All posts by Jane Chambers Evans

Blog #8 – Ceuta to Grand Canary Island

IMG_7173A last look at Ceuta – every town in these parts seems to have an ancient fort on top!



As predicted, this leg was a little unpredictable.

On March 7th, after poring over tide charts for literally hours, we left Ceuta and at times were managing only one knot over the bottom. The wind was light and it should have been the beginning of the favourable current, but somehow we had at least three knots against us. I’m still not sure what was going on there. Gauging the tide is more difficult than it seems in the Straits of Gibraltar because the distance from shore changes the current quite significantly. For example the middle of the channel is always flowing into the Mediterranean even on a falling tide, while more coastal areas vary. This is one place where local knowledge would make all the difference, and we didn’t have any.

Eventually things turned in our favour current wise, but the ships! Every ship entering or exiting the Med has to go through this gap and some were actually waiting their turn, drifting sideways, while others were steaming through. In the dark and even with the AIS transceiver which gives us course, speed and proximity of each of them it was a little nervous-making, but we managed to keep our distance. We contacted one or two just to be sure that we were seen.

Sun up on day one of this leg brought a very pleasant, sunny day but little wind and a lot of motoring. It was now clear that we were simply not going to get the wind we want. As if to underline that point it rose steadily from the south, right where we were trying to go, and once again blew at over 30 knots off and on until about midnight.


The Lonely Sea and the Sky


I’m getting tired of this 30 plus knot business. Truth be told, now that it’s over, in my last blog I wrote that “We arrived (at Ceuta) in really fierce wind and waves . . .” That was mid day and not too scary but that night Sylvain asked me how hard I thought it had been blowing. I said I’d seen the wind indicator hit 38 knots but thought it had gotten up to the 40s. He had been steering and keeping a closer eye on the wind speeds. He smiled politely and said the highest he saw the wind indicator go was to 58 knots! That’s something a good captain tells his crew not at the time, but over a beer later when we’re tied up to something that includes cement.

The ships were thinning out but Alex and I had a near miss at about 3 am which was very strange. A smallish ship of about 250 feet or so was closing with us as we were going in the same direction and we tried, in vain, to get him on the radio. We tried too long as it turned out, hoping to avoid having to tack, and when it became clear that he wasn’t communicative, or changing course, the wind suddenly dropped and we didn’t have enough speed to go about. Alex started the engine, something we were hoping to avoid because Sylvain was asleep, and gunned the engine off to the east to get the hell out of his way. That little rush of adrenaline certainly helped us stay awake for the rest of the watch.

A few times we have had unresponsive ships. In fact one time two weeks or so before when we couldn’t raise one we heard another ship running parallel to us also try calling on our behalf – “Calling (the name of the ship). Do you see the sailing vessel in front of you?” No response. Whether the bridge watch on these ships just don’t want to bother answering or have gone for coffee or are fast asleep I have no idea. Sylvain says that in his experience they are nearly always watching out for us and very accommodating and helpful. But you can’t count on them all.

By mid-morning on the 8th it had calmed down to a reasonable 15 knot wind but still from ahead. All the banging about had made me feel a little sick, which was frustrating, and then we got news that yet another low was forming. The next day, (at least it was during the day) was still another day of 30 knot plus winds and the boat bouncing all over the place. We actually chose to sail west, more or less into it, because we figured that would put us in a good position to head south after it was over with strong but manageable wind. Heading toward the coast of Africa would be more comfortable, but leave us with very little wind. That was a tough day, March 9th, by this time feeling soggy and damp and unable to do anything much except keep the boat on course. For someone like me who likes to accomplish things during the day, the time wasted just sitting and waiting for the weather to improve was tough. And being sick doesn’t help. My question is, why do all those sailing posters show casually clad, bronzed bodies and smiling faces while we’re dressed in long underwear, two sweaters and full wetsuits? And we’re not smiling! But the day did pass, the weather calmed down as forecast, and Alexandre served up an interesting concoction of couscous and vegetables which somehow settled my stomach once and for all. By the time I struggled out of bed late the next day we were under full sail in 15 – 20 knots and making 7 knots with 300 miles to go. It was a little closer to those sailing posters.

IMG_7217 IMG_7226

We even got the spinnaker up in the evening but the wind dropped and we motored all night. At least that engine power provided hot water – we all took showers – and then the night watch was quiet with a million stars.



With daylight there were a couple of visits from real crowds of dolphins frolicking around us and on we went in calmer waters. It actually looked like we’d finish with a nice, yachtsie spinnaker run right into Los Palmas on Grand Canary Island but alas, the wind dropped yet again and the last 10 miles were motor-sailing.



The first of the Canary Islands





Grand Canary Island


But what a location!

The marina in Los Palmas holds about 1300 boats ranging from runabouts to super yachts. There was even a Swedish ketch of about 150 feet with “Sailing for Jesus” painted on the side. While the marina had said they were full they did manage to find us a slip and we were able to tie up, fuel up, and then sit down and have a minor booze-up! Numa and Sarah who had their sloop “Squall” in Tadoussac for the last half dozen years are here, it turns out. They came over for a visit and we all went out to dinner together. They left last July for the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Cape Breton, the Azores and other islands before landing at one of the other Canary Islands and, for the last month, being located here.


Great views from the high end of the city of Los Palmas




It is interesting to see the so-called “blue water” sailing crowd from this angle. There are a lot of 30 to 50 foot sailboats with people living aboard indefinitely. They are mostly couples but often there are children as well. In the marina many are working on their boats. There is a motor’s marine manifold on the dock, an auto helm being disassembled, a wooden cupboard removed from another boat, wiring work being done, broken blocks and pulleys being replaced, someone up a mast fixing an aerial or a halyard or a fitting. They need to be knowledgeable about their boats’ needs and it is impressive to see the exacting demands they place on their equipment. It is never a question of a repair being “good enough for now.” It is either right or it is wrong. And nobody wants to go to sea with something wrong.

And patience. “When are you leaving?” is a question answered very often with an in depth review of the weather systems in the area and a possible window to leave if things don’t change too much. Where in Cartagena we saw a 24 hour window to scoot out before the low got worse, others were waiting till the whole system was through – maybe a week – and would carry on their way after that. It’s no good setting arrival times, (as we have learned, not even departure times) because weather and equipment dictate the possibilities and they can both provide surprises. While at the Canaries I remembered that when we stopped in Cartagena they had said there was a storm at the Canary Islands that had rerouted a big cruise ship. I asked Sarah about that and she said several small boats, and a freighter, had been sunk in the storm. That sort of story provides plenty of incentive to err on the side of caution.


A busy Harbour



And speaking of time, time is what has checked out for me. The delay in Patras was simply too much. By the numbers we took 3 days to get from Patras to Italy, 13 to get to Ceuta and another 7 to the Canaries. We stopped for 2 days of repair in Italy, and another 3 days waiting for weather in Cartagena, Al-Hoceima, and Ceuta. And there have been 7 days, nights, or parts thereof when the wind has blown harder than 30 knots consistently. But before all that there were 42 days in Patras getting the boat ready and waiting interminably for clearance to leave. I have had a family holiday in California planned since before this trip, and family comes first. There’s no way Chelona and her crew will be in the Caribbean in time for it, so this crew-member is jumping ship. Luckily Alex’s conjoint, Sarah, and Martin who likewise got timed out when he joined us in Patras, are signing on for the next leg. Lots of brains and muscle to support Sylvain and Alex on the  Atlantic crossing.

I can’t say enough about Sylvain and Alexandre. Sylvain is the most capable sailor I’ve ever been with and very careful in his handling of the boat. He loves it, obviously, and is very good at it. Alexandre is Mr. Meticulous about all things, figuring out every component in the boat and gathering information about everything he needs to know. He’s also a chef extraordinaire, who provided great meals in difficult conditions at all times of the day and night. Together with Sylvain’s famous egg and fried potato and onion and I don’t know what all breakfasts, we stayed very well fed. You couldn’t ask for more pleasant or patient ship-mates. They’ve made it possible for this old guy to be a part of this voyage and I’m thankful to them.

Much as I have always wanted to sail across an ocean, that dream has faded after this experience. I have now seen enough ocean cruising for my life-time and will cheerfully return to my lovely little antique boat, my sailing dinghies, and my coastal cruising and day-sailing. This life is not, and never has been, for me. It is wonderful to have seen it first hand and the memories, good and bad, I’m sure are indelible. I’ve learned a great deal about boats and sailing, about travel and the sea, and about myself. It has been a privilege to have had this opportunity and I’m glad I took it, but I leave with a tremendous respect for the people who adopt this life-style. It is hard work. It can be expensive. It demands a lot of thought and planning and flexibility. The hardest part for me has been the separation from family and friends and particularly from Jane. She has coped with a heavy winter in Tadoussac by herself in my absence, and stage-managed the life I left behind, keeping me up to date on whatever I needed to know. I know you’re never supposed to say never, but my blue water sailing days are done, and I will never separate myself from Jane again for such a long period, till death do us part.




The crew going forward – Sylvain Martin, Sarah and Alexandre

Thanks for your interest in following this trip. It’s been a much anticipated high point for me to come ashore each place, get to a wifi café, and catch up on my e-mails. I really appreciate the interest, but I can’t wait to return to my real life in Tadoussac with Jane.

Getting closer to the Canaries

HI everyone, I am sorry that there have not been many updates but this has been a period of time where communication has been very limited. I am sure you have all seen that after the boat went through the Strait of Gibraltar, seemingly into the eye of the storm, they slowed to a crawl.

You would be absolutely correct. The first low pressure system was promptly followed by a second nasty one. They made only as much headway as they could, always with the wind against them, and always very rough.

Yesterday and last night they made huge progress because finally the winds are with them. Today in frustration they have very little wind but they are hoping for an upsurge – never happy these guys. Al’s note today said they have 270 miles to arrive at the Canaries.

The next communication will be from Alan.

Step by step , mile by mile….

Hope you  have had a great weekend and that it is not snowing where you are! Jane

Blog #7 – Cartagena to Ceuta

Ah, Spain. Nice town is Cartagena. It looks like they get a lot of boat traffic and visitors from all over. Much more a tourist destination than dear old Patras will ever be. It was nice to have some showers, do some laundry, go out to a restaurant and spend some time in a café with sinfully good baking to catch the blog up. But our stay was short.

















Another day, another 35 knot wind. We had a serious look at the weather and decided that if we left Cartagena early in the morning, when the 40 plus knot craziness had subsided, we could ease our way up the coast and then at the next significant promontory make a dash for the south where the wind was forecast to be light. This would have us sailing three sides of a rectangle to get to Gibraltar but avoiding the highest winds. We got up at 2.30 am, visited the self-serve fuel dock for diesel (directions for which took an advanced degree in commerce and probability to decipher) and headed out around 4. The weatherman said 25 knot winds, which we’re getting rather used to lately, but we have noted that the estimates tend to be low. We motored, then sailed but the usual head wind had us off the coast sooner than we wanted. Also, there seemed to be a current that was slowing us down but we have no functioning knot meter – only gps speed over the ground – so with nothing to compare that to we can only guess at the currents. In any event we did head south and weren’t astonished when the 25 knot wind eased its way up into the 30s in gusts. From about 3.30 pm till after midnight we banged around in that. I was so tired, not having slept much, that I went to bed around 11 and slept (sort of) till 2. Then Alex and I managed the now 25 and diminishing wind till we got to the coast of Morocco. As advertized, light winds, some sailing, but a whole lot of motoring.


Bienvenue au Morocco and the town of Al-Hoceima


But more wind to come. On the afternoon of March 4th, to avoid more high wind, we pulled in to Al-Hoceima to anchor. We chose the anchor, 1) because we hadn’t anchored yet and wanted to make sure the winch and its parts were functioning properly before we really need them and 2) to avoid bothering with port authorities. Not so fast mister. The port called us up and said we had to come into the marina and show our passports. Pretty soon we had a very polite and pleasant team of police and authority guys, even a sniffer pooch who wanted to see inside the boat, so we were tied up till about 6 pm waiting out the blow. And the exit protocols had us thinking we were back in Greece. Stamp this, stamp that, “I’ll be back in ten minutes with something else to stamp.” Where Spain had said “Leave when you want,” these guys had it down to the minute and documents all over the place.


It turned out to be a good plan. We had a lovely sail into the evening right on course for the sharp end of the Mediterranean south of Gibraltar. After midnight (when I was in bed) the wind increased and then backed into a head wind in the usual Mediterranean fashion. Between that and the current (at this point tide charts are giving us a clearer idea of what’s happening there) we weren’t getting anywhere without the motor, so motor we did until the small town of Ceuta. This is a Spanish town but on the African coast directly opposite Gibraltar. We arrived in really fierce wind and waves, still motoring but reduced to one knot in speed by the sheer force of it. Sylvain even considered a tack across the mouth to Gibraltar if we couldn’t make port – it was close – but make it we did. It is an odd little port (GoogleEarth it) because the city is on a narrow strip of an isthmus with water on both sides and more land to its east.

Sorry no action shots but I wasn’t taking my remaining camera out to get doused. And holding on seemed to be a better strategy. The wind stayed high the rest of the day (gusting to over 40 knots).

To leave we have to go at either 9 am or pm (we’re choosing pm) to catch the falling tidal current. Think of 2 to 3 feet of vertical tide for the entire Mediterranean Sea having to exit a 14 mile wide gap from here to Gibraltar. That’s why the current is a good thing to have in our favour.

And from here? While we were in Patras, whenever I could use the internet I would look, dreamy-eyed, at and see the lovely following winds of 15 to 20 knots heading southwest from Gibraltar to the Canary Islands. “Oh to be there,” I would say to myself, “Then this delay will seem all worthwhile.” From the Canaries those lovely trade winds carry on west driving any lucky mariner ahead of it. But now that we’re here to take advantage of those winds after slogging our way down the mighty Med, a second big Atlantic low pressure system is spoiling everything. It might take a week for it to run its course, so we plan to head out this evening to more of the same – adverse wind here, favourable wind there, and once we get excited about that, no wind at all. It was 1500 miles from Patras to here, though we estimate we’ve covered closer to 2000 with all the tacking, and certainly used the motor far more than expected. From here to the Canaries is about 690 miles. Winds are expected to be less adverse and certainly less violent than we have experienced so far, but no one’s expecting a nice spinnaker run for days at a time gobbling up mile after mile. Right now the trade winds are even reversed, but by the time we get to the Canaries, where we will pick up one, and possibly two new crew members, hopefully that will be back to normal.

That’s sailing. You get what you get and deal with it. I have always liked to say that it’s not what happens to you in life, but how you deal with what happens to you in life, that counts. In the book I’m reading right now I discovered that Nelson Mandela used to say the same thing. How he heard it from me I don’t know (!) but it’s nice to see that the great man agreed.

I’ve read with interest your comments. Thanks for following this crazy voyage. I have hesitated to speak of my crew mates but they are amazing people. Obviously patient beyond words, in the present circumstance, but doing all the cooking between them with such culinary skill that I’m afraid to compete. Their attention to detail and energy in dealing with the boat’s needs are remarkable. They immediately tackle anything that isn’t working properly until it is. There is nary a complaint nor a harsh word, and always someone ready to help when the winching gets too hard or the sleep can no longer be put off. It’s easy to be confident about our plans when there is such skill aboard along with a very healthy respect for the sea and what it can do. I’ll be in touch from the Canaries, assuming that’s our next stop. My very best wishes to you all.

Blog # 6 – Calabria to Cartagena

We left Calabria at about 7 pm on February 19th and motored through the Strait of Messina between Sicily and the toe of Italy. It was dark and magnificent to see all the lights, dodge the ferries, and to just be in such an historic place. Not too many Canadians get to take a boat through that opening and it was great to see it from that perspective. After visiting Rome last year and reading quite a lot about Roman times it was interesting to see it and muse about what it might have been like over 2000 years ago.

But there followed two days of contrary winds and light airs such that our time spent north of Sicily and among its volcanic isles was long and frustrating.

IMG_6916 Imagine living on the side of an active volcano. There are towns on opposite sides of this one.


We’d get a wonderful south wind and set all sail making 7 knots and all’s right with the world and then it packs up within an hour and we’re wallowing in big waves and little breeze. Finally after four days of making only 75 miles each, we caught a southerly that blew up to 35 knots and had us racing along at 8 knots right on course. That subsided to a more manageable, if less hair raising, stiff breeze for a full day and got us well out into the Tyrrhenian sea, between Sicily and Sardinia. Then it backed to the west again but soon turned northerly and through the night we made fair time so that the coast of Sardinia was visible in the early morning.


Our fearless Captain.

Monsieur “Jus’ for fun”, which is what he says when its time to try something, anything, to get the boat going faster.

But the frustration continued. After arriving at the Sardinian coast it took a while to get past it. The night of February 21st we were expecting the forecast of contrary (west) winds of 20 knots but got whacked with 25 to 35 knots. It was a rough, difficult, cold, wet night with little sleep for anyone and not much mileage. When we have to shorten sail that much against the wind we end up plodding along at 4 to 5 knots, sometimes getting up to 6 or 7 but not going, of course, in the direction we want, but 45 – 50 degrees off it. And after the blasting wind, a day of no wind and big waves where we continue the plod along under power at 5 knots to conserve fuel.


A word about navigation. In this day and age the GPS is how everyone gets around. It tells you where you are and from there, with a chart and a brain, you can figure out how to get where you want to go. But you know that from your car. We set waypoints along the way and have a compass course to get to which we try to stick to. It is all recorded in a log so we can tell where we’ve been, speeds, conditions and any other useful information.







The Nav Station


There is also a thing called AIS (Automatic Identification System) which all commercial vessels are obligated to carry. This has a small screen which shows your longitude and latitude, and all other ships within ten miles. It gives you the name of the ship, their course, speed, position, proximity to you at the nearest point of intersection, and when that will occur. Obviously it is to avoid collisions so if we get even close to another ship we’ll call them on the radio, ask if s/he’s seen us, give them our position if to confirm our position, and agree on who is crossing in front of whom. Commercial vessels have to have this device. Private craft don’t, so the only way to know they are there is the old fashioned way of keeping a good watch.

There is also an old sailing buddy of Sylvain’s who is a meteorologist. Richard Taillefer, who has sailed twice around the Atlantic Ocean in his own boat, is in daily contact with us and he is following our position and the weather in our area, giving us a heads up on what wind is likely to be forthcoming so that we can try to get into a position to take advantage of it.


Alexandre looking for wind!


After more tacking the day and night of the 25th was another big blow – 25 and gusting to 30 plus knots striking us right on the nose – lots of tacking and very little sleep for anyone. Then the 26th, a merciful northerly through the morning but slacking so much we ended up motoring in the afternoon.

When it gets rough like that there is no fun to be had. The boat is not only over on its side – lee deck level with the water – but jumping around a great deal. It is very hard to move around and dangerous to fall because you could get hurt. The boat is often slamming randomly from one wave to the next, jarring everything sharply and making a loud crashing sound that is difficult to sleep through. When in a bunk you’re wedged in between bulkhead and other cushions or spare sails to keep from being thrown about, but trying to get dressed without injury becomes an olympic floor mat gymnastic activity that is sometimes painful. Sleeping in the stern cabins is better than the forward ones because there the crashing doesn’t happen directly beneath you. Outside we’re life jacketed and life-lined on, but trying to work the winches or move about to check the various wind indicators and AIS is tricky. The old “one hand for yourself. One for the ship” is absolutely true. Being outside is more pleasant so generally it becomes a day of sitting out and hanging on, interrupted by shortening or adding sail, watching for ships, and occasionally tacking. In other words it alternates between boring and a little too exciting with some pleasant parts thrown in. Most of the time we’re well out of sight of land so I’m reminded of Masefield’s famous line, “The lonely sea and the sky” that Sir Francis Chichester oft quoted, and sit there trying to remember all the words to his “Sea Fever” that Robin Molson named his boat after. Can’t quite get all of the second verse but I’ll look it up today while I have access to the net.

Toward the end of the Mediterranean, in the mornings, we started to find some hitchhikers aboard.


These three Calamari were found aboard one morning, I thought swept up in some spray or a wave that came aboard. Two were on deck but one was right in the cockpit, and we found two more after the next, calmer night, which suggests they jump on all by themselves. No doubt we’d find more if we didn’t have netting around the boat.

We’ve seen one whale, briefly, and excitingly had 3 visits by schools of Dolphins. They tend to show up and race around the bow of the boat playfully, trying to get as close as they can without touching. They look as if they are having great fun and hang around swooping in to us, sometimes clearing the water coming out of a wave, and then after about ten minutes, as if by private signal, they disappear as quickly as they came.


By the way, the picture’s not sideways. S/he is.








Just when we were getting a good north wind and really making some mileage Sylvain got some worrying indications about winds ahead. Our weather advisor, Richard, confirmed them by explaining there was a BIG low pressure system in the Atlantic. This would lead to westerly winds of over 40 knots through the Straits of Gibraltar and the Alboran Sea, right where we’re going. After 4 separate sessions of 30 plus knot winds on this trip, none of us wanted to face that.

IMG_7044The Spanish Coast emerges.

So as I write this we are tied up to a cement wharf in Cartagena (a delightful little Spanish town). We arrived yesterday to find other boat owners doubling up on their moorings. There are anchors holding yachts off the dock, and even an enormous cruise ship – The Norwegian Spirit – tied up here having been rerouted from the Canary Islands where there has been a major storm. So hot showers, out to dinner in a real restaurant, a long and dreamless sleep, and an internet café where I can catch up on the news and post this, and the last, blog.







And yes, another delay. Except for that stop in Italy we’d be in Gibraltar by now, but had we been a week earlier we might have had to face that storm in the Canaries. Had we been two days slower, we’d have nowhere to hide from this weather without going way off course, so it’s all relative. And here we’ve already met very pleasant fellow sailors and have had a number of tourists stop by seeing our Canadian flag and ‘fessing up to being Canadian themselves. It’s a very nice break.

I have to say, being back in the real world puts you back in touch with its folly. Just look at this “ship”, if I can call it that. The toy of a 45 year old Russian billionaire, it is said to be worth 365 million pounds. It is here at the shipyard where it was built having work done. There’s a super yacht up on the hard behind it. What are we thinking?







So here we sit looking for a weather window. There might be tomorrow morning. Time to do laundry and clean up the boat for the next leg. And catch some zzzzzzs.

I hope you are all well. I have discovered I have a ton of e-mails and I’m mortified to see how many people are following this folly. Please be assured there may have been considerable discomfort on this trip but never reason to be afraid. I have complete confidence in both the boat and its captain and if you saw them in action I think you would too. Sylvain claims to have equal confidence in his boat and his crew, which is reassuring to me, as a rank amateur at this level. We know our limits, which is why we are docked right now, and in a week or two I’ll let you know what happened on the next leg.


Blog # 5 – We finally did leave. Really.


The last delay was too incredibly stupid to go into, so let’s just cut to the action. My apologies for saying we would leave earlier than we actually did. This time blame Federal Express, whose package guaranteed to arrive in 3 days took 8. Like we couldn’t come up with enough delays on our own!

My Dad always used to say if you borrow something give it back in better shape than you borrowed it in. Sylvain is of the same approach. The bike he borrowed for three months got a new tire, new brakes, cables and tape on the handle bars. Agostino was thrilled.


9 am Thursday, the 15th of February saw us raising a scrap of genoa headsail and taking off so fast it looked as if we were afraid some Greek official was on his way with one more paper we needed to get. It was blowing out of the east at 30 knots, gusting to 40, and heading downwind as we were the further we went the more the waves were kicked up. We had little bits of both sails up soon and it really was a blast. The boat may be 45 feet long but that just gives you confidence that it’s strong enough to take it. It was bouncing around like a dinghy, totally responsive to the helm, roaring out of Patras at about 8 knots and over nine in the big gusts. What a great day. It was interesting to see Sylvain in action, and excited. Everything has to be done by winches on this boat so lines are laid on, winching done, a lock goes down on it and off that line comes to be replaced by another and the process repeated till the sails are exactly the way he wants them. The tensions were shocking to me. The stress on each line is so high it reminded me of piano wires and he later told me that area of the boat, in French, is referred to as “le piano” for that very reason. At the wheel I felt like I was driving a sports car and spent as much time as I could steering. The seas got bigger and occasionally came aboard, but our course was wide open space between beautiful Greek islands and everything was spectacular. We took turns going below and to visit the head and get food. We ate well and had a great day, until. . .

that second visit to the head went fine but as I stood in the cabin I thought, “hmm . . . didn’t feel that before. I better get back outside.” But it was too late. The dull nausea became more severe, the boat’s motion that had been such fun all day long was suddenly irritating, the food I had enjoyed, well, didn’t look so good the second time I saw it. I’m sure that’s enough detail. Sea-sickness is just awful and we’re on track for Italy 3 days away. There’s no backing out now.

Steering helped, but not much. I spent a lot of time flat on my back on the lee settee in the cockpit. It calmed right down at dark for about two hours but then up it came and blew about 25 knots all night long. Were out on the Ionian Sea then and the waves were enormous. The wind then gusted to 30 knots and higher with 4 metre waves. After much preplanning and careful thought I managed to get inside. For some reason (inner ear? psychology?) if you lie flat on your back, you don’t feel too bad. Even raise your head 45 degrees and you have 5 to 10 seconds before throwing up. I rushed into the cabin and sprawled flat on the floor. Okay, relax. Now undo life jacket. Whoa, that was a little too strenuous. Now get one arm out. And so on, until the whole wetsuit is off. It took a good 20 minutes. At one point it all seemed too much like a costume gag in some comedy club sketch and even I found it funny. Into the head where the sink is conveniently close to the toilet. Then into my bunk only to discover that it was wet. A hatch was not tightly enough closed but there seemed to be too much dampness for just that. I dozed away but at about 3 am the automatic bilge pump went. It’s noisy and, out of habit from my own leaky boat, when I heard it go a second time I started counting seconds between the pumps. Pretty soon I didn’t have to because the pump was going continuously which usually means one of two things. Either the float switch got stuck or we’re taking on serious water. I installed that float switch so I was pretty sure it wasn’t that, and unfortunately I was right. I looked out my cabin door to see Alex and Sylvain with headlights on looking down into the sump area in the darkness with grim faces. It was quite an image in the middle of a dark night. On the face of it, things didn’t look very good. We’re far from land, haven’t seen another ship for hours, it’s blowing like hell, rough, in the middle of the night, and the boat is taking on water from an undiscovered source. And then the pump stopped working. I thought I should probably get out of bed.

It was disconcerting and certainly annoying, but not scary. The boat had been recently professionally surveyed and all the through hull fittings were said to be in very good shape. We could easily check all the interior hoses and see that nothing had broken there. I thought it might be a burst water tank because one of them was leaking a little and with all the motion perhaps the leak had gotten worse. Failing that, it had to be spray and waves coming aboard which would never find a big enough opening to do any real damage. The pump breaking down left us with the manual emergency pump and a back up that came with the boat, and that wasn’t powerful enough to get the water from the bilge up to the galley sink. So Alex and I bailed with a saucepan into the sink, (something I have quite a lot of experience with!) and I began to think this boat had a lot more in common with old Trillium than I had thought. It also occurred to me that I passed up sitting in front of my fireplace with a good book, two dogs at my feet, and Jane to talk to, all so that I could be here doing a sequence that went: ‘bail, bail, bail, bail, barf. Repeat.’ I was so weak I had to take breaks from time to time. On the up side, it was good to get the low point of the whole trip over with on the first night!

We finally figured out, after my boast in the last blog that we had checked over everything, that there were two vents on the foredeck that we had paid no attention to. I think they are missing a part because there is no way to close them. The result is that in weather as rough as we have had, where the bow is constantly buried into a wave and spray is churning across the deck, a lot of water comes down in those vents. Alex’s cabin, which was on the lee side, was soaked, and that accounted for the wet in mine as well. Add to that, the anchor chain locker is not watertight but has drains over the side. It turns out the drains were clogged so that locker filled to the brim and there was a pipe (which seems to serve no purpose) through to the next locker which drains into the bilge. That was the real problem. We were shoveling the bow into waves that were finding their way inside. On the up side it turned out the pump was a true believer and resurrected itself as soon as it was no longer really needed. Then the auto helm quit, but later it resurrected itself as well, again, when it wasn’t really needed.

We carried on all day through the biggest waves I have ever seen – 4 meters according to Sylvain – on a broad reach, with two reefed sails. We were taking the waves broadside but held as we were by the sails they just passed under us most of the time. They were so disturbed and unpredictable that occasionally the spray went over us and I finally had to agree that the spray dodger was an exceptionally good idea. I ate nothing but drank a little, and Alex, a fellow sufferer, was back to eating a little. I steered for a while, and the wind dropped away. The engine was started when I went to bed around 10 pm, and then I steered from 2 am to 6 under power with very little wave action. Healed.

I’m sorry there are no pictures in this bit. I was using my pocket camera and got quite a few but it must have got wet and has quit working. I wasn’t going to risk my better camera in this weather, and they’re all on a chip so maybe later I’ll be able to extract them.

Day 3 was my birthday! The greatest gift ever was feeling well, and it didn’t hurt that it was a beautiful, calm, sunny day as we motored along the coast of Italy. A few months ago a friend asked why I wanted to do this trip and I said I’d been tracing the route on Google Earth and I thought it would be fantastic to see all these places – to cruise along off the coast of Italy and see it in the flesh. Well, on my birthday that’s exactly what we did, rounded the toe of the boot, with Sicily in sight and incredible Mount Etna off to port, smoking quietly and just awaiting its time. It was amazing.


Yeah, well this trimaran came along and spoiled the picture. It’s enough he passed us. When he didn’t take a picture of us I was really insulted.



Calm as it was we decided to come to an unscheduled stop at a marina to deal with the vents, the anchor locker, and the unpredictable auto helm. Also salt water got into one of our water tanks, so it had to be flushed out and refilled and the filler pipe connection resealed. And the pump. It may be a believer but we’ve become skeptical.

Add to this litany of breakdowns that we discovered the brand new converter which charges the onboard computers and various devices had quit. It also showed some vital signs later, but without it we can’t get the accurate wind forecasts we need. In this area that is not a good idea so now we had to wait till Monday to find an open store in Calabria, on Italy’s tippy toe, for a new converter and a new bilge pump to replace the spare that got called into action. And we know how we’ll get there. As we were having breakfast the next morning we heard a thump in the cockpit so stuck our heads out. A man on the dock had tossed a bag of croissants aboard. Alex was able to speak to him in Italian, but along with the croissants was his business card. He’s a taxi driver and makes a habit of offering his services, and a little extra something for breakfast, to visiting boats. Creative!

So Sunday was another day of work. The auto helm was dismantled and reassembled in working order. I made a shield to protect the anchor locker from incoming seawater. We blocked the unnecessary pipe from there into the next locker and those vents will let neither water nor air through them ever again. Then Alex, always looking for trouble and usually finding it, discovered a weird design problem. The fresh water tanks are under the forward bunks and their filler pipes come out on the fore deck where they are well sealed. The breathers, however, pass through a forward deck locker and come out in the chain locker. When the chain locker filled with water it then poured into the breathers and therefore into our fresh water tanks. Now the breathers come to an abrupt end inside the deck locker which cannot fill with water.

And we washed clothes and hung everything out to dry. Rather than a Jeanneau 45 we looked like a Laundry Scow 45.


February 25 – Another little update – hohum

Sunday afternoon here in Tadoussac – damp and cold but it is February still. And Alan is still in the Mediterranean plodding along. The three sailors are quite frustrated with the wind – or perhaps I should say – the lack of wind. Alan says it is either blowing well, but against them, or blowing hardly at all. So that is why, if you are following the red dot, it really is not moving very fast.

They are off the coast of Algeria and were sailing with dolphins the other day so it is not all bad.  They are headed towards Gibraltar and big winds are coming their way so we are keeping fingers crossed. They will stop in Gibraltar for fuel then it is about 4-5 days from that point to the Canary Islands.  Final destination at this point is looking like Antigua.

In the meantime they are slowly tacking their way along. I don’t think there is a dictionary definition of tacking but my definition is ‘Sailing for hours to get nowhere’.  So far that seems about right.

Thanks for following along with Alan, Alex and Sylvain.  All three of infinite patience it seems.  Certainly way more patience than me!

February 23rd Update from Alan

Good morning everyone,

I am finding it a bit frustrating that the crazy red dot does not move faster – what about you? I received a note from Alan this morning so thought I would send an update to all of you.

Their winds have been too light and then blasting them in the next half of a day. They are now just heading south of Sardinia. They will be happy when they are past the island as they should soon be able to take advantage of the Northerlies – winds that are more predictable, more consistent and in the direction that they want to move. All good.

We are not seeing the red dot move daily as they are having trouble keeping their equipment charged and are conserving energy. For the time being it may be only every few days that they upload a change of position – but they are moving all the time and Alan says DO not Worry. All is well.

Have a great weekend and I will update as soon as I have news. Jane

Alan’s transatlantic adventure – a mini update

Hi everyone, I spoke with Alan yesterday briefly and because he will have no access to the internet for at least 8-10 more days he asked me to just give everyone a brief note.

When they left Patras it was in a wild 42 knot wind. Why did they leave you might well ask? The only answer I can give is they were so sick of being in Greece (42 days!!) and they are all crazy. That is all I know. At any rate, the crossing between Patras and Italy was indeed very wild. Alan said the wind and the waves were just like in the movies.

They came through relatively unscathed but had some water on board because of a leak and they lost two small pieces of equipment to breakage. So they have been stopped in a small marina on the very toe of the boot of Italy since Saturday afternoon to get repairs made, leaks fixed and purchases made. All of that was being accomplished while we were sleeping last night and mid day today they hoped to be underway again.

They figure they are doing about 150 miles per day so I was calculating with Sarah (Alex’s partner) last night and we think they will be in Gibraltar in about 7-10 days give or take the wind.

He did say that  the coast that they see is spectacular and that when they were approaching Mt Etna it was snow covered and beautiful.

Their route after that is not altogether clear as it depends somewhat on whether the prevailing winds shift but at this point it looks like Gibraltar- Canary Islands- Antigua.

If I receive more news I will update again later but Alan will definitely put a more detailed account when next in port. I hope you are all well where ever you are. Jane

Blog # 3 – Departure.Finally and Forever, Feb. 12th, well, OK 13th.

You just can’t spend a month in Greece without running into the occasional old building.

IMG_4902Like the Acropolis











Another week and another week and another week. They say the most stressful thing is uncertainty and that’s what we’ve had the last several weeks as departure dates have come and gone. We really did arrive in this town on the 4th of January expecting to leave about two weeks later. We wouldn’t have been able to because the boat simply wasn’t ready, but the delays from the reregistration of the boat from Greek to Canadian have been absolutely mind-numbing. We still don’t know what happened. We’ve seen the Port Authority, the broker, his notary, and ourselves in action trying to get this resolved but the permutations are hard to understand when we’re speaking French and English and they’re speaking English and Greek and among themselves, only Greek. Whether someone didn’t know their job or missed a new law or didn’t have the right information we’ll never know now. But the good news is that finally, on February 7th, Greek registered Thetis became Canadian registered Chelona and when the original copy of the Canadian Registry finishes its fed ex’d journey from Montreal to Patras, we will be free to go. That is supposed to happen today, Monday, February 12th. And no more will we wake up thinking the line that Alexandre coined: “Ah, another day in Patrasdise!”

Trouble is, the document that was tracked to be here at 6 pm hasn’t shown up yet, but, it’s fed ex. How late can it be? So currently we plan to leave tomorrow morning, February 13th, and in all honesty there really wasn’t any wind today anyway. You can check on us though. If you google “challenge vert autour du monde” you will find Sylvain’s web-site and if you poke the “suivez moi” button you’ll get led to a map and a red dot which is us. Any time, in theory, you can see where we are, and I hope that very soon the distance between us and Patras will start to lengthen.

The boat is in better shape than it has been in for years. Sylvain and Alexandre and I have been absolutely uncompromising in making sure everything is up to date and secure. Sylvain has done it all before and has helped us understand how a boat that is sailing for weeks on end has different needs than one that is going out on occasional afternoons. It’s an expensive business (for him) and hard work but this boat is ready to go and we are more than ready. Amid the frustration we have all known that once we’re a week or two into the trip the doubts and delays will pale in comparison to the experience we’ve come to share – sailing this boat through the Mediterranean Sea in winter. We really don’t know what we’re getting into, but I’ll let you know when we find out. The obvious changes will be a world in perpetual motion with no more hot water, cabin heat, or fresh food. Or bureaucrats.

In the meantime it hasn’t been all work and no play. We all took a run up to Athens a few weeks ago to try to get some movement on the registration front. After doing time in the Port Authority offices for a morning Alexandre and I bailed out and visited the Acropolis and the nearby Acropolis Museum.


It’s absolutely a fantastic site and we had a beautiful sunny day with few other tourists. We even met some worshippers of the goddess Athena who were having prayers in the theatre behind the Acropolis which, they explained, was once reserved for the priests of the goddess. To each his/her own . . .







These are actually replicas of statues that have been holding that roof up for quite a while. We saw the originals (but one) preserved in the safer Acropolis Museum. A missing one was pilfered by Lord Elgin years ago and is in a British Museum, to the Greeks’s chagrin.







Then there’s the Odeon of Herod Atticus which he built in memory of his wife, Regilla. It’s amazing what you can do for your wife when you have access to the public purse.





After another night in Pyraeus (virtually a suburb of Athens), we set out the next day first to spend some money in one of the myriad marine stores in the area. The port of Pyraeus is enormous and full of ferries going off in all directions. There are so many Greek Islands, of course, that the services are many and Pyraeus is a major ferry terminal.

Sylvain headed back to the boat and Alex and I went on to Delphi where there is an extraordinary ancient site as well as views that are beyond imagination. It was exciting for me to pass towns and see signs for Corinth, Thessalonica, places to which Saint Paul sent his letters a few millennia back.

The road took us high into the mountains where towns are perched on the edges of cliffs like bird’s nests with equally good views of the surrounding country.







Delphi, we discovered, is also the site of the center of the universe as seen in this photo. In my view, if you stand back about 50 feet and look at it directly, it pretty much does seem to be about the exact center of the universe. I think they got that right.







At sites like this I’m always fascinated by the accuracy of the carving that was done in ancient times with primitive tools. Not just statues, but walls such as this that are so smooth and flat on one side, yet made with stone that is carved to fit together so well amaze me. How they did it and how much time it took is hard to imagine, but whenever I’m working on something that seems too difficult or beyond my ability I think of these people and give it another try.














Entertainment seems to have been an important part of their culture. There is an ancient theatre






as well as a sports stadium that the Romans built when they took over. This field is nearly level and it is where the contestants competed naked. The raised seats in the middle of the rows were for the judges. Of what, one wonders? You had to be at the end to see who was the fastest runner.







After Delphi it was back to the boat via some spectacular switch back and coastal roads.







Another week of work has been completed. Lists have been filed, low priority jobs got some attention, and although our crew is now down to three because of the delays, we’re eager to be off and running.

We did get out for a sail to shake the bugs out. We have stayed in the dock while still Greek registered for fear of even more troubles with the local authorities. Once officially Canadian we felt a little more freedom so here are some shots of that.




















Sylvain and Alexandre discussing technology, no doubt. In fact the auto helm is on, which is why neither of them is steering.







And last chores included stocking up on two plus weeks of food for three hungry people. The fresh stuff gets bought and loaded last. This is load #2 of long life stuff to be stowed away before the fresh.


Aside from our position as mentioned above, there are other things you can look for as well if you have the time and feel like it. You can check the web-site to see what the wind is doing anywhere in the world, including what it’s doing to us.  Another fun site is which shows you all the shipping anywhere in the world. Every commercial ship or boat (us included) is obligated to carry a thing called an AIS which gives name, position, course and speed at any time. We have an AIS in our cockpit and during the daysail above we could see ships within five miles on a small screen, including their course and heading. And no doubt they were looking at us.  Then, of course, google earth gives a nice picture of the geography we get to sail past.

I trust that’s all for now. Departure is finally within a few hours. When we land at Gibraltar I’ll blog again and let you know about the water in between.


Blog Item #2 Departure Approaches, – Jan. 15th – 28th, 2018


Ahh the Grecian sky on a winter’s evening.


Everything takes longer than you think, especially if it’s on a boat. I’ve been spending my time making Spray Hood/Spray Dodger which was fun because it is wood and there were a whole lot of compound angles to shape and join as well as curved bases to fit the deck beneath but, and it’s an 8 foot tall BUT, then comes the time to fiberglass it all. I worked in the fiberglass industry years ago and suddenly there I was, once again, cutting out shapes in fiberglass mat to match shapes on the spray hood. Then wetting them out with thinned epoxy resin and tamping them down all over the place in an effort to make this thing at least half as strong as the boat that goes beneath it. Ah, the sweet brain cell crushing smell of mixed epoxy chemically reacting in the mixture and Lord knows what it’s doing in my poor, pathetic cerebrum (maybe making me smarter!) but at least we’re working outside where the air is moving pdq. Or we were, until the rain started, and then I’m working in an envelope of plastic with no vents at all and epoxy in my hair, but for a mercifully short time. The irony is not lost that the only wooden boat owner in the crowd also happened to be the most qualified to lay up all this fiberglass. Sylvain kindly took over when it came time to install the plexiglass.

IMG_4837Here it is on the hard, pre-installation



Sylvain’s custom is to plant a tree in every port of call that he can, so below he and Lilas doing just that in a green space about thirty feet from where the boat has been moored for years. That’s Agostino alongside, a local man who was kind enough to lend Sylvain a bicycle for the duration of his time here. There was some chance that Agostino might join us as far as Gibralter but he doesn’t seem to be able to manage the time.






Everything else, from a new steering cable to life-line netting, from all the marine electronics to internal water tank leaks (in the top. Please. Why bother!) from running rigging fittings to navigation lights, it’s all being checked, repaired, renewed, replaced, or whatever is required.

So now there are two obstacles to departure. Obstacle number one, the crate of gear we shipped from Montreal, has had an interesting journey. Sylvain built the crate out of wood from something else he’d taken apart. Alexandre and I filled the crate, and Jane and I drove it up to Montreal for shipping. Turns out you can only ship new wood to Europe. Old wood may contain parasites, bacteria, insects, or hippopotamuses and is not allowed. Having visited N.Z. and the Land of Aus last year I have all kinds of sympathy for those trying to control invasive species, but they might have at least mentioned it when we delivered the crate. Apparently the shippers broke up the crate, repacked the contents in other crates, and smacked a cheerful added fee on the whole arrangement, inevitably delaying the shipment. Currently the crate is so far behind we’ve had to reroute it to Gibralter.

Obstacle number two, which makes the other pale by comparison, is the reregistration of the boat as a Canadian vessel. We have been told three more days, two more days, one more week nearly since I came aboard January 4th. We now expect the final documents on February 5th. This has been a major wrangle of bureaucratic administrivia. Lilas’ father has had to drive from his home near Tadoussac to Montreal and Ottawa to obtain documents that the broker has recently deemed necessary. This boat has been and will continue to be a commercial vessel used for yacht charter and teaching sailing. No longer named Thetis and under Greek registry, we are about to be Chelona and under Canadian registry. Chelona is Greek for tortoise. The name is not chosen as an indication of our expected speed (there, I got it in first) though it might reflect the speed of Greek bureaucracy. In fact the name is inspired by the concept of the world as depicted in the First Nations creation stories.







Needless to say the degree of frustration as departure dates come and go has been high. Lilas and Nathan left for France to visit family on January 31st, and will be rejoining us in the Canary Islands for the final leg, across the ocean to Guadeloupe. Here’s Alexandre with Nathan stuffed in the spinnaker bag hoping to get hoisted up to the masthead, but it’s not going to happen.






One piece of equipment we haven’t been able to get is a man overboard flag. I guess the Greeks are impossible to knock into the water because they don’t even have them in catalogues. Sylvain wanted to have one so in an idle moment I concocted this rare beauty. It’s a bamboo pole with a bunch of short bamboo sticks attached as a float and two fishing weights to keep it vertical. I asked our good Capitan if he thought it was good enough and he replied: “Oui . . . mais c’est un peu . . . Gilliga’!” Nobody ever drowned on Gilligan’s Island so I guess we’re okay.















We finally installed the Spray Hood, bolting it right through into the cabin and installing the plexiglass. A face book friend and cousin asked if we were going to put some artwork on it and that led to a lively dinner discussion. Sylvain wanted to put a solar panel atop, but taking Ron’s notion I went and suggested that the tortoise motif that takes over the O in the name of the boat might become an enduring symbol of the boat if someone painted a life-sized one on the roof. The debate ain’t over.






And finally here’s the current crew. Left to right that’s Nathan in the arm of Martin, who we hope to pick up in Italy to help us get to Gibralter. He had to bail out short term as two more departure dates bit the dust. Then the grizzled old guy, followed by Lilas, who will be rejoining us in the Canaries with the little guy. Then Alexandre and Sylvain. Work to do and delays notwithstanding, life here doesn’t look so bad, does it?






I may or may not wedge another post in on the eve of departure. If not, I won’t be able to post again till we pull into a port and we’re so late now, that could be Gibralter. I hope you have sunny skies, fresh winds, and a shortage of bureaucratic nonsense in your life in the days ahead!