The trip from Guadeloupe to Antigua was wild and fun, but it didn’t start out that way. Beating lazily to windward and occasionally losing wind altogether under soggy clouds, Rich and I were happy enough just to be sailing. Then the gusts became so frustratingly northerly that we thought we might not make it to Antigua in daylight, and Rich reluctantly started the engine. The sky laughed, admitted it was just kidding, and blew us a steady sunny twenty knots from a sensible direction for the rest of the journey.

As we approached English harbour we went to turn the engine on again, but it wouldn’t start. In his grump at having turned the thing on in the first place Rich had forgotten to put it in neutral as he’d turned it off, and now some air had got in there. We tacked away from the harbour entrance and changed our plans, sailing instead into the wider entrance of Falmouth harbour and tacking gently to a fine anchoring spot in the middle. It was a far more pleasant way to end our last sail on Gwen than motoring into English harbour could have ever been, and we blessed the air pockets in the engine as soon as they’d been safely bled away.


Our illustrious crossing neighbours


It rains a hell of a lot here, but there are plus sides


Our second Falmouth Harbour of the trip has more pelicans and conches than its namesake

We’ve been living between the two harbours ever since for three of the most stressful weeks of my life. We’ve been emailing, calling and walking around companies to try and ship our stuff to the UK, answering endless questions about the boat from prospective buyers, organising our flights and paperwork, packing or chucking everything we own and cleaning every bit of the boat so that people could look around without being confronted with the dust and dirt that wasn’t bothering Rich or me. Just as we thought we had one thing sorted another would fall through. No companies ship anything less than a container from Antigua to the UK, and almost nobody who says “I love your boat and I want to buy it” is actually prepared to do so.

Rich and I were handling all the stress so badly that we had to have a serious chat about strategies to stop us killing each other, and by the start of this week we had a method pretty much down. It’s quite ridiculous as we are in the most relaxing place on earth. Palm trees shake, turtles occasionally swim by, cocktails are less than two quid in happy hour, everyone is friendly and kind and nobody is in any hurry. Nobody, that is, but the two tanned souls on the blue boat with the “For Sale” sign.

The stress has probably paid off. We think. Our stuff has been picked up in two big blue barrels from Sammy’s shipyard (where I gave my banjo away to Al, the very lovely man in charge). We think they’re headed to our dads’ addresses by plane. And a man has paid a deposit for Gwen. We think he’s going to complete payment and take ownership next week. I’m not counting any chickens until they’ve started clucking. In a final surge of stress for us, the (probable) buyer decided that he should insist on another viewing of Gwen before he’ll complete. I will have to go through the sails and an itinerary I shouldn’t have sent him (he didn’t ask for one, I’m an idiot) before I can stop being terrified that I’ll be left in possession of a boat that I’m booked to fly away from, one that I’d have to get put away and protected for hurricane season on my own in the two days in between.

Between all this fear and frustration there have been some magical times in Antigua. We’ve snorkeled, explored the beaches, eaten delicious rotis and drunk local rum with home made ginger beer. We ran into Riley and Elayna who we met in Mallorca and shared tales of sailing successes and nightmares. We ran into Adrian and Sam and Lewis from our happy hour crew in Lanzarote, and have joined them for the (THREE HOUR) happy hour here with inebriating results. We went to the surprisingly plush cinema in St Johns for valentine’s day and watched the start of the Caribbean 600 race from a pretty hillside a couple of days later. We’ve held each other tight and said everything would be okay and not believed each other but been very grateful for the sentiment.


Ant eager


Rainy patch on the Caribbean 600 starting line


The day Rich and I found our derelict dream home


and its current inhabitant


More neighbours


I’m not feeling too upset about having to stick around here for a week

Rich left yesterday on his flight to Japan. Watching him leave Gwen, the boat he renovated, the boat we sailed for two years and lived on for three before that, crushed my heart a little. I’ve been welling up regularly and had a bawl when we got the deposit, but it was the first time I’d seen Rich cry for her. He hugged her mast and told her she’ll be okay because she’ll still be sailing, and that someone who probably cares more about maintenance than we do is going to look after her. I doubt I’ll see him until June and I miss him already, although having the sofa to myself for a couple of days is a bit of a treat.

The Caribbean, or the little that we’ve seen of it, is so much greener, prettier and friendlier than we could ever have imagined. Even Rich, whose heart was set on changing from a cruising life to concentrating on aquaponics and sustainable farming, is talking about us coming here for a sail in two years when the work in Japan is done.

But that won’t be on Gwen.

I’m getting ready to hand her over, and I can’t help but think of all the incredible things that this boat has been and done. I am a different person to the one I would have been without Gwen. I’m scared because I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life now, but because of her I know I’m capable of almost anything. I am going to miss her more than I can ever hope to tell you.

Thanks for reading my blog. If you think you might like to do something like what we’ve done, all I can tell you is do it. And if you see a concrete gaffer called Gwendolyn anchored anywhere along the way, pop over and give her a massive hug from me.



The last hourra

I finished that last post all loved up and overjoyed, a tree hugger with a tree to hug and white sails blowing steadily from it. The next day, after a gybe to take us down towards the island of Marie-Galante, I could have bashed my head against that bloody tree. The wind disappeared, returning in gusts just hopeful enough to get us running around letting out sail and getting the runners on the correct side, just short enough to get us nowhere. Clouds clung to the sky above us, with rain offering its own regular middle finger salute so sporadically that it was easier to stay naked than keep putting on and taking off wet weather gear. We moped and swore as we tried to steer and control the sails, and we gave up a few times and just kept them tight in for a break from the bashing.

By nightfall we were moving again under a Cheshire Cat smile of a moon, and by morning there was land in sight. After 17 days, 2160 miles and the completion of an enthusiastically narrated Treasure Island we were preparing to re-enter the human world. We saw the bright verdant mountain of La Desirade, and then the pale cliffs and long green stripe of our destination. We sailed swiftly down Marie-Galante’s east coast, hoofed around the south and dropped anchor just outside the clearance port of Grand Bourg, where cows grazed on a lawn beside the anchorage.

“We’re in France! There’s going to be cheese!”

“We’re in the Caribbean! There’s going to be rum!”

Overjoyed, we leapt in for a celebratory swim, tidied away the sails and headed into the town. For the first time I felt that dizziness that comes with walking on solid land after a long time at sea. Surely only a beer would cure it. Market stalls were packing up, little bars and cafes had just stopped serving lunch and the Douane border police were not at home to sign us in, so we found a scrap to eat in a bakery and went to the first bar with Wifi we could find to steady our wobbly legs and let our families know we’d made it.



I really was excited to see those cows

We intended to stay in Marie-Galante for three or four days before sailing to Antigua, a treat before the upheaval of selling Gwen and sorting out flights and shipping for us and our stuff. But everything was impossibly nice and we couldn’t haul ourselves away. After some time in the town we sailed down the coast and anchored off a long white palm-lined beach for a couple of nights, picnicking ashore, exploring a nearby village through a long forest walk, swimming and snorkelling whenever we felt like it, eating coconuts we found on the beach once Rich had sawed them open back on Gwen. The amount of vegetation everywhere we looked was stunning, so starkly different to the barren Canaries and dusty Cape Verdes. We sailed back up to Grand Bourg for their carnival that weekend and danced to drum music and ate all the street food we could find.



When we left we only got as far as the south of Guadeloupe. We had to sign out of France somewhere so why not have a night on another island? That turned in to two nights when we found a gorgeous anchorage half way up the coast, replete with pelicans who dove into the water like the gannets back home before popping up to float as the water drained from their huge beak sacs. Two more nights got added when we arrived here in Deshaines on the north westerly tip of the island, from which we signed out this morning. The wind wasn’t right to leave today. Honest.

Our sailing in the Caribbean has been thrilling. We are pushing Gwen, and there have been frequent squeals of excitement both in the huge winds and waves of the ocean between the islands and the gusts that have screamed in from one direction and then another between calm patches on the way up here. Ashore there are lots of smiles, loads of delicious fresh vegetables and bread and lots of expense – we’re back to European prices for eating and drinking out, so we’re back to eating on board most of the time. I do all of our talking as Rich doesn’t speak any French, and am still surprised when people understand what I’m saying and respond to me in the same language. People used to reply to my crappy Spanish in English with a look of pity or annoyance.


Deshaies is particularly charming, and we’ve even broken our usual antisocial tendancies to go drinking on a neighbouring Cornishman’s yacht. There are quite a few boats anchored around us, between which it’s quite common to see a swimming turtle, a harbour jack or garfish jumping out of the water or a whole shoal of fry leaping out of the way of some unseen predator. The town is like a hot, rickety, colourful version of a French tourist trap, all waterside bars and boulangeries. We’d stay longer, but we’re really cutting it fine now. Rich booked his flight for Japan this morning and we have only three weeks to sell the boat and get all our stuff somewhere in the UK.


So we’ll leave early tomorrow morning, sail 45 miles upwind to Antigua, find a broker and a shipping company, meet a couple of interested parties, look into what we’ll do with her if she doesn’t sell now and start the hard stuff. There’s a lot to clean up on Gwen, but hopefully there will still be time for the odd snorkel and wander. There’s a lot to be excited about, probably, but there’s a lot to wade through to get there.

Yesterday when we were sailing here Rich wanted to single hand for a while, so I sat on the foredeck and finished painting my For Sale sign. I thought about what this adventure has meant for me, and done to me. I’ve always been a passenger. I don’t drive a car, and the closest I usually have to autonomy in my travel is when on my bike. In the past I’ve been treated like I’m not to be trusted with things, by others and myself. On Gwen there has been no choice. Rich not only allows me to take my life into my own hands, he and the journey demand it, and I do it all the time. Now I’m wondering about maybe getting my own little boat back home. I’m wondering about a lot though, with my future about to become a big blank canvas, so who knows.

Here are some pictures from beneath

Misty Eyed

We came to Cape Verde at a strange time of year. The rocky wastelands of the northern islands are peppered with the emergence of life. The weather is challenging but full of character –  in each anchorage the wind takes rolly rests between hammering in deafening gusts, and on each passage the harmattan haze obscures our view beyond the nearest rock or islet. The air feels warm but the light, noise and movement are comfortingly wintery. The indistinct contrasts of our surroundings echo the turmoil in our hearts.

We left Palmeira in Sal the morning after a night out on the town. We’d swayed to the music of the single net-barriered disco and scoffed street fare galore, from the kebabs on billowing barbecues to home-flavoured spirits sold from benches and tables. It shouldn’t have been much of a surprise that within the short sail to the next bay down we both realised we had food poisoning. We spent a couple of days gurgling and moaning in the bouncing wash off a dull beach before getting fed up with waiting to be well and sailing away overnight. We drank a lot of water, then put chlorine tablets in the tanks in case it was Gambia’s water and not Sal’s hygiene standards that had got us.

The island of Sao Nicolau (so aptly named for our Christmas retreat) was another friendly sanctuary and soon became one of our favourite places of our whole adventure. In our first anchorage we swam ashore, taking advantage of a rare outbreak of clear sunshine to explore columns of basalt and an invitingly roll-downable dune. In our next, the town of Tarrafal, we jumped on the back of a 4×4 for a trip to the capital and a long, steep Christmas eve trek. On Christmas day we ate lunch ashore in the company of a street dog then watched bad movies on board while the wind funnelled down the valley and blew whistles through the rig.


Not getting smashed into a rock was the fun challenge of landing…


…after which we got a bit of a rest and some rocks to admire.


Huffle Puffer


Rich’s return to Gwen


The open back of a 4×4, my new favourite form of transport


Ribeira Brava


Steep enough for you?


This track might look pretty unoccupied, but one of the farms off it was blasting out Caribbean music that accompanied us for most of the way up.


Where a motorbike overtook us going up


Anchorage in Tarrafal


The wall speaks the truth

The distracting excursions of Christmas were welcome. On board we had reality to face and we didn’t like it. A job offer for Rich in Japan had become more than speculative, and in Sal we had been forced to consider the future of our trip. If Rich took the job and flew to it when we got to the Caribbean, what was to become of Gwen for its two year duration? Realisation pierced us both like a skewer. If he goes we can’t afford a long stay in a marina or the repairs that will doubtless be needed after a long time without use. No matter how we try we can’t seem to come up with a plan that realistically involves us coming back to her and continuing on.

So (gulp) Gwendolyn is up for sale, and we’re heading to Antigua to say goodbye. I’ve put her about on social media, and I made an ad for this site today, so please share it if you know someone who might be interested in taking on our beautiful boat. I wasn’t sure what price to put – how do you value your favourite thing ever for someone else? How many dollars cover five years’ work and investment? How many cover five years’ love? She’s cost us plenty of money, but she’s given us a home, a purpose and an adventure – she owes us nothing.

A quick sale and a good owner for Gwen feel just as important as price. It’s daft to feel so attached to an object, but knowing that doesn’t stop it being so – somehow she deserves to be cherished and not abandoned and allowed to rot. Sitting here I am leaning on a table that Rich designed and made which is tied to the mast I’ve hugged for comfort in difficult times. I’m leaning on the first bit of tongue and groove I ever laid and sitting on a cushion Rich sewed when he was recovering from an operation. Nothing on her is without a memory, and everything about her seems even more wonderful than ever. She has always exceeded our hopes for her, and she has brought us so far.

It’s not easy knowing that our Atlantic crossing will probably be our last on board, and though we’re excited about what the future holds for us that joy struggles to break through the heartache of what we’re about to lose. Rich is burying himself in research about projects that might follow Japan and he is often distant, keeping his feelings in line by closing them off to himself and to me. Occasionally the stress becomes too much and he spills over. Me, I’m scared, particularly about the first few months after I leave Gwen when unlike Rich I will not have a job or a place to live to go to – I can’t join him in Japan until we know what his schedule will be and can sort out more than his work accommodation. I’m scared of what happens if Gwen doesn’t sell, and I’m scared of a world where I don’t leap from my door in the morning for a swim. Fortunately Rich and I are united in looking forward to the Atlantic crossing. There is something so present about sailing, when tiredness and practicality prevent you from doing anything but experiencing the moment you are in, that we are sure will be both healing for us and a fitting goodbye to our boat.

We had a good dose of this between Sao Nicolau and Sao Vincente, where we are now anchored. The journey took two day sails with a stop in another gusty island anchorage (Santa Luzia) in between. We sailed hard on the wind and, unlike on our turbulent journey from the Gambia which had similar conditions, we relished the tilt of the boat and the tug of the tiller. The dust that has darkened Gwen’s halliards and left an orange film on her deck got pasted up with the water of leaping waves, and we wore the filthy smudges of our journey on our clothes, hands and smiling faces.


Upwind wonky


Feeding frenzy between Santa Luzia and Sao Vincente


Rich and I went on a 5 euro Christmas shopping spree for each other. Among other things he ended up with these dreadful gloves.

Now we’re in Mindelo, the largest city of Sao Vincente and by far the busiest and most cosmopolitan we’ve seen in Cape Verde. So far we’ve found a French outdoor theatre act, a well stocked fresh market and a bunch of great restaurants, and have gorged on home comforts like gin and tonic, pizza and chocolate biscuits. A big stage has been put up in the city centre and we’ve run in to Mattis and Mo and a couple of other folks from the Lanzarote gang so we’ll be in good company for the new year’s celebrations tonight. Project distraction is going well.

This year started in the Mediterranean and ends over 3,000 miles later in the Atlantic. There are only a couple more jobs to do and some water to replenish before we can make our way across the ocean, the journey we dreamed about when we first saw Gwen over five years ago. There might be tears right now, and there must be more to come, but there are no regrets. Happy 2018, and here’s to living dreams.


Up t’Gambia

24 November

This morning we woke at the furthest point we’ll reach up the river Gambia. We drank a coffee, ate bread and eggs and started the engine to head back to Banjul. To write about our trip, particularly while it’s still underway, is quite a challenge – it feels as though every day has been some auspicious first, each event the highlight or lowpoint, each encounter somehow significant. I know I’ll forget to mention animals, birds, insects and people we’ve seen. I guess I’ll just start where I left you, at Oyster Creek, and try to piece it all together as I go.

We stayed there for a couple more days, allowing Rich to purchase some fantastic trousers, Abraham to get a new tube welded on to our anchor windlass handle and me to develop an addiction to the bread and beans that are sold from pots at the sides of streets for breakfast. We walked one morning down Old Cape Road, a long street with little to either side except beautiful marshes and birdlife until it opens up to a craft market. From there we were able to wander Bakau’s dirt roads and side streets to find the pool of friendly crocodiles at Kachikally, the botanical gardens where we got bitten to pieces by bugs as we relaxed on a bench and the vegetable market where we restocked our supplies for our impending trip up river. All over the area and nearby Serekunda graffiti expresses the excitement of Gambia’s recent liberation from dictatorship: “#Gambia Has Decided”

It was while we were admiring the pirogues of the fishing beach in Bakau that Rich and I fell foul of some absolute arseholes. We had politely shrugged off plenty of other tourist predators earlier in the day, but theirs was a more sophisticated scam involving several characters: a couple of smiling gents on the foreshore who wanted to show us round their fishing area followed by a younger man, supposedly of some standing in the community, who they (without our knowledge) had fed details about us, and a further supporting cast of women and children back in their domestic base. Once we had enjoyed a pleasant tour of the fishing processes we were persuaded to visit this base and, once surrounded there, to part with money for supposedly orphaned children, and then even to lend a little money for a minute for one host to go to a shop, after which a “fight” broke out between two of them and we were rushed to leave. Though the cost to our prides was much higher than that to our pockets (fortunately we did not have much money to give, otherwise they might have persuaded us to “donate” and “lend” more) we would continue to think on the occasion with a shudder over the next couple of days, exclaiming to each other after thoughtful silent pauses about the skill with which they had manipulated our fear of offence and desire to respect custom, our generosity, trust, naivite and vanity. We resolved not to let it dampen our desire to engage, and not to let it happen again.

Vulture, hornbill and friends on Old Cape Road

These smily bastards are fed frequently so apparently don’t want to eat you.

Monitor lizard among the crocs

Buttress. Well, that’s one term for me.

Mate, there’s a crocodile in your trough.

Bakau botanical gardens. Beautiful but painful on the ankles.

The beach of swindles

It was a relief to detach ourselves from the world of people as we began our journey up the Gambia the next morning. We had only intended to take Gwen as far as Lamin Lodge, the other anchorage noted in our twenty year old pilot guide, but spurred on by a favourable wind and tide we decided to start the larger journey a day or two early. We motored out of the mangrove creeks and sailed a long relaxed route across the river mouth until the wind came too much against us and the engine was started again. Over those first salty days, as we left the sea behind, various pods of bottle nosed dolphins came to investigate and swim alongside and around us. The dirty freshwater of the river rolled and bumped with salt water in swirling clouds of brown.

That afternoon we arrived at what our charts call James Island, now renamed Kunta Kinteh Island after the locally celebrated protagonist of the book, TV show and film “Roots”, and met one of its guardians who was seeing off the last tourist boat of the day. He sold us a ticket and told us some of the history of the place before disappearing, leaving us a small land and ruined castle of our own. It’s always shocking to be faced with a relic of slavery, and though the slave quarters themselves have long been lost to the river it felt a strange place to be having a romantic evening picnic. The shores were spattered with long thin spiral shells on sand and mangrove roots in mud, clinging to stumpy supporting walls that have been added to stop the whole island washing away.

River dolphins in the river, dolphining

Bowsprit selfie

You don’t get this in the Tamar

Crumbling castle on Kunta Kinteh

There were heaps of these, so I don’t feel too guilty about how many I ran away with

Jetty Setty

One well preserved cannon…

…and another that had been colonised by mangrove oysters.

Our home for the night

We would not sail again on our upstream journey – the wind tends to come down the river, if it comes at all. The next morning we began a pattern that has endured: rest or explore by dinghy when the tide is against us, press on when it’s with us in daylight. We motored, keeping the revs low to avoid overheating the engine in the warm water and staying central to keep our depth. The only other inhabitants of the wide river were dolphins and fishermen. Unlike those we’d seen at sea, river fishing canoes are usually dug out from a single trunk with boards attached for repairs, controlled with heart shaped paddles on long sticks or outboard motors, and the fishermen in them drop or gather long nets that we often have to steer to avoid. They almost always wave to us, and we’ve been lucky enough to buy fish for dinner from a couple of them along the way.

A snaking line of flamingos flew against a distant backdrop of the new mangroves, taller than those around Banjul, which would line most of the rest of our journey. We turned off to anchor half an hour’s potter up Mandori Bolon which, like all the creeks we have encountered, was fine to navigate once Gwen was past the scarily shallow entrance. Here stone curlews, hammerkop, huge eagles and vibrant kingfishers in a range of colour and size joined the pigeons, egrets, pelicans and herons that we were getting used to. As soon as we were happy with the boat’s turn in the current we jumped in Fanny to explore the stream that is their home. We’d neglected to take shoes and so were reluctant to go ashore in the sharp sticks of the mangrove base, but once we reached a field of muddy vegetation the temptation was too great and we waded in with a sucking, squishing stomp, examining footprints that were not our own with curiosity – otter? crocodile? We were about to head home when Rich saw a few dark shapes in the distance. He called me over to look through the binoculars “Mammals!” but it was hard to see: they raised their heads and shoulders like people but were on all fours, and then one ran across incredibly fast from left to right. “They’re baboons” he realised, and climbed a tree to see better while I watched them through the binoculars. We returned to Gwen elated.

River life

Stone curlew ogling us with it’s big weird eye

Kingfisher in the bolon

Baboons through binoculars

On the next day’s motor we got as far as Elephant Island (apparently there were elephants here a few hundred years ago), where we anchored overnight before visiting the village of Bambale on the mainland shore. It was a surprise to see the lush vibrant green of rice fields and earthy tracks of the village behind what seemed from the water to be a never ending world of mangrove. A kind young lad with only a little English walked with us through the village and taught us the few greetings in Mandinka that quickly became as essential to us as money and water. Until then we had only used the universal greeting of “Salam malekum”, but now we could ask after people’s families and spouses, reply to kindnesses from strangers and fulfill a cycle of friendliness and respect in new introductions. He drilled them in to us, questions and responses, as he took us to visit the local school, and came back with us afterwards to visit Gwen, whose solar panels and ukuleles impressed him greatly. Everywhere we go we exchange names with everyone we greet using the words he taught us, and my great regret is that I’ve forgotten his.


Photos cannot do justice to the vivid green of this rice field

You find the kids in school, on the mud beach…

…or in a tree

We motored onward that afternoon and saw another yacht for the first time, reason enough to shout out a quick chat over the noise of the motor once we’d kicked it down to neutral. They were French, and they were heading to the school that we’d visited to play double bass to the children. We hadn’t brought a double bass and were a bit jealous. When the conversation stopped we powered on, still central in the river, far from each tantalising side where wildlife might hide. Rich had read somewhere that motoring up the Gambia can be boring at times and enjoyed loudly rebutting this dreadful inaccuracy – there was always something to see. “But it is a bit boring, isn’t it, I mean, it’s motoring and mangroves every day” I countered. He looked at me with genuine confusion and I shut up.

We anchored by another misnamed island “Sea Horse Island”, apparently so called because at some point the Portugese thought of hippos as horses of the sea. We prefer to spend the night out of sight of humanity, somewhere wild where the early evening and early morning fauna might be observed. Each night this means stopping and erecting the mosquito net by six and then preparing and eating dinner to the sound of a thousand birds as the day ends. Pigeons trill all day and there’s often a curlew scream or a distant toot, but at sunset the strangest calls join the mangrove chorus, with birds drilling, baying, yelping, chuckling and reversing their trucks. Some individual always has a repeating melody that gets stuck in your head. It’s never the same between locations. Monkeys sometimes join in, squawking and bitching and shaking the branches. Then as the light disappears these sounds fade and are replaced by the zithery vibrations of insects, bats and possibly frogs, their high pitched tones pulsating in overlapping morse code over the occasional splash of fish.

The next day, after all the joy of our trip so far, was inexplicably tense. Perhaps it had something to do with heat and dehydration or the fact we barely stopped motoring all day. We were pissy with each other and hyperemotional, and only had fun once we’d taken a quick break and explored some mangroves together. We caught sight of some red colobus monkeys, who looked and sounded as upset as we had been, and the large wet form of an otter as it scurried behind some roots. I also got to see my favourite bird so far, some sort of hornbill that looks like a miniature Zazu from the Lion King, whose up-down rollercoaster flight path includes soaring sections in which the wings are completely put away. They make flying look fun.

Just when you think you know what’s going on with the river three tubabs (white guys) drift past on stand up paddle boards.

They’re building a bridge at Yalitenda ferry crossing, which means that yachting like we have been doing may not be possible in a couple of years

This is what it’s replacing. The ferry doesn’t have much power and is quite scary/funny to watch.

Pied kingfisher. We see these everywhere and they’re incredible – they sometimes hover beautifully in mid air and are delightfully crap at hiding from boats.

Almost sunset from Sea Horse Island

By this point we had traveled well past the point of salinity where dolphins and pelicans live, but it was the next evening that we realised that the water around us was properly fresh. We’d been admiring the changing greenery lining the river, now including palms and large trees, and came around our last corner of the day to see the one and only hill we might be able to climb on our route, ready to glow red in the approaching sunset. We anchored as quickly as we could (dragging on our first attempt, of course, because we were in a rush) and threw up the mosquito nets before rowing ashore, exchanging greetings with every soul on and near the beach, and scrambling up. We were rewarded with breathtaking views of the world behind the high vegetation of the river shores and of irridescent birds in blues, greens and yellows. Just before dark we returned to Gwen for our usual sunset routine in which the one whose turn it is to cook cooks themselves as much as the food in our stifling galley while the lucky other stays outside where the heat is just about bearable (still sweating profusely, but with less of an urge to jump in the water with the crocodiles).

As we ate in the cockpit a high whine droned in to the boat from the land, getting louder and louder, squealing in with a batallion of mosquitos. As soon as one or two had hit the cockpit net there seemed to be a thousand. Soon we couldn’t stay in the breached outdoor space and retreated to the cooking pot that was indoors, but somehow mosquitos had infiltrated every cabin. We fought them off as best we could while trying to guess how they could have bypassed our defences, shoving plastic bags in to the anchor chain tube and taping up every vent, seal and space between inside and out. We spent an hour or two sweating, scratching our bites and drinking gin while leaping about with flip-flops and swatters, exterminating intruders, until we decided we’d done enough and erected the third line of defence, the bed net, climbed inside and finally found safety. Every night since has brought us a new, similar invasion but the masking tape and plastic bags seem to be holding out and they’re not getting in. The sound of them approaching each evening is more terrifying than that of any murderous mammal this country could produce. I’m looking forward to their numbers dropping back off at the salty end of the river.

Red hill of Kassang

“Oh what a pretty bit of river, I do hope it isn’t a hotbed of vicious insects”

Early yesterday morning we left the hill anchorage for Kuntaur (pffffft) where we indulged in the home comfort of some chips in a Dutch-owned restaurant overlooking our boat. We walked out of the village to see some mysterious 1,500 year old stone circles, and edged politely away from the guide after he linked them to symbolic theories that spanned navigation, astrology, numerology and language. His penny from 1960s Gambia was fascinating, but we could only take the New Age for so long and he was getting on to the illuminati when we finally made our escape. In the main-road town of Wassu we provisioned with the few veg for which we could communicate our desire to the women selling wares at the roadside, and met a man called Batch who drove us out of town for some diesel before taking us home. As I waited with him on the shore for Rich to return from the boat with his jerry can he told me that he’d spent time in Harlem in the 80s and worked as a cab driver in Detroit in the early 2000s. I’ve heard stories of adventure like this from a couple of men who look as part of the traditional village furniture as the red earth roads and the free range goats and chickens. It makes me think of my village back home – even in our little familiar heavens so many have wanderer’s hearts.

By the afternoon we’d had enough of the children who were banging on our boat, repeatedly asking our names and demanding presents we were not going to give them, and hoisted our anchor to slide past Baboon Islands, the national park where chimpanzees were relocated in the 60s and 70s. We had guidelines from Banjul telling us which routes around the islands were and were not allowed, and apart from the opening we were to travel mid channel at a great distance from the lush and secretive human-free habitats. We were not expecting to see much, particularly as the Harmattan seemed to have reappeared after a week’s absence. As we rounded the first and only island we were allowed to go behind, a ranger appeared beside us from nowhere in a dinghy and motioned for us to tie it on to Gwen. He told us what we already knew – that we could not go behind the other islands unless we were on an official tour boat, and that we could not approach them at any point. Unless… unless we wanted to take him with us, for a price, and he could point out some chimps, and then we would have to return to the centre of the channel. We leapt at this chance, and welcomed him on board.

What the ranger didn’t realise was that we were equally interested in seeing a hippo. It was a little while later that he casually pointed one out, quite close by (for a hippo) in the water off our port quarter. A whole head emerged from the water and splashed back in. We squealed and sighed, amazed. “You have not seen a hippo? There was one nearby when I met you” he smiled, and we raised eyebrows at each other. We needed to learn how to look for them, because obviously they were bloody everywhere.

Gwen traced the edge of the second island with all three of us staring in to the trees like shoppers at high street windows while Rich and I took it in turns to steer. The island, like much of the recent shoreline, had a great diversity of plant life including tall trees and palms whose lower fronds aged to grey, reminding me of Where The Wild Things Are. Finally we came to a few shore trees that were bowing and trembling with movement, rather like those in which we had previously spotted monkeys or large birds, and peering in we found whole families of chimpanzees eying us with stern curiosity or sleepy indifference from behind the leaves. After two such encounters our guide left us and we returned to the centre of the channel, from which we would spot a whole family of hippos once we’d got past the island. This time they were just a set of eyes, nostrils and ears, pointed towards us from their distant shallows.

Abandoned groundnut factories are a common sight on the river, which has seen much busier days

Every village we visit has astounding views from its little red roads. This one’s in Kuntaur


Having a little bounce in a stone circle

Fly hunter

Fanny with her contemporaries at Kuntaur. I like the one with the school chairs in it.

Baboon Island inhabitants are, of course, not baboons.

Last night we anchored a little further on, and our dinner in the cockpit was accompanied by the gorgeous lowing of the hippopotomus. Hippos sound like the deepest voice you’ve ever heard laughing a slow chuckle. We couldn’t see them in the dark, but we heard them all around the boat, close by and continuing well after we’d gone inside to wash and gather around our tiny USB fan to read and play. It still feels joyously unbelievable that Gwen, a scruffy concrete boat from Millbrook, spent last night 150 miles up the Gambia surrounded by these shy and formidable pinky brown beasts.

Today we’ve spotted birds and baboons, distant hippos (now we have our eye in) and beach-prowling monkeys on and around the lush shores of the wide brown river on the first leg of a long return trip. Tonight we’re hot far beyond comfort and trapped in our boat by a legion of insects carrying a deadly disease, but there’s not a lot more happy we could be.

There are no hippo pictures because they’re either too far away, too briefly visible to find the camera, or just too amazing.

Gran Canaria to Banjul Part 2: Goodbye, Hello

16 November

Our eighth morning at sea announced itself with a noisy rumble. We rushed towards invisible land from which hot air hurtled towards us, sailing so close to the wind that Gwen leapt in the short swell. Senegal was a hairdryer and every splash that sprayed over me on our wet course evaporated within a minute. A sweet, warm scent like red wine was carried towards us from behind the Harmattan, the haze of Saharan dust that obscured the African mainland from sight.

Our patience with each other became strained, and we argued over nothing on a couple of occasions as the day drew on and the sea calmed. The Harmattan painted the edges of our sphere a grubby grey while the deck, the push pit and our eyes became gritty with salt and dirt. Insects drifted over to us, followed by a robin-like bird who pecked them away as she hopped around our deck, sheltered under the dinghy and visited us in the cockpit. Our first sight of Africa was not of its coast but a fisherman in a brightly painted pirogue with an outboard engine. He took Rich’s wave as an invitation, pottered over and asked for some food, so we offered him a pack of biscuits while I admired his boat with my best bad French.

The bird, who we named Oise (pronounced Waz, short for Oiseau as she must speak French this close to Senegal) grew in confidence and flitted comfortably around Gwen’s interior as well as the deck. Finally, as we ate dinner, she hopped into the tow staysail that we had scrunched into the locker at the head of our bed and stayed there for the night. The sun faded high above the Harmattan to a white disc that disappeared long before its light. I finally felt some sense of location, caught in a West African smell and warmth that I hadn’t wanted to leave when I visited Ghana nine years ago. I called Rich up to sniff it and went to take his place, snuggled up near Oise.


How to nap in a cushion coffin/amuse yourself with a camera when not napping in a cushion coffin. Exhibit 1


Exhibit 2. Spot the Chard.




The first sight of the morning sun (this is looking towards Senegal, which we never saw)

In the morning Rich opened his eyes and was amazed to find Oise perched on his shoulder. He let her out of the hatch and came to join me before going back down to make coffee and breakfast. The short swell was bashing in to us again, and as a huge wave smashed over I heard a cry from below “Bear away! Bear away!” – a tonne of water had breached the closed forehatch and drenched our bed. While the Chard tried to fix it I took us further and further off course, trying but failing to keep water from the deck. Through all of this Oise hopped about, sliding in soggy surges and hiding under the dinghies when the big waves came, keeping my spirits up with her comical bounce though I worried for her safety with every smash.

As we approached the river Gambia Rich showed me how he’d tacked the boat on his own while I was away earlier this year, using Geordi to handle the turn while he dealt with the runners, jib and staysail. On the next tack I tried it out for myself and was pleased with the ease and simplicity, but not with our tacking angle. We headed straight back where we’d come from, pushed by the current coming out of the river and let down by the wind that dwindled from something slight to nothing. It didn’t return all day.

Oise retreated to the saloon after her busy morning on deck and looked tired, squeezing her eyes as she returned to the comfort of her sail bed. I followed her up there, but then worried I was bothering her and retreated to the nav table. When Rich next came down he found her splashing in our sink, unable to get out. He scooped her out and put her on the table with me and we tried to feed her water, seeds and soggy biscuits. She would have none of it until we left her alone, and then only pecked at the water before hopping off to the back of the aft cabin, still straining to stay conscious. We were hopeful when she made it back on deck on her own, but she didn’t seem interested in eating insects any more and was moving slowly, without the curiosity she’d shown before. Whether it was the efforts of staying on deck in the morning’s violence, the stress of being around people or an exhaustion that had come with her and brought her to our boat, it seemed to be getting the best of her. She wouldn’t accept flies that Rich swatted dead and left for her, so he started injuring them instead and placing them in her path. This way he managed to get her to eat five or six before sunset without either of us going near her.

We were still drifting, directed by Rich’s optimistic steering, only a few miles from a Senegalese nature reserve that we couldn’t see by light or the speedily approaching darkness. Fish leapt with noisy splashes and insects invaded every inch of the deck as we decided to drop anchor for the night, with a plan to enter the Gambia by first light. Though I’d suggested it I admired Rich’s conviction not to start the engine – we’d sailed a thousand miles and were damn well going to sail the last few. Gwen took her first rest for ten days and we slept for the first time in the same bed, hot and frazzled, protected from a buzzing world of earwigs, flies, malarial mosquitoes and who knows what else by a thin net. Fortunately the mattress and sheets had dried out over the afternoon. Oise was nowhere to be seen.

The next morning we sailed in to The Gambia with paradiddling hearts and undisguisable grins. At last Banjul’s mosques and port buildings, working fishing canoes and busy beach markets, huge palms and stretching trees emerged from the Harmattan, fulfilling so many fantasies, inspirations and memories that had combined in our hopes for the place. We could finally see where we were going, and we were going there. A man on a harbour wall called out to us, directing us where to drop, and once we’d sailed on to the anchor Rich changed clothes immediately for something smart to go ashore in to sort out our visas, entry permit, customs and river permit. I had never seen him so nervous about meeting anyone (this was our first time entering a non-EU country on Gwen), and made sure he had everything he might need, including too much money. As I went to prepare the dinghy for the water I found tiny, cold Oise, with a look of sweet sleep on her face, curled inside the net that lives under it. I pretended not to cry as Rich took her body away, and saw him off with a kiss.


Pirogues, palms and a lot of smiles


Smart shirt, odd socks, steel pole, no iron


Watching the wrecks while I waited for Rich to return

We’d heard this area of Banjul wasn’t too secure so I stayed aboard, cleaning up for customs men who would never bother to visit while Rich got royally ripped off by everyone he met ashore. He got the paperwork we needed, but when he returned neither of us was feeling particularly cheerful and we bickered as we hoisted anchor, softening only as we motored up to the entrance of the mangrove streams that would take us to our first anchorage. Tourist boats carrying a few fishermen and their wives were paused by the entrance, waiting for the tide to give them the depth and current that would carry them through. Knowing our draft was deeper than theirs we followed suit and dropped the hook, waving and calling greetings to their drivers and staff. When they started moving so did we, and drove Gwen straight in to a sand bank, leaving us stuck still as they passed by us, calling promises that they’d see us soon.

The entrance to the mangroves sat lush and inviting, right ahead of us. First we tried to free Gwen with the engine, and failed. Then we hoisted the main to tip her over and reduce her draft, and tried the engine again, and failed. We didn’t even really know what direction we were supposed to be freeing ourselves in: the pilot guide said to stick to the very right hand side of the entrance, but the chart said that the deepest part was to our left. As we’d been towing Fanny from Rich’s trip ashore I took a quickly assembled lead line (a diving weight on a bit of spare rope) for a row around the area and found the deep bit right where the pilot guide said it’d be. I got back on board and Rich started to reverse Gwen but had forgotten he’d put the anchor down while I was paddling around. Chain started flying out, and I called to him to stop the engine, winching it back in with all my might until he came to finish it off. I took over on the tiller, reversed Gwen as hard as I could, then turned her hard towards the entrance with some forward thrust, and we were free.

But we were not cheerful. It had been quite a day, and we were hot and kind of sick of each other. We started to fight, then started to yell at each other about how we didn’t want to be fighting, then started to yell at each other about how we completely understood why each other was frustrated, which would have been very nice had we not been spitting it in growls. Meanwhile some of the most relaxing and peaceful scenery we’ve ever seen passed serenely by. Eventually we had to stop arguing to point out crabs that scuttled around the mud at the mangrove base and pigeons, curlews, eagles and pelicans. We swapped places so that each could sit on the foredeck and take it all in. We arrived at Oyster Creek and dropped the anchor and started a process of unwinding that is still underway.


The route to Oyster Creek, once we’d managed to join it

Our route in the GPS. The chart disagrees with our idea of land and water.

Popping below revealed that our digital charts didn’t have a clue what was going on.


Our new anchorage, which we share with the tour and fishing boats,


and the location of my first landfall in 11 days

We’ve spent two nights here at the mangrove lined creek, and its magic is working. Ashore up a mud beach there is a small community based around the Harbour Bar, a converted shipping container that was once busy with the cruising sailors it greeted for decades, though right now we’re the only ones. Lots of people have introduced themselves to us, some of whom remembered us from our time stuck in the mud, and all have been helpful and friendly, eager to spend time chatting with relaxed amusement. Today we hung out at the fishing base for lunch before joining Ebu, the tour boat operator we’d failed to follow in to the mangroves on our entrance, to look through the guest books of the bar. We wondered if we would see anyone we knew in their pages and sure enough, there was Nick Skeates, our friend and inspiration back home, writing on his visit 17 years ago with a photo of him playing his ukulele. Later as we walked back to a dinghy a man called Abraham told us some of the history of the place, including some of the visitors who have come through in his time. We told him we’d seen our friend Nick in the guest book. “Nick Skeates?” he grinned widely, and did a little dance. “You know Nick Skeates?” We laughed and chatted about what they’d both been up to since they met, and he reminisced with more smiles than a person really should be allowed.

From the low noisy bridge at the end of the creek you can get a shared taxi bus in to Banjul or nearby Serekunda, which is where we went yesterday to vittle and buy sim cards. We strolled around the busy town with purpose and curious glee. I got to treat Rich to some street food treats I remembered from Ghana – giant, thick ball-shaped doughnuts that keep you nicely filled and shaved oranges that you squeeze and stuck for refreshment. We haggled with fabric salesmen, laughed with fruit sellers and learned “thank you” in Mandinka before grabbing another taxi bus home, missing our bridge by not calling “stop” with enough force and having to walk a way back.

Gwen is hot. At night we have the bedroom hatch netted and ajar, and we’ve hung a mosquito net over the whole cockpit so that we can leave the main hatch open too, but even then it’s a sweaty job being inside until well after dark. Gwen is peaceful again after a strange trip that was so relaxed for over a week and so tense for a couple of days. And Gwen is amazing. What other form of transport keeps going unmotored for ten days straight? Our love and admiration for this boat is unending. It’s about time I went and got another good night’s sleep in the breezier end of her boiling body.

A few photos from this afternoon’s dinghy exploration of the nearby mangroves …




Inhabitant spotter


These dangling roots and the mud beneath them are full of crabs that I failed to properly photograph


Baobab branches


Oysters on the mangrove roots



Gran Canaria to Banjul Part 1: Notes from the Ocean

11 November

I’m not at my best first thing in the morning. Often, whether at anchor, in a marina or at sea, my first thought of the day will be the most negative. I half dream, already imagining the pirate attack, the collision, the storm, and carry the thought with me into consciousness, moping and lamenting to myself rather than worrying, chasing the coffee that will banish it. On Sunday my semisentient gripe was simple: there could be no possible way I should sail Gwen long distances in the Atlantic. The ocean is wide, wild and deep and she is just a little concrete shell adorned with a few spindly sticks and tatty rags. I saw her bashed about, miles from safety, teetering precariously on waves before plunging into them. I felt the roll that could shake her fittings loose, wrenching her delicate wooden spars with creaking, banging jolts. I felt the roll again, and again, and heard her staysail strain in a gust. I woke with one thought:

“I’m sailing in the bloody Atlantic, aren’t I”

I was (and still am). We had left Las Palmas the day before, picking up a little water and fuel from the marina before hoisting the sails in the busy harbour entrance. We had passed gargantuan drilling machinery as an orange and grey cloud enveloped the island, heralding the rise of an enormous yellow moon, and sailed along and away from Gran Canaria’s east side in gold and silver floodlit night.

A big boat holding two oil rigs, because apparently that’s a thing

Adios Spain, and thanks for all the tapas and public holidays


On the road again

We rode a largely steady wind for three or four days, seesawing gently on a frothy skin of rippling blue. Each day we performed a maneuver to tweak Gwen’s rig and compensate for small deviations in wind direction and speed, poling out the staysail to go closer downwind or adding or reducing sail. Whereas we’d normally have to stay alert for such adjustments, the wind’s predictability found us thinking in a much longer time frame: “maybe we’ll gybe on Tuesday”, not “maybe we’ll gybe in an hour”. There were no land, neighbours, cruisers or tankers to avoid, and Geordi took care of the rest of the steering.

This freedom from boat duties, along with a pleasant downwind course that doesn’t rock us beyond comfort, has given us more time and energy than we’re used to on a long passage. Snug in my cushion coffin arrangement, which has now become a permanent feature, we sleep deeply when off watch so we can enjoy the daylight hours and pour ourselves into cooking, fishing, playing and lounging. Our hefty stock of ripe and nearly ripe fresh goods keeps us in omelettes, snacks and salad. Rich, who usually finds cooking a frustrating chore, uses his new pressure cooker to rattle out delicious stews, soups and curries, fleshed out with the meat of small, unfortunate dorado fish.

Under Pressure

Gwen’s classic downwind pose, all canvas and no knickers

Found this poor sod on deck one morning

Pretty, though, eh?

My culinary efforts have been less impressive. One evening, as I turned to open the oven door, the vegetable bake I had lovingly crafted skidded down the galley surface on a sudden jolt of the boat. It mounted the fiddle that should have kept it in place and launched itself at the floor opposite. I screamed. It went everywhere. Helpfully, Rich wandered over to tell me how I could have avoided that happening. I scolded him and my ruined dinner until they both apologised and admitted to poor timing.

The fourth night was warmer and cloudier than those before, and before the beaming moon (which rises later and smaller each night) made its appearance I found myself surrounded by darkness. An underwater thunderstorm of phosphorescent lights began to pulse in Gwen’s wake, small bursts that exploded and dissolved away. Soon there were more either side of the boat. Dolphins danced among them, puffing their familiar exhalations as the rhythmic lights flashed like Michael Jackson’s pavement stones. I could hear them all too well. The wind was beginning to die.

The next morning I was woken early by a call from Rich. “Do you want to see a whale up close?” I popped my head and then my body out of the bedroom hatch to join him in gawping at the mass that Gwen slowly approached: the huge log-like upper edge of a sperm whale, rising and falling barely five metres away as it passed, grey and heavy in the citrus pink haze of sunrise. The back end was resting, the front of it was breathing through a large spurting hole and all of it, presumably, was sleeping soundly.

The cloud and the last of the wind were left behind with the whale. We spent the rest of the day becalmed in sunshine, using the redundant sails for shade, reading Treasure Island out loud and playing mankala with the wrong rules. It’s easier to spot wildlife on a flat calm sea, and we saw dolphins, turtles and a little shark as well as the dragonflies that seem to gather in a lack of wind out here. We also spotted the first of a few sailing yachts, though only on the AIS receiver. While we’ve traced 120 miles off the coast of Western Sahara for safety from pirates that may or may not exist, these others are taking the direct diagonal route from Lanzarote to the Cape Verdes on their way across the pond.

The waves receded. Looking over the side of the boat you could see tendrils of light emenating from your shadow, caught on the faintest of invisible ripples. When Gwen reached a complete standstill we took it in turns to jump off the bowsprit, swimming or rinsing off briefly in the surprisingly warm ocean before climbing out in case a shark had got a whiff of us.

Very very busy half-steering and reading

Becalmed is a beautiful place to visit

Testing out the “getting back on board” system…

…and then leaping in

The next days were cloudy and grey, monochrome prints of the ones before with only Gwen and her garish paint job not in Kansas any more. One morning I had made breakfast and coffee and gone for a nap when I was woken by an unusual clatter. The boat seemed to be moving faster, which made sense, but there were noises unrelated to speed – bashing, toppling and grunts of effort. I bounced down to the cockpit, which was awash with blood. “Is everything alright, dear?”. Rich proudly showed me the enormous bonito he’d caught and hauled on board, the cooking and consumption of which became our biggest project for the following 24 hours.

For the last couple of days we’ve never been more than five minutes from sight of a flying fish. Usually in flocks of three to ten, they emerge and soar gracefully just above the water for longer than you’d think possible, sometimes arching their bodies to skip off the top of a wave before sploshing hilariously back into the water. We watch them with an amused spare eye as we shower in salt water on the foredeck or read in the cockpit. We’re back to whistling merrily along with the wind behind us, full of the exhilaration of a large blue world, getting better at spotting wildlife as the distinction between sea and not sea grows more obvious.

Look at this smug git


Take-off and bounce poses

Our whole time in the Canaries we chatted giddily about getting to the Gambia. We could never have imagined that the journey there would be worth as much excitement. Tomorrow we’ll turn landward, but neither of us would mind a longer holiday out here in nowhere. Rich is strumming a Lady Gaga song I taught him on the ukulele, I’m shark spotting in the hot setting sun (I’ve just seen a whopper), Gwen’s bimbling at a peaceful three knots and we’re discussing the 12km of chain (3:1 minimum, to be safe) we’d need to drop anchor here and shun the land for a few days more. Sadly we only have 80m.

To be continued..

(In the meantime, here’s a wee gallery of less than perfect nature photography)

Back To Life


October struggled on, dripping with sweat and coated in a film of blown-in Saharan dust. Our two week work stop in Arrecife had protracted to five and the pair of us were tense and tired, still shackled to a marina that seemed less of a luxury and more of a detention camp by the day. So, of course, when we were finally free to leave, the engine broke.

We call the engine “Sooty” because the exhaust hose beside it squeaks like Sooty’s friend Sweep when it’s working right (apologies to those deprived of a British 80s childhood – Sooty was a little, silent puppet bear, and I loved him). Stupid, shitty, bastard Sooty had lost all of the oil from his gearbox into the bilge. When refilled, it disappeared again within a day. Time for tense, tired, overworked Rich to return to the dark pit beneath the aft cabin, biting back his frustration and impatience to dismantle and diagnose. When he resurfaced, we had a corroded output flange as our new enemy.

Months ago, before leaving the Mediterranean, Rich and I had budgeted for the Canaries, the Gambia and the Atlantic crossing based on extremely optimistic (entirely fictitious) figures. We still don’t know quite what was miscalculated (by so much), but when we’d arrived in Lanzarote we’d realised we were screwed. Now we had worked for several weeks our finances had been replenished. We’d been able to afford the dyneema for our new stays and had enough in the kitty to get us as far as the Cape Verde islands, from which we’ll make the crossing to the Caribbean – crossings are free as there are no cafes, stationers or fishing equipment shops in the ocean. We had enough for our plan to go on. But we hadn’t made enough for a 250 Euro engine part replacement.

A metal workshop saved the day, machining down the corroded section of the offending item for less than 20 Euros. A replacement oil lip seal of a smaller size than the original completed the repair, and we bid goodbye to the kind and helpful marina gang with a last few relieved rounds of too many cheap beers.

The morning was bright and windless as we motored out of the marina. We dropped the hook near the entrance to put out the bowsprit together, but when a yelling policeman from the commercial wharf made us hoist the anchor the job fell to Rich alone. He heaved and jiggled the bowsprit in to place while I drove Gwen slowly around in circles, singing songs and cheering him on, waiting for freedom to begin. We bimbled out, sailing at under a knot for the next hour or so, before deciding that we really needed to get somewhere that day and give the revitalised engine a good workout.


Four horsemen of the artpocalypse in the marina entrance

We motored in to the rocky bay of Papagayo on the south of Lanzarote, dropped our anchor and our jaws, and, as soon as Gwen was settled, leapt into the clear water. At last, we were home in the blue. Beneath the boat what looked like an implausibly gigantic stingray was resting, and I called Rich over to help me decide if it was real. A little flutter of one edge of its body told us that it was. We ate dinner as the sun set beside misty shadow silhouettes of Fuerteventura, casting an orange light on the bay, and wondered if we were permitted to stop holding our breaths.

We lived between Papagayo and neighbouring Playa Blanca for a few more joyous days, stalking cuttlefish, parrot fish and a dark and beautiful eagle ray, stocking up on provisions and exploring rocky crevices and busy beaches. We took the volcano tour we’d promised ourselves as remittance for our hard work and discovered that the rest of Lanzarote is indeed as barren as the north. When we decided to leave (there’s The Gambia to get to, after all) the bay was still protected by the island, and as we departed I had plenty of time to practice all of the hoisting, unhooking, sail backing and problem solving involved in sailing from anchor while Rich steered.


For scale, I am five metres above the ray in this picture, the camera is eight.


Top geyser


Journey to a post-apocalyptic world inhabited only by buses


When the hell mouth opens, just build a little wall round it and carry on.


Papagayo. Not bad.



A closer look at the rocks


and the beach nestled inside most of a volcanic crater.


Some rocks. My caption writing is not on top form today.

We lumbered along the sheltered south coast with a slight land breeze ahead of us for four hours, reading and singing and growing a little tired of the pace. We could see the north easterly wind of our grib charts darkening the sea in the distance, and when the first gust came from the north we gybed. It disappeared, and we gybed again. Another gust, another gybe, lazier than the first, both of us gently loosening and tying runners and headsail sheets while trying not to get our hopes up. And back again. Finally the indecisive boom rested forcefully on the port side, our one knot surged to six and within a minute our course and pace were set for the night ahead. In the now blustery cockpit we didn’t mention the wind that had appeared, knowing that whoever did would be held responsible should it bugger off again.

The night was moonlit and the sea was smooth, populated by cruise ships deliberately dawdling to fill the hours between islands. I slept too well in my off-watches and suffered for my luck on my shifts, struggling to stay awake unless I kept my face in the wind. Sometimes a night watch is just a duty, and my second one that night reminded me of a job I had in my teens, manning a fire door in a theatre. To lean on the door was considered a bad thing, though I did it when I thought I could get away with it, watching the same damn am-dram production show after show, aching with the tedium, bored with the effort of carrying my own weight. I lasted a week. And twenty years later I spent half a night watch remembering it in detail.


Sailing in to the sunset is all very well and good, but you can’t see anything


unless you have amazing sunglasses.


Gran Canaria glowing in the morning

The wind was dying as we approached Gran Canaria so we put the engine on early to enter the harbour at Las Palmas. The ARC dominates the marina at this time of the year so all other marina boats were anchored in the nearby bay, and we had to wind our way around them to find a spot, nestled between them at the greatest distance we could manage. We’re still in that spot. We stayed with Gwen until we were sure she was safe, rowed ashore for a revitalising pizza and came back to trick or treat a neighbouring boat, Jorge’s new ride, thanks to some cheap black lipstick from a bazaar. Bazaars will be one of the things we miss about Spain. They remind us of Trago Mills.

We both like the city. Rich has been here before and loves the lush hectares of botanical gardens on the outskirts, so when Thursday turned out to be a religious holiday (because in Spain you need at least one a fortnight) we abandoned our provisioning plans and went on a voyage of vegetative discovery by bus. As we had to change twice in each direction we were able to see the city beyond the concrete shopping precincts near the marina, including its dark stone cathedral and other old buildings and a park that used to be a football stadium. We found the gardens and descended in to their steep valley with the joy of two people who haven’t seen a lot of plants in the last month and a half.


Football stadium/park


Park/football stadium


I spent most of the bus ride cooing at the colourful houses climbing the valley walls.






Botanical gardens: hello green.


Crouching Tricia, hidden dragon.


The Fountain of the Wise is dry. Welcome to 2017. 


I can’t tell you how much we were enjoying the green. Wet green.


Spiky green. 


Steep green.

We talked at length about whether we should visit Tenerife and La Gomera, or just leave from here for Africa. As always, the weather forecast made the decision for us. It’s looking good to go south this afternoon and unpleasantly blowy in the Canaries later in the week, so if I can finish writing this post and Rich can fix whatever’s wrong with the cooker we’ll depart today for the 1000 mile journey to The Gambia. Out here every new position is the furthest south we’ve ever been, and this will be our longest journey yet by far. We’ve stocked up on fresh goods and signed out at the port office, so there’s just water and fuel to grab from the marina on our way out. I’d be excited, but there’s a lot of tidying up to do first.

Ten years ago a young Richard, all lineless tan and greyless beard, visited his then girlfriend at her work placement in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. While she worked he would bother the frogs in the botanical gardens or sit on the beach off the city centre. He would look at the boats that were anchored there and tell himself “one day I’ll have a boat, and I’ll sail it here on my way to the Caribbean”. We’re anchored off that beach now, preparing to sail this afternoon for a destination neither of us could have imagined when we started this journey – a journey that I’ve been on for half as long as him, that he started on that beach.

See you in Gambia.