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Cool Colombia

The purpose for visiting Curaçao was to catch up with a delightful Dutch couple, Robert and Ellen, whom we had met in Hobart several years earlier.  It was our first night of staying off the boat since 30 September 2016 (over 4 months) and we thoroughly enjoyed a beautiful home cooked meal and a bed that didn’t move all night!! To top it off, a shower that you could stand for as long as you liked! Such wonderful hospitality.

Our passage to Cartagena in Colombia took a couple of days and sailing in this area requires vigilance – we were very conscious of not getting too close to the coast of Venezuela and thus opening up  potential risks of piracy. The coast of Colombia is well known for its strong winds and several other OWR yachts had gusts of 40 knots or more and large seas – we were lucky and had a very easy time of it, to the point that we had to motor the last few hours. From the boat, Cartegena looks like the Gold Coast with tall modern hotel buildings and office blocks, but once into the marina we discovered secreted behind its modern facade, one of the most beautiful old walled cities that I have ever visited! Add to that the totally “cool” vibe of the Colombian people and we knew we were in for a treat!!

Overwhelmingly, the Colombians are happy and helpful and welcoming, however sometimes they overlook the finer details! Example…we were requested to move our Marina location on the first morning in – no problem! Soon after Miss T was hard aground in the marina with the Marina Manager watching on and indicating that we should keep trying to get into a berth that was clearly too shallow. Luckily there was a helpful power boat alongside who were happy to assist!
Some years it is hard to remember where you had your birthday, but I will not forget my 59th! We stayed in a small historical boutique hotel, had dinner with some of our Oyster friends who were in town on the night before the big day, and then came the day of pampering that had been prearranged by Sal and Will at the hotel spa…a 2 hour massage, a facial and then 2 hours at the hairdresser to try and tame my over blond, undernourished hair back into a more decent head of hair (if that is ever possible). As an aside, James and I are particularly bad with the Spanish language (no surprises there) and my concern was how I was going to describe colour and style! Amazingly the owner of the salon was a Colombian born hairdresser who had spent 20 years in a salon in Double Bay in Sydney and was very excited to have an Aussie in his shop!

Charlie had told us about a local guy he had met called Henry, who was passionate about his city and a great guide. We organised to meet him near the Old Town to take us on a walking tour that same afternoon for an hour or so. Four hours later we bid him farewell after having been introduced to the history and culture of Cartegena. It was entertaining, interesting, informative and just what I would have imagined a Topdeck Trip Leaders’s walking tour should/would have been like!  We were the ultimate tourists and enjoyed every moment, including a strong gin and tonic/ beer on top of the old city walls. The highlight for me was the story of their own Indian Pocohontis (Aracka Wacka) – my kind of girl!! We downed some tapas on our way back to the boat and witnessed a fast and colourful Zumba session taking place in a local square – hundreds of back packers mingled with the locals to put on a great display!

The work is never done and completing tasks on the boat is a constant….it is very hot and daytime temperatures sizzle in the mid 30’s on most days….it is clear we are getting closer to the equator!

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Mama Mia! – The Butcher of Spetses

Weeks have passed and so too have the Greek Islands of the Didocanese – Simi, Tilos, Kos, Leros, Patmos; the Cyclades – Mykonos, Paros, Serifos, and the Saronic Gulf -Spetses, Poros, Hydra plus some spectacular anchorages along the coast of the Peloponnese.

Gone are the long sailing passages and sleepless nights, replaced by sleepless nights brought on by mosquitoes and loud music emerging from chartered yachts carrying small groups of millennials trying to outdo the local clubs! Gone are the delicious cheap local restaurants of Indonesia and the South East Asian area, replaced by the delicious expensive local restaurants of the Mediterranean. Gone are all our friends from the Oyster World Rally, and our split off group of three – nearly all who have now resumed their previous lives! Miss Tiggy continues on with the same aim – complete the circumnavigation…..albeit months after everyone else.

A short trip to London brought home just how much time has passed since we departed. We had forgotten our front gate code, our ATM PIN numbers, and how to open the windows in the Mini. Pounds sterling notes and coins have changed and the bank notes we were still holding were out of date. We are also now both eligible for free trains and buses on the London transport system.

The internet is more freely available to us now and many hours at sea have been spent listening to the ABC radio AFL broadcast, specifically the Melbourne Demons, which has brought little joy! We definitely feel like we are more a part of the world again with news updates done at the table every morning over breakfast. We have missed much of the Brexit debate (thank goodness) which seems to have gone on forever. We have been up close and personal with volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, our very own 6cm tsunami, and the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.

James’ birthday came and went and we were joined by Will and Theo to help celebrate. We retraced the steps of our honeymoon charter sailing experience between Poros, Spetses and Hydra in the Saronic Gulf. Not much has changed in the past 30+ years apart from many more tourists and charter boats jostling for limited anchorages. The highlight was a long leisurely birthday lunch overlooking the port of Hydra! Even Calum, our ex Scottish swimmer who normally doesn’t drink much, enjoyed a big afternoon out, encouraged by the rest of the group!

Yesterday we transited through the Corinth Canal, the third major Canal of our journey. The only downside of our passage was the loss of one of our Crew members, Calum’s drone, aptly named Drona, who ended up head first mid stream after crash landing in a tree! She has documented many hours of our journey and has also been a useful tool for assessing heights of bridges to ensure our 27 metre mast would pass under the structure. She will be missed!!

Time spent with friends, on and off the on boat, has been special. Jude Turner stayed on Miss Tiggy for two nights in Mykonos and a lunch date with Jann and Ian Patrick on Miss T while in Spetses was a case of being in the same place at he same time – how lucky! Also, it was Jann who alerted me to the Butcher of Spetses, clearly the most handsome Greek butcher around…attested to by his totally female clientele.

Our journey west continues towards Palma!

Turkish delights

It is predicted that 40 million tourists will visit Turkey in 2019 which is huge but understandable -there is something for everyone here. For sailors there is a fabulous coastline, beautiful sandy beaches and the clearest of clear water albeit a bit chilly in spring! For the history buff there is a plethora of ancient ruins strewn across the country covering many centuries. Religious historians could have a field day discussing the various theories of Christian and Islamic occupation; there is snow on the mountains all year around, mud pools and healing waters for those in need of physical rejuvenation. You can jump off a mountain and paraglide to the beach, take a hot air balloon ride over the lunar like landscape of Cappadocia or visit a Hamam for a Turkish bath.

The geography and topography are in a category of their own. Huge mountain ranges towering over even larger plains – Turkey is just like one big caldera. Add the natural phenomena of cone shaped chimneys and caves that have housed up to a population of 1000 at one time in Cappadocia with the white travertine cascades of Pamukkale and you have a feast for physical geographers.

If you are lucky enough you may be approached by a local offering coins from Caesar’s time for a mere €50 and worth thousands (James) or enjoy a wine tasting and buy several overpriced bottles of Chardonnay (Tiggy) only to see your guide whip back to pick up his commission on the way back to the car park. Regardless, being at the mercy of these ingenious retailers, even knowing that this is totally common practice, it is a small price to pay for the warm welcome and introduction to an eclectic, multicultural nation.

Sadly there is the flip side side of tourists being targeted and ripped off in less genuine trade. I got caught up in an ATM scan that happened so quickly and effectively that my head was spinning. Having been directed to an unoccupied machine (apparently the one I had selected did not have any cash left), I was approached by a second man offering to give me assistance which was unnecessary and unasked for. In the quick exchange between us he had somehow switched my card which I had subsequently inserted into the machine. When I put in my PIN the four numbers were visible on the screen (instead of xxxx); the card was swallowed and the men had disappeared. A quick call to the ATM bank, and my bank to cancel the card (which took all of 5 minutes) and within that time they had managed to withdraw $750.00.

Meanwhile in Mamaris, Miss Tiggy was being torn apart for generator and engine services; the outboard motor on the Queen Mary (which our dinghy has come to known due to her size and beauty) had been taken away for an overhaul. A hot dispute followed between James and Evinrude which he subsequently won, and life on the boat has generally been disrupted. It is not like getting plumber or electrician into your house to fix things and then leave through the front or back door…floorboards come up, the steps down into the saloon are raised for access to Oscar our Onan generator so you can’t get down to your living space, you have to step over men lying on the galley floor while working on Victor the engine and then at the end of all that there is the delightful pervading fumes of diesel and bilge odours. All this coincides with the end of Ramadan and so all shops and services that are required to complete the jobs are closed for most of next week….oh well, may as well go to Rhodes by ferry for a few days!

And then there was one!

Relief was my first reaction as I watched Miss Tiggy, Calliope and Lisanne on the YB Tracker, cruise up the coast of Sudan, stop for a night to get some much needed sleep and then sail into Suakin in Sudan. Little did they know that the decision to go ashore for much needed food and a break was to come back and bite them. They encountered a dusty and poor town but more importantly a friendly and smiling population, good fruit and vegetables and a chance to call home for a chat. What they were unaware of was some 700 kilometres south an outbreak of yellow fever would play havoc with them for the next them for the next 14 days.

Feeling refreshed they continued north to Port Ghalib in Egypt, ready for their planned Egyptian cultural experience and what they got was an experience of another kind…the cold shoulder! Entry denied! Why? 4 of the remaining 8 on board were not vaccinated against Yellow Fever. The choice – keep going after weeks of sailing with little break or commit the 4 to a 6 day stay in quarantine in a local hospital. A no brainer! There was not going to be a stop for shore excursions of any type in Egypt. A local took pity on the group and went to the local market for some provisions – certainly not food that they were used to but enough to sustain them for now. And so tired and emotional they headed back out into the Red Sea in high winds and rough seas both of which they had hoped to avoid to continue the bash northwards through to the Suez Canal, just stopping somewhat illegally at a protected bay to rest.

At Port Suez, after 2 days of completing paperwork for their passage through the Canal and a day visit to the pyramids, they were ready to begin their transit. But no…just prior to throwing off the lines, they were told of a delay to allow an Israeli warship to pass through ( the Suez Canal is closed to any small ships while a naval vessel is transiting). Finally the Wong Diwection were on their way to the Med! A half way overnight stop (it takes 2 days to go through), the threat of another delay due to lack of pilot availability to travel on the 3 yachts (sorted at the last minute) and Miss Tiggy, Lisanne and Calliope were spat out into the Mediterranean!

Sadly Lisanne peeled off from the group for a more speedy trip to Mamaris in Turkey, Eric’s circumnavigation complete! Miss Tiggy and Calliope sailed overnight and arrived in Limassol on the south coast of Cyprus on Good Friday. Our 3 boat Oyster Rally was now down to 2.

The Greek half of Cyprus is very Greek and everyone was happy to back in Europe. All of a sudden everything was available from food and alcohol to pedicures and hair treatments. Over the weeks that followed there were many conversations about their treatment in Egypt by the local authorities, diametrically opposed to the kind and helpful assistance of the Sudanese. The Red Sea experience was just that!

Limassol was a great base for our extracurricular activities after a couple days of cleaning the Sahara desert and dust out…it took an entire day to clean our cabin and heads alone. From there we did some sightseeing driving up into the hills and along the coastline before an overnight sail to Finike in Turkey…home of the most complicated names and difficult language yet encountered. Even trying to remember “Hello” and “Thank you” is a major task (not for Nicky who is a talented linguist)! James headed straight for the Turkish barber which is his want and which are readily available on every corner.

The southern region of Turkey is also known for its walking being the home of ancient Lycia and the long distance footpath known as the Lycian Way. The 540 kilometres marked by red and white stripes has become a popular hiking destination and now hosts an ultramarathon….we did a 5 hour trek (a little like a goat track) from high above Kekova, where our boats were anchored back to the coast, just a short section of the trail, and hobbled into the village of Ucagiz. Thank goodness for Hassan and his welcoming cold Effes beer! A bit more training required for our next hiking foray!

Turkey is full of history and at every turn there is more to see. Amphitheatre’s with amazing acoustics, Roman viaducts for water transportation, graves inserted into the side of rock faces and sarcophagi dotted along the waters edge or high in hills. As we slowly make our way towards Mamaris for Miss Tiggy to get some TLC we get a daily dose of culture mixed in the plenty of yoghurt, houmous and shish-kebab washed down with a local wine.

Today we are in Kas and we farewelled our friends Nicky and Charles on Calliope as they make their way to London shortly to resume their lives. Their circumnavigation happened here just off the coast, on Nicky’s birthday a couple of days ago. Still a few months to go until Miss Tiggy arrives back in Palma, Mallorca and finally joins the dots we started on 7 October 2016.

….so now there is just one!

The Red Sea

Standing on the dock of Hulamale waiting for our 3 boat Rally to depart for a long and potentially dangerous passage through the High Risk Area of the North Indian Ocean, past Somalia with its well documented piracy issues and up into the Red Sea was one of the most difficult and emotional moments I have experienced in our 2+ years at sea. 3 yachts, 6 armed guards, 1 woman, 3 skippers and 4 crew with enough provisions to feed all the hungry mouths sailed out of the Maldives late in March while I jetted back to the safety and comfort of Australia for my father’s 90th birthday. The emails I received from the Miss Tiggy give an insight into their journey!

“Well after waiting all afternoon we finally pulled up our anchor at 6.15 pm with our security guys on board and  associated firearms and ammunition body armour. The Polish guys seem like nice guys but very different atmosphere….As I type the guys are on the stern cleaning their guns.

Not a lot to report we had a great days sailing yesterday in light winds with asymmetric. We are now heading further north so the wind angle prevents spinnaker use so are beam reaching with light and variable winds but doing 7.5kts. Still got a way to go until the security guards are getting serious.

We are now sailing with our asymmetric up doing 8 knots in 9 knots of breeze so sailing fast in little wind…Fishing a non-event unfortunately 3 boats no fish! Otherwise all quiet the boat doing her stuff magnificently (fingers crossedit continues).We have come about 400nm 2,300 to go.

Have just blown out the Red Devil (the name of our Asymmetric)….Split from top to bottom rubbish bin material now!

No sign of anything yet. Few ships on AIS a long way ahead but we will start to run into shipping traffic tonight I expect. We are sailing in a arrowhead  formation at present Calliope at the front (Their security team leader is team leader for 3 boats) and Lisanne and ourselves 1 nm back about 1/2 nm apart. A bit challenging sailing for a 1000nm in close formation but apparently gives them best line of fire in the unlikely event we get approached….But all good on board.

We have entered the Gulf of Aden with Somalia on one side Yemen on the other; neither a place you would wish to holiday at the moment!! We are now in the IRTC Internationally Recognised Transit Corridor. This is not a separation scheme ala The English Chanel but a recommended corridor for shipping (ships leaving the Red Sea to follow each other in the southern lane and those heading for The Red Sea to follow each other in north bound lane). Each lane is 5nm wide and in between is a neutral corridor 2 nm wide which is where we are. We have 430nm to run on this course before we turn right and enter the Red Sea. (1200nm bottom of Red Sea to the top). The idea behind this is to keep all shipping as confined as possible and hence easiest for the various naval ships to monitor. So far we have seen no naval ships or suspicious craft.

Biggest issue is no wind. We are into our 3rd day of motoring and used half our fuel. We are hoping for strengthening winds the further we proceed down The Gulf. Current forecast has strong southerly winds which will propel us into the Red Sea for about 200nm before the dreaded northerlies hit us for our long beat up-wind to Port Suez.

For the last few nights we have been keeping the navigation lights off so we are much harder to spot, but of course now we are surrounded by shipping again we have put them back on.  As you can imagine, staying in formation with two other yachts in the dark with no lights on is a bit of a challenge! It was made a lot easier with the guards remarkably good night vision cameras.

We have now been sailing downwind for last 24 hours which has up-lifted everyone’s spirits as fuel worries have abated. (we all think we have enough to get thru to Suakin Sudan). We have had a few cruise ships pass us which is re-assuring. Yesterday we saw The Queen Mary on her way to Jordan and we have one of the Concordia ships passing us now. We are keeping well clear!!! We get “buzzed” daily by Japanese coalition aircraft who asks Calliope’s details and then wish us Bon Voyage.

We are still making steady process and have about 60nm to run until we reach the end of the IRTC then we head north into the Red Sea passing  abeam of Aden and I can’t stop thinking of the plight of those poor people trapped in that civil war or probably more correctly the war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The passage at its narrowest point is only 10nm wide so I am presuming we will see Yemen on our right and Djibouti on our left. Apparently also a lot of small craft including fisherman and people smugglers are getting people out of Yemen.

Well we have certainly had all sorts of sailing since my last up-date. We had a few days of very gentle sailing down the Gulf of Aden. Quite possibly lulled us into a false sense of security beacause it all changed when we got to the narrow strait at the bottom of the Red Sea Dar El Mandeb. We knew it was going to be windy BUT… My weather Grib showed gusting winds up to 40 knots. So we had an exhilarating but slightly scary ride for 8 hours. Maximum speed recorded by Miss T was 16.2 knots about 30 kilometres an hour. We had to manually steer because the autopilot can’t cope in those conditions which is very tiring because you must keep the boat dead downwind when every wave tries to screw you sideways so you are constantly correcting. If the boat was to go sideways and your crew are not quick enough easing the sails you could lose the mast because of the forces involved. Anyway Miss T did us proud and rightly lead the 3 bucking Oysters. They really are amazing boats though (Oysters) in these conditions we still managed to set the table and have lunch……30 knots plus and eating lunch at the cockpit table!…..the rather extreme conditions had 2 main benefits. First we logged some great miles but more importantly the sea conditions were so rough the skiffs we were expecting and any pirates could not venture out.

We are now short hauled that is the wind is in front of us heading our way up The Red Sea. The prevailing wind in The Red Sea comes from the NW so the boat is heeled over making opening the fridge a mission. Oh well we only have 1000 more nautical miles of this! We have passed 15 degrees North which is the limit of The High Risk Area so a lot more joking on board and everyone feeling more relaxed.

We dropped off our Polish security guy at their floating armoury and they were very sad to leave! Still a long way to go to get to the Suez!”

Miss Tiggy, Calliope and Lisanne are currently safely heading north having crossed the border between Sudan and Egypt.

The Necklace Islands

From a beach holiday destination perspective, the Maldives has it all. Fine white sandy beaches and layers of blue sea that are too hard to describe and that only photos can depict. But once again this is not a yachting destination, unless you have a sailing boat with a very shallow draft (catamarans are perfect) or an “in” with the resort islands. It is heaven when you find an anchorage that you are permitted to use that is not too close to a resort or a private island (of which there are hundreds) and even then if you ask if you can go ashore and spend money in their restaurant the answer is normally a negative.

But….the atolls and islands of this Indian Ocean paradise are truly stunning!

In diving/snorkelling terms, the “vis” (visibility) is as good as it gets. The water is so clear that you don’t need to get into the water – you can view the coral and marine life just sitting in the tender. An early morning snorkelling session to see Manta Rays was best approached by one person standing in the dinghy (in our case the Queen Mary as our tender has been nicknamed or the Porsche belonging to Calliope) and pointing out their location to the swimmers. It still amazes that they, the Mantas, are so unconcerned by our presence; when in a feeding pattern they are reminiscent of a Boeing 747 in flight.

Alcohol is a big No No in this very Muslim country. The customs official that came onboard on arrival in Male was only interested in our dwindling amount of alcoholic beverages, for which he gave us a very clear warning they were not to be ashore and James’ shirts (we are very unclear as to why). No questions about pork or dogs or the multitude of other items on the list of items that are prohibited here. There is only one hotel on Male or connecting Hulhumale (population 150,000) that serves beer and wine and no restaurants!

Dress is also a consideration. Many of the public beaches disallow bikinis (not such an issue for me) and mingling with the locals in markets and shops calls for women to have covered shoulders and knees which can be incredibly hot and sweaty for onshore provisioning. Air conditioning inside the malls is such a welcomed relief on days like that! I am in awe when I see the local women (and some girls) dressed from head to foot in black, even in the water. Male is very male! Of course, out in the islands where tourism reigns supreme, there is none of this…it is another world! Many of the resorts employ Europeans and the restaurants are fully stocked with fine fare. The airport is full of Asian and Euro aircraft delivering holiday makers to waiting Sea planes and ferries, ready to whisk them away to paradise.

A big shop to prepare Miss Tiggy for her next long passage with just the boys on board; Kirsty, returning to the dreich weather in Scotland and me for a quick visit home to Tasmania to celebrate my father’s 90th birthday. To sustain them on their journey, as much fruit and vegetables as possible had to be hung in the saloon cabin!

That which glitters

Sri Lanka is not a yachting destination – in fact, the “marina” in Galle is hard concrete, next to a cement works and not yacht friendly. But…Sri Lanka is beautiful and in every other sense it is priceless.

The plan was to have some “land” time and so we hurriedly organised a short tour with a local driver, Lakpriya and our new friend Marlan a self-appointed “yacht agent” who can find the right people to help with any marine needs. A 5 day itinerary was put together, partly with Nicky and Charles and partly on our own, and we set off on our excursion. An elephant safari, 2 days high up in the cooler climes of the hill tea plantations, 2 nights in Colombo, a train ride back to Galle and 2 nights in a fabulous colonial style small hotel in the hills on our return.

A short distance from Galle and on our way to Ella, we boarded our safari truck for a 3 hour elephant safari before heading up into the hills of southern Sri Lanka. The sense of relief at spending time at 1800 meters above sea level where the cool temperatures are perfect for growing tea and the flora more typical of Tasmania and England, gave us a break from the hot tropical weather we have been experiencing for the past months. It was great to be able to stretch the legs without drowning in sweat!! The last stretch of our inland journey to Ella was by rail – the perfect viewing platform for the vast growing areas of tea and vegetables.

We managed to find a Sri Lankan version of Fawlty Towers! Having had many confusing dealings with one particular waiter, James actually asked him if we could call him Manuel! Just like his counterpart, he was very willing but not always able. At the other end of the scale our lovely hotel in the hills behind Galle is owned and operated by Hen (Henrietta), a delightful English lady who moves effortlessly around her hotel chatting to all the guests and making everyone feel at home. An afternoon bike ride, just nearby, took us around rice paddies and a tea plantation. Riding in convoy on dirt tracks, the noises and sounds varied from a low level jungle hum with birds singing and monkeys shrieking in the trees to the human keening at a funeral all over ridden by the bread delivery tuk tuk playing Fleur de Lis so loudly that it echoed around the valley.

Aside from the touristic joys of our visit there still exists an undertone of the effects of the devastation brought on by the 2004 tsunami when 30,000 people died. Our new Sri Lankan friends, Marlan and Goring lost 10 family members between them and were left homeless as a result. Both have had to start again and move away from their beloved coastline to higher ground; Marlan has slowly been building up his unofficial Yacht Agency with the belief that money is only coloured paper and Goring purchased a tuk tuk which provides a great transport service for Marlan’s clients. The third member of the group, Pahan, also owns a tuk tuk, runs a local restaurant to which the yachting visitors would revert when hungry for a delicious Sri Lankan vegie curry.

We cannot speak highly enough about our band of Sri Lankan brothers who not only assisted with marine tasks but invited us into their homes, introduced us to their families and told us their heart breaking stories of loss. They are a happy, helpful, giving group who wanted to make sure that we would love their country…and we did. Payment for Marlan’s services was not the “coloured paper” that he spoke so disparagingly of, but a bed for he and his wife so that they could lift their mattress off the floor and sleep aloft for the first time in 15 years. Calliope and Miss Tiggy were happy to accommodate.

3 days after clearing out from Galle we arrived in the idyllic atolls of the Maldives a short distance but a long way away from the hills and tea plantations of Sri Lanka.