Friday 30 November 2018

770 miles in

And a few more than 2000 miles to go. Already I'm thinking that this
voyage will seem to fly by.

Yesterday we reached the first waypoint on our simple passage plan (the
second one is St Lucia). The idea of heading in a more southerly
direction initially is to pick up the favourable west going
current (thanks for the help tracking it, Steve) and the ENE
tradewinds. So we duly altered course by 15 degrees, changing from a
run to a very broad reach. The wind is keeping up at 20-28 knots so we
are making steady progress, despite the large swell with a slightly
confused sea which is making the boat corkscrew around a fair bit at the
moment. Tricky when pouring tea!

It is now a rarity to see another boat on the horizon, although last
night we passed within a mile of a Norwegian yacht and had a
brief chat with them on the VHF radio.

A highlight of yesterday was the freshly baked loaf of saucepan
bread made by Ben. Perfect!

Wildlife update: last night we had our first flying fish landing in the
cockpit, and we can see more of them skimming along over the waves this
morning. They are about 6 inches long and fly in
small groups for a few metres before appearing to crash back into a

Thank you to all who have been in touch. I think we have better weather
here in the tropics. Sending you all some sunshine

Thursday 29 November 2018

Below Decks

It's 0230 and half an hour into my two hour watch. There's 4/8 cloud
cover so the constellations aren't as easy to spot as they have been
over the last few nights. We work on a 24 cycle of two watches each,
always at the same times apparently to avoid jet lag, which wasn't
something I was expecting to get on a 21 day sea crossing. But it means
the sky looks very familiar every night and we're getting to know what
is above our heads. The boat is on a steady course, there's just
one other boat, a red dot on the horizon, and I'm pretty confident I can
write uninterrupted for a while.

We're a happy crew below decks. The three of us share a scrubbing
rota (we excuse the skipper and his mate from swabbing out the heads).
But the mate joins us for cooking duties and every fourth day we cook an
evening meal - last night Jo gave us "dirty rice", a Withers staple
which tastes a lot better than it sounds. Our rations are plenty, and
so far only the odd piece of fruit and veg has been thrown overboard
due to the mange. To compensate we are growing fresh basil and
coriander in the doghouse. We're confident we'll not go hungry before
landfall in Saint Lucia.

More surprising in this endless desert of seawater is that we
have a good supply of freshwater, courtesy of our water-maker. So
daily showers are the norm and even Fred has been busy washing
out his grundies.

The skipper is no Captain Ahab, and looks after his crew well. He seems
pretty relaxed about life. He broods a little over our course but we
have a simple strategy to keep south where we think winds and currents
will give us an advantage. Other boats have begun to turn right but we
are holding our nerve.

No sign of any whales, nor much in the way of wildlife of any sort
other than a couple of unidentified birds. That may change next
week when fresh meat runs out and fishing activities begin.

Now 0300 and the boat continues to surge through the water roughly on
course. I'm looking forward to some kip before Bums and Tums at 0800
then Porridge Club at 0900.

Life is good


Wednesday 28 November 2018

Day 4 - Finding our rhythm

As we pass over the Tropic of Cancer and begin to bear down on the trade
winds we are all starting to settle into the rhythm of our daily life
on Tintin. Dictated by our regular watch pattern we have found
ourselves slinking off to the foredeck or our cabins for a post lunch
siesta. This is a completely new way of life for me, as this passage
is easily the longest spent at sea, and I am loving it.

It seems as though the repetitive swell of the sea and the continuous
groan of the spinnaker halyard is almost infectious, causing us to
follow similar patterns.

So far all watches have been a treat with Wendy the windpilot taking
almost all of the work off our hands leaving me to either marvel at the
sunset in my afternoon watch, or study the stars, planets and
constellations (and how on earth the jumble of stars depict the image
they are named for.)

Being on a boat captained by Mr Rob Withers, food is a very important
thing and am delighted to report that after 3 meals, each one has left
us and most importantly the skipper feeling very fulfilled. What was
really the icing on the cake (if you pardon the pun) was the package we
were each given, and opened shortly after the starting canon, from
Catherine Ravenscroft of a bundle of chocolate bars each. If you're
reading this, thank you!!!

With it nearing my afternoon watch it's time for me to sign off. So as
to mimic the radio chatter : "This is Ben signing out."

Tuesday 27 November 2018

Day 3 : Creaming along

We can't quite believe the steady NE breeze of 12-20 knots that is
gently pushing us on our way. Last night our wind pilot (Wendy) did
almost all the helming for us, allowing the person on watch to indulge
in a bit of stargazing until the big moon rose and lit up the night.
Today dawned bright and clear, and now there are fluffy cumulus clouds
dotted around. We can see about 4 boats on the horizon around us now,
as the fleet fans out.

I've just come off watch, having done 8-11am. It's a perfect watch to
do, starting just after sunrise, and it feels as though it is just
me and the big wide ocean. As the rest of the crew gradually emerge
from their bunks I am offered tea, then porridge, then coffee - and
all I am doing is steering with an occasional tweak to the sail. Hand
steering in these conditions is a complete joy, as the boat is well
trimmed and the sea state is pretty smooth. It's allowing us to make
about 7 knots.

It's admin "hour" now: the engine is on for a while to generate power
via the alternator and fresh water by driving our miraculous water
maker, churning out water with less then 400 ppm of salt - less than
the tap water we had filled our tanks with in Las Palmas. We have 2
water tanks each with a capacity of 330 l. We plan to keep one full tank
untouched and use water only from the other, so that if the water maker
does not work for any reason we will still have 330l of water to use
for the rest of the trip. A water budget of 3.5l per person per day
is the suggested minimum.

Next up is to connect with the satellite link to send and receive any
email. You can send us a message at : please do!
We receive as daily text weather forecast form the ARC rally contol,
which is sent to the whole fleet ands out of necessity covers a very
large area. To help us they have divided the Atlantic in to a grid and
give us a forecast for each block, so we can get a better idea of what
to expect where we are.

In half an hour it is time for the SSB radio net. We will be connecting
with about 20 other boats in the fleet who have SSB radio sets on
board, for a position and weather update then an informal chat. We are
the net controller for today, on a rolling rota with 5 other boats.
It's the first time I have done anything like this and I need to get my
radio language right. No "over and out"!

No Fish

Monday 26 November 2018

Day 2: Settling in

we're now about 100nm or so south-west of Gran Canaria blowing gently
downwind. I hope that we got a blog entry sent after the start
yesterday giving a flavour of the colour and excitement of 200 boats
starting a transatlantic trip together. We can't actually check the
blog from here - it's more "fire and forget", so please tell us if the
latest blog entry didn't make it online.

Soon after the start we took down the main and genoa and deployed our
secret weapon - the 'bluewater ruuner'. This is 2 generously-cut
genoas joined together down the luff on a roller-furling unit which
pole-out on both sides. It gives a big, stable slab of sail to take
downwind. We made progress through the fleet during the evening
although this stalled in the early hours as wind subsided for a couple
of hours.

During the night the fleet spread out so that we can now see only 2
yachts clearly out the original 200. Where have they all gone? It's now
mid-morning coffee and breakfast and we're getting into the rhythm of a
slow morning after night watches.

No Fish.

Sunday 25 November 2018

We're off!

The Spanish naval ship fired our starting gun at 1pm.
Perfect downwind sailing weather has turned up for us today and we are sailing south around Gran Canaria. It's a beautiful start to the trip.

Saturday 24 November 2018


Today we went shopping. The set up in Las Palmas is well honed for sailors: at the check out we ask for our stores to be delivered to Tintin on pontoon G, berth 32, and an hour or so later they are delivered by very cheerful delivery men. Within a couple of hours today we received our butchers delivery - including a leg of dry cured "jamon", the fruit and veg that we had chosen earlier this morning at Hyper Dino, and dry stores from our trip to El Corte Ingles.


By the time Rob and Jimmy Heath had returned from the skippers briefing, the fruit and veg were washed (to remove any stowaway bugs) dried, and stowed, the fridge had been filled, and dry stores were all packed away in lockers. 

A calm and sunny day has made our last preparations much easier. We've rehearsed our downwind sailing rig - including rigging the spinnaker poles on the mast at the foredeck. Fred and Jimmy  have checked out the fishing gear - taking advice form Kurt and Neil on SuperTaff next door -  and have found little lacking thanks to Richard Shaw's helpful preparations earlier this year.

The atmosphere on the pontoon this evening is one of calm anticipation mixed with excitement.

Friday 23 November 2018

Tour of Tintin

We've had requests for more details about Tintin and what the boat is like, so we've had fun this morning producing this video:

A higher resolution version of this can been seen here

Director; Jimmy Heath
Starring: Jo Withers
With David Gurney
and Ben Gurney
Editor: Rob Withers

Thursday 22 November 2018

Visitors from Carlisle

It was lovely to have a visit today from Rob's niece Laura, husband Rob and daughter Grace, who made it across Gran Canaria despite the teeming rain to visit us on Tintin. Grace charmed us all.  

To do list

I was warned to learn to love lists as we run up to departure, and certainly there have been many.
Here is this week's main to do list.
I think we are winning!

Wednesday 21 November 2018

Shopping and packing...

There are still 3 more days to prepare for the crossing, but we are much closer to being ready than we were.  Yesterday felt as tough all the lists - and there are several - got longer rather than shorter.  Today was better and I think all the crew think we're pretty close to being ready.  

A manifold valve had broken in the watermaker, so we've rigged up a work-around and tested it.  It produces sweet-tasting water even from the unpromising raw material of Las Palmas marina.  We completed servicing the engine.  It was slightly disappointing to find that the fuel filters that I had bought in bulk were just the wrong size, but we've found one of the correct size - so the engine is in tip-top shape.

Most importantly, however, is that the bulk of the provisioning has been done.  A drinks delivery in the morning and a huge grocery shop in the afternoon by Jo, James and Ben means that the bulk of the food is now onboard - crammed into any available hole.  Meat will arrive on Sat morning and fruit and veg shopping on Friday.

I'm pleased to report that the mammoth waved that struck the north coast of Tenerife have almost completely passed us by.  The beach outside our restaurant a couple of nights ago was pretty lively - but we're on the other side of the island and sheltered by 2 sea walls, so had felt hardly a ripple.

Monday 19 November 2018

Preparing Tintin for the Atlantic

We have a week to prepare Tintin for the Atlantic crossing, and at times it feels as though we are creating lists faster than crossing things off them! But we welcomed Fred (aka David, my brother) and Ben back on board yesterday so now we have many hands on deck.

We have inspected our rig at deck level and up the mast - looking to make sure that any things that should be able to move, can do so, and checking that things that shouldn't move, don't. We feel the shrouds (the guy lines that hold up the mast) to find if any wires have snapped (all good so far) and we check that no cracks can be seen on the mast or boom. We check that shackles are done up tightly and that ropes are not showing signs of chafe. This is something we will need to check for on a daily basis when we sail, trying to make sure that ropes don't constantly rub on things that will make them wear out.

At the top of the mast it was quite windy but at least the boat wasn't moving much. It is s different story entirely at sea, and we hope to avoid the need to climb the mast then. 

Today's tasks were to scrub the bottom of the boat and to service the engine. Both achieved - scuba divers Rob and James did a great job getting rid of the build up of slimey green stuff on the antifouling on the underwater part of the hull.  We've also had a visit from Bob the SSB expert, (single side band radio) to check our set, which we will be using to keep in touch with other boats over a "radio net" during the crossing. 

We continue to meet other crews from all over, and we're enjoying getting to know some of them. On our pontoon we have Irish Kurt and English Neil on one side (greetings to Stevie in Salcombe form Neil!), Germans on the other, then Jens and his family from Norway, then a Finnish women's crew. At yesterday's opening ceremony we volunteered to carry the European Union flag and hope it might not be the last chance to do so.

Tomorrow, 3 days of optional seminars start - with subjects ranging from the Atlantic Night Sky to Provisioning, First Aid at Sea to Emergency Navigation. We will start to plan our stores (how much pasta for a crew of 5 for 21 days at sea and then emergency reserves? how much loo roll? and importantly, how much beer?) 

We have brought with us a wonderful array of treats given to us before we left home and they have been hidden away, to be brought out when required. Thank you all!

Sunday 18 November 2018

Las Palmas

On Thursday evening we had a great meal at a Tapas bar in Santa Cruz.  Run by a couple of old(ish) men, it was as Spanish in atmosphere as could be.  It specialised in ham with several dozen legs of Bellota Iberico ham hanging behind the bar - we had several delicious dishes and too much red wine before staggering back to the boat.  

We had decided to leave a day early as the winds looked slightly more favourable to sail on Friday rather than Saturday, so we'll have to leave our exploration on the interior of Tenerife and cycling up the volcano for another time.  The wind started off well, and we had several hours going downwind towards Gran Canaria.  It then died a little and whilst we could sail, we wouldn' t have reached Las Palmas before dark - so we put the engine on.  James and I (Rob) both felt slightly queasy in the rolling sea - could be just 1st day at sea, too much red win or the effects of a jab the day before.
Hauling up the mainsail - James v concerned

Downwind to Gran Canaria
 We rounded the north end of Gran Canaria and then motored past miles of docks and big ships.  I think West Africa is growing as an area for oil exploration and the Canaries are a stable base from which to operate - certainly there is masses of very expensive drilling and production infrastructure here

Checking in at the marina took a while - they do like their bureaucracy here - but we managed to complete formalities and moor up in time for the 1st ARC party.  Very good food and wine until the band started.  To our curmudgeonly ears they were much too loud and out of tune (humbug!) so we retired to our bunks

Yesterday, we settled in and dealt with our safety inspection.  A couple of minor points but generally all good.  We're gradually meeting more of the neighbouring crews and boats - there is such a wide variety of boats taking part from a 34ft hallberg Rassy to an 80ft (51ton!) Oyster.

Today is the "opening ceremony" - trooping round the marina grouped into countries behind a band.  Think the Olympic Opening Ceremony but 1/1000 of the scale.

When we did the ARC last time, we had a Serrano ham ( called "Babe") that fed us most of the way across.  It was greatly loved & appreciated.  After our evening in Santa Cruz, we've educated ourselves to understand that Babe was just the "entry-level" ham, and there are many grades of slightly nicer and much more expensive hams that we could get. Which sort of ham to choose?  Advice gratefully received. 

Thursday 15 November 2018

Back onboard

We're now back onboard in Tenerife, having had a tremendous send-off. Everybody seemed very happy to see us finally set off for the longest stretch of our trip. It was slightly strange leaving the house at 4:00am yesterday- dark, deserted and shut-up. Our plan is not to be back until July although there will be people coming and going and looking after the place fairly frequently.

We (Rob, Jo & James) will have a couple of days here in Tenerife before heading across to Gran Canaria where David and Ben will be joining us on Sunday. The ARC people have started sending our emails every evening telling us of all the events we're missing out on by no being in Las Palmas already - which mostly seems to be drinks parties. Apparently, "almost everybody" had arrived by yesterday. We'll just be fashionably late.

Our routine has started already - James is currently leading the "Bums and Tums" session at the end of the pontoon for everybody who is keen (which is Jo). They're doing deep squats at the moment, facing out to sea - which means they can't see the quizzical looks from people walking along the pontoon.

Friday 9 November 2018

Reminder of Last Year's Trip

We're currently getting ready to return to Tintin next week, prior to setting off across the Atlantic.

As a reminder of last year's trip to Norway via Scotland, and also to try my skills at video-editing and vlogging, here's a brief compilation of drone footage from 2017:

Viewers should be aware that the weather was not always like this!