Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Adios to La Coruna

We got up early yesterday morning intending to leave La Coruna & head off for a Corme (N 43deg 14', W 008deg 58'); a small anchorage a days sail away. Unfortunately La Coruna was blanketed in fog, so we might as well have had a lie in, but we hoped that it was just early morning mist and would quickly burn off. Instead it stuck around until the mid-afternoon and we didn't fancy dodging fishing boats in limited visibility. It was probably for the best anyway as we needed diesel and couldn't make it into the fuel berth until mid-tide; around 11.30.Unusually - rather than work on the boat - we spent the day sight seeing including a fish identification session at the market and a hunt for the memorial to Sir John Moore.
We tracked down and bought some of the famous small green peppers that we were introduced to by Silva and Louis, which are fantastic fried and covered with salt.Visibility is much better this morning so we set off into a wind-less sea. The engine is running well again - but after an hour the wind picked up, unfortunately from the west, so now we're beating into a force 4.
The good news is the wind-vane self-steering is finally working and has been steering for the boat for the last 4 hours. If the wind holds we should be in Corme early evening. Sailed past a flapping around on its side it gave us a hard stare and flopped off.A sunfish
A sunfish

Sunday, August 28, 2005


After the trauma of our approach to Coruna, we were very grateful to jump onto the pontoon and secure our mooring lines. Having been at sea for 5 days, walking on solid ground was quite strange and it took a while to adjust. We finished boat jobs and slept for a few hours. Then came the first shower for 5 days - bliss! That evening, Sylvia (a fellow teacher in London) and Louis came to pick us up. Their home town is Cariño, a couple of hours eastward up the coast from here. Sylvia and I had tentatively arranged a meeting and she was surprised to hear my voice on Wednesday telling her we were approaching Spain. She was even more surprised that we had not stopped in Carino but had actually sailed on past to Caruna. Everyone we met over the next two days (and we met quite a few) couldn't believe that 'they sailed straight past us. Why didn't they stop?' They clearly thought we were strange people to be sailing round the world, and also found it difficult to understand why we would want to go anywhere else now we had found Carino. Their pride in their town was very refreshing and their strong sense of community enviable. It was fiesta week there and we we able to get a real taste of life in a Spanish town including plenty of local food and drink.

Everyone was very welcoming and curious. Introductions would go something like this 'Pedro, meet Ellen and Nick. They are the two with the yacht who sailed past us' 'What, the 2 with the yacht who sailed past us?´ Why did you pass us? Maria, come and meet the 2 with the yacht who sailed past us!' and so it went on.

Biscay Bistro

Tonight's menu 25.8 05
Main Course
Risotto of Starboard Locker - Chef Nick´s special
A creamy risotto, of as many ingredients in this locker as you can fit into the pan, not excluding the tin of tomatoes, and knob of warty old ginger that's been rolling around in there for a couple of weeks. Enjoy the conflicting flavours and marvel at the surprising textures, every one completely different from the last. Oh the sweet anticipation of what each mouthful can bring! Finally, relax, as your stomach tries to come to terms with the mixture of matteson's sausage, marinated in lea & perins, while bobbing on a roly sea. Deeeelicious!

Arrival at La Coruña

Only once before have engine problems meant that I've suffered the humiliation of asking for a tow into a port. A couple of years ago we were sailing my old boat Tilly Witch along the south coast of England and the engine failed to start when arriving in Brixham. In these (fortunately rare) occasions the old sailing skills come to hand and its quite possible to pick up at mooring buoy under sail or even go alongside a pontoon - providing there is enough space and there's some wind. The fix wasn't immediately obvious and rather than getting the engine looked at in Brixham we decided it would make sense to sail Tilly back her home port at Walton-on-Naze where we could repair at our leisure. For me the trip back without engine seemed like a chance to sail as people used to - a return to a purer form of sailing. My romantic notions of sailing without an engine quickly vanished when we spent a night off Beachy Head making no progress against the tide. The frustration was a prefect anchorage awaited as round the corner where we could have safely rested and had a good nights sleep - but couldn't make it without the engine. Eventually we were forced to ask for a tow off Dover when fog descended, the wind vanished and we were left helplessly drifting off one of busiest harbours in the UK hearing fog horns bearing down on us, powerless to get out of their way. Even in this situation I reluctantly called for help - We're out enjoying ourselves - if we get ourselves into difficulties we should be competent enough to get ourselves out of them. Which brings us to our Arrival at La Coruna.

Wednesday (24th) started as a cloudless day with a good WSW Force 4 wind and a smooth sea. Perfect sailing conditions with the Spanish coast in sight. The only slight issue was that during the night when the wind had died we thought we'd motor for a couple of hours. When we went to start the engine, instead of the roar of the diesel bursting into life we were greeted with grinding of cog teeth as the starter motor failed to engage with the engine. A brief correspondence with my engine expert suggested turning the engine over manually, and hitting the starter motor gently with a hammer. Despite both suggestions failing (and a third of kicking the engine) our mood was ecstatic - I was looking forward to a celebratory beer in La Coruña and cracking open the Champagne. We continued our preparations for arrival with a hastily sewn Spanish courtesy flag in anticipation of an imminent arrival

I called the local coast guard to let him know that we'd need a tow into the marina and be arriving around mid-night. All was arranged, however by 10pm the weather had deteriorated, with cloud covering any light we might have had from the moon and occasional rain reducing visibility further. Additionally the wind became light and variable although seemed to be predominantly in the direction were trying to head. After a night of dodging fishing boats, rocky shores and shallow banks, often drifting with little wind, we made it behind the breakwater and into sight the marina. At 7am we dropped anchor and 7.30 got a tow into the marina, both exhausted and frustrated that with the engine we could have made it for 11pm the previous night.A new starter motor arrived on Friday. Saturday I set about replacing the old one only to discover that one of the securing nuts had dropped off, once this nut had been replaced the engine started immediately. The repair took 10 minutes.

The echo sounder

The echo sounder provides a readout of the depth of the water adjusted for the draft of the boat; when the depth gauge reads zero we're aground - Ellen tested the zero calibration in Poole harbour!

The echo sounder documentation says its only designed to work accurately to a depth of 180 metres. As we crossed the Bay of Biscay so we sailed beyond the bounds of the continental shelf with charted depths of over 4000 metres. Initially the depth gauge responded with a sensible "Deep" rather than attempting to calculate the depth. However occasionally it would display alarming depths like 1.8metres. Although the inner workings of Kika are day by day becoming more familiar to me - there are still many mysteries lurking behind the panels and mass of wires. On our third day at sea an alarm started sounding. I started a frantic search for the cause of the alarm – engine overheating? - (no we're sailing) Gas alarm, Sea-me detecting another boat? Battery monitor, egg-timer. No, no ,no, no. Finally I traced the sound down to the depth alarm, which triggers an alarm at 0.5metres. For the next day the depth alarm would intermittently start beeping - normally as I was just about to drop off to sleep.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Calm conditions

Current position: 44 deg 29.0N, 8 deg 21.6 W (about 90 miles north of
La Coruna).
The wind has died so its more likely we'll get in late Wednesday early
Apart from the lack of wind all going well.
Nick and Ellen

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Message from Ellen

Well, we have managed to rig the computer so it's working from the mains, so here's an update. Current position 045.28'.2N, 007.37'.2W. 11.55 BST. It's a lovely day, though the sea is still a bit roly (sp?) We have blue skies and a good Northerly breeze - perfect weather for burning (don't worry mum, I've got my cream on!) We have good news and bad news.
I'll get the bad over with: Nick's not sleeping. During my watch from midnight till 4, I came below several times and the creaking and groaning were deafening. All the tea-towels had been stuffed in gaps and crannies, but there we're still loud squeaks emanating from various places particularly the engine and as we know, any suspected problems from that area are taken very seriously (and quite rightly so!). Poor Nick's eyes were red with tiredness. Anyway, he seems sprightly enough now and he'll hopefully get some sleep this afternoon and be fresh for approaching La Corona. We can investigate the creaks there and work on noise limitation.
The good news is that I've got my sea legs. They must have crept up on me as I was asleep(something I seem to be doing remarkably well despite the noises) and I confirmed their presence by coming down below and cooking us both an omelette this morning! I have been really seasick and wasn't keeping water or pills down, but they said it would pass and it has - hurrah!
Also, during my watch yesterday evening, I saw a whale. It blew off not more that 12 feet from the boat. Haven't a clue what type as I only saw it's back before it submerged again but it was big. The part I saw was easily the size of the cockpit! It was so slow and graceful - it didn't scare me at all. I think Nick has already mentioned the dolphins and they were fantastic - took me out of my seasick stupour for a short time. Anyway, we should reach our first foreign port mid-morning tomorrow (your birthday, Mum.) We plan to spend a few days there and then make our way slowly down the coast.

Quick note (22 Aug 05 12.05)

We're having problems charging the laptop. So this could be the last email before La Coruna. All well. Speak on Wednesday

Monday, August 22, 2005

22 August 2005

Start of our 3rd day at sea. Yesterday had about 10 dolphins spend half an hour circling and swimming around the boat. Just had our first dolphin visit of the day.Current position: 47deg 19.7N, 006deg 34.6W Wind currently WSW force 4, going well towards La Coruna. Still expect to arrive Wednesday morning.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

21 August 2005

Sat eve: Finally set off from Falmouth around 2.30 pm - heading south for La Coruna on our first reasonably long passage. We expect to be there Wednesday morning.

We arrived in Falmouth on Tuesday - the immediate forecast wasn't great for Biscay so we decided to spend sometime finishing off some jobs and studying for a suitable weather window to cross to Spain. I completed the Sea-me wiring - it sounds an alarm if it detects another ship's radar and makes Kika look to other ships like a small destroyer. So far we haven't been out of radar contact with other boats and have switched the alarm off, but they have all been giving us a wide berth so hopefully the radar destroyer disguise is working well.

Rebuilt the wind-vane self-steering gear with much help and advice from Helen Franklin, who provides spares for our make of wind-vane and fortuitously lives close to Falmouth. She came to the rescue twice - initially to find a workshop to fix a corroded bearing and then to find us replacement parts when I dropped a vital piece in the water while rebuilding.

Even though the wind is dying away there's still a substantial sea causing Kika to roll considerably in a nausea inducing manner.It's a beautiful night with a bright full-moon in a cloudless starry sky. Sun am: position: 48deg 48min N, 006deg25min W - 40 miles west off Ile d'Ouessant off north-west tip of France.Wind died in the night and spent 6 hours motoring in no wind.

Currently the wind has picked up from the north-west force 3 and we're steaming along at 5 knots with the wind-vane steering us.Still adapting to life at sea, managed chicken pot-roast in the pressure cooker and snatches of sleep between periods on watch to dodge the shipping. Hoping to clear the shipping lanes early tomorrow.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Setting sail

Casting off from Shamrock Quay Southampton
Casting off from Shamrock Quay Southampton

Tuesday 9th we finally set sail from Shamrock Quay in Southampton. Even though we still had a list of jobs spanning a couple of pages of A4, it felt momentous as we cast off the mooring lines and bid farewell to parents. The day before Kika still resembled a workshop; completing the transformation back into a sailing yacht felt as though we were almost ready to depart for the Caribbean. It was great to concern ourselves again with the weather forecast, tides and direction the of Red Funnel Ferries baring down on us rather than contorting myself into some inaccessible area of the boat to attempt to route some recalcitrant cable.

Anchored in Studland bay outside Poole on Ellen´s Birthday
Anchored in Studland bay outside Poole on Ellen´s Birthday
We celebrated Ellen's birthday on Wednesday with a 5am start from Yarmouth to Poole. Picked up a storm jib and Tri-sail from Crusader sails and were entertained with an impromptu tour of the marina, including multi-story speed boats parking. A significant portion of the water-front at Poole is dominated by Sunseeker luxury boat building which sit rather uncomfortably next to scrap metal and coal quays. Left Poole after a celebratory drink to anchor in Studland bay for the night, planning an early start for Dartmouth

Unfortunately the early start on Thursday wasn’t as early as planned and we missed the tide round Portland Bill, resulting in 4 hours making little headway against a 3-4 knot tide. This gave us ample time to realise that the engine appeared to overheat if we tried to make more than 4 knots – suddenly the list of jobs started looking rather overwhelming again. Still the wind picked up – unfortunately from the west - and we had a fast, but bumpy sail to Dartmouth, nursing Kika into Dartmouth and dropping anchor at 2am.

Our well deserved lie-in on Friday was curtailed at 8.30am by the harbour master enquiring when we got in to see if he could legitimately charge us for a night in his river – 2am arrival was pronounced as a legitimate night and we forked out £6.38. Decided a morning swim was required to inspect the propeller. Thought our speed problems could be explained by a rope around the propeller. Turned out that 2 months of inactivity in Southampton and transformed the propeller into an ineffective lump of barnacles. After an hour of diving the true propeller emerged, the remainder of the day spent studying the engine workshop manual and unblocking and cleaning various parts of the cooling system.

Guests day on Saturday – great progress made with a trail run up the river in the morning during which John pronounced the cooling and speed problems fixed. After some contortions in the aft locker the final section of the wiring for the wind-generator was completed, blades connected and power generation from the wind began. The novelty hasn’t warn off yet – whenever there's a gust and we hear the wind generator pick up I rush to the battery monitor and see how much current is being generated. Record so far is around 15amps. Ian cooked a fantastic curry including the famous “king of rice” – anticipated even more by an hour delay while we upped-anchor and motored round the river looking for a tap to replenish our water supply.

Sunday another break through day – with the SSB finally coming to life. We’ve now signed up with Sailmail – which once we’ve worked our way through their system will allow us to send email from the oceans – although messages are appended with the following warning:

Messages are sent over a very low-speed radio link

Feels debilitating not to have any decent connection to the internet – but I guess we’ll adjust.

Contents of wallet drying out after I dozily ‘forgot’ to tie the dinghy on and had to jump in to recover it.

Monday we tried out the wind-vane self-steering on route to Falmouth in light winds. It controlled the boat for short stints, but quickly went off course. Looking forward to rebuilding it in Falmouth