The planned route (Click to enlarge)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Some hours in the life of 3000 miles at sea...

So, it's finally come to the point where we must down tools and actually wave goodbye to land for the next month. We look set to head off on Friday, traditionally unlucky for sailors, which is a good start. This 3,000 mile sea leg has always been a big part of our trip and as we look around the boat at fully stowed cupboards, uncharacteristically clean clothes and clear decks it is apparent that there is no turning back. There are some nerves but most of all we just can't wait to get our teeth sunk into it. Despite making consistent progress for the last 3 months we still have the bizarre sensation of being able to fly home by dinner time if we wanted (this has been even more noticeable in the Canaries where we worked out it would be much cheaper to fly home and deliver presents in person than post the 2 parcels destined for the Gee and the Tuppen Christmas trees). When we arrive in Trinidad, hopefully sometime in late January, we will have crossed an ocean powered only by nature, be far enough South to get the swimmers on in mid winter and have entered our 3rd continent. It's an exciting time.

With the fact that we are going to be out of contact for the next 3-5 weeks in mind, we thought it would be good to give you some idea of what we are going to be doing with our time. In a nutshell, both a lot and not a lot...

I would like to say the day starts at 8 in the morning, but the day never really starts or ends. Time ceases to fall into the standard day and night and you begin living the rolling cycle of watches. I suppose we need to take an example. It's 3am. Someone calls Hol from out of her half sleep and she bolts upright ready to head up into the night. She is crawling out of the bunk next to me and into her wet weather gear, hat and head torch. As she transmogrifies into a passable likeness of Ellen MacArthur, I luxuriate in the extra space and warmth of bed. With the water crashing around the hull and the boat pitching continually beneath you, sleep remains elusive. All too soon after just a few snatches of dreamfilled sleep, I then see the tip of Hol's nose illuminated beneath the halogen glow of her head torch. It's 5am and she is summoning me onto deck. I stumble out and we fumble like moles passing in too narrow tunnel as i squeeze past her into the cold. Hol crawls back into the warmed bed. The brief exchange of information tells me there have been a few squalls coming through but nothing serious and we are yet to land the tuna we've been discussing and salivating over since fresh meat ran out a week ago.

It's then up through the galley and onto deck. The wind whips through the rigging and instantly wakes you as your eyes struggle to shake off sleep and focus in the gloom. You clip on and make your way to the exposed helm and park yourself. Checking speed shows a good 6 knots and sails full. You then assess the sea and the sky (incidentally all there is to assess) to see what the next 2 hours has in store for you. A couple of patches of cloud off in the distance with the odd flash of lightning, but nothing that´s going to reach us soon. An uncovered moon giving off a surprisingly comforting amount of light, the odd planet shimmering above the horizon and waves crashing gently every now and again. Sometimes the 2 or 3 hours of watch pass quickly as shooting stars streak overhead, your mind is awash with some thought from earlier or, if the weather allows, you dip in and out of a book. Other times you keep looking to your wrist as the minutes creep round reluctantly and you can think of nothing but bed. The best watches are sunrises and sunsets. You begin to appreciate the subtle differences in mood and light between the two. The moment the sun dips at sunset night begins, but night doesn't end with such definition. From the wonderful moment you realise the thick black is being oh so slowly lightened and diluted the day has begun. You may still have an hour before the sun shows itself on the horizon, but from that moment all the optimism, warmth and excitement floods into you. The fact that you may head straight down to bed as the day stretches itself across the sky seems alien to begin with, but it soon becomes clear that you need to sleep when you can if you are to avoid exhaustion and retain the enjoyment of the crossing. You rouse the next person from sleep as they take the first of the daylight shifts.

It is most likely 6 to 8 hours until your next shift. After as much sleep as you feel like you make your way onto deck. Your time off watch in the day can be filled with a huge array of things, but often nothing. Depending on your mood you can choose to escape to the rolling fecundity of Hardy's Wessex or maybe plunge into the roaring gales of the southern ocean with grand accounts of bygone nautical exploits. However, with the rolling watches and the tiredness it brings reaching double figures in pages read is a challenge rarely met. Hol is looking forward to test her theory that she can simply sit on deck, stare into the waves and sky and think for an indefinite amount of time; the results of which I'm a little nervous about.

Fishing is always a possible diversion. It also remains continual and fruitless. Despite infinite discussions with all and sundry we have met along the way (as well as the purchase of some nu-rave squid lures), we have turned up nothing. The elusive ingredient of luck appears to be absent from the fine blend of speed, depth, lure and line. This doesn't stop us fingering the lines knowingly every now and then and looking into the middle distance. The only thing caught tends to be the eye of the last person who felt the line who is secretly hoping they won't have just missed pulling up a monster.

Being an old boat there are always things to be tinkered with. The fact that you are sailing constantly for 24 hours a day means you are aging the boat much faster than most boats ever experience. In one day the amount of wear and tear on lines and sails is about the same as you would get in a a month or so of use by a regular weekend sailor. This means a close eye has to be run over everything and running repairs are inevitable. The old nautical adage of “a place for everything, everything in it's place” rings true on board as the constant movement of the boat means if it isn't stowed, stacked or tied then it is sure to entwine itself around you just when something goes wrong.

Food inevitably remains a focus for the passing of the hours. We take it in turns to be mum for a day (no feminism here I'm afraid) making meals for as long as you can stomach it below and washing up in a salt water filled bucket on deck. Depending on where your watch falls that day you may be woken by the smell of hot porridge coated in golden syrup, fresh bread or pasta and soup wafting into your cabin calling you up to feed. Feeding is important to everyone on the boat and food tends to consume about 60% of our conversation. Consequently we try and eat one meal all together up on deck at least once a day. In between meals the deck is regularly crossed with snacks of dried fruit, nuts, biscuits, crackers, occasional chocolate, crisps and even cake if someone is feeling generous. Hunger is the enemy that can bring on sea sicknesses and so must be suppressed at all times. Washing it all down with ginger teas, fresh coffee and hot chocolates all conspires to mean the usual upside of getting thinner on passage is one benefit lost on Lista.

Maybe we will be a little bit wiser by the time we touch land in 2009. Maybe we will erase all good things learnt by a huge rum fuelled bender on arrival. Whatever happens we will have completed the biggest challenge of the trip so far and be a good chunk of the way round the world!
Wishing everyone a joy filled festive season and look forward to catching up on the other side of the pond. If you would like a less Gee and Tups sided account of our sailing adventures so far then check out Dave and Kat's online log at
P.S. This is joint blogging for those who think Nick is scared of the dark and Hol is growing a beard

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas photos for one and all

With only a few days before setting off for the big push across the Atlantic we come to the final and most important of the preparations... spending many torrid hours sat listening to 80´s classics like Total Eclipse of the Heart uploading photos.

The latest lots of Moroccan chicken love, seasickness and local nudity can all be found here.


There is a slideshow option as well if you want to see my straggly beard in all its high definition glory.
Big love

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Feral Man of La Graciosa

I would like to think that Hol and I are now in the swing of meeting some fairly odd people. However, this last week has raised the bar. We should have known that an island in the middle of the Atlantic with a population of only a few hundred might hold some unique people and we were not to be disappointed.

La Graciosa is only a few miles long, has 3 volcanoes, and excluding the small nudist colony at the top end, has one small town. This contains only a handful of houses, a few shops and bars and a tiny port with a daily ferry to Lanzarote. The only roads are sand and within a day it became clear that the gene pool was more paddling size than Olympic. The locals are identifiable from the few surfers, sailors and artists that stray this far up the island chain by their standard issue head-ware of the upside down flower pot straw hat. This is twinned with jelly shoes and usually a sprinkling of tight denim. This look is modeled by both the menfolk and their wives/sisters(?) and the absence of any work really going on makes you realise that these guys have no problem with doing things the way they want.

After the dry spell in Morocco we felt spending some quality time at the local bar would be a good place to get our bearings. From silver foxes (still in jelly shoes) to a token busty serving wench, the full cast of the island floats through to pass the time of day. The best night there was when a couple of French neighbours in the harbour heard Dan playing his fiddle on the back of the boat and came over with treble saxophone, accordion and a guitar wielding Argentinian. Unfortunately true to national stereotype we explained we were off to the pub, but suggested they come along for a 'Jam'. Now I should explain here that the thought of sitting with 4 bearded musicians in sandals and woven trousers tapping my foot along in an attempt to look like i'm down with the beats makes me shiver. I feared i would be exposed as a fraud as quickly as if I went to a 50 Cent concert in a linen suit and panama hat. However, I needn't have worried. When the music began, the whole of the island came out to watch. Like rabbits being tempted out of burrows the men folk came first before ringing their lady partners to come and listen. Soon we had half the town sat round clapping and drinking with us. It peaked when, egged on by the fact we drunk the bar out of Dorada beer, Dorada Especials and were running low on Tropicalo, a small man with a face like a weathered peanut whipped out his ukulele. He soon started bashing out the island classics with the others playing along with him. It was an amazing moment and even got one guy so excited he grabbed a guitar even though he couldn't play it and he just stood in with all the musicians waving it around. Returning to the boat at 5am we were invited by a separate group of mental Frenchman back to there boat for some food. With the beery breath of a horny Frenchman washing over us we began to feel like this may have been a loaded invitation. We politely explained we were going back to eat tepid baked beans and sliced white bread and this most British of gastronomic offerings seemed to make them back off somewhat.

But that night was nothing in comparison to some other gems of the isle. 'Madame Rosa's' internet cafe held a surprise when we found Madame Rosa was actually a large 'senor'. Then there is the local boy who rides around on a quad bike staring at us from around 5 yards away. But perhaps most of all we have been alternately scared and entertained by the feral man of La Graciosa.

A couple of days in, just a few minutes after the guy with his mouth hanging open had stopped watching us from his quad bike, we were confronted with someone altogether 'different'. It really shouldn't be alarming when a middle aged Spanish man with saggy boobs comes up to your table in an empty seaside bar. If he is only wearing a threadbare pair of shorts and a coral necklace, sure it might be a bit weird, but what the hey. If he proceeds to stare a you whilst panting and sniffing like a dog... OK, granted it's a little freaky. If then, whilst still holding your gaze with feverish canine attention, he proceeds to wipe out the inside of an ashtray with his hand, sniff it a few times and then with a grunt steal your recently finished pack of sour cream and onion Pringles... then and only then can you assume it is very, very odd. The whole episode only took about 30 seconds, but afterwards we were glad to add the 'Feral man of La Graciosa' to the growing cast of unusual characters we have encountered so far. Thinking we may have only caught a glimpse of this man who dwells in the interior of the island, we realised he just sits around for most of the day by the town beach in the middle of the old boats pretending to swim face down in the sand. It was becoming clear he is very much a known fixture of the town, but people just carry on around him. We thought this was great. We did slightly question it though when we walked past a couple of kids playing on the beach within a stones throw of feral man sat rocking on his bum with his old fella hanging out. It seems that the island has a self regulating way of dealing with things like this which is commendable... i think.

We head off tomorrow after working on the boat for the last week. We have a rough date of departing on the crossing of the 15th December which means Christmas and New Year at sea. We are in good stead though after Kat made an advent calendar for which we all contribute treats. This was going well with various sweets etc popping up, but took a turn for the worst when Dave opened today's to find a picture of a stick man involving himself with a sheep. As Dan was out last night with the horny French crew and has yet to return we are a little worried with his offering, but we're sure there is an explanation. At least i really hope there is.

Hope everyone is well in the run up to Christmas. Talk is increasingly turning to festive food on the boat and relying on our fishing skills for our 'turkey' means we are most likely to be snacking on an old mackerel head. Oh well, living the dream.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

My first solo night watch

About a week ago I headed out from the safety and warmth of my cabin into the depths of the night to watch over our boat on my own. All I had to do was sit at the helm looking out for boats and making sure that the sails kept full of wind. Its pretty simple stuff. Nonetheless a pang of fear hung over me and suddenly heading out there felt very similar to edging towards the darkest depths of the back garden in the middle of the night when I was 7. However much you tell yourself its the same as that garden you played in during the daytime, there's no fighting against your imagination creating a different world. Suddenly the back shed is a den of goblins, those trees are alive and waiting to gobble you up, the grass is full of snakes, the bushes hiding giant human eating spiders and in those dark corners hidden away from the moonlight are witches waiting to use your blood for their potions.

Similarly, for those first few minutes(1) of lonely darkness at the helm, Lista became a perilous vessel, vulnerable to potential attack from all sides. Those creaks and groans of Lista´s beamy frame that we have come to love took on a whole new world. Before I knew it I had worked myself up into a frensy of childish fear. Whales were surely trying to mate with the boat from below, the tiny fish following us all day had now attracted the attention of sharks that were trying to eat their way through the propeller, a seaweed laden half man, half monster was going to climb up and pull us all down into his ocean kingdom at any moment, hidden rocks were waiting to ship wreck us everywhere and that tidal wave was definitely on its way. But despite your mind, once you've committed to doing it there's no going back. However strong the temptation to crawl back to safety is, turning around would be giving in to your inner wimp and who knows what would follow once that had happened.

I personally have a pretty large amount of wimp going on. Until about 4 years old I failed to leave the safety of clinging to my mothers legs wherever we went. At 8 years old I was still crying about being left at school. I am still secretly pretty scared whenever I am left alone in the dark. This little trip around the world is my way of fighting against my inner wimp. I have been trying to suppress it for years. I figure heading out into the wilderness of the ocean, foreign cities, tribal settlements, up mountains, across deserts, down rivers and the likes would help me rid of it for good. In fact I fear that by subjecting my wimpiness to all this bravery is merely bringing it to the surface over and over again. Never before have I been so aware of being a scaredy cat. At least once I have achieved all these 'daring' feats I can justifiably crawl into a little haven of safety for the rest of my life. Well... maybe. We'll see.

Since completing a 5 day, 400 mile, vomit ridden, wildlife full hop into the Atlantic we have been soaking up some sun on Isla Graciosa in The Canaries. The island has a population of 600 people, 500 straw hats, 300 land rovers, 20 nudists and 3 volcanoes. It is also apparently a hot spot for pilot whales, but sadly we have found nothing other than small fry. The quest for mega fauna continues.

(1) The joys of the wilderness of the ocean, where the phosphorescence below you is as bright as the stars above, soon kicks in and fear is replaced with peaceful contemplation.