Asa Wright Centre for two nights was an absolute respite from all things boats and had us a trillion miles away.

Incredible Toucans in the mist

golden mannekins hop around their lek

The birds pop in and out as if unaware of their brilliance, toucans, honeycreepers, motmots, eagles, hummingbirds, all resplendent and shimmering.

hummingbirds on our balcony

And another....

We swam in mountain streams, read books, obeyed the Victorian ambience with high teas and sundowners, and almost enjoyed the centre to ourselves in the cooler mountain breeze as Lista, unlocked but unfettered remained in Chaguaramas.

The nocturnal oilbird emits a devilish cry

The yellowlegged honeycreeper is a jewel

November was the month to finish the mast and put on the fresh bread, roll out the red carpet and receive Katharine’s Mum for the royal visit. After that we had visitors whom we had longed to visit booked back through to the start of work so there was no time for mending too much – Lista had to be a ketch and at least 90% of the devastation put back together.

We developed a new method of serving the rigging using Katharine’s enthusiasm for cycling, and my zeal for shortcuts.

The contraption in operation

4 chains, a cog, some wood and the furler....

From this slightly Heath Robinson contraption we managed to parcel and serve c.100m rigging using 1km or twine before I finally vomited with the fumes of the Stockholm Tar!!

5days of this view and i vomitted, too many fumes!

We become more and more black everyday covered in sticky black tar – a local guy said we were becoming Grenadian – I reminded him I still couldn’t dance so this wasn’t possible.

To say the mast was just popped in and rigging complete brings us to the grand arrival neatly but masks some fairly awful moments where I realized all the soft-eye measurements in the rigging had been swaged incorrectly in the UK, that 200kg of rigging got ferried to a rigging shop for mechanical terminals and back again without them as they could not be done on island, that the wire would not, with any degree of wrestling, be spliced according to my simple instructions in the book. Whilst i fretted, Kath spent 40hrs creating some very professional mast hoops

Classy mast hoops look superb

Then Jim from “Boldly Go” arrived, all laid back, gently puffing a cigarette but interested, and his wife Ellen, bristling with excitement. Turns out Jim used to manage a whole lift operation in US Ski-resorts, and consulted around the world. He knew wire and decided he would beat ours into shape. Aside from generally knowing the material, he brought with him his enthusiasm and would not be beaten by these bastardly shards of wire.

Our saviour Jim – fighting the iron beast with me

He and I worked for days being blooded and scraped and spiked until we had the rigging to do the job, and 48hrs before Carole arrived we hired the crane, and rallied the local cruising folk (Jim, Ellen, Ernie, Ron and Trom) to drop in our stick. We became a ketch again!

Hardwork paying off.

From November to December we had Katharine’s mum, Carole, God mother Sue, friends Claire, Matthew and Paula, EPIC President, Natalia, my brother and wife and kids Ross, Vicky, Max and George, friends Jake and Martha and Christmas and New Year. We to’d and fro’d between Carriacou and Grenada and had some amazing times – more of that to come…..