Cheeky Charlie

We met Charlie in Palma – blond hair, blue eyes and confident. He worked on another Oyster 575 called “Calliope” for Charles and Nicky Manby and because he shared the same name as the owner he was nick-named Charlie. He joined Miss Tiggy to assist James with skippering the boat – at 26 he had spent the majority of his life in boats of various sizes and shapes and has a great feel for sailing. He has been a real asset to have working alongside us – part of our “band of brothers”.

Charlie throws himself into everything and gives 120%. He has even become a passionate supporter of the Melbourne Demons without ever watching a game. He would scan the Internet every morning, where possible, and update James about injuries, best players and sing “It’s a Grand Old Flag” in full voice.  If there was ever need for encouragement about anything he would cry out “Go Dee’s”.

Energetic, cocky, fun, impatient, sensitive, musical – Charlie is a walking dichotomy between full steam ahead and sprawled on the couch watching a movie with great intensity. He loves to kite surf and listen to slow, melodic music. He is first to offer assistance if help is needed and will jump in the tender and take off at full throttle whenever the opportunity presents itself. 

No one was more taken aback when we were telephoned to say that Charlie was heading to hospital unable to breathe properly…then an hour later he was moved to Intensive Care. Thanks to Dobra, an Emergency Physician who happened to be sailing on the rally with us, and her insistence that the hospital perform a CT scan, Charlie will be OK. His scan uncovered a large blood clot in the upper part of his right thigh/groin area and another in his right lung with evidence that it had traversed through the right side of his heart. The question, once he has recovered, will be – how did this happen to a healthy and fit young man? 

For us it is a sad farewell to our new mate who wanted to traverse the Panama Canal and sail out into the Pacific Ocean with us – destination Australia. We wish him a speedy recovery and hope to see that face back on our boat some day!

Our 2 day transit through the Panana Canal is now complete and an absolute highlight so far!  There was much discussion pre transit as to how it would all work. The plan was to raft up 3 similar sized Oysters – the port and starbord yachts to control the lines and the central one to keep the nest on track. Meetings were had and tactics and additional crew put in place (you must have 4 crew plus the Skipper) and we were ready to go.

Our Transit Advisor, Oswald, came on to Miss Tiggy at 3.30 on Day 1 and once we were rafted up with Oyster 575s “Sophistikate” and “Tianelle” we completed the first 3 locks placing us approximately 25 metres above sea level and into Lake Gatun. At night in the Lake our flotilla of Oysters and an additional catamaran were once again rafted up (it is a very tightly controlled operation). Oswald was collected by a Pilot launch only to return at 7.00am the next morning to assist us in the completion of our transit – a 4 hour passage across the lake to the Guillard Cut and the final 3 locks. As the gates opened for the last time a huge cry went up – we had arrived in the Pacific!! Thanks to our hard working crew/rope handlers (Mike, Robert Van, Popeye) who saw us safely through the 30 miles of locks and lake!

Preparation for entering and cruising in the Galapagos has been intense. Understandably they have very strict rules and regulations to protect the wildlife and pristine waters of their island group so intensive cleaning of Miss Tiggy both inside and out as well as a haul out for a pressure hose off and 2 new coats of anti-fouling has been completed. A diver will complete a final check and a certificate will be issued as proof. Food is another thing and provisioning is difficult and restricted. No seeds or nuts, fruits and vegetables, limited cheese and dairy products, meat that has been vacuum sealed with a use by date from an authorised vendor (we are hoping that a supermarket chain will suffice for this) and so on – and to add to this complication, our freezer has decided to stop freezing! Ah!

James foot is nearly fully recovered – a few days in Panama City to have the freezer fixed, provision, collect Malcolm Bamford (from Melbourne) and begin our long passage across the Pacific via Galapagos, French Polynesia, Tonga, Fiji and NZ…

San Blas

This picture says a thousand words…..img_3723-4

The Guna are the  indigenous people of the San Blas islands and sailing into their stunning coral cays is jaw dropping. We were greeted by a pod of seriously large dolphins and then by the warm and friendly faces of the locals, happy to share their beautiful home with us. They are quick to greet us in their canoe boats to sell fish, lobster or the “molas” that they carefully design and embroider to make a few dollars from us the tourists…we must however, follow their strict rules – no scuba diving, fishing by either rod or spear, no removal of conch shells or photographing their people without authority, but we are willing to comply and grateful for this opportunity to share their space where we can BBQ on the beach and enjoy the serenity of their world.

The Tour Operator in James is alive and well as he organised with a local man, Eldafonso, to take a group of us on two interesting expeditions – one to visit another island and attend a ceremony for two girls who were making their life commitment to live the Guna way which coincided with the only day of the year that the women can drink and smoke. We were herded into the local community hall and encountered a large group of women of all ages, dressed in their national costume swigging out of bottles of rum and smoking baskets full of cigarettes! A bit like Friday night drinks with the girls…Our second adventure was a river cruise into a Panamanian rain forest – that was what we were led to believe! We headed up the river for about 500 metres before disembarking and following the river by foot up to a waterfall. Most of us were wearing flip-flops so it was a painful 3 hour return trip in difficult conditions. To add insult to injury James collected a couple of ticks that were only discovered 2 days later, one of which had buried itself into the back of his thigh and which required surgery with a kitchen knife to dig it out.


Our last days in the beautiful San Blas Islands we marred by cut feet. I was first after a beach walk and was quickly followed the next morning by James who has done a particularly good job of cutting into the pad of one foot right up into his toes –  he should have had stitches and due to the warm sea water and tropical climate, it became infected so we literally limped into Shelter Harbour (our last stop before the Panama Canal transit).  His foot has been heavily bandaged, a good dose of antibiotics prescribed and a crutch for support has him on the mend. Many thanks to both doctors who helped and Nurse Lindy (again) who has become a regular and much appreciated visitor to Miss T to mop up the crew!

The activity is frenetic around the marina as many sailboats call in here before or after the Canal transit. Last minute fixes, new parts to be ordered and provisioning is essential here to get us through to French Polynesia. Our closest supermarket is about an hour away in Colon which in not a safe place to go alone. There is a marina bus twice a day but if you miss that, which Mike and I did one day, you have to get a cab…I did feel very vulnerable I have to say.

A group of us decided to spend a weekend in Panama City – long showers, fast wifi, shopping, cocktails and fine dining were all on the agenda! We took the train from Colon to Panama along the original line and in a classic old carriage and headed to our hotel in the old part of the city.  The regeneration of this area is having a profound effect on the nature of the “old town” and it is very cool and fabulous to visit…the hotels, restaurants, roof top bars and music scene is helping to create a vibe that draw in many visitors both local and international. A local jazz band, led by one of Panama City’s most accomplished jazz divas, entertained us with a medley of songs in English and Spanish – some of the best live music we have ever heard…and there were only 40 people in the bar!!


Time is flying by and it is hard to believe that in a weeks time we will be in the Pacific Ocean! Thursday will be the start of our transit through the Panama Canal – a feeling of excitement and anticipation best describes the current mood of the fleet!

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!

Blowing bubbly in Bonaire

The word “bonaire” literally means “the feeling one would get after doing something satisfying” and the island of Bonaire off the coast of Venezuela has certainly lived up to this! It doesn’t have the jaw dropping beauty of the other Caribbean Islands we have visited, but once your head is below the waterline a different Garden of Eden awaits! Seven dives (including a night dive using torches) in some of the best scuba areas in the world has been awesome. What have I learnt this week? Fish actually lie down and sleep! They find a crevice or hollowed out piece of coral and they close their eyes and remain motionless…not something I have ever thought about before!!

We hired a Wingle – Great Wall which James believes is a Chinese ute to transport us around the many dive sites. Everyone drives a ute! It has been many years since I have had to hoist myself in and out of the back of a ute!! Up until now we had been entering the water from boats so this was a new experience again! The tanks were loaded on to a specially designed timber tray and you set up to dive sitting on the tail gate …then the long road to the water would start. Heaven forbid if you fell – it would have taken at least 2 people to haul me back up!! Once in the water there were some interesting moments trying to fit fins while treading water but then you are fluid and weightless, I imagine like being in space! Getting out was also hard work – I would even use the word feeling shattered after several dives.

Daily activities abound as do the evening social events and when you have more than one Oyster yacht in any one place at a time, then the drinks flow. We decided that it was time for an introduction to a true Aussie BBQ – only music from “a land down under” was played and we introduced them to beetroot in a burger…most came wearing something Australian and our marina neighbours were most unimpressed with our midnight rendition of “Up there Cazaly”! We managed 21 revellers on Miss Tiggy and a major decision was made – BBQ’s will now be on the beach! Ironically as we were explaining the meaning of the words to “Tie me kangaroo down sport” and “Jake the peg”, Rolf Harris was successfully having charges dropped. “True Blue” is becoming an iconic song and by the end of the night we had them all singing it but still grappling with understanding the lyrics! How do you explain to a Swede….”if they sell us out like sponge cakes, do you really care?”


We celebrated the birthday of Hugh (Meteorite) with a magnum of French bubbly kindly donated by Eric (Lisanne) who had won said magnum for being the first Oyster across the line in the ARC…he felt it an appropriate time to share his trophy and we certainly enjoyed it.

It is not all fun and games of course and we are certainly not living in a bubble! On the other side of the coin is the constant need to be vigilant – crime is rife and has touched our group several times. A young couple, part of the OWR, were walking back to our marina past midnight and were held up at gunpoint – just a reminder to us all to take extra care.

Now fully armed with dive gear and a slight obsession with our newly found sport, we are heading for the A (Aruba) and C (Curaçao) of the ABC islands and then on to Colombia.

Bequia and beyond

 “Clearing in” and “Clearing out”(aka known as immigration services in boat speak) can be such an administrative nightmare for boats sailing in the Carribean islands! Each island or island group has its own customs and immigration processes and they can vary from online which is fast and efficient (the French territories) to 3 page forms separated by carbon paper (remember you have to press really hard) and stoney faced officials who are at various levels of efficiency and friendliness. One guy, whose location will remain nameless, was unashamedly watching porn when we arrived at the counter! It can take anything from 10 minutes to 2 hours – when we arrived at Union Island the Customs and Immigration office was having technical problems so we had to walk out to the airport. We completed all the paperwork and then realised that we did not have enough local currency so we had to walk back to town,find the one and only ATM on the island and then return to the airport, collect our documents and passports and walk back to town…none of the above would stop me from returning to this idyllic part of the world though!!

Fresh milk is another! Finding a supermarket with fresh milk becomes a daily hunt – you quickly learn to befriend the local shop owner to find out when milk will be delivered to the island and then try to get there as soon as the milk is on sale. There can be weeks where you miss out – UHT milk has become much more palatable in the last decade!! Forget about skimmed or low fat!!

For a few wonderful days we were at anchor in Bequia in the Grenadines. The time spent here aptly sums up why we have chosen to participate in a rally as opposed to going it alone. We have been in the company of two other Oyster yachts and have had such a fabulous time! “Meteorite” is the co-owned yacht of  Hugh and Janice, Andy and Debbie while the two couples on “Tianelle” are owners Rob and Jeanette with their friends Nick and Yvonne. We dined, danced, drank and dived our way through the days and nights that we spent together and as truly nice Brits, they even helped us to celebrate Australia Day by being force fed songs like  “Down Under” (Men at Work) “True Blue” and “Waltzing Matilda”! One highlight was a group Oyster scuba dive (minus the lovely Janice, Nick and Yvonne) with Kathy at Diving Bequia who helped to reveal the underwater highlights of this stunning Carribean island. There were a few incidents such as fin and face collisions and a ruptured sinus but apart from that it was a throughly enjoyable group bonding session.

Our dinner reservation at the Firefly Restaurant on Mustique for a romantic supper for two had to be cancelled when we had to make a sudden change of plans to take Charlie to Grenada for a chest X-ray. He had been quietly brewing a chest infection which was causing him shortness of breath and diminished oxygen levels in his blood to the extent that the nebulisers given to him by the local medical clinic on Bequia were of little use. Dr Spike Briggs (our on-call medic from MSOS) suggested that we pull up stumps and head south for some tests…..To our delight on arrival in Grenada we found Oyster “Sea Flute” and the Pedley family – Lindy (the resident nurse) was on call with a brand new oxygen indicator and she found that Charlie’s levels had returned to a more normal status. A full check up and X-ray revealed some post viral fluid on his lungs and a slightly low platelet count so a full recovery will be made!

Harry Butler (a well known Australian naturalist) came to mind as we toured Grenada with Dave and Lindy, a couple of days later. Bill (a local farmer and guide) took us on a horticultural extravaganza – a herbalist’s dream – on what is known as “spice island”. Trekking into a pristine waterfall he pointed out fruit and vegetables grown on hills and valleys in thick tropical rainforest, macheted away overhanging fronds and delivered to us tastes of the the many spices grown on Grenada. As the second largest producer of nutmeg, we also tasted cinamon, mace, a Carribean version of cilantro (coriander), lemon thyme, and even saw cashew nuts (my favourite!) and to top this off he took us to his own plot for tomatoes and herbs to take with us back to the boat. Highlight – just the four of us swimming and enjoying the waterfall with no one else around – sensational!!

An awesome dive on Carriacou, a fantastic visit to the Tobago Cays where we snorkelled with the turtles in a turtle sanctuary – a delicious lobster BBQ but a somewhat restless night with over 40 knots across the deck  – just a few more days in the beautiful Winward islands of the Carribean and then we start to head west towards Panama and the Pacific…homeward bound. 

It’s Thursday…I think 

On the bow of the boat somewhere between the north and south of Guadeloupe James asked me “what day is it today?”…”It’s Thursday, I think” was my reply. It is not an easy state of mind to reach but now it has been achieved it will be hard to give up….no news reader to remind us of the time or date or traffic conditions or even the state of the globe and with only intermittent internet access to check out the news it is as close as we will ever be to disengaged. Not sure at this stage if that is good or bad? 

Not long after we parted ways with Antigua, we decided to hike from the lovely French village of Deshaies, in the north of Guadeloupe, along the river (of the same name). The book described it as a path with some rock jumping, about 3 hours return in duration, to a beautiful gully and a waterfall. We set off with Mike and Charlie into a rainforest wilderness on a typical Carribean road via a garbage dump. It was serenely quiet except for the sound of the river running to the sea and once we were out of the view of the town it became a tropical riverbed full of large boulders, ferns and intermittent pools of fresh water almost big enough to swim in. All good! The road ran out, and was replaced by a type of track. The track ran out and was replaced by nothing – the next 2 hours were a rock hopping, step class that any personal trainer would have been proud of!  Sweat poured off, our shoes became wet and slippery causing a couple of minor falls and by the time we got back to the boat exhaustion and stiffness had set in (well to me anyway)…seriously a great day!!

A long session of snorkelling around the circumference of Pidgeon Island was like a quick trip around the world. It dawned on me that life under the water goes on night and day just as it does on the land – this place is a microcosm of the world. It was quickly evident that there are different types of terrain including the desert (large patches of sand), hills, mountains, gullies and gorges, rocks with vegetation and forests waving in the current. To boot is the varied fish life ranging in size from almost microscopic to edible size; some are long and lithe, some are short and dumpy, some are taller from fin to fin than they are from gills to tail and they also propel themselves in different ways! I watched as a colourful orange and black fish swam past me as if it was turbo-charged and it reminded me of a wind up bath toy. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that I now understand why groups of fish are called schools…I recognised the snooty private school group all dressed up in dark blue blazers and swimming together in a tight format, the naughty high school group in a myriad of colours doing their own thing, the school bully who would target a lone youngster and head at it like a missile just to frighten it, the Headmistress in black with lips pursed, and the kindergarten group, oh so cute, being shepherded by the class teacher – of larger size and dowdy colouring. And always lurking, like the officious legislator, we saw a large barracuda, just looking for an excuse to hang around! Even the coral is a reminder of the world above – it’s architectural shapes a reminder of cathedrals and tubular buildings that are the receptacle of large numbers of fish which hang around with purpose or peep out from underneath mimicking the human race! 

Dominica is best described as a Garden of Eden! Gone is the European influence of the islands we have just previously visited; this place is a naturalists dream! We spent a day (10 hours if truth be known) in a mini van driven by Winston, a 68 year old local with one eye who grew up in Dominica and is passionate and protective about his beautiful homeland. He steered us around the island using his horn at any and every opportunity and knowing the roads well (sometimes I had to close my eyes) we gleaned a bit about the history and culture of the island. The physical devastation that Dominica suffered in more recent times, including the torrential rains that hit on August 27th 2015, has left it with major road issues with bridges being washed away (the use of the Bailey bridge system reminded me of a divided Hobart when the bridge was hit by a ship in the 1970’s) and parts of the road hanging on to the edge for grim death, but even that doesn’t detract from the overwhelming and stunning beauty of the island. The fruit and vegetables grown here are prolific – bananas, watermelon, limes, sugar cane, pineapples are abundant and the dense verdant vegetation is incredible! A slow boat ride up the Indian River at sun-up topped us up with Dominican flavours and the constant reminder on the road signs of “Keep Dominica beautiful” seems perfectly achievable!