Sailing Yacht SEA BUNNY

The Atlantic

October 2001 to February 2002. Visiting Gibraltar, Morocco, Tenerife, Antigua, The Windward Islands, Netherlads Antilles, San Blas Islands, to Panama

Preparations in Gibraltar and Tenerife, our first ocean crossing to Antigua, generator repair and a rush through the Caribbean. Transitting the Panama Canal.


Gibraltar - 5 to 28 October 2001

Gibraltar

We finally arrive in Gibraltar on 5 October to find several of the Blue Water Rally yachts already there.


We made it in time!

Boat preparations

BWR Fleet

Our stay in Gibraltar concentrated on getting Sea Bunny ready for the start of our real long distance sailing. Much time was spent on retail therapy in Sheppards chandlery, close to the marina. Many trips were also made to shops and markets in the town and also to La Linea across the border in Spain. The folding bicycles we bought in Guernsey were extensively used here.


As the time went on the number of Blue Water Rally participating boats slowly increased and preparations became more frantic - except for one or two boats that were either very well organised or excessively complacent!


We were very fortunate that David Jeffs from our sailing club in the UK joined us for a week of preparations. He became expert at fixing down floorboards with window bolts, specially imported from B&Q in the UK.


We had ordered new genoa tracks from Lewmar for delivery to Gibraltar, as there had not been time for them to get to us when we were in Guernsey. They had been promised to be there when we arrived but, in the end, they arrived at noon on Friday 27 October, with our scheduled departure on the 28th. Unfortunately HM Customs in Gibraltar closes at lunch time on Fridays so they were stuck there until Monday. We arranged with the crew of Windfall, who were not planning to leave until Tuesday, for them to be collected and carried as "deck cargo" to Tenerife.

They were finally fitted in Fiji nine months later!

Gibraltar social programme

Lower caves

The rally organisers, Peter and Annette Seymour and Tony Diment arrived some ten days before the scheduled start and some social activities were arranged. These included a trip to Jerez, with a visit to a bodega, an evening private visit to St Michael's cave beneath the Rock, a reception at the Gibraltar Yacht Club and a Government reception at the former Governor's House. Barry and Christianne of the yacht Coco de Mer, who would be joining the rally in the Caribbean, also invited the rally participants to lunch at their villa in Sotogrande. It was not all work.

Shakedown to Morocco

Tetuan

There was even a weekend sail across to Smir in Morocco and a tour of Tetuan providing a good opportunity to shake out the cobwebs.

Richard remembered his first visit, fresh out of school, in 1964.

On the drive from Smir to Tetuan we recognised an hotel we stayed in with our children in 1987!


The Rally starts - 28 October 2001

Europa Point

Late on the last Friday son Nik, our crew to Tenerife, arrived.


Saturday morning dawned with a strong "Levanter" blowing from the east, with forecasts of 40 knot winds off Tarifa (a popular windsurfing location on account of its consistently strong winds). After some discussion in the marina office most skippers decided to let this blow through before setting off, despite pressure from BWR Rally Control to leave (so that arrangements in Tenerife would not have to be changed). Based on predictions that the strong winds would be localised and would drop around five miles offshore, four boats, Scipio, Dutch Link, Kalypso and Sea Bunny, decided to go. These boats, plus Windfall, were therefore on the start line off Europa Point at 1600, sporting storm jib and triple reefed main in about 15 knots of wind, to be seen off by the firing of an howitzer from the point.

Dutch Link starts

Haircut!

Haircut!

So much for weather predictions! As the wind wasn't too strong off Tarifa we got the storm jib down and continued under triple reefed main alone. The wind then increased again and we spent the next 10 hours surfing on a broad reef in 40 to 50 knots of wind. We were quite a way down the Moroccan coast before it finally moderated. Nik seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself!


Once the wind had dropped we had a pleasant sail. The skipper got a haircut (not to be repeated on board as hair got everywhere).

We avoided the headwinds that the rest of the fleet got on approaching Tenerife


Photo credit: Nik Kidd

Stowaway

Stowaway

We were visited by dolphins, we listened to the Muslim call to prayer being broadcast on the rally VHF channel (72), presumably for the benefit of Moroccan fishermen. The atmosphere was spoiled one evening by an interruption by some rednecked American expressing the opinion that all Muslims should be "nuked".


Photo credit:  Nik Kidd


Approaching Tenerife

Approaching Tenerife

Having left Gibraltar before most other boats we had the advantage of avoiding the headwinds that most of the other boats experienced in the last few days of their passage.


Approaching Tenerife we opted to motor hard for a day in fairly light winds to arrive around midnight rather that get there later and wait for morning. We eventually arrived at 0100 on 3 November, after Kalypso and Dutch Link, to be greeted by rally organiser Tony Diment on the pontoon to take our warps.


We celebrated with champagne.




Tenerife - 3 to 18 November 2001

Shopping

Having crewed from Gibraltar Nik decided to visit his old friend Gareth, now living on the island of Fuertoventura. On trying to book a flight, however, he discovered that everything in Tenerife, including airlines and travel agencies, shut at noon on Saturday. He got a flight, however, by turning up on spec at the airport.


Our time in Tenerife was spent victualling the boat for the long Atlantic crossing and areas beyond where some "European" staples might not be available or would be expensive, participating in Blue Water Rally activities and enjoying the hospitality of the Yacht Club.


About a week before the rally's departure for Antigua our crew - Bill and Mark arrived. Bill had been with us for part of the Brittany leg and Mark, a friend of our son Nik, had sailed with us in the UK on several occasions and skiied with us in Canada. Mark, accompanied in Tenerife by his partner Tilly, was staying with friends until the night before departure.


The main activity for ourselves and the crew was purchasing and stowing what appeared to be a huge quantity of supplies. This involved frequent visits to department store and food hall Il Corte Ingles, the market, chandlers and numerous other shops.


Days went by in a blur as there were so many jobs still left to do. In fact, in 2006 we realised that we have still not completed some that were deemed "essential before crossing Biscay", let alone the Atlantic!

Tenerife social programme

Mount Tiede

As well as membership of the yacht club the rally had organised various activities including an island tour and a civic reception.

Departure from Tenerife

Dipping the ensign

Finally the great departure day arrived with all the rally yachts forming up in line ahead in a sail past of the yacht club before heading out of harbour and off to the south.

The Atlantic crossing

Spinnaker

The first night out gave a preview of things to come - torrential rain, thunder and lightning and 30 knots plus squalls from any direction. We succeeded in avoiding some using the radar but still got caught by others.


For the next three days we headed SSW, as the wind allowed, following the old sailing ship maxim of "head south until the butter melts, then west" and also to avoid a late tropical storm lurking to the NW. The butter didn't actually melt (it was in the fridge) but a day after crossing the Tropic of Cancer on the fourth day out the wind settled in from the east. For these first few days we were close to and often in visual contact with Hecla and Dutch Link. One crew member succumbed to severe seasickness, but was OK after a good night's rest, with Susan standing his watch.


As we got fully into the trade winds we experienced days on end of winds in the 20 to 30 knot range, with short-lived squalls well above this. Most of the time we were running goose-winged with reefed main and genoa poled out. On a calmer day we tried our new running rig but realised that it wouldn't work with the genoa - it needed our old jib. When we later used this it worked very successfully.


We got the spinnaker up on one day, with some heated crew discussion on how to rig the guys, but a squall terminated the experiment. It was very hot working on deck; lots of fluid was needed.


Perhaps the vows required for the special order of yachtsperson are: forsaking privacy, comfort and personal space and accepting a constant undercurrent of trepidation.

Tiring passage

Half way across an excellent celebration meal was cooked by Bill - duck in a wine sauce - "Duck Bill". Everyone dresses up in bow ties made from J-cloths.


We are eating well - tucking in to one of the Serrano hams, the other being saved for the Pacific crossing.


A routine is established; we have duty cook and duty cleaner.


Richard found worrying about the boat very stressful, especially as he was suffering from significant discomfort from what would later be diagnosed as a life-threatening problem.


22 days is a long time to be be rocking and rolling, with only water and sky to look at, while missing family and friends.


Attempts were made to play games, read books and jolly things along.


We knew the boat would make it but what condition would the crew be in on arrival?


One night the garlic escaped from its locker and attacked Bill in his sleep.


On the trip the engine gives trouble, the generator gives trouble, the fresh water pump develops an airlock but the watermaker, installed by Bill when helping us in Brittany, works faultlessly.


After 22 days we arrived off Antigua at first light, and made our way round the south coast past English and Falmouth Harbours and up to Jolly Harbour to be met by rally organiser Peter Seymour at the customs dock just as Bill serves up the last batch of bacon butties.

Jolly Harbour, Antigua

Rainbow

After clearing customs we berthed in the marina at Jolly Harbour. As it is Sunday there is a barbeque and drinks at Stanley Heights overlooking English Harbour and transport had been arranged. Many of the rally participants went and some of us went on to dinner in a restaurant.


The crew, Mark and Bill, were keen to have a few days R&R before flying back to the UK. They hired a car and took us in to St John's for shopping before heading off to a beachside hotel. Bill returned the next day to help with clearing up and gave us a lift over to English Harbour for a look but we did not see Mark again.


The government reception in the golf club at Jolly Harbour was somewhat spoiled by a torrential downpour accompanied by a 65 knot wind. Getting the awning down on return to the boat resulted in mild hypothermia, but we made it.


One evening we walked across the beach to a local hotel for drinks, then had a meal in the restaurant, then stayed the night in the hotel - totally unplanned. Other guests supplied us with soap, toothpaste and disposable toothbrushes!

English Harbour

English Harbour

A few days before Christmas we headed round to Falmouth Harbour and then to English Harbour.

Christmas by the capstans

Christmas by the capstans

Christmas morning was spent taking drinks champagne around the capstans in English Harbour.


Christmas lunch

Lunch was at the Admiral's House hotel (turkey and all the trimmings followed by Christmas pudding).


This was followed by tea on Sea Bunny with Jeannette and Mike (Dutch Link) and Jane and Bill (Hecla).

Boxing Day race

Boxing Day race

Boxing Day was spent racing in the annual regatta on the Swan 61, Windfall. Despite, or possibly because of, a crew of 23, we did not distinguish ourselves!


More work

The French charts of the Tuamotus, ordered from England, were delivered to the post office in St Johns. Susan took the local bus and in a back room under armed guard had to open the tube and present the charts for inspection before being allowed to collect them.


The generator was still giving trouble. Much work revealed that it was getting flooded but the cause was not immediately apparent. This delayed us in Antigua until the new year.


We did manage some time off. Hotels and bars were very pleased to see us as, since 9/11, most of them were, at very best, half full. This was supposed to be peak season.

Antigua to Martinique

We eventually left Antigua on 9 January 2002 for an overnight passage to Martinique, bypassing Guadeloupe and Dominica Going ashore in Fort de France in the evening for a French meal we get our first Euros from the cash machine. After Antigua it's good not to have to queue in a bank to get cash. After the formalities we headed round the south end of the island to the marina at Marin. Here we replace our domestic batteries and finally resolve the problem we have had since the UK of air in the fuel. The solution, provided by a Spanish customer, who happened to be in the shop where Richard was seeking advice, was to replace the CAV filter with a Racor.


Martinique to Tobago Cays

Diamante Island

From Martinique we headed south to Bequia where we were invited to buy a pineapple for £8. We stayed briefly to check into St Vincent and the Grenadines before heading for a few days in the Tobago Cays.


Tobago Cays

Tobago Cays

This was our first real experience of a coral reef anchorage, exposed to the full force of the trade winds but protected from the associated seas, As the anchorage was crowded we put 2 anchors down to limit our swing. Here we met Tim Harrison, another Hallberg Rassy owner, last seen in the Scilly Isles in 1999,


Tobago Cays to the ABCs

Curacao waterfront

Trying to get the downwind rig set up in a confined anchorage at Mayreau Island was interesting in a strong wind.

We checked out from Union Island for the passage to the ABCs.

We had time for a few days in Bonaire before heading on to Curacao to meet David Jeffs and his daughter Katie, who would crew with us to the Galapagos. Like many places in the Caribbean Bonaire was suffering from the aftermath of 9/11 with the resort surrounding the marina mothballed.

Entering Spanish Water in Curacao we managed to run onto an unmarked mud bank at speed and stuck fast. What appeared to be a lifeboat was going up and down the channel near us and was eventually prevailed upon by a German boat to pull us off. We noted that the crew seemed to be wearing very new gear and there were a number of other people on board who didn't appear to be crew. We later found out that the boat was brand new and was being shown off to the local press. We learnt in the supermarket the next day that we made the TV news!


As this had made us late to meet David and Katie we radioed ahead to have them looked after by Frits and Lizbet on Aquarius.


Photo credit: David Jeffs

Genset stripped

As the generator was once again playing up further repairs were necessary, involving stripping it down and freeing up the piston rings. Richard became known as "generator man", but at least it was fixed - or so we thought.

ABCs to San Blas - to 11 February 2002

Hecla on passage


With the generator now operating we are ready to leave Curacao. Some of the rally boats have planned to go down to Cartagena in Colombia. We have decided against this partly because of the time available, which would only allow a very short visit and partly because all reports indicate that the wind down the Colombian coast is generally blowing a full gale. We leave Curacao early on 2 February in company with Aquarius, Mon Cherie and Hecla. Frits from Aquarius has advised the Dutch authorities in Willemstad of our voyage plans and we are buzzed by a large air force transport aircraft shortly after leaving. He had omitted to tell us!


The trip is pleasant, sailing under the twin headsails. All the boats keep virtually in sight of each other, certainly within VHF range. The wind is fairly consistently force 5 to 6 (20-25 knots) so we make good time.

All the boats had to shorten sail towards the end to avoid approaching the lee shore of Panama in the dark.


Sapibenega (the Iskadup resort)

Sapibenega (the Iskadup resort)

We eventually make our approach a bit earlier than ideal, but the sailing directions in to the island of Sapibenega (the Iskadup resort) are clear and we are at anchor by midday, in time to go ashore for drinks. We are very careful to anchor clear of the water pipeline which supplies the island from the mainland half a mile away. The economic justification for such a pipeline for an island about 100 in diameter with some 10-15 resort bungalows seems somewhat difficult to see unless, like the airfields along this coast, it was installed by the Americans during the war.


The resort has in fact been specially opened for us with all supplies being brought in.


We spend three days on the island, including one ashore in one of the bungalows while David and Katie look after the boat.

Playon Chico

Playon Chico

There is a visit through the mangroves to the village of the dead on the mainland, where the villagers from the nearby island of Playon Chica bury their dead and supply them with food and all the necessities of "life" for several months. The village of Playon Chica is very poor but fairly used to visitors, as evidenced by the cries of "one dollar".

Susan gets photos of adults by photographing children with the digital camera and showing them the results. Everyone then wants to be photographed! There is also reasonable snorkelling off one of the uninhabited islands.

Mola makers

Mola makers

It is in Playon Chico that Susan finds the mola, hidden deep in a chest, of the donkey that will be the birth present for grandson number 2. She eventually gets a photograph of the mola maker as she trots after the hordes of children


Sapibenega to Porto Bello

Katie negotiating

On leaving Sapibenega we spend a night anchored off the island of Ordupanedup, a magical location surrounded by pelicans. Richard gets a haircut on the beach and we are visited by sellers of molas (traditional fabric done like appliqué work but in reverse - by cutting the patterns out of the top layer). The next night is spent in company with Hecla off Marinedup, from where we leave fairly early for the longish day sail to Portobello.

Portobello

Portobello

After a day sail from the San Blas we hit Portobello at the end of the Mardi Gras celebrations, and enjoy an evening ashore at a restaurant, followed by viewing some of the entertainment, which commemorates the region's history of slavery, dating back to the time of the Spanish conquest.

Photo: Sea Bunny at anchor - Portobello


Further evidence of the Spanish influence is provided by the large fort, which we explore with David after a rally lobster lunch.





Cristobal - preparing for the Panama Canal

Panamax Gatun lock

From Portobello there is a short day sail to the anchorage at the "flats" at Cristobal at the entrance to the Panama Canal. The measurers are on board before we have even got the anchor dug in - full marks to the Blue Water Rally organisation.

The paperwork takes a couple of days but this is mitigated by the hospitality of the Panama Canal Yacht Club with cheap drinks and food, despite a rather and wet bumpy dinghy ride to get there.

We are scheduled to go through the canal in the second batch of rally yachts. David goes as a line handler on Robinson in the first group so that we have someone who knows the procedures e.g. that the main warp used will be on the port bow. We are also takenon a visit to the first locks at Gatun.

The day before our transit Katy and Susan make piles of sandwiches, so no-one will miss a moment of the transit.


Transitting the canal

In Sea Bunny in Gatun Lock

On the appointed day we are up at 0500 to welcome the transit adviser, the only female one - Jiselle. We transit with Windfall and Kalypso; we are the smallest of the group. Windfall is the lead boat - in the centre of the three-boat rafts in the locks. Yachts less than 70' have transit advisers, while ships and yachts over 70' have pilots who, uniquely in the world, actually take command of the ships.


Miraflores Lock

In Gatun locks, ascending yachts may follow a ship. In the descending locks the yachts go in first, which means you end up uniquely close to the bow of a large ship in motion.

When asked what happens if a yacht skipper does not take the adviser's advice Jiselle merely commented that they would not be given permission to enter the locks!


Jiselle worked the advisors on theother two boats like a dream.


Miraflores locks

Miraflores locks

Jiselle was actually working on her day off. Her husband, nephew and neice were in the viewing gallery at the first downward lock at Miraflores and he arranged fro the webcam to be on our raft in both locks. Unfortunately, as we were earlier than expected only Nik, of our children, saw us on the web, waving our Sea Bunny flag.


As the gates of the lower Miraflores lock open we have our first glimpse of the waters of the Pacific.

Goodbye to Jiselle

Goodbye to Jiselle

Our transit went perfectly, we had kept up the necessary speed to keep up and go through in one day.


Between the lock and the Bridge of the Americas the launch comes alongside to collect Jiselle.


Into the Pacific

Bridge of the Americas

We passed under the Bridge of the Americas into the Pacific just before 1700, mooring off the Balboa Yacht Club.


 

 

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