Sunday, 23 December 2012

Happy Christmas!

We’re spending Christmas in Gran Tarajal in the south of Fuerteventura, after hopping down via Lanzarote.  It’s a small beach town with a local feel to it – not an Irish pub or Daily Mail reader in sight! It’s a shame that the Canaries have acquired their budget package-holiday image, as that hasn’t been our experience at all so far. It’s easy enough to avoid the tourist enclaves, and the landscape is impressive.
Gran Tarajal beach front
The friendly town, only a few minutes’ walk from the harbour, has a chandler's (hoorah!), decent supermarkets and bakeries, a good beach and swimming, and lots of fantastically imaginative murals livening up the white-washed buildings (I shall try to put some photos of these up soon).  We saw an impressive nativity play a couple of nights ago, made more realistic for being staged among the palm trees, although the donkey was uncooperative..

Thursday, 29 November 2012

La Graciosa

We were faced with the choice of leaving Madeira with a good northerly wind, but the probability of a 3-4m swell, or waiting until the seas calmed down to a reasonable level but risking a windless passage.  We chose the latter, delaying another day.  We’d enjoyed getting to know Ed and his daughter Heather on Aardvarc, an Arcona 40 they were basing in Madeira for a while, and he kindly gave me a lift to the local garage where I invested in two extra jerry cans of diesel, which were to prove invaluable.

Sunset, last night out
We’d thought about sailing straight to Tenerife (the western Canaries are greener and sound more interesting), but Cain and April emailed us from Graciosa and it sounded wonderful – particularly as we wanted to spend some time at anchor. Graciosa is a tiny island across a narrow strait separating it from Lanzarote, and is meant to be one of the best anchorages in the whole of the Canaries. We’d been slightly put off by permit requirements: you’re meant to apply for an anchoring permit at least ten working days in advance of arrival, with exact dates, and the process for booking a berth in the nearby marina was just as unworkable, involving faxing through several documents with apparently little chance of hearing whether you’d been successful. Fortunately, it sounded as if no-one was checking!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

We're off!

We're finally leaving Funchal today, heading for Graciosa.  We're not expecting much wind at all so it could be a slow passage; but we have enough fuel to motor most of it if necessary.. It should take about three days.

Follow our progress at:

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Madeira 2: more walking, more rain..

Funchal view

We spent our first visit to Funchal exploring with Ollie and Carlotta.  It's a surprisingly lively place, particularly given the average age of the tourists (nearly all English and German)!

Madeira: rain and more rain...

We've been in Madeira for more than two weeks now, and it's rained nearly every day.  Promising blue skies appear and the sun comes out, only to be almost immediately replaced - yet again - by towering grey clouds, squalls and driving rain. We didn't expect Madeira to be dry, but even a couple of hours without rain has come to seem unusual.

Until recently the wind was in the south west, and surge in the marina kept us awake with the same snatching and creaking we endured in Porto Santo. Limbo now has no less than six lines holding her in place.  Other boats have had warps part completely and Spirit of Argo's substantial fairleads were starting to come loose.  Thankfully this has been less of a problem for the last few days, but still the squalls come.  Much of this must be a local katabatic effect - the marina is backed by a towering (and not particularly stable-looking) cliff - but the weather has continued to be extremely unsettled.  One boat came in with a ripped mainsail and partly-shredded genoa.  The local news tells of landslides and flooding.

Dark clouds over Madeira as we approach from the east.
Madeira is a slightly frustrating port of call simply because there's no really good place to base the boat.  There's one decent anchorage, Baia d'Abra, but there's nothing there and conditions haven't been settled enough to use it.  Funchal has a very exposed anchorage (there are no visiting boats anchored at present) and a small, crowded marina which apparently rarely has space for visitors. There are a few visiting boats there, but they're crammed in.  There's another marina down the coast at Calheta, which I gather has a few restaurants, so might be more lively.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Island Life on Porto Santo

...We felt surprisingly rested after a couple of hours' sleep.  The sun had come out, the clouds had mostly gone, and our view included a huge sandy beach, volcanic hills, and clear blue water.  Our problems weren't quite over though: we were still anchored off the beach with no diesel.

We got the dinghy inflated to go round into the harbour to find some fuel.  Then the outboard engine wouldn't start (being shaken about for days on end can't have helped) and I had to drain the carburettor before it sprung to life.  I found the harbour office unhelpful - fuel wouldn't be available until someone could leave his office in an hour or so - but Ollie and Carlotta on Troskala suggested we ask Rob on Rafiki, who kindly gave us a couple of litres.  Troskala had also run out of fuel on passage, so we weren't the only ones!  Shortly Limbo's engine was going again (we'd managed to pull the stop lever before the system got too much air in it) and we motored round into the harbour.

Limbo at rest

Porto Santo marina

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Getting a hammering: Cascais to Porto Santo

"The passage from Portugal to Madeira is usually a pleasant one"

                                                                                               - The Atlantic Crossing Guide

The passage from Cascais to Porto Santo, a small island north of Madeira, was to be our first real ocean voyage.  At around 550 nautical miles, I reckoned it would take us 5 or 6 days. It's not renowned as a challenging trip, but all the advice suggests it should be done before the end of October.  This had been at the back of my mind for weeks, and was one of the reasons why we'd rushed south through Portugal.

Cascais & Lisbon

Cascais marina was originally a destination well outside our budget, but it was now the beginning of October and winter rates had kicked in - meaning it was a very reasonable 13 Euros a night (considerably less than we had paid to raft up in Weymouth..where the welcome package didn't include a free bottle of wine.)  There is an anchorage outside, but it can get very rolly, and we wondered at the perseverance of some crews who stayed out there when it did.

Lighthouse near Cascais marina
Condes de Castro Guimareas Museum, Cascais
The marina is just five minutes walk from Cascais proper, and is surrounded by cafes and bars.  Cascais is a clean, prosperous feeling village (if fairly touristy), and we spent a few days exploring, walking the seafront (serious waves breaking on the beach) and getting lost in an enormous supermarket.  It was mostly hot and sunny, but with some misty days.

Monday, 22 October 2012

A Coruna to Cascais

Our blog has us still in A Coruna, yet here we are are in Porto Santo...I can only explain that there are plenty of other things to do! 

We left A Coruna with little wind, what there was filling in from the west, so it was more motor-sailing for us.  It was another fine day, and we were thrilled to have (at least) nine dolphins playing around the bow wave within an hour or two of leaving.  They stayed for a while, rolling over as if to look up at us. We had planned an overnight passage, but on rounding the cape and heading south there was an uncomfortable chop which slowed us right down.  We didn't fancy a night of that (although there was no way of telling whether it was just a local effect) and Corme, a small fishing village with a concrete breakwater sheltering the anchorage, was just an hour or so away.  We arrived just before dark and stayed there for the night, definitely a good decision.

From Corme it was a long day's sail (okay, motor..) to Muros, where we anchored across from the white-housed town.  It was a pleasant place to wander around for a day or two, with old buildings spreading up the hill, but there wasn't too much to detain us.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A Coruna

We had a lazy first day in Spain.  It was brilliant to wake up and see that we were really there.  In contrast to the murky weather of the day before, there was a blue sky and bright sun: all, in fact, that one might hope for.  The wind was still in the west, so we happily opted for a rest day rather than continuing immediately to A Coruna.  We felt less tired than we had after our cross-channel passage, pleasingly, but lazing in the cockpit reading definitely seemed like the way forward.  We thought about getting the dinghy out to explore ashore, but it all seemed like too much effort... We finished off the champagne, and watched locals coming and going in their small fishing boats, and lay in the sun.  I went for a swim.  It was freezing, but worth it.

Fishing boat, Ria de Cedeira
The wind was still in the west the following day, but had fallen light, so we got the anchor up and headed out of the Ria.  A fisherman gesticulated frantically at us as we neared the point; apparently he had nets out between the shore and the boat, so we went round in a wide circle to keep clear. Pot buoys and nets are a bit of a hazard round here.  It was interesting to see the reddish-brown, high cliffs we had glimpsed so little of on arrival.

Sunday, 23 September 2012


Biscay has something of a reputation.  Partly this is due to the kinds of seas that can be thrown up near the continental shelf - where the seabed plunges steeply from one or two hundred metres down to well over a thousand - and the fact that the Biscay coast has few harbours of refuge, becoming a massive lee shore in a westerly gale.  This would also be our first really long passage in Limbo.  On the other hand, I told myself, the 330 miles or so from Camaret to A Coruna was only slightly over three times the distance we'd recently covered from Dartmouth to L'Aber Wrac'h.  Neither was there much chance of meeting a westerly gale, given the promising forecast.  This indicated a fresh north-easterly which would gradually decrease before fading out completely and going round to the south towards the end of the (we hoped) three-day passage.  My main concern was whether the wind would hold for long enough; but even with our fuel capacity, we could still motor for a couple of days if we had to.

Ready to tackle Biscay (we hope).

Saturday, 15 September 2012


Camaret sur Mer had a tired, end-of-season feel to it.  The summer visitors had left, and the marina was only half-full.  The postcards on display on the seafront showed an impossibly blue bay with dazzling beaches - and perhaps it really had looked like that a few weeks back? - but the sand seemed more grey than yellow.  I went up on deck to have another look at the weather.  We'd looked at every forecast going, and the outlook was good, a nice big high pressure system sitting over Biscay, but there was a hint that the wind would go round to the south if we didn't get moving soon.  A strong breeze was raising whitecaps in the anchorage outside, but it was steady from the north east: just where we wanted it.  We looked at each other.  It was time to go.

Traditional boat, Camaret.
It had been a relief just to escape the Channel a few days previously.  Our first step was an easy hop to Beaulieu, just round the corner from our berth in Southampton, followed by a sunny leg to Weymouth.

Heading down Channel

I never wanted to go to Weymouth.  Once there, it's a choice between the inshore passage round Portland Bill, demanding fair weather and tides, or wasting miles heading a long way offshore.  But the wind was from the south west, so a long haul across Lyme Bay didn't seem like the best option.  Weymouth had only recently re-opened to visiting boats after the Olympics, and still had a bit of a carnival air.  We watched the fireworks over the bay, got in some stores (the exciting last-minute addition of a new spare toilet pump among the most notable), and settled in to life on board as we waited for the forecasts to improve.  We swapped our sleeping bags for lightweight duvets, and got rid of the saloon table (useful on occasion, in the way always).  Natalie's parents came to visit, bringing forgotten post and late-delivered first aid supplies.  The sun came out, and the wind finally dropped.  It was still in the south west, but light enough to motor.  Perhaps we could get as far as Falmouth in one leg?

Portland Bill, inshore.
I've been inshore round Portland several times, but it still retains some alarming qualities.  This time, with the wind onshore at force 3-4, all we could see ahead was a wall of breaking waves seeming to stretch right to the Bill itself.  Was there an inshore passage there at all?  Closing in to within what felt like a stone's throw of the cliffs, we avoided all but a couple of larger waves - and we were through.  It was a murky and grey morning, and we settled in for a few hours motoring in the general direction of Start Point.  That evening fog banks closed in around us , reducing visibility to almost nothing.  Limbo's new AIS system alerted us to a fast-moving motorboat passing within half a mile or so, but never sighted.  Deciding that conditions were far from encouraging for a longer leg, we decided to stop at Dartmouth.  We saw nothing of the coast until the East Blackstone rock loomed out of the mist to starboard.  The castles and steeply-wooded hills of the entrance were clear enough as we approached.  We tied up to the mid-river pontoon and had a drink.

Dartmouth emerges from the mist.

We never thought we'd stay in Dartmouth for almost two weeks.  Had we done so, we might have relaxed a bit more..but instead I fretted over the forecasts and our lack of progress.  The end of August was approaching, and I really wanted to get south before a terrible summer turned, perhaps, into an even worse autumn.  The plan was to get to Falmouth, and from there to head across channel or possibly straight across Biscay, the idea being that Falmouth is sufficiently far west to keep outside the shipping lanes and tides of Ushant.  Alternatively, we could cross to France from where we were.  Either plan was no good in strong winds from the west but, day-after-day, that's exactly what we got.  We retreated up river to the lovely moorings off Dittisham  where the sun came out.  We checked the weather on our laptop at the pub up the hill, and enjoyed a meal at the inimitable Ferry Boat Inn on the quay.  One day, the forecast spoke of north-westerlies, giving us a better slant for France.  Hopefully, we headed out.  Eight hours later we returned, having decided that there was no future in beating into a lumpy westerly force 5 to 6 for a hundred miles or so.  To make matters worse, the fish and chip shops had all closed by the time we got in.
Moored off Dittisham
One unexpected bonus of being delayed was the opportunity to go to a wedding in Plymouth; Natalie's friends Clare and John had hoped we'd be there, but we always thought we'd be gone by then..friends of theirs very kindly put us up and we enjoyed a couple of days of civilisation, including getting all our washing done. We returned to the boat by ferry from Totnes, on a cold day with the rain lashing down.

Dartmouth Regatta

Dartmouth Regatta arrived, and the harbour buzzed to the sound of air displays, Limbo rocking on her mooring from the wash of rowing races.  The forecast promised some north in the wind again; it was still far from perfect, but we could wait felt like we already had.  We headed out of the harbour on a sunny morning, to find the wind was first non-existent, then filling from the South..the next day dawned grey and calm as we looked for Libenter West Cardinal buoy, which marks L'Aber Wrac'h's rock-strewn entrance.

Exhausted after just over twenty-four hours of varied and rather uncomfortable conditions, we were delighted to be in.  I made bacon and eggs and we went to sleep.

L'Aber Wrac'h
L'Aber Wrac'h is a real cross-roads, a natural staging post whether heading home after a summer cruising South Brittany, or cruising southward.  The boats there were more obviously serious cruisers rather than weekenders, and we met the first of our fellow south-going voyagers.  I began to relax a bit more - we were on our way!

We stayed for three days or so.   L'Aber Wrac'h is a small, peaceful place with a quiet marina (that is, when the windsurfing club on the quay had stopped playing 'Crazy' for the tenth time in a row..).  We toyed with the idea of heading through the Raz du Sein to Audierne, but the tides dictated a pre-dawn departure; something neither of us relishes.  Instead, it made sense to get the Chenal du Four out of the way by doing a shorter leg to Camaret, west of Brest.

There was a big swell from the west as we left  L'Aber Wrac'h, but it disappeared once we were heading south towards the Chenal.  Unfortunately the calm but misty conditions we left with rapidly turned to wet, cold fog.  Again we could see virtually nothing.  Turning round would have been by far the worst option, so we continued.  Navigationally speaking the chartplotter made things easy (although I hate relying on it to that extent), but I was nervous of running into a stray fishing boat.  We emerged into the sunshine around Point Mathieu, having- until then - completely failed to see either the famous island of Ushant or the various beacons and lighthouses that mark the passage.
Chenal du Four - lovely weather for it..
From there it was an easy motor into Camaret (Limbo's 18 hp Volvo was certainly earning its keep).

Now it was just a question of picking our weather for what felt like the first real hurdle of our trip: Biscay..

Cameret marina, dusk.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Follow us!

We've been a bit quiet recently, but the inactivity on the blog has been a result of a slightly alarming level of activity in real's probably a good thing that the stress of the transition phase wasn't easy to imagine beforehand, or we might never have chosen to go through it!

It feels as if we've spent countless days ferrying our belongings between various locations while trying to get Limbo into a reasonable state of readiness.  Our original deadline was the end of the lease on our flat last week, so we're very grateful to good friends who are putting us up at their house in Winchester, where - not surrounded by boxes - we've been able to feel a bit calmer.

The good news is that our piles of gear look as if they will fit on Limbo (just), and that things are looking very promising for a weekend departure from Southampton, just in time to enjoy dodging the Cowes Week racing fleets on our way westwards.  And the sun has come out!

You can see where we have got to at our tracking website which will show our location on a regular basis.  Watch this space!   

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Getting close!

About three weeks until D-Day. 

We spend our spare time dreamily crossing items off the 'to do' list, and excitedly poring over charts and pilots.  Progress is exactly in-line with our detailed, Gantt-charted project plan.  The minutely itemised budget remains well under control, with no unforeseen setbacks threatening to puncture the bubble of serenity in which we wind down our day-to-day lives.  The lingering summer evening sunlight allows us plenty of evenings on the boat to get those final jobs finished, secure in the knowledge that all the important preparation is behind us. 

Or not..!

Monday, 21 May 2012

We're not sailing round the world!

It's been interesting seeing people's reactions when we say we're leaving our jobs to go off sailing.   

My preferred answer to the inevitable next question, "where?", is very simple:  we're going to head south and see how we get on. 

Although that has to be the way to approach the whole venture, the answer seems to satisfy no-one.  "Surely you must have some kind of a plan?" they ask, reasonably enough.

Thursday, 19 April 2012


The more observant reader will have noticed that the photo above doesn't look very much like the Solent, even on a good day. 

Before someone cites the Trade Descriptions Act, there's a reason for this: in August we're planning to leave on an extended cruise, which will hopefully see us swap the dull grey of the Channel for the warm winds and deep blue water of the Atlantic.   

Ever since my teens I've wanted to head off in my own boat, and I bought Limbo with blue water in mind.  A year's crewing before University left me wanting to experience the sailing life again.  A mere fourteen years later, things are falling into place and it's finally becoming a plan.  We're not doing this without a certain amount of trepidation, and it would be very easy to find good reasons to put it off until 'one day' - but it's time to grab a chance.  

[Insert inspiring quote of your choice here, ideally re: regretting things you don't do/trade winds/throwing off of bowlines etc.]          

Monday, 2 April 2012

Sanding - lots of it.

Limbo has hardwood bulwarks (no sniggering) atop a 6-inch wide hardwood strip, with a protruding 1-inch wide rubbing strake at the lower edge. This should be an attractive feature, and used to look briefly acceptable when freshly oiled, but was now horribly patchy and grey.

'Before' is on the left.  See what I mean?

What was worse, the port strake was coming away from the hull in places.

New forehatch

The old hatch was fairly knackered, to use a technical term.  The aluminium was corroded, one of the safety bars was loose, and it leaked. 

The old hatch

Part of this was due to a fundamentally flawed design that seemed made to hold a pool of water against the seal, so rather than use an identical replacement (Houdini hatches are still available) I sourced a new design from Gebo, handily made to fit in exactly the same cut-out.

Rudder improvements

It’s been a while since writing.  We had a good three weeks’ cruise to Brittany last summer, although the weather left much to be desired. I'll write that up later. Since then, I’ve been focusing on some upgrades.  I'll write these up, for a mark of progress as much as anything! 

New Rudder Fittings

One thing I’d been meaning to check for a while was the state of the rudder fittings.  Limbo’s rudder is a simple affair, attached to the transom and the base of the keel by three brackets.  

The bottom, and main, of these turned out to be badly corroded.  Not only were the nuts hanging on to almost non-existent threads, the area around the pin was deeply pitted. The middle fitting was weeping rust on the interior of the hull.  It didn’t take much in-depth metallurgical knowledge to work out that replacement was in order.  The photos below tell the story…