Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Vigo to Las Palmas 3

Comment on our trip from Vigo to Las Palmas

We started off taking 4 hour turns at the tiller, but at night, after a couple of nights, we discovered how hard that was. Sitting there in the dark, hanging onto the tiller and steering, watching the compass, time passes extremely slowly, it was cold as well. The only way I could get through it was by having one of the packets of sweets we had taken with us, (fruit gums or blackcurrant pastilles usually) rationing myself to one sweet every 15 minutes, so that the time passed in 15 minute blocks.

I would also sing every song that I knew, Beatle’s songs were my favourite, but once I had exhausted them and other popular songs (which was usually pretty quick as I could never remember all the words, just the chorus) I would then sing all the hymns I had learnt at school, as having repeated them so often, I knew the words better. I’m not sure how Sim managed to sleep through my tuneless singing! After a few days of this, we decided that it was too much and made the night watches only 2 hours long, you’d just drop off to sleep and it felt like you’d hardly had any, before it was your turn again.

Once again, we still couldn’t figure out what was wrong with our celestial navigation, we couldn’t be where some of our sights put us. We had almost reached the point where we would have to turn east and head for the coast of Africa rather than being carried beyond the Canaries with nothing between us and Antarctica except the Cape Verde Islands, when we woke up that morning and found the boat covered with red dust. Again, someone must have been watching over us. Luckily Sim is an eclectic collector of knowledge and knew about finding the null on the radio to help us steer to Las Palmas.

We did eventually work out what was wrong with the aid of a Swedish yachtsman we met in Las Palmas. He explained that we were reading the sextant wrongly and showed me how to do the calculations, which I took responsibility for the rest of our journey, as Sim’s calculations would never come out the same twice. After Las Palmas, we never had any problems with navigation as long as we could see the sky to take sights.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Vigo to Las Palmas 2 - Letters

Stella Mira tied up to a larger boat in the foreground, the yacht club with it's indoor pool in the background

Vigo to Las Palmas

British Yacht “Stella Mira"
C/O Real Club Nautico De Gran Canaria
Las Palmas, Canary Islands.

Dear Phyl,
This is to let you know that we are still at Las Palmas, & why. When we arrived from Vigo, we were, as you know, later than we thought. We arrived here after dark, and not knowing our way in, we were about 6 miles down the coast and had to motor sail up against a force 6 wind. In the morning we found we were taking water through our prop shaft, the bearings of which, proved to be slack.

When we had searched Las Palmas and found no spares available here, we wrote to Stuart Turner in England for them. We have had the invoice, but the parts are still lost in the Spanish post somewhere. We had also used nearly all our gas and found that camping gas is not attainable here. We were shunted around from place to place in our search for an agent, until we were shown the official list of agents, and found there were none there. After we had been using our primus for a fortnight we managed to find a firm who had the right size union and could fill our cylinders. We still can’t get our calor gas one filled though.

Penny has had a spot of stomach trouble. She had violent pains and we had to get a doctor to her. He diagnosed appendicitis, and wanted her to go to hospital the following day for an operation, but by then the pains had stopped, and another doctor disagreed with the diagnosis. As we cannot afford for her to have appendicitis in mid Atlantic, she is under observation and undergoing tests to be sure. She now feels fine though.

We have been delayed here too long and the hurricane season has started, and we have been advised by seasoned travelers to wait until the worst is over. According to the Admiralty Pilot, which gives statistics for the last 60 years, we must wait until October before we can cross in reasonable safety. I agree with you that the Las Palmas is a tatty place. It’s certainly a frustrating one. Believe me I’m fed to the teeth with it and will be glad to get away.

There is probably no Consul at Barbados. As far as I know it is a colony or something. Letters will have to be sent Poste Restante, Bridgetown, or to the yacht club there. I will let you know when and where in good time. We hope to make up for the delay here in good time when we once get started.

Mrs Phillips has written us and she has apparently adopted the cat, but Tony supplies the food. Tony has not written us yet though. You do not seem to have had the card we sent to Durban.

When we do leave here we shall be in good company. So far there are two Yank, two English, two Polish, one Swedish, one Spanish, one French & one Swiss boats waiting to cross and more are expected to arrive before October. There are others waiting in Tenerife, we are told.

The boat in front of us is owned by Polish twin brothers who are political refugees, on their way to Chicago. Their boat is only 18ft long with about 10inches of freeboard, much smaller than the Norena. The boat behind ours is an Invicta, which is sailed by a Swede (solo), who bought it and entered it for the transatlantic race, but he’s lived in the tropics for the last 15 years, and couldn’t stand the cold, so he retired after 4 days. The biggest boats are American ketches, one 60ft long and the other 40ft.

So far we have not had any luck with home baked bread (which may account for Penny’s stomach trouble) but we are still experimenting. Penny is still as untidy as ever in harbour and I could sometimes wish her elsewhere. But at sea she has to be tidy or the movement would dump everything on the floor. She is actually very good at sea, and takes all the hardships and discomfort in her stride.

You advise me to buy a camera and a projector, but I am scared to spend cash in case we need it in an emergency, as you know, I invested all our capital for a minimum period of one year, to obtain a higher interest rate, and once what I have is done, we shall have to fiddle. I don’t think we shall starve though, as most of our bulk stores are intact. Penny may have to learn to like rice etc, though.

One of the English chaps here has built 2 successful self steering gears and is going to have a go at mine, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Pete sent Penny a special edition of the evening post with the pictures of the floods. Goldie’s house was marooned, so perhaps she’s too busy to write to you. I’m glad to hear that Lesley likes school and has settled down. Can you give us more details about Perth, and how you spend your time? We would like to feel at home as soon as we arrive. Have the packing cases arrived yet?

The next part of this letter will ::::::::::::::::: I got stopped here by Col Bayldon & his wife, who rowed out to tell us that if we can stay till the end of October, he can get me three weeks work as a film extra, at £60 and all found in a film to be made by a British company here. Another chap as building a marina in the south of the island, and is starting a chartering agency in November and can get us 1600 pesetas a day (that’s ₤10) from which he will deduct 10% for expenses. This is very tempting. What do I do? The next bit will probably be of equal interest to Len, so I will interpolate a few words to him before I continue.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Vigo to Las Palmas 1 - Letters

Penny on the tiller

The following 2 posts are letters Sim wrote from Las Palmas in the Canary Isles.
This letter was to Sim's brother in law in Australia

Dear Len,

No doubt Phyl has shown you the letter in which I told her of our trip to Vigo, so I will carry on from where we left there.

We left Vigo about 6 in the evening. The forecast given us by the yacht club secretary was 2 to 3 westerly, visibility good, and to remain thus for 2 or 3 days. We thought we would have a nice pleasant reach, with full main and genoa and a calm sea.

In a flat calm we motored out toward the entrance of the sound, which is guarded by large rocky islands (Islas Cies), about 5 miles out from the yacht harbour. We thought that these islands were probably sheltering us from the breeze. And they were: as soon as we got out through the narrow passage, we were nearly knocked flat by a force 6 northeaster. By the time we had reefed down, we had blown downwind, and could not have got back, even if we had wished. It would be dark shortly and this stretch of course is notorious for its dangers, so we headed out to get sea room.

When we had made about 15 miles S.S.W and considered it reasonably safe, we dropped sail, and leaving the ship lying to, I went below, where Penny had already started cooking a one pot meal. After scoffing this I went up to have a last look round and then kipped down, fully dressed. I had seen a flashing light on our port quarter and I got up several times during the night to check that the wind hadn’t backed. The light gradually drew eastern.

By daylight, the wind had dropped to force 4 so we raised sail and headed south. Our most direct course put the wind dead behind us, and we found it most difficult to sail like this. Although the foresail could be successfully boomed out, the main would try to jibe, despite a preventer from the boom end to the Samson post. The strain on the sail over a long period was too great for peace of mind so we started to experiment.

We were now in the Portuguese trades and except for one day they blew steadily from the north. Never less than force 4, mostly 5 or 6. The main sail was lashed on the boom and the genoa (160sq ft) and the working jib (100sq ft); both hoisted on the forestay and boomed out, were adequate from 4 to 5. According to how much the wind freshened we took down one or the other. On the exceptional day we started off with a force 2 wind in which we set main and spinnaker. The wind freshened; we took down the main and ran on the spinnaker. The ventimeter soon read force 5 and we tore along like an express train for most of the day, the sail swelling and contracting as the gusts caught it. From the front, it must have looked like a belly dancer's abdomen writhing sensuously.

About 6 pm the wind increased and I was getting worried as to how I could get it down, when the problem was resolved for me. There was a terrific bang and the leach blew out straight before us. The snap shackle on the sheet had come adrift. I went forward and fought with the sail for about ten minutes before I could smother it, Penny meanwhile on the tiller trying to keep the boat from broaching to.

Our self steering gear gave us no help at all. But by now we had found that we could manage by taking 4 hour turns at the tiller for two days and two nights, and then we could recuperate on the third night, by dropping all sail and sleeping whilst the boat looked after itself. It usually turned sideways to the sea and just rolled as they passed under us. We were held in our bunks by the canvas bunkboards, and were so tired that we would sleep despite the movement. During the rolling, anything that was not fastened down securely would eventually crash down to the floor between the bunks.

We would of course, hoist our radar reflector and light the Tilley storm lamp, which we then fastened to the coach roof with shock cord, in case any big ships should come our way. The Tilley was marvelous and stayed alight in any wind we have so far had. But now that we were using Spanish paraffin, we have to go up and prick it several times a night which is a nuisance.

As we got nearer to the Canaries, the wind increased, and for 48 hours we ran under our small jib. Only 40 square ft, but the log still showing around 5 knots. The sky was overcast and we were unable to take a sight, but our direct reckoning put us somewhere north of Lanzerote. Our transistor would not pull in any B.B.C programs; these being blanketed by the Spanish and Portuguese stations, but we eventually identified the Las Palmas station. Our nearness to Lanzerote which according to the pilot, is mostly desert, was confirmed, when we found our decks covered with red dust, one morning.

The sky remained overcast and with no sight our position was highly doubtful. We thought that we were west of Lanzerote and that Las Palmas was S.W by W. Our R.D.F batteries were flat, due to the set being inadvertently left on, but our transistor receiver gave a null where we thought Las Palmas should be. According to our direct reckoning we thought we might be able to see the mountains if we headed in this direction for 40 or 50 miles. (We have since found that they are shrouded by mist most of the time). After 35 miles, visibility was down to 2 miles. If Gran Canaria was in front of us, we didn’t want to run into it in bad visibility at night, so we dropped sail and threw out our drogue so that we would not drift too far. In our tired state, we got to wondering if our reckoning was out and if we were, possibly, on the reciprocal of the radio bearing in which case we could be heading west, away from Gran Canaria
The fact that we both overslept the next morning was probably a good thing. Besides feeling much better for the long sleep, the wind and current, both, had carried us to the south, and the null was now farther north than last night, so Las Palmas could not be behind us. Hoisting sail, we moved off, keeping the radio on and sailing by the null. Visibility was even worse than the previous day. The wind increased. Reefing down to about half of our mainsail only, we battered our way along with the wind and sea just forward of our beam. As dusk approached, Penny, who was on the tiller, saw a light through a break in the mist, on our starboard bow. We headed up toward this and after another hour we were able to identify this as the lighthouse at the Isletta, Puerto Luz.

With the wind and sea very high and battering at our starboard bow, we now had spray sweeping over us continuously. As we got nearer, the lights of the town became more distinct and we started looking for the leading lights, without success. According to the pilot there was a long mole, stretching south, from the lighthouse; to make sure we missed this we kept well to the south (which was a mistake).

Obviously seaward of the city was a line of bright white lights which we took to be lampposts on the mole. Starting the engine, just in case, we headed south to round them. It wasn’t until we were about 150 yards from them that we realized that they were small fishing boats, each with a single light as bright as a car’s headlight, presumably to attract fish. At about the same time we saw what could be the light on the end of the real mole, way up to the north, mingled with the neon lights of the town. Keeping the sails up in case the engine failed, we slowly motored up against the wind and swell.

It took us an uncomfortable two hours to make up the ground we need never have lost had we recognized the mole light against the background of the town. Entering a strange harbour at night, even with a good chart, can be a hair raising experience. Leading lights always seem to get lost in the myriad street and shop lights, neon signs etc. The Admiralty Pilots, if anything, seem to frighten one more than ever, with the lists of dangers one can meet. When you look around in the morning, you wonder what happened to all the hazards of the previous night.

The Pilot mentioned a small boat anchorage at the head of the harbour, so when we reached this we started to look around for yachts. In a small basin, we saw some cabin cruisers moored near what appeared to be several trawlers. Being just about fit to drop, we tied on to a vacant buoy, and literally fell into our bunks. It was 3.15 am. The harbour noises penetrated our sleep at about 10.30 the next morning, and when we looked out we found that we were moored amongst several motor cruisers, but what we had taken to be trawlers, were in daylight, minesweepers and other small navel boats.

After breakfast, thinking that we might have taken some water from the spray the previous night, I tried the bilge pump and was shaken when I found it took nearly 200 strokes to clear it. Later in the day, when we had time to look beneath the cockpit, we found a steady trickle coming in through the gland.

I presently rowed ashore, as no one seemed to have taken any notice of our ‘Q’
Flag. I landed at some steps and asked three chaps in uniform if they spoke English. One did. I was asking him to direct me to the yacht club, when an officer came up. He pointed at me, and said “You English, out!” I started to ask him where we should go, when he interrupted me, by repeating “Out, You English, get out” and put his hand on his pistol. I went; I was livid, but thought discretion the better part of valor. On the way back to the Stella Mira, I spotted a boy on one of the gin palaces. Drawing alongside, I said “Real Club Nautico.” And he indicated by signs that we should go out of this basin and round the corner to the right. We learnt later that we had spent the night in the arsenal!

Going out under power, we got back into the main harbour, and could see, lower down, a sailboat, to-ing and fro-ing. As we approached, we identified it as a Tumlaren, and following it we found a corner of the harbour where 6 or 8 other yachts were moored. The Tumlaren crew were obviously curious about us, and when they sailed near we repeated “Real Club Nautico?” They assented, and indicated that we could anchor. We dropped our hook, and prepared to have another go at getting ashore. This time we hit the jackpot and were soon being made welcome at the yacht club.

Well that’s how we came to Las Palmas. We had been thirteen days at sea. We have made lots of friends since we have been here. Penny has a boyfriend and is in with the gang of Spanish boys and girls her own age. She goes out every night, but youth here is to be in by 10.30 or 11 pm, so there are no really late nights, except when the yacht club has a do, and then we go on till about 4 am, complete with fireworks. I mostly sit, and talk boats with other sailing types, while Penny dances. I think she will be as glad as me to move on though I am dreaming of the day we sail up the Swan River and I can get my old crew back.

Last night whilst Penny was out, I improvised an oven from a large quality street tin, and that afternoon I made some pastry and a jam tart with a pot of home made jam we had given to us. I put in too much fat and it was more like shortbread. Tonight I have to attend to the prize giving at the club to collect our second cup. If we carry on like this everywhere we stop, we can open a jewelers shop when we get to Perth (if the weight doesn’t sink the ship).

This is certainly the longest letter I have ever written. Perhaps what I lack in frequency, I can make up in quantity. I still haven’t told you in detail of the things that happened and the people we met, both here and in Vigo, but it has taken me a fortnight to write this much in between whiles. Most of this will probably bore you any way. If it does, please tell me, and please ask questions as this helps me to write. If you think that any of what I write is worth publishing, I leave it to you. Personally, I have my doubts. To me, its seems all I’s and we’s. I do not seem to be able to instill any humour into it. Whilst, in fact, we often laugh our heads off when something happens, in retrospect we can’t recapture the funny side.

If we could make a note of it at the time, it might help, but it’s often as much as we can do to hang on, let alone write anything. You’d never believe how difficult it is, even, to take a sight and work it out, in only a force 5 wind.

Anyway enough for now. Our love to you all. We’ll be with you as soon as we can make it.

Sim---------and Penny
These are some of the notes that Sim wrote when he was planning the journey

This gives you some idea of the preparation that went into this journey, also of how meticulous Sim is when he wants to do something

Boat? Size? Wood or Glass?
Single or Twin keel?
New or Secondhand?
If second hand, Survey?
If wood what sheathing? Copper or rubber?
Type of anti fouling?
Type of navigation lights?
Type of stove?
Vane gear?
Additional sails?

Base? Lyme? Bristol? Elsewhere?
Navigation Equipment
Charts and Books
Food and Drink
Medical Supplies
Bosun’s Stores
Emergency Equipment
Toilet Sundries
Personal Gear
Recreational Gear

Glassfibre; 25ft min; Twin-keel
Masthead; New: Paraffin stove;
Electric & Paraffin lights; Vane gear;
Good ballast ratio; Self draining cockpit;
Pushpit and pulpit; Four berth
Long rear deck; No runners

Navigation Equipment
Parallel Ruler
Hand Bearing Compass

Books and Charts
Admiralty Chart No 1229 Africa West Coast which includes all the Canary Islands
No 1876 Eastern Islands from Lanzerote to Gran Canaria
No. 1869 Western Islands from Gran Canaria to Hierro

Note: This list was never completed as we had lots more charts: from England to the Canary Islands to the West Indies, Panama, Galapagos, Marquesas, Tahiti, Raratonga, Tonga, Fiji and Australia. We found them the other day in my dad’s shed, slightly chewed by slaters in a couple of places but otherwise OK. If there’s someone out there who needs some charts, just ask.

Bosun’s Stores
Sails: - 1 Main 1 Genoa 3 Jibs 1 Raffee 1 Tri
Anchors: - 1 Large 1 Small 1 Weight
Cables: - 1 Chain 1 Nylon 4 Warps
Stays: - 1 Set spare
Halliards: -1 Set spare
Sheets: - 1 Set spare
Bottle Screws: - 4 spare
Shackles: - 12 spare
Clevis Pins: - 6 spare
Safety Pins: - 6 spare
Anti Fouling: - 1 gallon
Varnish: - 1 Quart
Boot Topping: -1 Quart
Deck Paint: - 1 Quart
Buckets: - 4
Bowls: - 3
Flags: - 1 set
Pumps: - 2
Sail needles, Eyelets, Thread, palm

Personal Clothing
S/S Pullovers
L/S Pullovers
Sleeping Bag

Emergency Equipment
Radar Reflector
Emergency Rations
Fishing Gear
Solar Still

Toilet Articles
Razor & Blades
Shaving Cream
Toilet Paper
Clothes Pegs
Sunburn Cream

Friday, March 14, 2008

Lost at Sea Part 2

So now we were finally free, but with no idea where we were going to tie up our boat. We managed to get the engine started again (always a miracle when it did!) and motored around the buoy and back towards where the yacht club was supposed to be, hopeful we might find it this time and taking great care not to go between any large buoys and large ships after our last fiasco. It was still pitch black where we thought the yacht club was, so this time we motored in a slightly different direction and saw another large buoy, this time a round flat one about eight feet in diameter with bars all the way around the outside that would allow you to tie something to it.

It was obviously intended for a much larger boat, but, as no one was using it, we decided to tie up to it until daylight, when we could see where to go. Dad went forward with a rope, I had the tiller, a few feet away from the buoy the engine conked out, but the boat still had enough forward momentum to keep going and gently bumped the buoy. Dad jumped off onto the buoy with the rope, the boat started drifting away and dad realized that the rope was not tied to the Stella!

You have to remember it was 3 o’clock in the morning and we’d had hardly any sleep in the last 48 hours. Lots of screaming and yelling went on. I’m thinking “Shit, what am I going to do; I’ll never get the engine started”. So I grabbed a dinghy oar and started using it like a paddle, very difficult with a five ton boat. Someone must have been watching over me because somehow I got back to the buoy and dad was able to grab hold of the Stella and tie her up. Now we could finally have some sleep.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Lost at Sea 1

After we left Ilfracombe and headed south towards the Canary Islands, I discovered that my dad hadn’t actually ever had any practice in celestial navigation. In those days we didn’t have GPS, you had to work out where you were at sea using Dead Reckoning and Celestial Navigation.

Dad had used dead reckoning for many years and knew the theory of celestial navigation, but had no experience. Consequently after a few days at sea, dad’s sights and workings were putting us in the middle of the Atlantic, somewhere we knew we couldn’t be, as we were definitely in the Bay of Biscay. We didn’t know if there was something wrong with the sextant or his calculations. We had a few arguments about this and finally decided that we’d have to head south east in a direction that would take us to the northernmost coast of Spain, then we could heat west, round Cape Finesterre and go into the port of Vigo where we could, hopefully, find out what was wrong.

As we came up to Cape Finesterre, a gale started to blow and we decided after reading the Admiralty Pilot book that we would head for the tiny port of Corcubion just south of the cape.

We couldn’t get our engine to start (something I could never do, you had to crank it with a starter handle, and dad couldn't always get it to go either) and so we spent hours tacking into the wind with a reefed mainsail, trying to get to shelter at Corcubion. When we finally got there, my dad took one look at all the moored boats and said “We can’t go in there, with no engine we’ll smash into all those boats, we’ll have to head out to sea”

That was one of the most disappointing moments of my life. I was sent below, out of the gale, while dad ran us out to sea, narrowly missing some dangerous rocks. As soon as dad felt that we’d reached a safe distance from the coast, we took down the sail and put out a sea anchor to keep our stern onto the waves and, exhausted, we took it in turns to rest.

By morning, the gale had blown itself out and we headed east, back to land. As we still hadn’t figured out what was wrong with our navigation, we had to rely on the description and drawings in the Admiralty Pilot to try to work out where we were. This was very difficult, the Pilot book had drawings, not photographs, and we would look at the coastline and argue about whether it looked like this bit or that bit. We decided we were north of Vigo and started following the coast southwards. However, by 4 o’clock in the afternoon, we finally were able to match the Pilot book to what we could see and realized that Vigo was roughly where we had first sighted land and we had to turn around and sail back up the coast.

When we eventually arrived outside Vigo it was dark, luckily our engine was running again. OK, now we had to follow the Pilot book instructions for how to get into port. The book describes lots of dangers, so we knew we had to be careful, but told us that there’s a channel that would safely take us in, if, we lined up this light with that light. Trouble was, where the hell was the flashing light we had to line up, there seemed to be a myriad of flashing lights. Vigo is built on a hillside and cars coming round corners would give the appearance of a flashing light, there were flashing neon signs and street lamps, we were trying to count flashes all over the place and eventually decided it was no good. What could we do? We knew that we had to follow the channel to get safely in. We were tired and desperately wanted to anchor or tie up somewhere to rest and we couldn’t safely stay where we were, at the entrance to the channel as there was quite a bit of shipping traffic around us. There were fishing boats coming and going, then we had an idea, why didn’t we follow a fishing boat into the harbour - they obviously knew where there were going.

So that’s what we did. If we had realized how much faster the fishing boats were, (our top speed was only about 4 knots) we might not have risked it, but once started, we had to go on. Luckily for us, as one fishing boat passed us and went out of sight, another would come up and lead us on. Eventually we followed a boat into the fishing harbour and looking round it we realized we couldn’t tie up here, the wharves were way above our heads and it was tightly packed with fishing boats. Motoring round in circles in the middle, we shouted to someone on the wharf “Club de Yachte?” (our Spanish was non existent). He indicated back to us by waving his hands that we should go out and around the back of the fishing boat harbour, so we did, but couldn’t see anywhere that looked like a place we could tie up or anchor. It didn’t help that it was pitch black in this area.

So what now? The pilot book and chart mentioned submarine telegraph cables and prohibited anchorage in this area, we knew we couldn’t let down the anchor, so we just motored on. We were passing between a very large round buoy (about 6 feet in diameter) and a large cargo ship anchored against a wharf in the distance, when we heard a clunk, clunk, scraping sound under our hull and then we were pulled up. There was an underwater cable running from the ship to the buoy and we had just gone over it, which would have been OK except that there was a gap between the bottom of the boat and where the rudder was attached and the chain had lodged between the two, effectively preventing us from moving any further.

We tried all sorts of things; we pushed down on the cable either side of the boat with our oars; we yelled at the sole person walking around the cargo ship “Do you speak English?” “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?” “Parlez Vous Francais?” “Parle Italiano?”; (the sum total of our schoolgirl and wartime language knowledge); we tried shining a torch from the buoy, to us, then to the cargo ship and yelling “Cadena” which the pilot book said meant chain -actually "chain (of mountains, etc). No wonder the poor guy kept shaking his head, (we couldn’t clearly see his face in the distance) he must have been totally confused. This went on for an hour or two. We gave up at times and made a cup of tea (very British!).

Finally, at about 2.30 in the morning, another man appeared, took a look, cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted out in stilted English “We let go chain” and they did.

To be continued……

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Bristol to Vigo 1

This was my dad's first letter to Mum. As you will realise from the next post which is my version of some of the events, what really happened to us was a lot more scary, exciting and in retrospect, very funny, but of course, we didn't want to worry my mum by telling her the real truth!

Bristol to Vigo British Yacht “Stella Mira”
Real Club Nautico.

Dear Phyl,

We arrived in Vigo yesterday. I had better start at the beginning. When we left you at Bristol we went to Avonmouth on the motor and then put up the sails. By mid afternoon we were off Lynmouth. The self steering gear was worse than useless and in fact made the boat very difficult to steer. About this time it started to blow up and was obviously going to get worse, so we decided to make for Ilfracombe.

We got in there about 6.30pm and by this time we were very tired. We then had gale warnings for the Lundy area for the next two days so we were stuck where we were, leaning against the quay wall, drying out at low tide. We had been identified, and were subject of much attention from both locals and visitors. We could lie in our bunks and hear people on the wall above discussing our courage or foolhardiness according to their point of view.

Incidentally, the anti fouling on bottom of the boat was perfect. Only the waterline was smeared with Bristol filth.

When we saw the self steering gear out of the water, it was obvious why it wouldn’t work. The tab rudder was about 6 inches from the main rudder and was far too thick and clumsy. We will try to right this when we get to some place with facilities. We are sailing with the blade lashed to the deck and have connected the blade directly to the tiller as in the phase 1 diagram. Even this will only steer the boat in about force 3 winds and only with the wind forward of the beam. So far, in over 500 miles of sailing, we have had to steer manually except for 4 short periods. We find this very tiring. Perhaps if this letter reaches you in time, you can ring up Tillerman and tell them what I think of their gear! In my opinion, the wind vane should have more area and the linkage should be more positive.

Anyway, back to Ilfracombe, on the Monday evening we had a good forecast and left at 6.30pm. Not much wind, so we motored for several hours. Morning found us becalmed, out of sight of land, somewhere S W of Hartland point. We then had about 5 or 6 days of variable winds, mostly about force 1, and estimated that we were making only about 20 or 30 miles a day southward. Most of the time we were not traveling fast enough for the log to register. We then had a couple of day’s reasonable sailing and then 27 hours hove to in bad weather.

When we got going we soon reached the Spanish coast east of Finisterre which we made for and rounded in winds building up to force 6 or 7. Reefed right down we tried to get into the harbour of Corcubion but making no progress against the wind, we ran S W away from the coast until we thought we were far enough from shore and then took down the rest of the sail and went to a rocking and rolling sleep. By this time it was about 1 am.

In the morning the wind had dropped to force 1, so we made slowly for land. We finally got into Vigo at about 3 am, by following a fishing boat through the surrounding obstacles. In the dark we could not find the Real Club Nautico so we tied up to a buoy and went to sleep (3 hrs only). When the alarm went at 6.30 I looked out, but no sign of life. About 8 am a chap in a rowing boat went by and I called out “Real Club Nautico”, he pointed down the harbour, so we started the motor and in about 30 minutes we had tied up against a motor cruiser in a small harbour.

After a wash and tidy up we went to look for someone in authority and eventually landed in the office of the club secretary who offered us the full hospitality of the club, showed us round and detailed his secretary to take Penny to the launderette at 4 pm. By 11 am we had showered and were swimming in the club indoor swimming pool (lovely). We are now shopping and waiting to water and refuel but are having trouble getting Spaniards to understand honest English!

We hope to leave here tomorrow, but it seems doubtful if we can reach Las Palmas in time to meet you, Penny has written to the Consul there to keep our mail, so if you can leave a letter there we will collect it. I hope you have got used to our absence by now and are enjoying your stay with Len and Vera.

I expect when you get this you will be dashing around ready to embark. I wish you could have come with us, the good things more than make up for the bad ones.

Well that’s all for now. Give my regards to everyone.

Love Sim

P.S Penny has just got back from shopping. The secretary lent her his girl again for three hours, to interpret for her. Judging by the prices the cost of living is much cheaper here than at home. I could have bought those shoes here for half the price. We have just bought fruit and greengrocery which would have sold for about ₤2-10shillings at home for 21 shillings. Chocolate is 10 ½ d a large bar.

Dad's Story

This post will be dad's story of how it all started. I've recorded it and will post it here when it's typed in

Odds and ends

From now on, I will be posting my dad's letters (he wrote a lot of detailed letters) and then coming back and editing them as I will be able to fill in more detail from conversations between us. (Which I am capturing using a digital recorder). So even if you've read a post before, if you're interested, go back and read it again as it might be different. There will also be other posts, things that arn't covered in the letters, for instance, dad's story of how he came to do this, items taken from his notebooks and more.

As I am only a four finger typist and I have to look at the keys as I type, this could take a long time! I can't afford to pay for someone to professionally type my dad's letters. My 2 teenage sons have helped type these first bits, but with both boys studying, they don't have much spare time! If there's anyone out there in Perth or the South West of Western Australia who could help with typing, I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Stella Mira Specifications

This was the inventory and specifications for the Stella Mira. As it is almost illegible, I've typed it out. As you can see, it came with everything, although not everything that was needed for a long voyage.

Harold Hayles (Yarmout, I.W.) Ltd

‘Stella Mira’
Stella Class Sloop
Built by Rowhedge Ironwork Co., Ltd.’ In 1963 Builder’s No. 948


On Deck Wood mast. Stainless steel 1 x 19 rigging, and Stainless steel rigging screws. Tufnol blocks throughout. Dinghy stowed on deck. 2 Warps, 4 fenders, and miscellaneous ropes. C.Q.R. anchor and chain, nylon warp attached

Cockpit Henderson pump in cockpit. 2 gallon petrol can. Genoa winches by Southend Engineering Co., 2 plastic buckets. 2 Calor gas cylinders. Miscellaneous painta and brushes for touching up. Kicking strap purchase. Knotmaster log. Radar reflector. Sestral compass. Shoreway echo sounder

Below Decks 1 Seafix DF set. 1 powder fire extinguisher. Everready 6 v Nav
batteries and lights (dry batteries) 1 horn-signal. 1 copper anchor light. 1 calor gas double burner stove in gimballs. 2 calor gas lights. 1 chrome clock and barometer. F.W. pump and 4 plastic containers about 20 gallons. Melaware crockery for 4 persons and cutlery. Stainless kettle, saucepan and frypan.

Foam cushions on saloon settees. 4 sleeping bags 1 bag miscellaneous linen. 2 plastic bowls. Assorted charts and navigation books. First Aid kit. 2 cots in foc’sle with foam cushions. Third Mate W.C. 4 life jackets. 3 safety belts.

Sails Mainsail No. 1 and 2, Genoa and Spinnaker, all new 1963 and in good condition. Complete with all sheets and guys etc

Engine Stuart Turner 4 h.p., hand start, in very good condition

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Mum's story part 4

For Mum's Story Part 1 click here

All the time these preparations had been going on, apart from a few friends, relatives and ourselves, no one knew about Sim’s plans as he had said that he did not want any publicity and had asked everyone not to get in touch with the press. Imagine my surprise then, when two days before they were due to leave, the telephone in the flat rang and I was asked “Could I speak to Mr Simpkins please, the man who intends sailing to Australia”. I asked who was speaking and he said that he was a reporter for the local newspaper. I also asked who had given him this information, but he would not say. Now this put me in a quandary as I had given my promise not to tell the press, but on the other hand I felt that this was a tremendous undertaking and that both Sim and Penny deserved some recognition, so I compromised. I decided that I had not promised I would not say anything about his plans if I was asked, and I told the reporter where he could find Sim and the Stella Mira, and hoped for the best.

Just after the phone call Sim came up to the flat to take me back to the Stella Mira to carry on with the packing, and diffidently I told him what had happened. At first he was a little put out and wanted to know who had told the press, but after a little while promised he would see the reporter when he came along. Incidentally, we never found out who the informer was.

At this time, we thought that it would just be an interview for the local paper and that would be that, but the news absolutely snowballed and before we knew what was happening, we had B.B.C. radio and television people there and for an hour or so the little Stella Mira was a hive of activity.

The television programme was shown on the evening before Sim and Penny were due to leave and from seven until ten o’clock we had dozens of well wishers coming down to the Stella to wish Sim and Penny the best of luck.

Sim had been to see the port authorities and they told him that he could leave at 2.30am when the bridges and locks would be opened for a steamer going out.

During the final week before their departure, I had been so busy helping with all the preparations that I had, I could almost say forgotten but that would not be correct, perhaps not realised that the time for goodbyes was imminent. However, after we had watched the television interview (in Tony’s flat) the fact struck home that this was my last few hours with Sim for I did not know how long and that our life, as I had known it for the last twenty eight years, would be entirely different.

That’s the last of mum’s story which is a great pity as we will never know any of her other thoughts about our journey. She went on to board a P & O liner three weeks later to travel to Perth, Australia. There to join her sister and husband-in-law to wait for us, thinking that the journey would take us about eight months, and was not to see us for another nineteen months, with letters few and far between.

Mum's story part 3

The boat at Bristol Bridge

For Mum's Story Part 1 click here
Firstly all the food, which had already been sorted into categories and sealed, had to be carried from Tony's flat to the boat and as the interior cabins were rather on the small side and stowing space was under the floorboards, in lockers and under the bunks, we could only stow a little at a time. Also, as it was stowed, a list and chart was made so that they would know where everything was when they were at sea. A lot of food, such as sugar and rice had to be emptied from packets and stored in large plastic jars, medical supplies were all packed into one large box. A supply of sweets had been purchased for the journey and these were all packed in plastic bags containing a weeks supply for each of them.

As soon as the stores were being taken on board, Sim decided that it would be better if we slept on board, so for the last week before their departure we slept on the Stella Mira where she was moored at Bristol Bridge. One evening we were lying on the bunks reading and suddenly Sim said "This boat does not feel right, I don't think the weight is evenly distributed", so sections had to be taken out and restowed until he was satisfied that things were right and then we had to rechart and list everything that had been put in different locations. Needless to say, we did not get very much sleep that night! The very last job to be done was for all the fresh water containers to be filled, carried on board and stowed away and this job took practcally a whole day, as they had to have gallons and gallons of water for drinking and washing and this was taken in plastic storage tanks and gallon containers.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Mum's story part 2

For Mum's Story Part 1 click here

The chandler came along and took them to see the folkboat, but again they were disappointed, but as they came back Sim admired the yacht they had been looking at once again and was told “She’s for sale.” However before making the final decision to he once again asked me if I wanted to change my mind as once the boat was purchased the course was set and I would not be able to change my mind then. Once again I rejected the offer and this was something I was to regret many a time during the next year or so.

The name of the yacht was “Stella-Mira”. She was a 26ft sailing sloop, built at Burnham on Crouch, and although several of these craft have crossed the Atlantic, I think the Stella Mira is the first to cross the Pacific. She was to prove a sturdy little craft, but when I first saw her my heart sank down to my boots, she seemed such a small yacht in which to face all those thousands of miles of sea. I looked at her as she lay at anchor and I began to wish I had never even heard of Australia. We took her sailing in the Solent and Sim was pleased with the way she handled, but now the boat was purchased the real work had to be started.

The Stella Mira did not have a self draining cockpit, and as this is a necessity for long voyaging this was the first job to be tackled. When this had been done the boat had to be brought from the Isle of Wight to Bristol. Sim and Penny wanted to sail her around, even though it was getting rather late in the year, especially for sailing around the Lizard. However, they set off for Bristol one fine day in October thinking they would be back with the Stella Mira in a week or so, but this was not to be. Although they left the Solent in good weather they had not gone many miles along the South Coast before terrific gales were blowing. They had to take down all sails and throw out a sea anchor, Consisting I believe of a bucket attached to a length of rope, and just hope for the best.

After several hours they drifted back to Weymouth and finally managed to anchor there hoping that the weather would change during the course of the next few days, but after waiting around for a fortnight for the weather to improve and it not doing so, they decided that it was too late in the year to attempt the journey by sea, so they came back to Bristol and arranged for the Stella Mira to be transported overland.

So the Stella Mira came to Bristol and was finally tied up close to Bristol Bridge and near an empty warehouse where Sim was able to do a lot of work on it that needed to be done before it was ready to sail. Several of our friends who knew that he intended to sail to Australia came to look at the Stella and thought he was raving mad. However he had asked them all to not advertise this trip as he wanted to get to work in peace and quiet.

So began the pattern for the next few months of our lives. Now the shop would only occupy a minimum amount of Sim’s day, the rest of the time would be taken up by all the work and organisation that was needed for the trip. The cockpit had to practically be rebuilt for the voyage, shelves and storage space had to be put into the cabins, the mast encased in fibreglass in order that it would only need a minimum amount of attention during the voyage and all the food and stores had to be listed and purchased, and still the books were being read and referred to.

Most of the winter passed in this manner and the suddenly it was March the shop was being sold and we agreed for the new owners to take over early chattels with as and so all of this also had to be sold or given away. Here again it was like parting with old friends, and so the final phase of this great upheaval began.

We said goodbye to all our friends and customers and temporarily we went to live with tony in his bachelor flat. As this was rather on the small side of life at times became a little hectic, especially as the flat also had to house a considerable amount of stores that had to be purchased for the voyage and could not be put onboard until the last few days before leaving. Lesley and I booked our passage on the Himalaya which was due to leave England on the 19th of June. Sim and penny were hoping to leave early may so they could be in Las Palmas when we arrived on the Himalaya, but there was still a lot of work to be done.

Sim had ordered a self steering gear which had to be fitted and all the food that was in tins or packets had to be sealed in plastic bags with a warm iron, to counteract rusting up, eggs had to be sealed with Vaseline and special containers had to be bought for the journey and a doctor consulted as to the beast supplies to take, also injections and vaccinations to be had. In this way the weeks flew by and now it was mid may and almost time for them to leave.

The last jobs to be done were the fitting of the self steering gear, which in the manner of things arrived very late and the packing of all the food and water on board for the journey, and this proved to be a long arduous task.