Friends: Bob and Di
Beginning Our Great Adventure
March 13, 2007 -- -Our adventure begins in 36 days
Our days are invested in our kids, friends as we say our good-bye's. Con and my careers are winding down, and you can't imagine how busy we are packing up our 100+ accumulated years of land-living. The complex emotions we're carrying around are carefully blended into a touch of sadness for leaving our family, and the familiar behind; a touch of fear of the unknowns and the thrill that goes with the anxiousness for where our adventure will take us. Big Sky will be our magic carpet, to take us on adventures far beyond our wildest imagination. I ponder how we'll view the world in seven or ten years and how we'll see ourselves with our new experiences fitting in to this amazing home we call earth. The Big Sir (Sailing in Retirement) is more than an adventure, it's a gift, thanks to Con's forty years of planning to get us nearly to our launch off day. The count own is on.
April 8, 2007 -- Con and I are just back from a week in Shanghai, China for what was Con's final business trip. For me, the trip was an exciting, amazingly awesome way to begin our adventures. Shanghai enchanted me from my head to my toes. We returned home again to have our final 10 days with the kids before leaving Canada for Big Sky. With Easter weekend, we have surrounded ourselves with our four daughters to say our "good bye's". Most of what we will need aboard has been crated to Turku, Finland by ship.
April 19, 2007 --We arrived in Holland to celebrate Nomie's (Con's mom) 91st birthday. Hans, (Con's ex-brother-in-law) invited us up up and away in a beautiful balloon. The landscape was breath-taking. At one point, we were suspended in the blue sky, not moving at all. It was an odd sensation, scary, and serene at the same time. Upon landing, the foot of the basket caught in the tree tops causing it to sway and causing me to hold my breath until we had safely landed.
April 25, 2007 -- We launched Big Sky today! See the video for footage. In our rented car, we followed Big Sky loaded on the back of a truck on its two-hour slow drive down country roads to the sea. Plenty of times, the men stopped to take out signs in order for Big Sky to pass, then stopping again to replace them.
April 28, 2007 -- While Big Sky will be outfitted (systems checked and mast rigged) we set off by train for our planned trip to St. Petersburg, Russia. It took at least a month to coordinate our entrance into Russia beginning in Canada with a hotel reservation in Russia, the formal invitation then arrived from the hotel which was sent to Ottawa for our Visa. We arrived in the dark, piled into a taxi and sped through the fog-filled streets with the Moody Blues playing in the cab and arrived at our beautiful hotel.
Finally slowing down from our months of busy work, we lazily shuffle-walked through St. Petersburg's beautiful streets taking in the sights and then made our way into the Dvor Metro Station. The station claims some of the most fascinating embodiments of Stalinist style and ideals. We purchased entrance token and after lots of miscommunication with the lady behind the window, we randomly selected the blue line. Within a few minutes, Con was pickpocketed by an expert gang of about five to ten gypsy type guys in a well-orchestrated procedure.
Dvor Metro Station
It went like this: Con and I holding hands entered the train car and were instantly swarmed by the gang. A few guys pulled Con from behind, a few tried to step in between us, as I stepped up onto the train -- actually being pulled on by three guys. The plan: separate us. There was no way I was letting go of Con's hand and yanked him hard and he flew forward onto the train, mostly because the thugs let go of him from behind. At that point, they got their goods. The train zoomed off down the track and we stared at each other realizing what had happened. I turned and glared at the men standing at the door, accusing them of the theft. They acted nonchalant.
"Barbie, they took everything, my credit cards, money," Con said quietly. I turned back to the men and began frisking them. They backed away. I demanded to see inside their pockets and jackets. One man began to unzip his pants with a hateful look on his face, staring into my face. They won. I backed away, and we got off at the next stop, licking our wounds and walked back to the hotel. The pleasant irony of the day was that our "soft" phone (computer phone) had not been working, but that afternoon Con was able to call all the credit card companies and very efficiently cancel everything. "You should have our new cards in a few weeks," they promised. Since everything was in Con's wallet, including his Canadian citizenship paper, the first thought was "identity theft". Con always puts his wallet in his front pocket and his hand in his pocket... except today. We called the kids right after and laughed about our ill fate.
May 2, 2007 -- Our last full day in St. Petersburg. We've walked a marathon a day and there's still much more to see. We managed to make our way through the Metro stations again, Con with one hand in his pocket (holding the cash), the other holding the map. I had one hand on his jacket and glared at all the gypsy-like people believing they were all pick pockets and then finally stopped realizing that my glares were scaring them!
May 8, 2007 -- Our 5th day living aboard Big Sky! We're discovering cool things about this boat by the hour. We rise early, work ourselves to exhaustion getting the boat ready, and drop into bed at the end of the day dead tired. Our manuals are all in German and Finnish for the boat instruments and appliances. Today, we learned how to have the washing machine give us back our clothes after holding them for two days. Believing the dryer didn't work, we learned that it sucks the clothes dry and stores the water in a funnel which needs to be emptied! It's a hit and miss on the microwave, as I really don't know what sequence of buttons makes it work, but we're not starving. Who would have thought that operating foreign appliances would be a challenge. Everything aboard is like new, and Her Krol (the previous owner) invested in the "best" of everything. We discovered a winter tent in storage which is like having another enclosed room. I'm currently in the pilot house with sun streaming in through the windows, Blues music playing through the speakers, birds are flying around the boat with great spring-time animation, and the smell of buns wafting from the oven. They should be ready any minute. Con's with an engineer in the engine room learning how to change the oil. It took a while to understand how the oven works -- can you believe it! -- But the trick is you have to have the time (of day) set before it will work. It's the same with the microwave. Yesterday, Her Krol and his lovely wife Rika arrived (from Spain) for a visit to show us some things aboard. In actual fact, I think they came to say "good bye" to the boat, previously called "Lady R". This afternoon, we will ride to Turku on our bikes (about 7 km there and back) with our laptops in our back packs like armour to protect us from -- well me, from the homesickness that is already setting in. We've discovered a friendly bar where for a coke or a cider, you can camp out as long as you want using their Wi-Fi. We set up our phone systems every day to call our daughters.
May 12, 2007-- First sail day! Big Sky cut smoothly through the Baltic Sea, like a hot knife through butter under the engine. Once out of the marina, we pushed a few buttons and the main sail unfurled from inside the mast. Next, we pushed a few more buttons and the 23-meter genoa unfurled. We soared through the dark water heeling 20 degrees to port. With a slight breeze we were gliding along an exhilarating five knots. Not a lot of speed, but smooth and for me a perfect first sail. This was Con's first time driving this 52-foot, 28-ton boat and he did it like a pro. Entering the slim marina where there isn't much room to move around, he wiggled us into position using the bow thrusters and allowing the wind to push us around at the stern.
May 13, 2007-- Feeling cocky about yesterday's sail, for Mother's Day, we decided we do it again. So far, so good. Sails up. Moving 8 knots on a broad reach, sun filling the cockpit. We were feeling like experts already. Our return however was a bit different. The main sail was obstinate and decided not to furl back into the mast. Con coaxed it patiently and it finally furled in just in time for us to turn into the skinning marina entrance. "Ready?" Con asked, as he began the turn into our slip. The boat is secured to the pier with side poles called "Dolphin Poles." I'm not sure I answered Con, as I gathered the lines. My attempts to lasso the dolphins was a sight. When I finally got it, I'd forgotten to secure the other end of the line to the boat. I scampered to the bow to secure our lines there, carrying the heavy lines to take down the six steps of the ladder. Made the first step, lost my balance, fell the rest of the way, landing on the crate, hurting my rear, elbow, and head -- mostly ego. Once on the pier, palming the end of the line, I couldn't even find where to tie it. I felt defeated. Con was proud of his docking and had no idea I'd fallen off the boat. We managed to laugh at the whole affair.
May 19, 2007 --Just a few more days remain for us in this delightful town of Turku, the town we've called home for the past three weeks. It has been our "getting ready" location. Today, we biked into town to pick up yet more supplies. It was likely a hilarious site to see us biking the 7 kilometers return to Big Sky balancing 270 feet of line, a reel to bolt to the side of Big Sky to hold the line; a four foot hook; vacuum cleaner; microwave lid; indoor/outdoor thermometer; batteries; book; rain gear; a few other smaller things; and most importantly to-die for smoked salmon from the Turku market (oh yes, and herring, pickled in juniper berries, Con's absolute favorite treat).
Kai and Tuula Gustafsson, dropped by for a visit and to check with us if there are any other questions or things they could do for us. Kai is the Nauticat designer, and owner of the factory and marina and Tuula, his wife and most gracious host, never leaves without making notes of more things they can check for us. We hold great respect for them both, the epitome of Finnish people, honest, solid characters loaded with spirit and a love of the outdoors.
Con's hair was past the best-before date, so at 11 p.m., in the dusky northern daylight-dark I sat Con on a cement post on the dock in a cold breeze, plugged my hair clippers into the abandoned fuel house, and gave him a great haircut.
May 22, 2007 -- Today, we learned that as Nauticat boat owners, (Nauticat Hull 515-09) we share ownership to Jarviluoto Island which we've called "Nauticat Island." We sailed there on beautiful beam winds, dropping sails just as we rounded the cove, gliding right up to the pier in front of the adorable dark-brown rustic cabin. Mooring Finnish style, we climbed onto the pier and explored the property: A sauna, spotlessly clean cabin, rusty water from a pump, and hundreds of birds, ducks, geese and other wildlife surrounding the property. We arrived early evening, and caused quite a ruckus with the Herring Gulls, whom we later discovered had three unhatched eggs they were protecting, just under the edge of the pier.
The gulls swooped down with their feet out as if they were birds of prey, ready to attack Con. We were later told that they do! After dinner, Con prepared the wood burning sauna and within a half hour we were doing what the Fins do, relaxing and sweating in a sauna! Dark clouds moved outside the windows which to my horror we realized were huge mosquitos! Con, not bothered by them took the camera and explored the rest of the property and parts of the island, returning with breathtaking photos.
May 23, 2007 -- After breakfast, the gentle winds moved us south to Verkan, a very small hamlet with about 1,000 inhabitants. We'd been told the ribs were excellent there, and, there were. Verkan is surrounded by islands (an island itself) and dotted with hidden obstacles -- rocks -- just under the water's surface. Navigation is tricky here, with coloured poles marking islands, rocks, and other surprises just under the water. It's all been surveyed, and we're told to, "keep to the recommended routes."
We entered the small marked waterway with sails up and needed to turn into the wind to take them down, causing us to leave the marked roadway. I watched the depth meter drop quickly from 4.3, 3.2, 2.1, and then bang! Our keel is 2.1 meters and we hit a rock. I had a quiet panic, looked to Con for reassurance. He was calm -- always is. We got the sails in, and continued to dock. Finnish waterway markings are confusing. Often you must line the boat up to matching markers on land (one on top of the other to know you're lined properly. More confusing are the series of black and white, white with black, white on top, black on top markers. Each notates the location you should be in relation to the pole when you pass it, i.e. on your east, west, etc. To make it more challenging, the black and white system is being changed to yellow, red and green poles, so they're on the water roadway too.
May 27, 2007 -- We just left a strange little town called Lappo in the Aland Islands. The sun was warm so we attempted to bike the parameter of the island and found maybe five residents, and the rest were birds. The Harbour Office was unlocked, but no one ever showed up. We helped ourselves to the electricity and enjoyed our little piece of paradise. In the morning, the mist rolled in and we charted our course southwest with a gentle 5.5 knot wind filling our sails. Chopin is playing throughout the boat, in the pilot house where I'm sitting and in the cockpit where Con's happily working the controls. Life is very very good.
May 28, 2007 -- We have a routine in the Aland Islands. We sail into one small village after another hoping to see a living, breathing person, and sure enough we find one or two. It's a hit and miss finding an outlet for electricity and the access to internet is pretty much out of the question. I drive Big Sky out of the marinas as Con works the lines and vice versa when we arrive wherever. In Finland, we use the Finish clip. From centre boat, you lean down with the long clip and attach it to the buoy. I hand it to Con, at the helm. He manages the tension while I walk forward with the bow lines to the pier. Viola. We've just left Remmarhamn, and are heading to Degerby. I'm crossing my fingers that there's cell phone reception so we can connect with the kids. Missing them! I found a spot in the back of an open cabin in Remmarhamn and charged up my computer.
I snuck up on Slavonian Grebe nesting, she took off and left me to peak at her delicate eggs.
May 29, 2007 -- Fog! We're stuck in this small town -- pretty enough, but no internet. One restaurant, one grocery store, one computer in the library which is closed. We rose early to depart, but fog rolled in and has remained. Our destination was four hours away in Mariehamn.
Fog horns continue to blast in the near impossible visibility. Around 1:30 pm we saw a bit of sunlight as the fog began to lift and our narrow exit channel was somewhat visible. It took two minutes, and we'd untied, GPS on, route set. Degerby has the most confusing water markers, and for the most part, we don't know what they mean. There are red ones, green ones, black with white and white with black, as well as centre markers, and dots of rocks everywhere! moving gingerly through the maze, we heard the fog horn from the ferry behind us. We couldn't see it because the fog had moved in like a slow freight train and surrounded us. The ferry captain blew the horn to let us know his intention, and we skirted to a tiny spot between a marker and the roadway, not wanting to veer off because of the many rocks. It passed us, and I swear I could see the colour of the eyes of the passengers staring out at us. Con, anxious to follow the ferry, hit the throttle, and at that moment, the GPS went haywire I ran below to turn on the Raytheon plotter and called out our location to Con. The ferry was swallowed by the fog the moment it passed us. We passed between the pole and the ferry! Later that day, we exhaled finally tying safely to the marina in Mariehamn marina. We have internet, sunshine, and no more fog. Connecting with the kids, and my mom and dad, all is well and life is perfect.
May 31, 2007 -- This morning, we biked to the fish monger whom we were told was in "that" direction, pointing south.
Returning with a big brown bag filled with smoked fish. So delicious! The marina is a 110-year-old yacht and sailing club. For $22 Euro, we have 24-hour internet, a sauna twice a day (if we want), perfect access to the bike paths, and pretty much the entire marina to ourselves. The tourists still haven't arrived.
June 1 & 2, 2007 -- I called my dad for his 82nd birthday and by the time I'd returned to Big Sky, Con had decided we should leave the Aland Islands earlier than originally planned. He'd checked that the wind would be more in our favour by leaving sooner than later. "Besides," Con said "we can practice a night sail, and what better conditions than a bright northern night sky." I was ready to bunk into Mariehamn for life, but by 10:15 pm we untied, arriving in sunny Stockholm that next afternoon. We planned to do two-hour shifts through the night. The night is dusk-like for most of the evening, which makes for excellent sight when sailing. As the sun set, an awesome sight spread out in front of us, at the same time we had entered the 21-nautical mile stretch of open waters. I was excited to sail to Sweden, but nervous about the first night sail, but didn't know how sea sick I would be. As soon as we hit open water, the motion changed to a rock and then a roll, causing me to have to swallow Gravol at regular intervals. All I could do was lay in the bed. The two-hour shift lasted about nine hours for Con. About 7:30 a.m. I was able to take a shift and Con and a short sleep. For Con, the rocking and rolling causing no problems. The man with a stomach of steel. A crazy moment happened about two hours after the sun set, Con spotted bright fire red in the distance. He called for me to come up, "A boat is on fire!" Ready to call a May Day, he studied the sight closer saying, "No no, will you look at that, the sun is rising again!" We both studied the massive light, still wondering if there was a fire on the horizon and then the moon surfaced, climbing out of the sea dominating the southeastern sky. Thank God we didn't call a May Day on the rising moon. Sailing along Sweden's coast on the way to Stockholm, we pasted small clumps of land with hundreds and hundreds of smelling-like-fish noisy cormorants nesting.
June 4, 2007 -- Our second day in Stockholm, the city that never stands still. We're docked at the only public marina and it's right downtown, which is surprisingly quiet and with plenty of open spots. The Mallard ducks were eating right out of my hand. Stockholm! A fabulous city. Swans would knock on the boats for lunch. It's graduation and to say they are "major celebrations" is an understatement. Each day balloons fill the sky, fireworks at night, antique car parade and cars honking. We joined the festival in the park with great bands playing U2, Robbie Robertson, Rolling Stones... We entered the "Taste of Stockholm" event all the while mesmerized by the sheer amount of things going on and asked a local about it. He shrugged, "Nothing special. It's Stockholm." Beautiful people, very healthy looking, well dressed, and so many blondes. The summer fashions are funky and classy, lots of white, and off white, with splashes of colour here and there. It's a city that likes to dress. The Baltic Sea fingers through the city, and bridges link all the fingers and the surrounding islands. There are 70 museums to see here, and so far, we've visited just one. The buildings are beautifully preserved 16th and 17th century. It looks a lot like Amsterdam. We biked for about two hours, just wandering up and down streets, exploring castles, parks, waterways.
June 5, 2007 -- Remember when we tested the main sails in Turku and it got stuck... well, we decided to take the main sail down and have it repaired by sail makers here in Sweden. It has still caused us trouble. We're tod it will take a week. We're having the boom vang repaired too as it's seen a bit of wear.
After Con and I scrubbed, polished, washed windows, and vacuumed Big Sky, we biked all over the city again. For early June, it's incredibly hot. Each day the city becomes wilder with celebrations! Every street is filled with open backed trucks with dozens of dancing, mostly drunk young kids wearing white shirts and white sailor hats. Some are holding up a picture of small children. Turns out they're pictures of themselves.
June 7, 2007 -- Love Stockholm! A typical day: Wake about seven, have breakfast in our sunny cockpit taking in Castle Holmen across the water and church steeples. By ten, we're on our bikes exploring. Unfortunately, we have a hangover from St. Petersburg believing someone will pick pocket us or steel our bikes. We triple locked our bikes beside the Royal Guard at the castle. Con looked up at the guard, "If you don't mind, we'll leave our bikes here and you could watch them." He gave a slight nod. By the afternoon, we stopped in the medieval part of the city and sat at a table in the open square enjoying lunch.
We called the kids that night wishing them a happy morning in Calgary. Unable to resist the lure of the city, we climbed back on our bikes after dinner weaving through city parks where dozens and dozens of people were enjoying picnics.
June 12, 2007 -- Using the bow thrusters and reverse, I was quite pleased with myself backing Big Sky out of the skinny Stockholm slip we called "home" for the past 10 days, and navigating through the narrow exit. It's difficult still judging where the tip of the bow is in relation to the marina dock and exactly when to begin making the turn. It would have been a 15 minutes bike trek from our marina, except that there was a bridge blocking us. I turned the helm to Con for docking having been given the instructions to back up beside the trimaran. Con was pleased with his ability to dock in the shallows and the tiny spot. I could lean over and pluck the grasses from the marsh port side.
June 13, 2007 -- We spent the night at the North Sail dock leaving early to catch the winds to Sandhamn Island. I motored out of the shallows while Con pushed us away from the trimaran making an Olympic-worthy leap aboard from starboard. The main works fine with the repairs. It was a six-hour sail, averaging six knots.
Sandhamn is a cute little village on the outer edges of the Archipelago. Docking into a windward side was very entertaining for the five people standing on the peer hoping to help us. We tossed the bow and stern lines and a man tied our bow first, immediately causing our stern to blow out wide on the 27-knot winds. We pulled for 10 minutes trying to win against the wind, when one young man about 18 called out, "Why don't you use your electric winch." A perfect solution. We wish we had thought about that. We'd already set our time of arrival with our kids knowing there was a marina webcam and stood in front of it waving. None of the kids, as it turned out remembered to call up the webcam.
June 15, 2007 -- The bedside alarm went at 5:30 am for our early departure for Kokar Island, Finland. We arrived that night at 9 pm, a 15-hour sail. Con had checked four weather and wind resources and determined that leaving early with the predicted south west winds would get us into shelter before the evening's expected gale. Aiming for Kokar on the recommended routing, we were immediately out in the open Baltic. About two hours into our sail, we passed some kind of marker, which seemed to trigger a siren. Fifteen minutes later, an air force plane was circling our boat. Within a few minutes, from nowhere a navy boat arrived and two guys in combat gear popped out of the hatch shouting, "Change course immediately to 140 degrees." Apparently they were testing missiles! We obeyed. The plane continued to circle us for about an hour or so later to ensure we didn't return. The waves were at times reaching 1.8 meters, and slapping Big Sky's stern. Con was tucked comfortably into the pilot house and I was tucked nicely into bed. I was wearing a sea sickness preventative watch which sent pulses through my wrist to hopefully combat the sickness. It wasn't working. Rounding the point to Kokar, Immigration people chased us in their speed boat to inquire with big grins, "From where?"
"Stockholm," Con replied. So many think seeing our big Canadian flag that we just crossed from Canada. We always disappoint. They disappeared. We had sailed for 88.2 nautical miles averaging 7.2 knots. The gale arrived at 12:45 and slamming into Big Sky's starboard. Con had secured her with enough lines that we felt secure enough to roll over and continue sleeping like babies as the gale wailed.
June 17, 2007 -- Our sails collected the winds from the tail end of last night's gale and blew us into Verkan again, as we make our return to Finland to collect our now re-certified life raft. The owner waved us in with a big smile, and before we climbed down he called up, "Welcome back our Canadian friends. I've booked your sauna for 8 pm so you have time to get ready for our party tonight. Please come as our guests." We did and had a blast. An acoustical guitarist played great 70s songs in his really bad English, "Eight-teen, t-ill I die." The owner placed two glasses of wine in front of us, "On the house." I left my seat for a few minutes and Con was fully engaged in an animated conversation with a man who was allegedly telling him funny stories. The only problem was that Con couldn't hear him but he was laughing heartedly. Relieved that I'd returned to translate, I soon realized that he was speaking in Russian. I fake-translated anyway and we laughed 'till we had tears. Walking back to the boat, at 1 a.m., the sun had set about an hour earlier, but the sky was still a light-grey. Five days remain until "Midsummer Day" (first day of summer) where the Scandinavians celebrate with fervor with their all-too-brief summer. Our next journey: Turku, Helsinki, then across the Baltic to Estonia.
June 19, 2007 -- Our last day in Turku, we biked 30K to a Medieval town called Naantali where we watched a number of woman in the market, either gypsies or Laplanders. We filled our drinking-water tanks, after putting a sterilizing agent into the tank. We now hole 1600 litres of water. Tonight, we celebrate our last evening in Turku with Kai and Tuula (Nautical owners/inventor) before sailing toward Helsinki.
June 22, 2007 -- Our wish today would have been not providing such entertainment for the people at the Kasnas dock. Entering the marina, we spotted a potential slip, attached the Finnish stern hook to the buoy, I had secured the bow latter before entering, so Con motored toward the dock. I stepped off (down the latter) with the line and quickly attached it to the windward post. Feeling fairly confident all was well, Con turned off Big Sky, tossed me the lee side line, and climbed onto the dock. About that moment, the wind pushed Big Sky's bumpers into the lee side boat's bumpers. Con quickly grabbed the windward line and we both attempted to pull her for a tighter hold, but in a flash, Con slipped on his bare feet landing directly on his butt, about six inches from doing a perfect Cannonball into the Baltic. "Relic" we called him from the lee side boat watched with a sour look, climbed off his boat to show us as he said, "How it's done" and retied our lines, exactly the way Con had originally done. We thanked him and went inside for a "Rosti," grated potatoes, eggs, cheese, garlic dish and watched Relic catch one white fish after another for his dinner. We'll leave this morning for Hanko.
June 23, 2007 -- Last night was Finland's major holiday celebration "Midsummers Day" in recognition of June 21st, the longest day of the year. Hundreds of kids congregated in Hanko to celebrate by drinking gallons and gallons of beer. They're looking pretty rough today. It's a privilege to live in a foreign country at least once in your life. We're getting to live in different cities, towns, and hamlets every day, and one different country after another. By July, we'll have lived in our fifth new country in three months (Finland, and its autonomous Aland Islands, Sweden, Estonia and Latvia). Everything is a new experience. Grocery shopping is usually a daily event and the stores are the size of a 7-11. Fruits and veggies are purchased at an outdoor market. Eggs are on the counter not refrigerated. There are ten different varieties of potatoes, each one better than the last. Don't get us started on the to-die-for smoked, raw, or pickled fish, meats, breads and then there are always fresh flowers. Packaging is small, for instance, flour is packaged in 1 kilogram rather than 10 kilograms at home. There are no chocolate chips! It's challenging getting the right product, baking soda or baking powder? And following package instructions are nearly impossible. Disco seems to be alive and kicking here. Transportation by bike seems to be more popular than by car and we're not sure, but we think the bikes have the right of way. People do not stop for pedestrians. Trying to operate a cell phone in each country is a new learning each time as it changes. Their 911 is 112. European countries live like neighbours. We listen to radio stations delivering news in Finnish, Swedish, Spanish, and German. It gives us such an appreciation for new Canadians arriving in Canada not knowing the language and culture. English is pretty much spoken by everyone. Oh, and pizza seems to be the national food in Finland and it's good. Con couldn't get over the Rudolf Pizza, but didn't have the heart to eat it.
June 25, 2007 -- By 6 a.m. we were under sail to Helsinki, on a 77-nautical mile course Con set up the night before, and was loving it. Sea sickness made me a lousy first mate. I took the wheel for about two hours and for the rest of the time I concentrated hard not to vomit. The wind blew from behind the sort of sail you must watch closely as it could turn into a jibe with the wind getting behind the sail. The waves were setting up behind us at time three meters high. Big Sky would rise with each wave, as it broke at times against the hull. I waited in anticipating for green wash to fill the cockpit and run through the front door, the companionway door. It didn't.
June 27, 2007 -- In Helsinki. Another cool northern city. We walked through the Helsinki open market and stopped for a plate of fish and new potatoes with dill, served on a flimsy paper plate. We quickly learned that there was dangerous competition for our plate-full of fish. Massive sea gulls lined up like soldiers tucked into the top of the tent showing just their four-inch pencil-like beaks. They had a strategy. One would swoop at the plate, letting their gigantic wings hit their victim's head. The victim would fling their flimsy plate of fish and the rest of the gulls swarmed the goods. Finally settled at the table, guarding my and Con's plate so he could return for napkins, I spotted a gull sneaking up on my plate out of my peripheral vision. He hovered so close that when I turned we were eye to eye. I won.
June 29, 2007 -- We left Helsinki yesterday for Kabbole, a mini sized town with one spot for us, alongside a dock. Thankfully, there was no other boat, so we tied up, turned on the generator and had a bowl of soup, made popcorn and watched a movie on my laptop. Leaving somewhat bright and early because we actually slept in, we sailed a perfect beam reach to Kotka, Finland, just 50 nautical miles from the Russian border. For $17 Euro, we had electricity, water, and internet. The weather has been wet, but when the sun shows itself, we set off touring the pretty city. There were lots of parks and water features.
July 1, 2007 -- Happy Canada day! This is our last day in Finland, a country which we've totally enjoyed from the people, smoked fish, (for Con the herring), the 19-hour daylight and nightly sauna's. In the morning we'll sail south to Estonia.
July 3, 2007 -- Crossing the Baltic Sea we pondered the chaos these waters have seen, especially during WWII with submarines, battleships, mines, and bombers. Our route crossed sketchy areas deemed: "Potential mine fields." The area had been swept in the late 80's as part of a clean-up plan, but not completed. The wind was non-existent, so we motored over the glassy water and about two hours away from Vergi, Estonia, our engine quit. We opened the genoa sail which gave us a 2.5 knot movement. Meanwhile, Con studied the fuel tanks in the engine room. He cleaned out the sludge in the pump and managed to get the engine going again. We entered the shallow narrow entrance of the Vergi Harbour on the NOT suggested entrance route and got stuck in the murky bottom. Con backed us up and we lined up on the correct route tying in a "V" formation between two other boats on the tail-end of the dock. Starved, Con pulled out our bikes and we followed our GPS in the direction of a promised restaurant. The nearest village was four kilometers. Alas, we spotted a rustic outdoor picnic-like restaurant. Con flashed euro to the waitress, which she shook her head saying, "Kroons only." He flashed a visa, and she shook her head again. Con then went table to table asking if anyone could exchange Euro for Kroon. We had many strange looks and some wouldn't even look at us. Finally, a friendly German man seated to the far right smiled, "Sure," and ushered us over.
July 5, 2007 -- Our next stop, a marina located in Pirita a small beach community within biking distance to Taillon. We're staying a stones' throw from the 1980 Olympic torch. This marina was built for the 1980 Olympics held in Moscow, Russia, as Estonia was at that time under Russian rule. We biked from Pirita to Taillon and roamed around the Medieval "Old Town". The Estonians are celebrating Medieval Week in Taillon and all the merchants are dressed in peasant to Maid Mariam and Robin Hood clothing. We woke to blood spots in the bed near Con's feet. Don't know what that's about. I scrubbed out the blood and hung the sheets to dry. (After waking up a few mornings in a row with fresh blood on the sheets, I had Con strip so I could check his body. Nothing. I carefully took the bed apart and just as I was about to remove a black dot-sized mark with my fingers, it jumped. We had a flea in the bed! I captured it in a cup and tossed it out the window. No more blood. My dad laughed so hard, "That's a flea for sure Barb! They can jump like a son-of-a-gun." We must have picked it up from the ranch.)
July 6, 2007 -- Con was the hero of the marina! A group of people arrived about 10 am from an overnight sail from Helsinki. They hooked their line on a buoy sharing it with another boat, and proceeded to back over their line causing their propeller to seize with a major chunk of the line winding tightly around the shaft. About a dozen people, including Con tried to keep the boat from smashing into other boats including ours. Con called to the captain, "Someone is going to have to go in the water." The captain turned white and looked quite dumbfounded. Con turned to me, "Barb, get my snorkel." Thirty minutes later, in 15 degree water, Con dove under the boat and after several dives returning to the surface coughing and spitting, I could see that his skin was turning blue believing hypothermia was setting in. The boat beside us was owned by a doctor and his wife who asked concerned, "Are there any health issues we should know about your husband?" I responded, "Yes! He won't quit until the job is done!" He managed to untangle the line and I wrapped a white towel around him leading him to our hot shower. His towel was covered in BLUE antifouling from the bottom of their boat.
July 7, 2007 -- Albertine arrived yesterday, and her luggage followed a day later. We're docked beside the 1980 Olympic Flame, accessible to all tourists and people walking by. Last night, we stayed up talking in the pilot house until nearly midnight. About 11:45 p.m., we heard a loud crash and joked about our motorboat neighbours having a wild party. Turns out they were robbed of everything, including his dirty underwear! They arrived by boat, used the fire extinguisher and broke the main window or door and unloaded their stuff. Now, everyone is looking suspicious to me. A woman walked by with her companion taking pictures of Big Sky with her camera poised low at her hip so we couldn't see that she was taking photos. I stepped outside with my camera and took a picture of her. She gave me a really odd look.
July 9, 2007 -- Oops, the bathroom window was left open in the night leaving a giant puddle on the floor. The mechanic arrived to look at our engine and generator. They both stopped working. Turns out they ran out of diesel. The key is to change tanks BEFORE the tank is empty and prime it. We didn't. We untied, and motored to the tax-free pump and within 20 minutes, put $10,000 EEK (CND$1000) on our Visa for the diesel. We spent the rest of the day hiking from one bus stop to another dodging serious puddles and tidal waves of splashes from the vehicles. Yesterday, Con and Albertine set out on foot and captured these photos. Tallinn, Estonia's capital city has a great mix of old and new history as seen in their architect. The Medieval Old Town is well preserved, and just behind you can see the Russian cold concrete buildings dominating a section of the city. We met a woman yesterday who was so disappointed that we couldn't take her with us across to Canada. She is a second generation implanted Russian during the time when Russian tried to Russificate Estonia. Tallinn has 400,000 people living within the small city, which makes it feel a lot like a busy village.
July 10, 2007-- On route to Lohusalu, the largest hornet I've witnessed landed on the boat, a foot from Con. He's about 4-5 cm. Later we learned that they are endangered in Germany and there's a 50,000 euro fine if you kill one. We're watched all the time! Leaving Pirita (Tallinn's marina) the coast guard called us this morning on Channel 16 "Big Sky Big Sky Big Sky, this is the Coast Guard, turn to Channel 20. Destination? Last port?"
July 13, 2007 -- We left our tight slip at Lehtma, Estonia where yesterday we'd blown in on a 27 knot wind to a tricky tie up. Big Sky kept bashing the boat beside us, and while Con used the bow thruster, to keep her in place, Albertine and I quickly tied all our bumpers to that side of the boat. For added affect, our stern line got caught under our hanging anchor creating another difficult situation which we overcame. Con pulled a spring line on our starboard side to the dock and we settled in for dinner. A few moments later, another boat came at a quick clip running over our spring line. Having let that line and our bow line go, you can imagine that we had a bit of fun trying to settle her back at the dock. About 11 p.m., Albertine and I were cozy in the pilot house watching "Ray" when to our amazement, a 16 meter wide yacht attempted to squeeze into about a 1/2 foot space to our right, exactly where the boat earlier that evening successfully attempted to squeeze in!
July 14, 2007 -- We motored 100.6 nautical miles arriving on the Estonia Island of Saaremaa near the castle. Our journey took us over marsh land, where they'd warned that it was really shallow in parts. Our keel dragged through 1.9 (we're 2.1) meters. Sea gulls lined up on each side of the rocks six meters to our right and left to watch. We toured the Kuressaare Castle, the only entirely preserved medieval stone castle in all of the Baltics with a beautiful moat surrounding it. On the tall slope overlooking the moat we watched a mother swallow feeding her babies. Con got very close to the baby.
July 15, 2007 -- We rented a car today, the Harbour Master's friend’s car to tour Saaremaa Island.
The Kaali Meteorite Craters. The Kaarma Church, where swallows were waiting to be fed at the church front doors.
July 17, 2007 -- We left the island at 6:00 pm for an overnight sail to Riga, Latvia. Con, Albertine and I sharing two-hour shifts. We sailed half the way, motored the rest. Not another vessel was seen that night, except a Swedish-flagged sail boat that crossed very close to my stern. The northern night was another beautiful one, leaving a full peach-tangerine skyline in the west when the sun set. During my shift a bright lime-green star fell into the sea to the east. Such a simple thing left me with such joy. Our life-pace has slowed down and we're enjoying the world!
July 19, 2007 -- Latvia could house the most beautiful young women in the world and they remind you of that by the way they dress. See-through tops, shortest of short skirts or shorts with legs that stretch to their armpits. By contrast, some of the older woman who lived through the Soviet occupation look rather worn out.
Generally the people speak English and are friendly. Tourism is just taking off in Latvia and Riga should be popular soon. Things are twice the price than in Estonia, but are close to par for Euro1.50€. One Lat is worth CND$2. Last night, we attended an Organ Concert at the Dome Church below. Huge sound generated by one man. A beautiful Lativan building with a Soviet constructed concrete building built to its side and on the roof.
July 20, 2007 -- We arrived at Roja for dinner after a 12-hour motor/sail from Riga. It's a commercial fishing harbour at the mouth of the Roja River. Albertine flies home from Riga, and found a flight from Leipaja to Riga for LAT$1 and bought it on the spot. (That's CND$2!) including a coffee and cookie.
July 22, 2007 -- We took a touring break to scrub down Big Sky in the sun. Big Sky was moored right under the bridge and as people crossed they called out, "Canada! Welcome!" They want to hear about our journey across the Atlantic from Canada. We, of course, didn't do that. We untied, setting sail to Ventspils, a major oil terminal and one of the richest town located on the west side of Latvia. As we arrived, the Harbour Master called out "Use your anchor" to which Con and I both caught ourselves in an "ahh" moment. We hadn't tried the stern anchor yet. I took the wheel, Con pulled the clip from the anchor and let it drop at a precise spot, and I motored bow to the dock. Albertine tossed the lines. We were secure for the 35-40 knots expected that night.
The Soviets had built Ventspils as an industrial and oil and gas center. The pipelines have dried up, as a result of the bad relations between Russians and Latvians, putting the little town's future into jeopardy. The city's wealth is visible in the manicured parks, tidy streets and renovated buildings.
July 23, 2007 -- The gale had arrived as predicted and as we sat down for supper, we heard Big Sky's bow hit the dock with a bang. We scrambled topside. Albertine at the bow lines, me at the stern anchor and Con at the wheel. Albertine untied, as the crowd of onlookers gathered. There were sympathetic concerns on their faces as no one wished to untie at this point of the storm. Con slowly backed up, as I pushed the anchor "up" button -- it stopped. Stuck! Con and I switched places as he tried to trick the electric button into lifting that heavy anchor. Meanwhile, Big Sky was in the centre of the harbour as I danced with the forward, reverse, bow thruster "left," bow thruster "right," trying to encourage the anchor to lift. The Harbour Master called, "There's an old cable in the harbour, you're stuck on it!"
"Old Table?" Con scratched his head looking at me for confirmation. I corrected him, and he called back, "Take her back to the dock." Turning Big Sky I aimed her for the dock on an angle in order to work with the strong wind. Every so carefully, using the bow thruster, I eased her left and right as boat owners stood guard over their boats. Con tightened up the anchor as best he could, knowing we were stuck on the old cable and walked forward giving me encouragement as he passed me at the helm. Albertine and Con tossed the lines to the eight or so men waiting to help. The storm was persistently trying to make fools of us, but thank God Big Sky responded to the bow thruster and forward/reverse motions I gave her; she made me look like a pro! The Border Guards applauded from their ship just behind and to my starboard, then applause from the people on the dock. Once secure, I walked forward to see how I did and one of the men called out to me "Good job Skipper!" I told Con that he may not be able to stand my ego for the next little while. A diver from another boat told Con he'd go down and check it because "We're sea brothers." Thank God Con didn't volunteer for THAT job.
July 24, 2007 -- First thing this morning, our "sea brother" the diver arrived to free Big Sky's anchor from the cable.
July 25, 2007 -- What a way to take Albertine on her last sail with Big Sky, reaching an average of 7.1 with speeds reaching 9.2 knots on our sail to Liepaja. We had a steady beam reach with 22-25 knot winds cutting our sailing time almost in half. This was our best sail yet, in terms of sustained speed. If the sun had shone, it would have been perfect! The docking was perfect, the harbour facilities superb. Latvian's seem to have forgiven the Soviets for their occupation. They have just achieved their independence -- again -- and quickly secured their position with the European Union to have a western identity, moving them further from the Russian sphere of influence. Con spoke with the Harbour Master in Ventspils, a 30-year old entrepreneur who shared an intimate conversation of the subject. In his opinion, the current situation is not correctly reported in the media and that there is no animosity between the remaining Russians and the Latvians. The change to independence has resulted in many positives for the country and its people with the only negative remaining from that period, the corruption. One can clearly distinguish between the old Latvian architect and the colourless, dull Russian concrete four-walls and a roof styled buildings. Many of which are former factories are today empty. Today, they have many national parks and two blue-flag beaches (which is a high standard of cleanliness). We've watched families visiting the forests to pick berries and mushrooms. Many homes have well-kept gardens with flowers and vegetables. Latvia and Estonia in our opinion look and feel very authentic, without a lot of western influence and tourism. In the small towns, we were able to have a nice meal with appetizers and wine and the three of us spending less than CND$50.
July 27, 2007 -- Albertine left this morning after great longs hugs. It was a special time for the three of us to experience this unique part of the world, where time seems to have stood still during the Soviet occupation, and a place where tourists really haven't discovered -- yet. (Other than the major centres like Riga and Tallinn.) The Estonians and Latvians are wonderful people, set to the task of restoring their once beautiful countries. The young women are gorgeous, with long legs, long hair, slim bodies. It was not unusual for us to walk up to a church built in the 1300's and see it without the influence of touristy things. We could explore areas that we believe would have normally been closed off to the public. We ate authentic Baltic foods, shopped in their local markets, and visited their unrestored sites to be able to see and feel the contrasts of yesterday's Baltics, the Soviet period, and today. Con and I are spending the day charting our next few weeks where we'll connect with Lindsey and Courtney September 1st. We anticipate a series of longer sailing days.
July 28, 2007 -- We suspected a rough sea as we neared the Liepaja protective breakwater. Just 50 meters from the exit, and the large rolling waves were already mounting. They were crashing into the outside breakwater and soaring at least 20 meters high. We safely exited and Con let the main up to reef it close for stability, then let out the jib, which sent our speed to about 7 knots on a very close haul. The wind was registering 30 knots. That's the most we've had yet. This was not a day for the fair-weather sailor. After about an hour, the waves were breaking starboard and some making their way into our cockpit. A few even broke on top of our dodger! Con tucked himself comfortably under the dodger in the cockpit, I took a position laying on the pilot house cushions, and with Big Sky on autopilot, letting her do all the work. Nearly eight hours later, we tied to the Klaipeda inner harbour dock, having traveled 51.2 nautical miles. Con was called four times on the VHF to confirm the name of our vessel and our location. It's good to know the Coast Guard is always there. We heard a "Man Overboard" message, not a nice time to be in the sea. They got him out. Tough sailing day. The annual Klaipeda Festival of the Sea is on, with bands playing right outside our bow. We need to wash the salt out of our hair and go check it out.
July 29, 2007 -- The Festival of the Sea continued today in Klaipeda. The theme in the Baltics seems to have been beer and beautiful women with very short skirts. Most of the people in the Baltics are Caucasian. We've seen one black woman (from the USA), and maybe two oriental (and they were probably tourists too). Obesity is rare. Unfortunately, alcohol has played a bad role in this society and it's not unusual to see people staggering down the street with beer in their hands (young and old). We even saw a young couple pouring beer into their baby's bottle. The winds are just right for our departure tonight for Poland. This will be our longest sail yet, 140 nautical miles. Con and I will take shifts throughout the day and night and we hope to arrive around 8 pm tomorrow. It's a long passage, because we have to cross the Russian border south of us (and we do not have permission to stop there) then make our way west to Poland.
July 31, 2007 -- Yesterday's sail from Klaipeda to Gydnia, Poland was the wildest ride yet. At times, we were sailing through 35 knot winds, with Big Sky pounding into waves that peaked about 5 meters high and her bow lifting 3 meters in the air before banging on the waves. Twice, I had to go out on the deck to secure the lines (ropes). Con had to concede that if one of us was tossed over, it better be me, as Con could collect me faster than I'd collect him. The starboard bow line had gone overboard and was dragging in the water. The danger is that it could drag and get into the propeller. Wearing my Gill storm suit and life jacket, I left the cockpit, keeping my knees bent and carefully moved forward, one hand on the rail, and other on the pilot house handles. Seven steps remained where I'd have just one arm on the rail with nothing else to hold. Big Sky was lifting high with a very large wave just as I reached the line. With a loud bash it came down on the wave, causing the sea to rush over the bow and under my feet. I held tight. When Big Sky started to lift again, I quickly pulled in the line and waited for the bash again. It pounded down, the sea rushing past my feet. Big Sky was lifting the third time, as I tied the lines onto the cleat, and turned to make my way back to the cockpit, completely soaked. The next challenge was changing my clothes while Big Sky was pounding the waves. The tasks completed, we both settled inside the pilot house with the boat on auto pilot. Taking two-hour shifts through the night, watching the wind and traffic, it was a rough night. Only two ships passed, but one was incredibly close. As dawn was breaking, the wind was just right and we set some sail, but not for long. The wind shot up as our speeds reached 9.5 knots. Con reefed to avoid the crazy heeling. But, the reefing turned into a major task against the wind. Turning Big Sky into the wind to free the pressure on the sail made for loud violent flapping. We reefed the jib port side, but the starboard lines had tangled wildly around the jib line and would have to be cleared. This time, I put on the harness and hooked myself to the rail and went out on the heeling side, with the water rushing past my feet just a foot below. I managed to unravel the mess and the next challenge was climbing back into the cockpit with the wind pushing me so hard. The harness lines are a double clip system, so when I unclipped to move to a new location, the second clip is in place.
After seventeen hours on the sea, we arrived at Gydnia by 2 pm and starved, not having eaten since our departure. We had a bowl of chicken soup and a sandwich, collapsing into a dead sleep for a few hours. Waking still hungry we set off by bike in the pouring rain to eat authentic Polish food at a restaurant. It was good.
August 1, 2007 -- We arrived in Gdansk, Poland
Our jib had split at the seams and we had it repaired in Gdansk. After Con and I both tried to go up in the Bossom chair, which we both failed at, the female harbour master along with the help of the sail maker, Con and me managed to get the jib down. Something wasn't right with the hardware as it was sticking. When Con tried going up the Bossom chair, he got part-way up and was laying on his back in the chair. Not the way it's designed. Visiting the gorgeous city of Gydnia, the City of Freedom, where in 1989, Lech Walesa, the Solidarity leader started Central Europe on its road to freedom in a peaceful manner.
August 4, 2007 -- We have crossed paths with Concerto, a French-flagged boat owned by Christen whom we first met in Stockholm. We crossed from Lithuania to Poland at the same time as us, during the rough sea keeping in touch a few times by VHF.
August 5, 2007 -- Crossing to Poland, the coast guard called on the VHS "Vessel at (giving the location of Concerto, the French boat pictured below, sailing not too far from us) please respond." After a few attempts and no response the coast guard called us asking for the name of our vessel. Con responded "Bravo, India, Golf, then Sierra, Kilo, Yankee (Big Sky). They called a second time, asking about the boat near us. We said we couldn't make out the name. Then, they called us a third time again, asking if we could see the boat beside us. Con responded "yes." The coast guard asked "what is name of vessel." Con responded, "unknown." The coast guard said, "please spell slowly."
"Uniform, November, Kilo, November, Oscar..." They didn't ask any more questions.
August 6-8, 2007 -- We've had a series of travel days, enjoying the sunshine and the rare east winds on the sea. We departed from Poland in the morning passing kilometers of Poland's crowded beaches. By night, we fell into our two-hour shifts arriving rested the next morning when we to the Danish dock on the island of Bornholm. We'd been on the water for 26 hours.
We stuffed ourselves with the fresh sweetness of the delicious "Danish's" from the bakery, after all, we're in Denmark. Having diverted our original plan to sail to the southern tip of Denmark, we tucked into Warnemunden, Germany. We were definitely having problems with the jib, as we watched with concern the jib rotating and yanking oddly. Con clipped on the harness to investigate at the bow. Turns out the pin was lost causing the jib to twist inside the motor causing damage to the top of the jib pole, our reason for the detour to Germany. Con managed to crank the 23 meters of sail using a six-inch winch. Once the repairs are done, we'll continue to the Kiel Canal (the south west angle in red). The Kiel Canal is a major route that's preferred when making your way to the North Sea. It was a major engineering feat in its day, built in 1895 to take the German fleet through rather than having to go around Denmark. It's 53 nautical miles long, with two locks at each end.
August 9, 10, 2007 -- What luck (in the bad luck) that our genoa motor needed repairs bringing us to Warnemunde, Germany -- the Tall Ships were there. I woke Con and we sprinted to the canal to watch them enter. We filmed the Mexican Tall Ship entering the harbour with about 100 sailors standing on the masts. The motor was repaired by morning, lucky too, since the one and only repair guy was now on vacation. We stocked the fridge, checked the winds, and set a plan to leave at the crack of dawn. It's a bit hard to see on this map below, but we'll leave from the east side of the green line, and will travel to Kiel (centre) and overnight there. Sunday morning, we'll go through the Keil Canal shaving about seven hours off our journey, dumping us into the German Bight. There we'll overnight, in preparation for a few more long days, as we make our way to Holland.
August 12-14, 2007 -- We motor/sailed into the North Sea Saturday and had the joy and frustrations of a tidal current. We either gained 2-3 knot speeds or fought 2-3 knots. The Elboe River (the waterway that led us into the German Bight) has drying areas. The tide can lower the sea by up to 3.5 meters so we watch our charts and GPS closely. About 1.5 hours out to sea, we noticed a boat circling so we sailed close to ensure they were okay, and sailed over the lilies and quite likely the ashes, a funeral. Our sail to Holland was a planned 29-hour trek, as there are no places to pull in for the night because of the many shallows near land. We've conditioned ourselves for the long sailing periods, but they're still challenging. Con generally fusses with the sails during the day, and we both do lookout. At night, we take two-hour shifts and over a 14-hour period. Our sailing and motoring is done on the inside. Just leaving Cuxhaven; dredging the sea for boats to enter Den Helder (sea gulls are everywhere as the fish and sea bottom dwellers are thrown up).
Arriving at Den Helder around 3 p.m., we showered and found a nice restaurant to celebrate our anniversary. Three years ago we married in our sunny floral backyard with our four daughters standing up as witnesses.
August 16, 2007 -- The weather report stated: "rain in the morning, strong winds tapering off by noon and clearing trends with afternoon Beaufort 3-4 winds." Since we'd waited a day for better weather, this sounded perfect. Were they wrong!
I motored out of the protected marina at 11:30 am with high tide, thank God, as I nearly went into the shallows! "Head toward the ferry," Con said, and I didn't. Instead, fiddled with the GPS for a fix seeing immediately that Con was exactly right! If we had low tide, we'd have been keel into the beach. It was a nasty weather day. The waves were high and the winds blowing Beaufort 6 & 7, and 8 & 9! The Beaufort Scale goes from 1 - 10. One is a smooth sea, light breeze; 10 is a storm with very severe conditions. The wind went from strong breeze, 22-27 knots to a strong gale with 41-47 knots. The waves were mounting higher and higher now breaking on the top of the pilot house. The wind continued to howl. During our five-hour trip, we listened to five Search and Rescues on VHF 16. One couple had their line caught in their propeller; an inland freighter loaded with sand took on too much water and sunk; an illegal stowaway jumped overboard, believing he'd been discovered; and two others that we could only hear Search and Rescue, but not their problems.
Safely tied at the Ijmeiden Harbour, we'll be joined in the morning by Con's 91-year-old mom, two sisters, and a brother and picnic for five to six hours as we sail past the country side into the heart of Amsterdam. Ijmeiden is at the mouth of the Nordzee Canal, a protected waterway with locks to protect The Netherlands from being buried by the North Sea.
August 18, 2007 -- At exactly 9 am as planned, the Sprenger family arrived with arms full of food, gifts, and flowers. Jan kindly drove Nomie, Geert, Anna and Albertine to Ijmuiden, but couldn't join us as someone had to do the land-travel. Nomie, curious about everything on Big Sky, quickly moved in on Geert behind the wheel and took her turn at navigating us down the Nordzee Canal. (We traveled the inland route below.) It was an almost perfect day, with the rain holding off until our arrival at Muiden.
Docking was crazy difficult. Not knowing what the protocol was for docking, and with Geert at the stern, Albertine at the bow, me standing with the boat hook ready to catch the line in the water that's attached to the dolphin pole, Con expertly backed Big Sky into the slip. He was holding it steady with the cross wind, when our keel "parked" itself about a meter from the dock, as it was too shallow for us. We did our best to tie up, despite the many comments from the lady Harbour Master shouting in Dutch about what we should be doing instead of what we were doing. All ended well, we went inside for Happy Hour.
August 20, 2007 -- Frans, Marianne, and Robin joined us for lunch. Robin is our youngest visitor -- so far. He was busy counting all the winches, feeding the ducks, checking out all the equipment, jib lines and the engine room.
August 24, 2007 -- We're in the MacDonalds Restaurant, quite possibly the only WiFi location in Ostende, Belgium. Despite arriving late last night, we could see we were moored in a great spot, with the main town right in front of us and a spectacular Tall Ship right behind us. Belgium, our eleventh country -- so far -- and another beautiful one, clean and friendly. Ostende has a marvelous beach promenade with wide sidewalks, stores, beach property for rent facing the North Sea, and hundreds of beach sheds line the beach. People rent them for a few weeks to store their beach toys and chairs, etc. They show up rain or shine, pull out the chairs and enjoy the day. The weather has been poor in Europe, overcast, rain off and on, and cooler days. We'll stay for a few days, then cross the English Channel to pick up Lindsey and Courtney at the end of the month.
August 26, 2007 -- With a few days to spare before crossing the English Channel to Brighton, England to pick up Lindsey and Courtney, we decided to be tourists again. With our tight schedule, touring has become a luxury. By train, we visited Brugge (about 20 minutes from Ostende) and arrived in one of the most beautiful cities we've visited.
Our luck, the city was celebrating the "Pageant of the Golden Tree," a well done theatre production in the form of a parade. The central theme is the "Tournament of the Golden Tree" which was organized in 1468 in the Market square on the occasion of the wedding of Charles the Bold, Count of Flanders and Duke of Burgundy, with the English Princess Margaret of York. There are more than 2000 actors, 6 giants and 12 floats. The absence of floats and the real-life acting is what made the parade so enjoyable.
August 27, 2007 -- Up at 6:30, we biked to the train station, folded up our bikes and took a seat on the train for Lille, France, 150 miles from Ostende and about two hours by train. We forgot the camera! Lille is a spectacular compact city, and for us, a great introduction to France. It's the birthplace of Charles de Gaulle and Louis Pasteur. The centre of the city is made up of beautiful old buildings with architecture dating back many centuries. There was a fantastic citadel from Napoleonic times. We loved the busy cobblestone paved streets filled with local people enjoying outside brasseries (cafes) and the many different shops. Croix, France was just an 8 kilometer bike ride from Lille, so we biked to the Victoria Yachting store and placed our purchase for special-order sheets for Big Sky. We've had their catalogue for over a year, so it was great to be able to walk into their only store. Con made Belgium Endives for dinner, (it's under the Dutch cheese sauce pictured above). The dark thing is delicious, a Dutch and Belgium dish called "Blind Finch." And, while in France, French fries.
August 29, 2007 -- Con narrated a section of our trip to France. Our first full day in France, and without much surprise, this is the only country (in the 11 we've visited) where the English language isn't spoken by the locals. Con's high school French along with sign language gets us whatever we need. Being raised in Europe, Con can get by speaking German, French, Flemish (Belgium) Dutch and English. We walked all over the downtown "old" section of Boulogne-sur-Mer, France buying fresh foods from the market and taking it back to Big Sky for a picnic in the cockpit. The tides here are astounding. We arrived at low tide yesterday and by 3 am. the sea had risen nearly 30 feet! The hike up to the street level during low tide is a full workout!
September 1, 2007 -- A test of patience! Waiting to see Courtney and Lindsey again after 4 1/2 months of separation. Their plane touches down at 1:30 pm at Heathrow. From there, they're take the subway to the Victoria Train Station, where for 22 pounds (about $50 Canadian!) locked their luggage for the next three hours to tour London. They'll take a train from London to Brighton where we'll be waiting (close to 9 pm).
It was the sweetest reunion. The click click click of their bags rolling on the wooden walkway built over the crashing ocean was the best sound. I ran to the sound and there they were. The three of us hugged not wanting to let go. Con joined us after we'd had our fill. We talked till midnight and then were up at the crack of dawn to depart England for Dieppe, France. Our sail was perfect, reaching about 9.5 knots at times, on a perfect broad reach. It took us nearly 10 hours.
September 2, 2007 --The day couldn't be more perfect for a sail. We barely left the Brighton, England harbour and we were able to set our sails for a broad reach to Dieppe. Big Sky averaged 7.5 knot per hour, and the sun came out a few times, it couldn't be a better day to help Lindsey and Courtney get over their jet lag. Courtney took the wheel, once Con took down the sails and she drove us through the choppy waves in through the busy breakwater entrance, and then into the harbour, handing over the wheel to Con just as we were about to pull up to the dock. I was impressed. Lindsey put out the bumpers and expertly threw the lines to a couple of men standing at the dock. No one would have known it was their first sailing experience! Big Sky barely settled from being tied up, and they were out and roaming the beautiful quaint streets.
September 4, 2007 -- The four of us walked all over Dieppe yesterday. It was windy. We ended the night with a great dinner, a game of dice, and a final walk around Dieppe in the evening and stopped for a caffeine buzz at midnight in an open cafe patio. Con's French let us down, when he ordered coffee with ice cream in it, and an expresso and a glass of ice arrived.
We set sail at 8 am, Lindsey at the helm through three meter high waves at the breakwater.
September 5, 2007 -- Con made an early visit to the boulangrie (bakery) for our breakfast and we left Dieppe at 7 a.m., arriving at FeCamp during high tide. Courtney drove us into the harbour again. We hiked around the quaint little town, and spotted a small cafe/bar to return to for dinner. We were celebrating Con and my 4th month on Big Sky. Leaving FeCamp around 9 a.m., we motor/sailed to Deauville seeing some of the most beautiful sites along the way.
September 8, 2007 -- Finally, a sunny day! A perfect day for motoring back up the Caen Canal to Ouistreham, a touristy town just inside the lock that separates us from the English Channel. Tomorrow we set sail to St. Vaast-La-Hougue, about 45 nautical miles. Con and Lindsey checked the tide tables and we're planning our arrival for 7:30 p.m. Any sooner, and we'd be on the beach, as it's a drying area. Just before leaving Caen, Lindsey and Courtney came in the door with sun flowers... my favorites. We arrived at Deauville, France just at high tide to go through the lock. There were just inches to spare between Big Sky and the silted bottom. Con took out the bikes and we all explored the cool town. That night, we celebrated Lindsey and Courtney's birthdays (Sept. 18 & Oct. 4th) because we won't be together on those dates. They left for downtown at 7:30 to catch Ben Affleck and other actors walking the red carpet.
Lindsey and Con studied the tide tables and meticulously timed our departure from Deauville at 6:30 a.m. to exit through the lock and safely through the drying area. By 6:40 a.m. the tide was seven minutes from its highest tide. It was still dark, as the sun had not yet risen. I stood at the bow to direct Con in the dark, and he carefully motored out of the precarious channel. Big Sky's keel swiftly smudged right into the muddy bottom. Con had Big Sky's engine at full blast, with the bow thruster revving, but still no movement. We were two minutes to the crest of the highest tide point, and it would quickly start falling again. Con continued with the bow thruster and engine and it began to rock its way out of the silted bottom. We were moving! The depth reader numbers started to rise. What a fright! High tide again would not be until 5 p.m. that night. The area we were stuck will completely dry during low tide. There's no telling how Big Sky will react to a rising tide (had we been stuck). We were two minutes from knowing. Thankfully, we were freed and may never know. We ended our day playing a crazy card game until midnight.
September 9, 2007 -- Traveling along the coast of Normandy is an experience in WWII history. Everywhere we go, there is evidence of the horrific destruction, the many beaches that saw the D-Day landings. Touring the Men's Monastery, built in 1066 or so, you could clearly see the bullet hole destruction and the evidence of the bombing is clearly visible in the reconstruction. The only structures that remained were the stone churches, everything else was flattened. Everywhere are plaques listing the dead from both WWI and WWII. The Memorial de Caen was a powerful and deep journey of the wars with letters, videos and tapes from all countries. One eerie letter written by a young German soldier to his aunt said "the poor sods just kept coming onto the beach and we took them out... 3000 of them and no casualties for us. Some of them pretended to be dead and laid on the beach... when the tide came in, they had to move, so we picked them off too."
September 10, 2007 -- Yesterday, we left a small town located at the lock, situated just inside the English Channel. We thought we were getting pretty good at maneuvering Big Sky in and out of those locks, as there are four of us. Big Sky is hard to settle sometimes, and when the maneuvering means grabbing a cable with a poking stick to hold 26 tons with a current running, it gets a little tricky. Con drove us into the lock, Courtney reached as far as she could at the stern and managed to hook on, however, there was no cable for Lindsey within reach at the bow. The current kept moving Big Sky away from the wall. We could hear Courtney's voice saying calmly "I can't hold it, I can't hold it," and when we looked, half of her body was hanging over the boat as she struggled to hold Big Sky with the stick. It was either Courtney overboard, or the stick, so she let it drop.
Others sailors were tied on and seemed to be enjoying the show. Con tried the landing another time, this time close enough so I could exit to the top of the lock and tie her with the lines. Courtney used another hook and rescued the pole. The locks are not as easy as they look.
September 11, 2007 -- Arriving at Cherbourg yesterday, we discovered a major problem with the water pressure accompanied by the sound of running water (into the bilge). We were not sure what the problem was, so Con tried to hire a marine expert to fix it, but he wasn't available until Thursday. Instead, we put our heads together and (down a few tiny spaces) and isolated the problem, a broken hot water hose behind the guest toilet. Con contorted his body to fit into tiny crevasse and managed to replace the hose for just $21 Euro. We decided we should all go out for a really nice French cuisine dinner to celebrate. Earlier in the afternoon, Customs and Immigration were having their way with a boat loaded with young people. The drug-sniffing dog was working hard to find something, but they went away empty handed. Lindsey and Con are continually navigating on water and on land.
September 12, 2007 -- With just a few more days together, we had a picnic in the cockpit, then set off for The Channel Islands, and will find a spot on Guernsey, an English Island. It was a hot, about 27 degrees on the bow of the boat while underway.
The current pushed us at times up to 4 knots so little effort was needed to get there. Con thought it would be a great day to check the sacrificial anodes located under the boat, so Lindsey stopped the engine and Con took a swim. Courtney had planned to check our life jackets, but chickened out. Anodes were good.
September 14, 2007 -- We had 11.5 hours of sailing with the sunshine warming Big Sky enough for sun bathing on the bow while underway. Arriving at Granville, we timed our entrance into the harbour perfectly, as the entrance dries to a height of three meters above sea level. In other words, outside our marina entrance the land is dry; every 12 hours, the tide rises 36 feet. This makes for tricky sailing, but Con and Lindsey thoroughly study the charts for tides and currents before we set out so there are no surprises upon arrival or on departure.
September 16, 2007 -- We said "good bye" today to Lindsey and Courtney, knowing that we'd be together again in December. It was the most fantastic holiday together! See photo album
Together, they toured London, England, then connected with us in Brighton, England and continued on exploring Dieppe, Fecamp, Deauville, Caen, Ouistreham, St Vaast-La-Hougue, Cherbourg, St. Peters Port, (an English island), and finally Granville, France. We've had some of our best sails with sunshine and perfect winds, and our scariest moments when we got stuck in the silty marina entrance just as the tide was falling. We've seen Napoleon's stronghold where he had hoped to launch his attack on England; William the Conqueror's castle; beautiful churches that survived the war; and remnants of others that did not. We visited a brilliantly done WWII Memorial Museum, walked under and on top of the beautiful white cliffs, and sailed past the D-Day beaches. We've seen the red carpet and paparazzi as they swarmed Ben Affleck in Deauville and listened to "Never Say Never" beach their huge 62 foot yacht on the rocks outside St. Peters Port.
The best part of the time by far was just the simple moments we shared together. I miss them already! They brought a special light and joy to Big Sky while they were here.
September 17, 2007 -- We delivered Lindsey and Courtney to Charles de Gaulle airport for a 1:30 p.m. flight, and picked up Kris and Brit who arrived at 1 p.m. that same time. It took a while to get sorted out as we kept leaving the highway for dirt roads. We'd set the route on the GPS but learned it was set to bike path.
September 18, 2007 -- I woke early to get to the internet to send Lindsey a birthday greeting. Happy 27th Birthday Lindsey!
Brit, Kris, Con and I spent the day touring Normandy by car. We drove to Bayeux, situated just behind the D-Day beaches, an incredibly well preserved small old town, with one of the most beautiful churches we've seen. We drove to Juno Beach where on June 6th, 1944, the Canadians experienced one of the most critical battles of WWII. We followed up our visit to the Canadian cemetery, where row after row of white marble stones marked the deaths. It was emotional reading the etching on the stones, many written by the mothers to their lost sons, so many in their early 20's.Canada had declared War on Germany on September 10, 1939 and was terribly unprepared for any military conflict, but nevertheless, sent over 16,000 men.
My dad's dad George Evans was one of those men. He was a farmer by trade and gave dedicated service in both WWII and WWI. Kris' grandfather was one of the survivors who landed on Juno Beach that June. We owe our freedom to these men and so many other people who served and died in the wars.
The Allies had realized that to knock out Germany they would need to launch a cross-Channel invasion of France. The remnants of the many German bunkers dot the beaches today. They say that the most astonishing thing about the invasion was the fact that the greatest armada of ships ever to leave Great Britain sailed 140 km across the English Channel towards German-occupied France without being detected. Last night, the wind kicked up to 31 knots in the marina, so we decided to stay in Granville another day. In the morning, the sun shone brightly. We just finished breakfast, when Con spotted Christian's boat coming into the harbour past us. We have been crossing paths with Christian since our wild ride to Poland. We shared a drink tonight before he left for home -- Paris.
September 19, 2007 -- The waves were a bit too bumpy for pregnant Brit as we just set out from Granville to St. Malo, a 3.5 hour motor. The last few days, the wind had been kicking up the water, so it wasn't a surprise that we met with one meter choppy waves. After about an hour of anticipating the worst, Brit relaxed and cozied up to a magazine. Kris in his usual style, was curious about everything and he and Con chatted most of the way. Unfortunately, at the 3/4 mark, Kris couldn't escape the first round of sea sickness and remedied it by lying flat in the pilot house. St. Malo is the home of explorer Jacques Cartier who explored Canada.
September 21, 2007 -- With dawn just breaking, (6 a.m.) Kris took the helm as we motored out of Saint Malo toward Paimpol for what we anticipated to be an uneventful sail. About 10 a.m., Brit rolled out of bed to be greeted by the Border Patrol who snuck up behind us and announcing that they'd be "boarding immediately." After going through all our papers, they were satisfied that our VAT (European taxes) have been paid and promptly left with a friendly wave. The scenery was beautiful, the wind was perfect for a good sail. About a minute and a half into the sail Brit was overwhelmed by the heeling and Con promptly took the sails down and we motored toward Paimpol.
Ironically, we were entering Paimpol at the lowest high tide of the year! At least three times, our 2.2 keel slugged through 2.1 meters as we stirred up the mud. Big Sky finally planted itself in 1.8 meters, but Con used the bow thruster and managed to get us through that one and into the lock. There was no need to hold tight inside the lock, as we barely entered and Big Sky stopped in 2.0 meters. With just one spot available, in the marina, we tied on. It's just about 2 p.m. and we'll have lunch and set out to explore the quaint little cobblestone town.
Paimpol is a working fishing port that once set huge cod and whaling fleets to fish off Iceland and Newfoundland. Boys as young as 12 years old went to Newfoundland's Grand Banks, returning as young men.
September 22, 2007 -- An interesting little dilemma we're finding ourselves in... We entered Paimpol at the lowest high tide, our 2.2 keel is now sitting in 2 meters at the deepest part of the marina. We're hoping that later today, but more likely tomorrow the water level will rise and we can venture out to the sea. We need to remain within the river that flows within the sea, so our route out to deep water meanders. This picture is at low tide.
September 23, 2007 -- We've scouted our route out through the river bed once high tide rushes in (about 3:30 p.m.) and we'll make our way to Lezardrieux, a two-hour or so trip. This morning, Brit, Kris and Con took in a catholic church service where 150 people participated. Our overnight stay in Paimpol had turned into a 2 1/2 day visit, as Big Sky sank a foot into the silty shallows of the marina. If there was a Brittany town to be "stuck" in, it's the maritime and historic fishing town of Paimpol.
September 24, 2007 -- Kris had a good taste of the Atlantic Ocean (literally) as he drove us to Treguier in very rough seas, soaking him a number of times. We were experiencing extremely rough waters that registered a Beaufort 7 (30 - 33 knot winds). These were some of the largest waves we've ever seen! To add even more excitement to the day, with Con behind the wheel, we wound our way down the river bed toward the marina. Kris called out to Con "aren't those rocks a little close?" to which he slowed down to investigate when a moment later, our keel hit with a loud bang and jolt as we scraped over rocks beside the marker. We later learned it took a big bite out of our keel. We needed to enter Treguier at low tide, as the current is too strong otherwise, but that makes for tricky navigation through shallows. When we tied up, we checked the temperature -- 19.2 degrees. Con put on his snorkel and went down to have a look. Unfortunately, the low tide created murky waters making it too difficult to see the keel. We'll check with the harbour master for an available diver who can go down and check it out. The near gale conditions are expected to remain for a few days, so we'll remain in this little historic town. Treguier's Cathedral dates back to 1339. St. Yves the patron saint of lawyers and defenders was buried there and his scull is on display. Duke Jean V had this chapel built in order to be buried next to St. Yves. The church is surrounded by wooden 15th - 17th century houses a few bakeries and a dozen hair salons, but try to find a grocery store!
September 26, 2007 -- We surveyed the weather situation and once again, it's too rough to depart. The winds are averaging 25-30 knots with gusts up to 40. Ironically, Brit is the one that doesn't enjoy sailing and we've had the worst weather conditions. We explored the Treguier market this morning and this afternoon, Con rented a car so we can tour the Tregor region for the next few days. Last night, Con tried to catch mackerel for dinner without success. Brit and Kris had crepes.
September 29, 2007 -- Brit and Kris leave. We drove to the Rennes train station, leaving Big Sky at 3:30 a.m. to get them there for their 6:10 a.m. departure with minutes to spare. On the way, we received a nasty picture, compliments of France's automatic ticketing process for speeders. We had a fantastic holiday with Brit and Kris visiting Granville, St Malo, Paimpol and Treguier by boat and so many smaller cities by car. The history we were able to take in this region from WWII to century-old architecture and churches was a once-in-a-life-time opportunity for us all. This is the only food Con has ever rejected: Pig's intestine. He had them barbecued and was able to swallow one bite before announcing that it was "most disgusting thing he's ever eaten!" Geert, Con's brother climbed off the TGV from Holland at 4:15 p.m. the same day in Rennes that Brit and Kris left Rennes for Charles de Gaulle airport. Today, the three of us left Treguier under calm seas and sunshine skies for La Coruna, Spain anticipating a 60-75 hour trip across the Bay of Biscay.
October 1, 2007 a.m. -- The sea calmed, Geert made some dinner and took it outside to eat on his watch. That's when he spotted the second group of whales. The rippled water became smooth and then he surfaced. What a sight! Geert stepped out into the cockpit and a moment later called to me "Barb, see over there." I looked and a large gray coloured whale with its humped back gently lifted itself out and through the water. We woke Con when just a few minutes later, on the other side of the boat, we saw a number of them seemingly moving so slowly past us, but within a few seconds, they'd passed. This is our second night underway. So far, we've traveled over 37 hours, with another estimated 25 to go. It started out sunny, then by afternoon the waves took their toll on Geert and my stomachs. By 2:30 a.m., 1.5 hours into my night watch, I had to get Con to take the last 30 minutes of my shift. It was so rough, the mattress wouldn't even stay on the bed! Con has a stomach of steel, thank God, and between Geert (who suffered) and Con, they covered my 7 a.m. shift. The irony of our preparations: we stocked the cupboards so we'd not go hungry and so far, none of us can eat. I'm now on sea sickness pills. About an hour into my shift, the rocking knocked my hand onto the Man Overboard button on the RADAR which is connected to the boats navigation systems. For the next 45 minutes to my total dismay, I realized that we'd been traveling in circles! Con woke realizing the moon had been passing his window over and over again.
October 1, 2007 in the PM-- DOLPHINS!! What a day! From whales in the morning and early afternoon, to dolphins visiting us twice in the afternoon. The waves in the Bay of Biscay have turned into very large swells, rolling in from across the Atlantic. It seems with them come the dolphins and whales. About 300 meters away, Geert spotted the dolphins, and once they spotted us, they turned course and headed directly to us to play with Big Sky's bow. They chirped and twirled showing us how much they were enjoying Big Sky pushing the water at the bow so they could ride along. Later that afternoon, on Con's shift, he spotted one very large dolphin had either returned or was from another family. I sat on the bowsprit that overhangs the water and watched (with the camera) as the dolphin twirled, dove, leapt out of the water and glided from one side of the bow to the other. He'd turn on his side to look at me a few times. A few minutes later he was joined by about four more, then by the time they'd finished playing, there were about a dozen of them. WHAT AN INCREDIBLE DAY!
October 4, 2007 -- Happy Birthday Courtney! Today Courtney's 24 years old. We'll be heading east across northern Spain arriving in Caminaras, Spain sometime in the late afternoon.
Touring La Coruna, we decided it was a place we could spend a few weeks, but we need to move south, as time is closing in on us. The harbour seems to be filled with people living our live style in one way or another. Very friendly place; friendly city.
October 5, 2007 -- When we crossed the Bay of Biscay, we crossed into a different culture. I love speaking Spanish here and there, however bad it is. Unlike France, no one walks around carrying baguettes, no morning runs to the bakery, the siesta lasts twice as long, and the biggest difference, the dogs no longer have restaurant privileges. Caminaras is an attractive little fishing harbour (pictured above) with a few cafes and restaurants. We spent one night, and left midmorning for a small town called Portosin, where we'll take a short trip to Santiago de Compostela.
October 6, 2007 -- We hitched a ride to Noia from a friendly local (using our thumb), then took a bus to Santiago de Compostela to tour the basilica where St James' (known in Holland as St. Jacob) tomb was discovered in the beginning of the 9th Century and still remains today. Thousands of tourists take the pilgrimage along the ancient medieval route (shown in purple below) called Camino de Santiago de Compostela, to this little town just an hour from the coast where we're docked. (See where the red ends on the west side of Spain, that's where we are. The green line indicates our route over the next few months.) We were there just when the service began. This basilica is next in Christian importance to Jerusalem and Rome.
That afternoon, Geert and Con had to take a siesta along with most of Spain before taking our pilgrimage back to Big Sky.
October 7, 2007 -- I think the dolphins waited for us just outside the marina! As soon as we left this morning, they romped (if that's what you can do through the waters) over to us and rode the bow for a brief moment, then continued hunting for their breakfast. We motored to Viga, Spain, docking on a public access pier. We took everything off the deck and stored it inside to discourage any would-be thieves and headed out for tapas.
October 8, 2007 --Happy Thanksgiving to our Canadian family and friends. Today we bummed around Viga taking in the art, enjoying the people, and shopping for our Thanksgiving dinner.
The jamon was a bit pricey at $431.57 Euro. We're docked beside this statue. Europeans have fun with their art.
October 9, 2007 -- Our six-hour trip took us from Viga, Spain to Viana do Castelo, Portugal, into the Minho region just north of Porto, also known as Costa Verde (green coast). Grapes grow everywhere, the vines hang from trees, porches, climbing slopes and terraces, on poor rocky soil where nothing else flourishes. The Minhotos train their vines to grow upwards, onto the trees, houses and hedges to leave ground space for cabbages, onions and potatoes. We're arrived in Viana do Castelo during the grape harvest (Sept. and Oct.). In rural towns, you might find the old fashion festival dancing in the grapes with arms linked. People say it's the only way to crush the fruit without smashing the pips and spoiling the flavour of the wine. Today, most of it is done mechanically which keeps the sweat from dripping into the vats. Thank God!
October 10, 2007 -- We were swarmed by flies. Thousands of them landed all at once aboard. It was the oddest thing. The sail today was just about perfect, a sunny sky with a warm breeze blowing us at about 5 knots almost all the way to Porto.
October 13, 2007 -- Doug and Merrilee arrived yesterday, making them our ninth and tenth visitors to sail with us on Big Sky. Geert, Doug and Merrilee just missed each other by about 30 minutes. The four of us made our way to the Super Markada and loaded up on fresh fruit, trout, wine and snacks. The wine is incredibly cheap and good, about $1 or $2 Euros per bottle. The espresso coffee package was $.46 cent Euro; we usually buy it for just under $10 Euro. The weather has been warm and sunny and expected to remain that way all week. Today, we're heading back into the historic old town of Porto (for the second time for Con and I) as there is so much more to see in this beautiful unique commercial Portuguese city.
October 15, 2007 -- Porto is built on a series of hills leading up and away from the river. The four of us explored it on foot -- up the hills and back down the series of stairs. What a major workout! About 2 p.m., we decided to stop for a brief bite to eat, since siesta would be another 30 minutes before we could get into the churches and museums. Nearing 5 p.m., we admitted defeat and left the restaurant still hungry, not fed. The kitchen consisted of three frazzled women and one five-month old crying baby tied to a keg of beer, in her walker, who spent most of the afternoon under the fat fryer!
The next day, we rented a car and set off to visit the towns Guimaraes and Braga both attractive old towns. Guimaraes is the birthplace of Portugal. The church dates back to the 10th century. We started our tour at the Castelo, massive large walls and towers on a rocky hill with a magnificent view of the mountains. By car, we wound our way around the mountain roads to Citania de Briteiros and took in the remarkably well-preserved Celtic ruins in one of Portugal's most important archaeological sites. The prehistoric fortified village inhabited by Celts was discovered in 1874. We drove a bit further to Bom Jesus, the religious centre set high on a mountain. It's another popular pilgrimage centre known for its remarkable stairway flanked by chapels and statues. Near exhaustion, we drove on to Braga and bought a couple of delicious roasted chicken, fruit and veggies that we later had that night on Big Sky. When we finally sat down for a drink in the town square outside restaurant, Con spotted a McDonalds. I raced over with my laptop to tap into their WiFi to upload the website. Finding WiFi has become challenging in Portugal.
October 16, 2007 -- After nearly nine hours on the water, we arrived at Figueira da Foz. All was going well, Doug had the bow lines; Con was making the turn to line up for our slip; I opened the side rails and dragged the stern line to the centre, pulled to free it to ready for tying on, lost my balance and fell against the rail that was no longer there, and promptly fell into the 19 degree marina water! It was Doug and Merrilee's first docking and they had decided to "watch" at this point. Instead, they had to get to the stern, untie the life buoy and toss it to me. Then Con instructed Doug to move to the bow and called out instructions to tie and dock Big Sky. I made my way across the jellyfish-filled marina seeking an exit point. Climbing out was a challenge as my jacket was so heavy but there was no way I was going to take it off and risk losing it to the marina, as I just bought it a few weeks ago! The only injury was my pride and bruised rib!
October 17, 2007 --We explored the colourful marketplace, buying fish, fruit and flowers. We had read about the Casa do Paco, a building with walls covered with several thousand 18 century Dutch tiles said to have been transported here from shipload destined elsewhere -- confiscated. The locals don't seem to know what a treasure they have. After lots of inquiries we located them and they were amazing. This afternoon, we enjoyed the beautiful beach.
October 18, 2007 -- The four of us are totally enjoying our time together. Doug and Merrilee are masters at research and have identified all the interesting spots nearby. We met another couple from Canada (Maple Bay, B.C.) who took these pictures of Big Sky. They crossed the Bay of Biscay the day before us during the crazy gale storm and were knocked down.
October 19, 2007 -- Our walking tour of Nazare was spectacular! It's an understated town, with beautiful breathtaking scenery. For us, the most amazing part of the city was seeing and meeting some of the local woman in traditional garments.
October 20, 2007 -- We sailed to Peniche today, the second most westerly point in Europe. The population is about 18,000 people. We angled our arrived toward the Ilha da Berlenga, a protected bird sanctuary just off Peniche and spent a leisurely afternoon enjoying the sites.
Yesterday, we visited Alcobaca, in the town of Batalha where there's a magnificent Cistercian Abbey where the foundation stone was laid in 1148.
Fatima is an interesting religious spot standing on a desolate high-lying plateau where allegedly three peasant children sited the vision of the Virgin Mary in 1917. Since then, it's become a highly profitable tourist spot called the Lourdes of Portugal where thousands take the pilgrimage there. Two of the children died shortly after the sighting, and the third one died in 2003. They're buried in this basilica built in recognition of the importance of the site to pilgrims.
We traveled on to Porto de Mos and took in the great monastery at Batalha.
We traveled on to Tomar, hiked up the long cobble- stoned medieval street to the Convento do Cristo. Tomar was the headquarters of the Knights Templar in Portugal, an order formed in 1119 during the crusades who gained incredible wealth. They left behind marvelous ruins of the old castle, church and cloisters. The solid black garment is for the widows, and the coloured/plaid is for those married. I spoke with a woman wearing black asking about her earrings as there was a picture of a young man on them. She told us in Portuguese that she was married for 36 years, and her husband had passed on 23 or so years ago. The scenery was breathtaking!
October 22, 2007 -- The sail yesterday into Cascais was a smooth, 8 1/2 hours on the water. We ended the night with a fantastic dinner in an off-the-tourist-track restaurant at an outside table, situated under an avocado tree. Today, we toured Lisbon on foot, exhausting ourselves after eight hours of walking.
October 25, 2007-- We climbed aboard an electric train for the 29 km into Lisbon Tuesday, from Cascais and walked up and down the steep streets of Lisbon, through the fado, a crumbly old quarter of town where the music seem to pulse from the buildings, and where tattoos and graffiti are epidemic. We toured the inside of a number of great churches and looked into courtyards of renovated mansions. Most of the architecture around the city is post-1755, after the great earthquake. Starting at the Praca do Comercio, pictured below we walked through the archway which led us into the city. Behind us was the River Tajo, which flows from the mountains through Lisbon to the Atlantic Ocean. Wednesday, we needed a day of rest so our feet could recover and lazed around Cascais, a beautiful coastal resort where Big Sky is docked. Cascais is the playground for Lisbon's wealthy commuters. The town's claim to fame is that in 1482 (10 years before Christopher Columbus), a Cascaisian named Afonso Sanches actually discovered America. Columbus was a better marketer and received all the fame.
October 26, 2007 -- By 10:30 a.m., we were on our way to Sintra by bus to check out why the city known by the Romans as the Mountains of the Moon was so popular for the Portuguese and foreigners. The moment we arrived we understood why, (see photos) it's filled with gorgeous palaces and monuments situated around an enchanted forest. The Palacio Nacional da Pena dominates the town from the top of the mountain overlooking the small town. It was built on the site of a 16th century monastery.
October 28, 2007 -- I think we slept for 13 hours straight. Doug and Merrilee left a few days ago, after two fantastic weeks together touring the Portuguese coast and spots inland. We've had a revolving door since Brighton, England with Lindsey and Courtney arriving, and then leaving the same day Brit and Kris arrived. They left the same day Geert arrived, and Doug and Merrilee arrived just an hour after Geert departed back to Holland. Con and I are enjoying Cascias (just outside Lisbon) and are spending our days soaking up the sunshine and the beautiful town. We've booked in for a week and may stay longer.
October 30, 2007 -- We bought an all-day pass on the trams and buses in Lisbon yesterday and toured the old district and the castle. See photos. Today, we went to the Customs and Immigration to extend our European visas. Marina Customs said they'll simply stamp our passports and we're good for another three months. When we got to the Customs office, they asked that we come back with $1500 (Euro cash) each -- "just to show them," our return airline ticket (who has a ticket anymore, we have our flight itinerary) along with our ships papers, and photo copies of EVERY page of our passport. We said "no thanks." We'll try obtaining our visa status at another port. Failing that, we'll make a trip to Africa and back before we expire in November. We laughed in disbelief, leaving the office.
November 2, 2007 -- Sun is shining again, the temperature at 10:30 a.m. was 22 degrees in the shade of our cockpit. Motivating ourselves past our "lazy mode," we pulled out the bikes and toured north of Cascais.
November 6, 2007 -- It's the same ol' here in Portugal, sun is shining, sky is blue, temperature is mid 20's, and we're still lazin'. Yesterday we biked to Estoril, enjoyed a popsicle and watched three girls and a dog swimming -- in November!
November 7, 2007 -- Departed for Sines (pronounced cinch) and were greeted by a few dozen dolphins who stayed to play for about an hour. They got themselves so excited, twisting and turning upside down and leaping all around us. We actually thought some of them were mating! They make high-pitch squeaking sounds which can be heard before they even surface. I sat at the bow sprit, about four feet above the water and filmed them. Great sail.
We toured Belem, where the Tagus sea meets the ocean. This is where Vasco da Gama left Portugal to uncharted seas coming back with spices and riches changing Portugal forever. Today, it flourishes with tourist dollars and a casino. We toured the church, the cloister, the palace and then walked to the National Coach Museum. Dozens of coaches dating from the 17th to 19th century were built for kings and queens, princesses and popes.
November 9, 2007 -- Up at 3 a.m., we were on the water before the sun rose to get a head start on our 12 1/2 hour trek to Lagos. We have been following the western coast of Portugal, and today we turned the corner now moored in a beautiful marina on Portugal's southern side. Once we turned the corner, our sail was perfect, smooth, flat, sunshine in the cockpit and reaching 8 knots. Con was euphoric.
November 11, 2007 -- Wandered around Lagos Sunday afternoon -- everything is shut down on Sunday.
The Portuguese often depict their history in pictures glazed on tile.
We're in a unique area right now, experiencing the warmest weather in Europe. By day it's 25 degrees and cooler at night. People are still swimming in the ocean. Locals wear coats, tourists are in shorts.
November 14, 2007 -- Our EU (European Union) visa would have expired today, had we not invested all day yesterday to get our extension. We traveled to Portimao to visit the Portuguese Customs and Immigration along with dozens and dozens of immigrants, all trying to have their time with the officials in what seemed to be organized chaos. By days end, we had paid $120 Euro, plus another $10 Euro for photos and the deed was finally done. We're good for another 30 days, by which time, we'll be leaving the country for Christmas in Calgary. Our new EU 90-day visa will begin when we return in January. This process, however long it was, was a lot better than our last attempt in Cascais, where we were asked to bring $1500 Euro -- each -- "just to show them," along with an impossible bunch of papers. Having visited Portimao, Con and I decided we'd rather not leave Big Sky there and are in the process of seeking a long-term birth here, as well as booking an appointment with the marina to hoist Big Sky out for a checkup.
November 17, 2007 -- We're contemplating Madeira, or the Canary Islands, just west of Africa, or Seville Spain as potential locations to head off to when we return to Big Sky the end of January. Having enjoyed the last month in sunny Portugal, we decided to chase the sun south during the winter months. Rain is expected on Monday and to carry on throughout the week! We've had warm sunshine and blue skies the entire time we've been in Portugal (over a month now). We're learning about the "happenings" in the Lagos community. Fado and Bossa Nova bands in the afternoon on the beach; an Elvis impersonator Tuesday night at a location in town; a quiz show at the marina on Wednesday; more entertainment at the hotels; and lots of social interaction with others living our lifestyle.
November 18, 2007 -- Biked to the Grotto today and enjoyed one of Portugal's last hot summer-like weather days. Tomorrow night, weather predictions of 80 km strength winds. Good thing we're tucked into the marina.
November 21, 2007 -- We've really settled into Lagos, Portugal and could easily call it "home." This week has seen wild torrential rains, lightening and 50+ km winds, and a good mixture of sunshine. We purchased internet on the boat ($50 for the month) and have taken time to research "possibilities" of where we might like to spend part of the winter (late January and February). We've researched Spanish language and cooking classes in Seville or Valencia, and even the crazy idea of flying to India for a few weeks! For now, we'll head up to the marina bar to take in football (soccer) on their big screen. This is England's last chance to stay in the European Nations Cup. They're playing Croatia.
November 24, 2007 -- They call the Lagos Marina "The Velcro Marina" because once you arrive you don't want to leave. We've met people who arrived for a day or two and remained 16 months, another seven years! Bob and Di, pictured above have been sailing the Portuguese coast, tucking in and out of the same marinas as we have. We shared a few dinners together last week before they flew home to England for Christmas.
November 26, 2007 -- Con changed the oil, I cleaned out cupboards, we lifted the carpets and cleaned all the nooks and crannies. Just two week remain before we have Big Sky placed on land for an overhaul while we travel home to Calgary for the Christmas holiday.
November 27, 2007 -- We have a rented car for three days and took off this morning for Travira, a less commercial town, built along the river. Poinsettia plants grow year-round outside (pictured below). The buildings could use a major overall, but the decay really adds to its quaintness. Two interesting encounters along the way. The first a band of gypsies who appeared to be relocating camps. And vendors selling bags of oranges. (We bought three.) The orange orchards are bursting with their juicy ripeness. Con squeezed a few as soon as we got to Big Sky and made orange juice. Delicious! After eight months of no television, we bought an aerial and tuned into Portuguese television.
November 28, 2007 -- Day two with the car, we visited Silves a beautiful city with the earth giving off reds, pinks and burgundy's colours within the rocks and sand. Many of the old buildings, churches and castle is built of the same earthy sandstone colour. It was populated by the 4th century BC under the Moors, who made it the capital of the Algarve. The Romans occupied it for a bit, building bridges and cisterns, the Portuguese conquered it, then the Moors took it back a few years later and built a wall with a castle atop. The Portuguese eventually took it back from the Moors.
November 30, 2007 -- We visited the small fishing town of Sagres, located on the point, or the south west corner of Portugal. The Fortalaza de Sagres (the fortress) can't be missed when sailing past, as it's situated high on a desolate rocky point about 200 or so feet above the ocean. Talk about extreme fishing! These guys told us "no, it's not dangerous today, because it's not raining and slippery, but we lose people here every year." Twice, we've seen pink flamingos wading in the river as we crossed a near Portimao by car. But, right here on our dock, blue herons walk along using it as a vantage point for night fishing. They always look annoyed when we walk past and they fly away and return once we've past. By morning, they're fishing with ease in the marina, scooping fish and swallowing them whole. Their necks are so slim! Storks are nesting across the marina from us, on the top of a building. The nests are massive. It's a different world, seeing nature by the seaside.
December 2, 2007 -- Sunny Portugal at 10:30 am, 20 degrees in the cockpit for Con to enjoying while reading the Dutch Telegraaf, enjoying a latte and a delicious Portuguese tart.
December 6, 2007 -- Happy Birthday Kris!
Last night, we walked over to the beach bar where we learned earlier that day a Brazilian band would be playing. We sat facing the water sharing sangria as the band set up. Blue waves that had traveled across the Atlantic were meeting their end rolling white frothy curls up onto the miles of ivory coloured sand. As the sun started to set, the band started playing. What an understatement "playing;" the moment the music started it was like a latin concert. The room was filled with such rhythm and the sounds filled us from the belly up. When they played "Santana," we were literally bouncing in our chairs. We couldn't believe how great it was, and all we did was walk in the door.
December 9, 2007 -- Yesterday, we spent a good part of the day tarping Big Sky as we'll leave her in the marina for a month and a half while we're home for Christmas. We leave today at 4 p.m. by overnight train to Madrid in preparation for our flights home the following day!