Tromso is located on the island of Tromsoya, 350 kms north of the Arctic Circle and connected to the mainland by this bridge. It’s population is approx. 72,000. Tromso has mild weather because of the warm water currents of the gulf stream allowing beautiful winters and tree growth despite its very high latitude. With the highest number of old wooden houses in Northern Norway, Tromso’s oldest dates back to 1789. They do get older….. archaeological excavations have found evidence of inhabitants since the ice age. Artifacts and remains of buildings estimated to be 9,000-10,000 years old. The area is rich in Norse and Sami heritage. The great explorer Roald Amundsen was Norwegian. His advantageous position of being raised so close to the polar regions, he led the first expedition on the ‘Maud‘ through the North West Passage in 1906 and was the first to reach the South Pole in 1911. We saw his ship ‘Maud‘ during our trip to the North West Passage 100 years later in 2006, now just a skeleton, ice bound near Cambridge Bay. Amundsen disappeared at the age of 55 in the Barents Sea while flying on a rescue mission in the Arctic. A fascinating man if you ever have time to read about him.
Day 35: Wednesday, 10th July 2019. 0200 – Land Ahoy!! We motored through the waterways enjoying every moment of this beautiful country. Puffins were everywhere. The sky was cloudy, water and wind calm. It took us another 9 hours to reach the marina. We fueled up, cleaned French Kiss, paid at a vending machine for our few nights accommodation, then headed to the Radisson for a long awaited shower! It was so close we could see French Kiss from our foyer.
We enjoyed the rest of the week eating out, walking through town, visiting the highest point and Carrie and I doing the e-bike tour.
James missed his family and I’m sure keeping a ‘dry’ boat for so long was wearing thin for both men. Everybody needed their own space and it was given.
All sorts of ideas were suggested concerning Amber and James then the guys decided to head straight home to Conwy. James decided not to fly home and for Amber to stay with the children in Conwy until baby Julian was sorted with his vaccinations etc. Sailing with a 3 month old may not be so easy.
Day 39: Sunday, 14th July. Just after lunch 12:30 we pulled out of the town harbour marina and headed southward, all going well we had 5-7 day sail ahead of us. We settled back into our 3 and 4 hour shifts cruising passed the oil platforms accompanied by sea gulls.
Day 41: Monday, 16th July. Carrie and I did our shifts together for another momentous occasion, with only electronic charts to tell us, we crossed the Arctic Circle for the second time at 2103. The guys were sleeping so we enjoyed the experience ourselves drawing our position on the paper chart with ink pen, something you never do.
Day 44: Friday, 19th July. 1810 we pulled into Lerwick, Shetland Islands. It was lovely. We knew our way around, visited a favourite restaurant for dinner that night, chatted to an elderly gentleman at the next table and knowing where the showers and laundry were, we felt at home.
There was no available berths so we rafted against another yacht. Very common practice in this part of the northern hemisphere but so unusual when it’s rarely done in Australia (that I know of). When someone rafts against you they exit over the bow of your yacht… dirty boots and all. I do not appreciate disrespectful neighbours! Plus the inconsiderate stomping as they walked above your cabin at any hour of the night while you were sleeping.
Carrie went into a chocolate shop where the owner had a world map stuck with pins of where her customers had come from. Much to her surprise one was from our hometown of Tannum Sands! Sharon Roder! We will have to find her sometime.
We decided to sail between the Shetland and Orkney Islands, around the top end of Scotland, Cape Wrath and down the west coast to the Isle of Man. A small achievement of it’s own, we would circumnavigate the top end of Scotland through the canals then up the east coast, around the northern end and down the western side.
Day 47: Monday, 22nd July. 1100 we set sail again from Lerwick. At 0200 the next morning we anchored in a bay by the Orkney Islands. It was a beautiful little spot where farming properties met the sea. We could see the homesteads, barns and smells of manure. So tranquil and far from the madness of cities. Tonight would be our first night of darkness in a month.
Day 48: Tuesday, 23rd July. James had just told Carrie of the Guinness Book of Records shortest flight in the world being right here, in the Orkneys from Westray to Papa Westray. We were right in the middle of the flight path. Land on the left and land on the right. The words had barely left James’ mouth when he saw a plane taxiing down the run way. ‘Grab your cameras …. this is it!’ How lucky were we! The small, possibly 12 seater took off from the left, flew overhead and landed on the right side. My video timed the flight at 1 minute 53 seconds but the Guinness Book of Records states 53 seconds. There must have been good tailwinds on that day.
Between the Orkney Islands we headed westward around Cape Wrath. Thought it may have had the name for good reason so kept ourselves wide around the cape and headed south to the Isle of Skye.
Day 49: Wednesday, 24th July. At 1940 we sailed into the Isle of Skye anchoring over night at Isleornsay Harbour.
Day 50: Thursday, 25th July. James couldn’t help himself but race another yacht around a rocky point off the coastline. Winds had picked up to 30 knots and the old racing instinct kicked in and James was off on his own little tangent.
Day 51: Friday, 26th July. We had a days sailing to the Isle of Man. Then, an amazing experience with dolphins. A pod of six or so appeared beside our bow. Like teenage boys they chased and played literally for hours. For 5 hours through the Irish Sea. You would wonder are they territorial or do they have to find their way back to where they came from. Whales, turtles and dolphins always pass us but we think that’s the area they live in. Obviously no! But, as I write this I realise we only move at 6-7 knots so over a 5 hour period we have only moved about 50 kms which isn’t that far for these slick swimmers. Mid afternoon we anchor at West Tarbert Bay.
Day 52: Saturday, 27th July. At 0630 French Kiss departs West Tarbert and is set on course for the Isle of Man.
Some of these lighthouses are incredible pieces of engineering. How they built them where they did is no mean feat. Thank God they are where they are! Lighthouses are placed where rocks and cliffs are a hazard. The ocean can be rough, visibility thick with fog or heavy rain, cloudy nights are black! Not particularly pleasant. So lighthouses are a beautiful sight especially at times like these. Tonight we anchored at Chapel Bay on the Isle of Man. We are able to get news reception. The All Blacks have played the Springboks and tied at 16/16. This is the best news ever. The Boks are back and have tied with the best rugby union team in the world.
Day 53: Sunday, 28th July. James’ family were watching us on Marine Traffic. Amber has left the car at Conwy Marina for James. We leave early at 0825 in the morning. It’s raining and the seas are rough with 2 metre swells. Most of our trip had been relatively calm. Georgina and Mike said later they couldn’t believe the speed we crossed the passage into Conwy. This was our last watch. It takes us another 8 1/2 hours to get see the first markers leading into Conwy. It’s a feeling of jubilation. Triumph! It’s emotional. We made it! We are Arctic Explorers! We have done something very few have done. We are the gossip of Conwy Quays Marina! Everyone knows about us. Everyone knows French Kiss. At 1800 we tie up to the dock, step off and hug the four of us.
53 days away. 3,918 nautical miles! All together about 5 months for Philip. James can’t wait to see Amber, Poppy and little Julian. Carrie is very much looking forward to seeing her husband, Kris and Philip and I can’t wait to get home for the birth of our first grandchild.
Now the big job starts of cleaning the yacht and preparing her for wintering in Conwy. Everything is washed, dried and stored. Carrie washed clothes, sheets, covers etc for days. Philip and James stripped the sails, drained tanks etc while I cleaned out cupboards, under floor storage and packed everything away.
It was so good to walk back into the Mulberry! Our favourite place! Dan, the manager has always been very friendly and pleasant though I can hardly understand a thing he says.
French Kiss was put on the dry dock waiting for us to return for our next adventure May 2020!
Day 13: Tuesday, 18th June. The sun is shining! Crew are well and comfortable. Stores are replenished. Philip and James have discussed the weather and we are briefed on the next leg. It is 0700 hours and a beautiful day to sail out of Lerwick straight to the Arctic. Estimated 10 days if all goes well. I notified our insurance company, Pantaenius, of our decision to cross the Norwegian Sea to Svalbard. Our insurance cover was adjusted to 82 degrees North, NORSE and SB. We could not go any higher north than Svalbard. We paid another AUD $ 5,000 to cover our crew for one month for Search and Rescue Insurance in case of a catastrophe at sea. We would be a long way from any immediate help! When we assisted James in delivering the 72′ SV ‘Concerto’ from Fiji to Sydney, we saw NOBODY through that entire trip. 8 days on our own! So, $5,000 for our entire crew to be rescued was a small price.
Lerwick; the seas are slight, winds 5 knots, barometer 1006. By 10:00 winds had picked up to 18-20 knots. The nights became very short, in fact 3 1/2 hours of twilight. We had 3 shifts, each for 4 hours in the day 0600 – 1800 then every 2 hours through the night 1800-0600. The Norwegian Sea was moderate as we motor sailed passed the oil platforms. At approx. 20:00 while Carrie and I were on shift, we received a radio call from a Norwegian surveillance ship. As soon as I responded with French Kiss, the gentleman was happy to confirm the name of our vessel and asked our intentions. Most people don’t know Svalbard so I said we were heading to Tromso in Norway. He advised to keep well clear of the oil platforms, at least 500 meters away and to enjoy the rest of our journey. Our AIS would have given him the registered information on French Kiss, her Australian registration number, AIS number, length, draft, speed and heading. Enough information to report us to the coast guard if necessary. This is how we were tracked and easily found by our families through the Automatic Identification System on the app ‘Marine Traffic’.
Day 14: Wednesday 19th June. The sun was setting at 22:54 and rising again at 02:22. The sea was calm. Wind dropped out to 5 knots. We furled in the solent and motor sailed.
Day 15: Thursday, 20th June. A quite day. Calm seas. Winds 10 -15 knots. Carrie and I had a pack of trivia questions which we played to pass the time.
Latitude: N 65 10.7 Longitude: E 4 55.4 Excitement was mounting as we sailed closer to an imaginary line ….. N 66 33.39 – The Arctic Circle. There are five major circles on our planet. They change slightly every year. 1. Arctic Circle N 66 33′ 2. Tropic of Cancer N 23 50′ 3. Equator 0 degrees. 4. Tropic of Capricorn S 23.50′ 5. Antarctic Circle S 66 33′ . Tomorrow will be the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. We will experience 24 hour sunlight. No darkness, no twilight, no night at all.
Day 16: Friday 21st June. Being distracted while filling the day tank became an issue. James, myself and Philip all had times when the day tank was accidentally left on, causing a loss of fuel. We made a rule to have another crew member double check when the day tank was being filled and turned off. We had all finished our night shifts. James went to bed at 0400. My shift 0400 to 0600 then Philip 0600 to 1000. We prepared our champagne ready for the big moment. James didn’t want to be woken so we let him sleep.
At 41 seconds after 0800 we crossed the Arctic Circle! What a great achievement! We were ecstatic though celebrated quietly with a bottle of French Champagne.
Day 17: Saturday, 22nd June. Winds didn’t get over 10 knots. We left the mainsail up and motor running most of the way. We could have sailed … very slowly… at 4 knots but we all want to get up there as quickly as we can while the weather is good. I, for one, do not need to be bashed around in rough weather. So, rev the engine up!!
Day 18: Sunday, 23rd June. Changing shifts, sleeping, reading, eating, looking out, filling in the log book; changing shifts, sleeping, reading, eating, looking out, filling in the log book…. that is all we have been doing. Hello and goodbye between shifts! 6 days at sea and the first bit of excitement for the day at around 10am we crossed the N 70 degree Parallel of Latitude. The ‘N’ means north. Means we are north of the Equator. The Northern Hemisphere. The Equator is 0 degrees. The North Pole is N 90 degrees. It is on a 90 degree angle from the Equator. For ease, if you make a line at a 70 degree angle from the middle of the Equator (true measurement is the core of the earth) you will get a point on the earth where the line comes out. Drawing a line around the earth from west to east, all latitude lines are parallel to each other. That is how high up we are! Now, if you want to know exactly where we are, you have to know our Meridian of Longitude. These lines are not parallel but are all the same length, meeting at the Poles. 0 degrees 0 minutes of Longitude is Greenwich in London. The International Date Line is 180 degrees, passing through the middle of the Pacific Ocean, deviating around some islands and territories. Longitude is measured in degrees (W)est or (E)ast of Greenwich. Our insurance will not cover us or vessel beyond N 82 so we are not insured if we go to the Pole.
Ice maps are downloaded every day. The North West Passage is still iced in as far down as N 80 and nearly the entire east coast of Svalbard. We have reached N 71 38.68′.
Philip has been cooking all the dinners. Whether it was chicken, lamb or beef he did a super job cooking stews every night in his pressure cooker. 12 minutes and dinner was ready. To release the steam he held a piece of hose out the window so not to fog up the windows inside.
Day 19: Monday, 24th June. We have been sailing for a week. No sight or contact of another vessel since the oil platforms! Fog is appearing from nowhere, coming and going in patches. Visibility a few boat lengths. The winds are starting to pick up making silence with the engine off.
Max speed 9.2 knots. Minutes before midnight we are happy with 147.7 nautical miles for the day. Squalls were everywhere creating good 20 knot winds. Latitude N 74 05.6′
Day 20: Tuesday 25th June. Getting closer to Svalbard. Now the bet is ‘on’! Who will see land first? Outside temperature is 14 degrees C. Winds are dropping to 10 knots. We are anxious to get there so engine is on at 1800rpm cruising at 7 knots. We think we have sighted Arctic Puffins so land is near.
Day 21: Wednesday, 26th June. Though the sky is as bright as day, it’s 5 minutes passed midnight. Clouds obscure the horizon but I am sure I see land. I use my hand bearing compass spotting land at 070 degrees. I measure on our paper chart 070 degrees from our position and there it is: Mt Hilmartjellet!!!! Land Ahoy! We have made it to the Arctic – Svalbard.
We have mobile reception, Carrie speaks with Kris and her family and James speaks with Amber and Poppy. It’s a special day today, not only reaching a 10 year, long time goal, it is James and Amber’s little girl, Poppy’s 2nd birthday! Happy Birthday Poppy! She grabs the phone off her mother and hides in her cubby house so she can have Daddy all to herself. She has a little doctors case, puts the stethoscope on the phone on her father to check he is healthy. Last week she told her mother, ‘I’m going to find Daddy very much!’ She’s only 2! Amber does so well to manage their new baby boy Julian and Poppy while James is away. It’s a long time and they all miss each other.
It takes us the rest of the day, 17 hours and 20 minutes to reach the capital, Longyearbyen, the northern most settlement on the planet. Population just over 2,100 mostly from Thailand, Sweden, Russia and Ukraine. Land mass 61,022 kms squared. Polar bear population 3,000. The coldest recorded temperature 1961-1990 was -46.3 C. The hottest 21.3 C. The hottest between 2000-2017 18.5 C. Average of 5-10 C while we were there. At 1720 hours, all hands on deck as James manouvres French Kiss onto the pontoon. It’s a tight squeeze though he gets us in. He squats down to take a deep breath saying, ‘F*** that was stressful!’
There is no marina in Svalbard. No onshore power, showers or laundry. We shower on board and take a walk into town. It’s so good to walk on land. We have been at sea for 9 days. Philip’s pressure cooker stews were good but we were so looking forward to a steak. Eventually after a 15 minute walk we find the best restaurant EVER! It was warm and cosy with wooden furnishings covered in seal skins. Steak, chips and burgers on the menu! Even whale steaks. Against our beliefs, whale has been eaten in the Arctic since the Inuit arrived. They are allow to take 300 Minke whales a year. We all had a little taste of Minke whale. The flesh was red and looked just like beef steak.
The Governor of Svalbard or Sysselmannen pa Svalbard (Norwegian) represents the Norwegian government in exercising its sovereignty over the Svalbard archipelago (Spitsbergen). We contacted the Sysselmannen’s office weeks before advising them of our estimated date of arrival. By law, everyone has to carry a rifle when venturing out of the town parameters. We intended to hire one as soon as we arrived. All proof of Search and Rescue insurance, yacht insurance, passport details of all crew on board, safety dry suits purchased for each one of us and details of our travel intentions where forwarded well before we arrived. Their emails were damning as if we would be refused stay if the above wasn’t fulfilled. In Australia it is customary to fly a yellow flag as you do when you arrive in any new country. Around the world it’s known a quarantine flag. When you tie up you do not step off your vessel until the Australian Boarder Patrol and Bio-Security Police come on board and give you a clearance to get off. All food items are checked and confiscated if considered contaminated by Bio-Security. Philip and James had gone straight to the Sysselmannen office to report our arrival and came back so disillusioned. They showed no interest in seeing the search and rescue insurance, contaminated food or items on board and worst of all, we were too late in submitting a rifle permit and were not allowed off our yacht at any anchorage outside Longyearbyen’s pontoon. Philip was so disappointed! The following day we decided to take a boat trip around the island and visit sights. It was well worth seeing a polar bear, Arctic fox and various bird life.
Our tour guide asked us to stay close to him so he can keep an eye on everyone as polar bears could be in the area. The dogs here are great at sniffing out polar bears from a good distance. If we did venture off, it would be at our own risk but he totally warned against it. Taking photos proved a bit of a problem if you didn’t keep one eye on the dog and his owner. Carrie and I found an antique telephone attached to a pole and chair on the side of the road. We couldn’t walk passed without a photo. Lagging behind, we quickly caught up to the delight of our guide, he said to me, ‘What part of stay close to me didn’t you understand?’ He delighted in repeating the question. I gave some feeble excuse as Philip was urging him on. He then said, ‘I have always wanted to say that,’ with a smile on his face.
We also visited the Svalbard Global Seed Vault also known as the ‘Doomsday Vault’. It was closed to the public but the taxi driver took us as far in as allowed. Renovations were being done and the area was closed off. The vault is an attempt to ensure against the loss of seeds in other genebanks during large scale global catastrophes. It is 130 metres above sea level. This is the estimated height should the ice melt and seas rise. It was considered ideal because it lacked tectonic activity and the permafrost helps to preserve the seeds which are packed in special three ply foil packets and heat sealed to expel moisture. The floor area is approx. 1,000 square metres. Storing seeds is free to the end user. Norway and the Crop Trust pay for operational costs. Primary funding for the Trust comes from organisations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and various governments worldwide. I am sure we were told their are three sections to the vault. Only one is being used at the moment. Once one million seeds are in that section they will open the next. Locally mined coal is used to power the refrigeration units that cool the seeds further to -18 degrees C which is the international recommended standard. If the equipment fails, at least several weeks will pass before the facility rises to the surrounding sandstone temperature of -3 degrees C. It is estimated to take two centuries to warm to 0 degrees C. I was determined that the vault could preserve most major food crop seeds for hundreds of years. Some, including those of important grains, could potentially remain viable for thousands of years.
This seems crazy but Svalbard is rich in fossils. The largest plant here is a shrub that grows only a few inches high. Why is there so much coal? Coal is the byproduct of carbon from rain forests. Around 60 million years ago the climate was warmer. Vast swamp lands were home to forests of oaks, redwoods and maple. Nearby islands even have ancient aquatic dinosaurs. Philip wanted to find something for our children. It wasn’t hard. There were fossils everywhere and no limit on what you took. The only problem was how much were you prepared to carry home. I was busy Face-timing family while Carrie found extras for me. Our guide’s name was Jorn. Jorn Dybdahl. He had traveled extensively and said Australia was one of his favourite places. He absolutely loved his time there surfing around Byron Bay area. He hired the best polar bear detecting dog in Svalbard. The dog’s name was so long he could never remember it so called him Pete. Pete was very shy he said and not very people friendly but could smell a bear from miles away. He didn’t have hair like our dogs but thick fur. As I face-timed Aston and Ashleigh they asked for a closer look at Pete. I went up to his face with my phone and he got very friendly and jumped all over me. As I sat on the rocks near him, he jumped on my back. Jorn pulled him off and made him behave. It showed there was some people friendliness inside Pete….it just wanted to be allowed out!
Washing and finding a laundromat was difficult. When we did find someone the cost was AUD $300.00. With no laundry facilities for sailors and visitors, they were not shy in charging.
Day 29: Thursday, 4th July. Happy Independence Day to all our American family and friends!
Time to leave Longyearbyen. The ice pack is still sitting as low as N 80. Carrie and I provision the yacht and make French Kiss ship shape for departure. At 1030 James logs ‘Freedom of the Seas’, just exiting Isleford. 1815 Anchored in a bay called Eidembukta! Philip and James have decided to sail as far north as possible. Tomorrow is Operation Walrus and Beluga Whales.
Day 30: Friday, 5th July. Today we are searching for walrus and beluga whales. We leave the main island of Svalbard known as Oscar II Land and sail across to Prins Karls Forland which is an island off the west coast. James has done his research and knows the walrus are on a sandy point jutting into the sea at Poolepyten. As we get closer we see long brown shapes lying along the beach. It’s exciting!
Operation Walrus successful! The water may not appear rough but taking us up and down the beach line was making James’ stomach churn. After 20 minutes it was enough. Cameras down! All of a sudden it was all over. We had reached N 78 26.0′. The ice pack stopped us from going much further. James turned the bow southward. Let’s go home!!
Tonight we relax and enjoy a roast meal.
Day 31: Saturday, 6th July. We had a calm night as well as day. The seas were calm as we sailed south. Happy birthday to Carrie’s husband, Kris. He has been our 5th crew member watching us on webcams as we have sailed in and out of ports along the coast. Amazing technology!
The wind started to pick up later in the afternoon especially as we passed glaciers. The katabatic winds falling off the glaciers gusted up to 40 knots. With all the excitement then all hands on deck, the log book wasn’t filled out and the day tank not checked. A calm little bay was close by to anchor over night but we just had to avoid rocks on the lee shore also close by. The wind is howling, the motor is running, James has the helm, Philip controls the sails and Carrie and I surveying the passage keeping French Kiss at a safe distance from the rocks and ice. All of a sudden the engine stops! I rush down to the navigation table and check all instruments. The day tank has run empty and the engine starved of fuel. I yell to Philip, the day tank is empty. I start the pump to get fuel across from the main tank. Philip pulls the floor up and starts pushing the manual fuel pump on the engine. He pumped like crazy. It reminded me of the saying when water is flooding into a boat, ‘Nothing moves more water than a scared man with a bucket’! Anxiety forces your eyeballs from the day tank to Philip to James and back again. James is steering French Kiss hard off the rocks. Its a few minutes of controlled panic. Finally, the engine turns over! We all give a sigh of relief and slowly motor into our anchorage, Bellsund.
The scenery is perfect. We have our own glacier right in front of us.
Philip wanted photos of French Kiss so he and James decided to take the tender out a little way to get some good shots. He was very proud of his choice of motor on the tender. It was electric and didn’t need fuel. He just plugged it into power socket and charged it up. If we were anchored or tied up to a buoy, a trip into the marina only used about 5% of power so it was brilliant. Carrying diesel in a 20 litre container is a worry. The risk here was polar bears and no rifle to defend themselves. It was cold, they organised the tender, jumped in and motored off. We don’t know if it was the cold weather but the motor didn’t like whatever it was and decided to go slower than the current. Philip started snapping photos and a little anxiety set in. James warned Philip this wasn’t working as planned and pulled out the oars. I’ve never seen two men paddle so fast! If they floated to the shore, polar bears could be a real serious issue!!! The photos tell the story better ……
Day 32: Sunday 6th July. It’s a clear calm day. Nice start on our way to Tromso. It will take approximately 3 days to cross the Barents Sea. All I could think of was the TV documentaries where fishing and crabbing trawlers tackled the roughest seas on the Barents. We were so fortunate to hit good weather. James was looking forward to flying home and seeing Amber and the children from Tromso. At 1400 we cruised out of our delightful little bay saying goodbye to Svalbard for the last time. Passing the rocky shoreline with small pack ice wasn’t a concern.
We headed out to open ocean. Autopilot on. Everybody taking in the whole experience of the passed 2 weeks, processing the awesomeness of what we had done. All of a sudden, back to reality! A few metres off our starboard mid ship floats a clear transparent iceberg. Goodness, we thought we were clear of them where we were. I have better long vision than Philip so I volunteer to station myself on the bow. I stay for about an hour as we pass many more bergs until they are well and truly out of sight.
At midnight, on Philip’s shift, we were woken to ‘Oh my God, check this out!’ In the distance was an iceberg approx. 30 metres high. We were really shocked at what we saw which reinforced the necessity to keep a vigilant lookout.
At this point we had been sailing for 10 hours. We still were not clear of icebergs.
Day 33: Monday, 8th July. Dolphins entertained us for sometime. They are playful and an absolute delight to watch especially when they are the only living creature you encounter for days. James spotted a whale passing Bear Island though generally we didn’t see them too close but a lot of blows in the distance. I checked my whale chart as some were so massive they had to be Blue Whales. The gush of mist from their blowhole was huge. The Blue Whale is the largest animal known to have ever existed weighing in at approx. 170 tonne and up to 30 metres long. We expected to see more sea life but as we have learnt in Africa, you are in their territory which they know well and are not just sitting on your path waiting for you to pass. If anything they are avoiding the noise of the engine. Seagulls, Terns, Skuas seemed to follow us everywhere, even when days away from land. At times, they would swoop towards our sails and around the mast as if it were a tree. They were constant company along the way.
Philip’s eye appointment was booked in Tromso weeks before. We motored when needed to keep good time. His monthly injections were running a little over the due date. We are crossing the Barents Sea on our way to Norway. James is feeling a need for space, a nice bed to sleep and some time out. We decide to book into the Raddison. It was so conveniently close to the wharf. I manage to book us a room each via the internet. Three days more to sail and we are all back on our shifts. By now Carrie was very capable of doing a shift herself so we were able to have a 9 hour break between our 3 hour shift. The sail across the Berents was surprisingly calm and very pleasant.
After our one and only episode of mal de mer, we were all aware of how quick we could go down if we took our mind off the subject so kept ourselves well medicated with Kwells and Scopolamine patches.
Day 9: Friday 14th June. Our sail to the Shetlands was uneventful. The winds and sea state were moderate, sky lightly clouded with a foggy morning. All were nothing new. Too get a 100 percent clear sunny day was rare. We left Inverness at 10:55 arriving into the Shetland capital, Lerwick on Day 10, Saturday 15th June 14:40. The weather slowly worsened so Philip and James decided to sit it out on Sunday and Monday, leaving Tuesday as early as possible.
Carrie and I ventured around the streets and lovely little shops. We sunk ourselves into the Shetland Times Bookshop. Beautiful books and plenty of reading matter for the trip ahead. Coffee and scones never as good as my mum’s. This really surprised me as English tea, scones, jam and cream had always rung a testament of quality. English royalty, upper crust type of thing!!! Through all our travels the scones were dry and much fluid needed to wash them down! No wonder the English drink so much tea!!!
Day 12: Monday 17th June. We woke to a beautiful day! The elusive Puffin was high on the agenda. Philip and I had searched on our way passed Wales, in water ways and islands including Puffin Island without success. The skies had cleared so the four of us hired a taxi to drive us to see Puffins wherever they were. Our taxi driver was an encyclopedia of information. He stopped at sites and explained the history and culture of the Shetlands… and he took us straight to the puffins! What a gem!
Puffins are very social little birds living on cliff edges, feeding on eels, herrings and other small fish. We were surprised when our paddling friend, Kerry Moore sent a text asking what is a group of puffins called. We didn’t know! ‘A circus of puffins’ she text back. How funny. They do look like little clowns!
A first time experience was stopping at traffic lights while a small air craft taxied along the run way in front of us. As soon as it was clear, the green lights gave us the go ahead and our taxi proceeded at right angles to across. We looked straight down the run way with a strange insecure feeling like we shouldn’t be doing this!
Two qualified yacht masters on the same yacht can be quite a challenge. Philip and James decide James will do the weather and navigating and Philip will take overall responsibility for the safety of everyone on board and ultimately all decisions made.
Weather reports and synoptic charts are favourable for the next week. James was to fly home to Amber and the children from here but decided to head straight to Svalbard while the weather was good, winds were a low 10 knots.
Saturday: We grew curious at the crowds gathering on the street above. Mingling and asking questions, we were told a Parade of Vikings was on its way. It’s an annual fund raising event. We had seen the pirates attack Conwy and felt privileged to witness the Vikings.
They passed in groups or maybe their clans showing off their ancestry costumes. It was wonderful! Participants even traveled from Norway as the Shetlands were once belonged to them. Back in the 8th and 9th century, the expanding population of Scandinavian countries shifted the Vikings attention to invading their neighbours, the Shetlands included. During the 1400’s the King of Norway, Christian I, pledged the Shetland Islands as a security against a payment, the doury of his daughter, Margaret, betrothed to James III of Scotland. The king couldn’t afford the doury so the unpaid debt fell on the Shetlands which soon belonged to Scotland. Two hundred years later 1978, oil was discovered off the east and west coast. Fishing, crude oil and natural gas are their main revenue producers. We were told there is zero percent unemployment in the Shetlands. Their oil terminals are the largest in Europe as we soon saw for ourselves sailing between the platforms. The Norwegians mustn’t be too impressed with old King Christian now!
Like all of Europe and the UK, there is so much history here. We have had a great time. We need a good sleep tonight as tomorrow is an estimated 10 day sail, 24 hours a day on 3 hour shifts. We don’t want to leave Carrie on her own yet so her and I do our shifts together. The weather forecast looks good but who knows what we are in for heading into the North and Norwegian Seas.
Good night! Sleep tight! Don’t let the bed bugs bit!
Day 6: Tuesday, 11th June 2019. We passed Loch Linnhe, Corran Point to Fort William and entered the Caledonian Canals which had lock keepers and all gates hydraulically operated. Unlike the Crinan, they were much less stressful than the manual gates. We had 39 locks and 10 turn bridges to get through. Before approaching a turn bridge the lock keeper would phone ahead so the bridge keeper could stop the traffic and turn the bridge saving time for us and the traffic. They were all extremely friendly and helpful. I would recommend a holiday to anyone, to hire a motor boat and cruise through the Scottish Highland canals . It’s simply gorgeous, green, lush and relaxing. Approx. cost GBP 200.
Neptune’s Staircase near Fort Williams has a set of 8 locks, lifting vessels 20 metres within 400 metres of canal. It takes approx. an hour and a half to pass through the system of locks. The gates weigh 22 tons and require a team of at least 3 lock keepers to operate the staircase. They try to move vessels as efficiently as possible by allowing a dropping vessel to pass a rising vessel on the same emptying or filling cycle. James worked the helm, Carrie worked the lines on board and Philip and I worked and walked the lines as we moved through the locks.
An overnight stay in Loch Lochy gave way to larger vessels needing to pass in the opposite direction. Amazing the size of vessels and time saved coming through the Scottish Highlands instead of sailing around the northern coastline. Another 9am to 5pm day, working hours of the lock keepers. We tied up to Gairlochy Pontoon. Population of Gairlochy about 100.
Between the locks and canals were lochs or lakes as we would call them. Famous ones like Loch Ness, Loche Linnhe and The Firth of Lorne.
Day 7: Wednesday 12th June 2019. We motored through Fort Augustus, anchored at the entrance of Loch Ness to visit a museum dedicated to the Cameron Clan. Philip’s paternal grandmother was a Cameron. He remembered her on the occasions when she would visit the family in Johannesburg. He was about 10 years old and couldn’t refuse her offer of a kit kat to just walk down to the local bottle shop while his parents were at work, wait for an African to bribe as he was too young to purchase alcohol then bring the bottle of Old Buck Gin back for her to hide in the bedroom.
Day 8. Thursday 13th June. We departed Kytra Lock and motored through Loch Ness. No Nessy! Temperature 9 degrees C.
We met interesting people along the way. Most were tourist who were fascinated at how the locks worked so crowds gathered to watch how the vessels moved through. Seeing the Australian flag flying off the stern drew people to us wanting to ask where we were from and to where we were going. Some were Australians and loved to just say hello to fellow Aussies. Some remembered us from days before and we recognised them. They were interested in how we were travelling as it had taken us three days to motor less than 140 kms. One gentleman came to tell us he was sitting at the coffee shop nearby telling his family his dream yacht is a Garcia then the next moment we came around the corner and tied up to a pontoon. He was thrilled and had to talk to us. Other Chinese tourists took photos of us then hands on the stanchion for a more up close and personal shot with French Kiss. She was quite a celebrity throughout the entire trip. As we motored out of the last lock, we received a huge sendoff, people wishing us well and waving us off. It was quite an unforgettable ‘warm and fuzzy’ experience.
That night we stayed at the Inverness Marina. We found a cosy restaurant and tried our first taste of haggis. Haggis spring rolls, burgers, chips and muscles!
Day 9: Friday, 14th June. We fuel up and depart under Kessock Bridge towards the Moray Firth into the North Sea to the Shetland Islands. The ocean has been calm since we left and now a light wave was whipping up just enough to make it uncomfortable. Within an hour or two James goes down with mal de mer, then Carrie rushes to the toilet. I hang on as long as I can then no! Soon my head is in a bucket. Three out of four down with Captain Philip left keeping it all together. We quickly pop Kwells under our tongue as we contemplate jumping ship. Each of us slowly recovered. One comment from a highly qualified crew member …. ‘F*** I hate sailing’ caused a burst of laughter meaning we were all feeling better! It’s a strange illness! When you are sick you will do anything to get off that boat but within seconds of feeling better or standing on land you are instantly fine with it. A real love, hate relationship. We all agree to at least get to the Shetlands. If the nausea didn’t abate, we would all be on an early flight home from Lerwick!
Day 3: Saturday, June 8th. We left Ardglass at 06:00. The Irish Sea is relatively calm; the weather overcast and rainy. 12 hours later we sight the Mull of Kintyre. Land! It’s exciting! Carrie had Paul McCartney’s song Mull of Kintyre on her phone which we played and sang as we cruised passed. For some reason, it was emotional. The sound of bagpipes stirs your blood. If there is any such thing as ‘past lives’ then this is when the ancestral memory in our genes reconnects. We motor sailed up the east coast to take a shorter course through the Crinan Canals.
The tranquil waterways of the small affluent community of Campbeltown are lined with beautiful homes, manicured gardens, hedges and undulating green hills along the shoreline. At 21:30 we tie up to a buoy in the bay. At 22:15 the sun has gone for the day. Population 4,800.
Day 4: Sunday 9th June. 11:00 we leave Campbeltown, the Isle of Arran and motor into a bay. I have never seen a lock; I don’t understand how they work so wondered why we would sail into a small bay or ‘dead end’ so to speak. ‘See that mountain’, James said, ‘we are going over it!’ Now that put things in perspective. Hidden behind a concrete wall was our first lock. It’s 17:30 and the Crinan Canal lock keepers have finished for the day. We motor in, tie up between two concrete walls and wait for the gates to open the next morning.
The Crinan Canal locks are all manual. Philip and James walked along side the canal to open the lock gates while Carrie and I handled the yacht and ropes. Steel gates close in front and behind you which are water tight. Depending on the size, only 1 large – 4 small vessels can fit in a lock at one time. Water is pumped in to raise your level equal to the next level going uphill or pumping it out to bring the level down to equal the next level going downhill. Each fill or empty took only 10 minutes though time was taken tying and maneuvering boats in and out.
Day 5: Monday, 10th June. The Crinan Canal opened at 0830 and had approx. 15 locks to manually open. A South African guy was our first keeper who was extremely helpful. I left a packet of biltong on his desk as a thank you! Motoring away from the concrete walls of the locks was difficult for myself to maneuver. French Kiss has a few gouges in the hull that can tell a story or two!!! It took us all day until midnight before anchoring at Corran Narrows. Tomorrow we would be sailing to the Caledonian Canals.
Preparing to sail to the Arctic started with Philip spending hundreds of hours researching the right yacht. The strongest, safest mono hull that could be managed by two of us. One that could handle ice, bad weather, shallow water to even beach when required, reinforced, well insulated for cold, comfortable and spacious. The Garcia Exploration 45 was perfect.
We are about to embark on our longest sail to the ice, 80 degrees North. All required charts are purchased for the UK, Shetlands, Svalbard and Norway.
May 2019 … I flew back to Australia for the month returning with our fourth crew member, Carrie De Britt. Philip’s friend, Norm Netterfield flew from Gladstone, Australia to Conwy for 10 days while I was away. While the cat is away, the mice play and play they did, admitting only to each other, on the 9th day, they were going to have to seriously stop drinking!
Carrie and I flew out of Gladstone 28th May via Dubai and Manchester then train to Conwy.
We were given a few days to explore Llandudno, Conwy, the Castle, and exotic flowers and lawns of Bodant Garden with the Laburnum Arch in full bloom which only occurs 2-3 weeks a year.
The Pirates Festival in Conwy! What an thrilling event for the young and old. Young enthusiastic boys, dressed in 18th century British Military uniforms, stood by their cannons anxiously waiting, going through the routine of packing gun powder into the chamber with a wooden rammer then firing when commanded by the British Lieutenant. As the pirate ship rounded the dock by the castle, cannons fired from both sides including British gun fire from the castle towers. Thunder vibrating through the wooden dock, clouds of smoke and the smell of gunpowder made it all so real.
4th June. It was now time to buy provisions for at least the next two weeks to get us to the Shetland Islands and prepare the yacht for departure on Thursday 6th June.
James will not leave on a Friday, it’s bad luck, so Thursday it is. 16:15, 6th June, 2019. The brief is done; we hug and say goodbye to James’ parents, Georgina and Mike; engine on; bow and stern lines are slipped and we pull away bow to starboard through the marina, over the Conwy Quays sill wall; only turning back to wave at two small images waving from the Mulberry ….. our journey begins! Amber has secretly met with me in the morning. Poppy has said goodbye to Daddy but she is not even two yet and has no realisation of time. Julian is only four weeks old. ‘Look after my boy,’ says Amber. My heart felt sad but we would see her in a few weeks on our return through the Caledonian Canal when she joins us with the children.
Our first destination, Bull Bay on Anglesey Island just 3 hours away. This will give us a good night’s sleep and early 03:00 start. We eat a healthy breakfast of cereal, berries, super greens, honey, flaxseed meal mix and almond milk. Lunches are green salads, cucumber, avocado, salmon, tuna or ham, cheese, beetroot, sauer kraut, oils and vinegar. Dinners are Philip’s various stews of chicken, beef, lamb or mince. The biscuit container is filled, energy bars and fruit bowl placed in the cockpit for those times when the munchies hit. A black duffle bag is stored under the floor at easy reach with our snacks, chips, biltong, chocolates, biscuits, CC’s, lollies, caramels and M&M’s.
Day 2 we pass the Isle of Man and head to Ardglass, Northern Ireland. Approx. 100 kms south of Belfast! The mention of Northern Ireland concerns me. Our navigator is too young to remember. The first thing that comes to mind is Sinn Fein; the IRA; bombings and terror! But that was during the 1980’s and 90’s…. surely it’s OK now! I don’t show my feelings. The sail across is calm but overcast which is becoming the ‘norm’ now. To see a blue sky is a blessing! Uplifting! A joyous occasion!
14:15, 11 hours later, we tie up on Ardglass pontoon. The countryside is so green we had to investigate.
Carrie and I ventured out for a walk around the small town. We met a lovely man walking his dog and heard plenty of stories. Walking back we saw The Old Commercial Bar & Lounge. Let’s have a Guiness we said and in we went! Two Aussie women in an Irish Pub made for lots of laughs and a free Guinness from the female publican, Debbie. Customer, Conor Kelly told us what a great guy Ned Kelly was. I guess the surname held closer to his heart than the man (Ned) himself. ‘He is nothing but a murdering low life,’ I said. I was promised a good life story about Ned ordered from Amazon to show what a good, hard done by man he was but it never arrived. We walked back to the yacht thinking what a fantastic place Ardglass was.
Philip and James had a totally different experience. Walking into the marina toilet looked like a murder scene. Ardglass should have been called Bloodbath! Apparently there was blood everywhere which reminded Philip of a time as a young boy walking into the school toilet and finding the same scene but with a body. In Ardglass, he panics, wondering where we two girls are.
Day 3: We are up at 5am and release the lines at 6am. We have a 16 1/2 hour sail to Campbelltown on the Mull of Kintyre, Scotland.
Betws-y-Coed is a gorgeous quaint little town foundered around a monastery in the 6th century. It means ‘Bead house’ or ‘Prayer house in the woods’ and is about half an hour’s drive into the country from the marina. In 1815 the famous Thomas Telford designed the bridge that linked Betws-y-coed and brought trade links to the village.
St Michael’s church was built in the 1300’s which is the origin of the name Betws meaning ‘prayer house’
The railway was built in 1868 which increased the population to around 500. Church of St Mary’s was built in 1873. The population has increased by one baby born every 2 years and one adult passing away every 10!
The reason for our visit here was to see the slate quarry. The slate quarry was opened in 1846 by successful quarry owner, John Whitehead Greaves. In 1836 Greaves proposed a railway line should link the quarries to the sea.
When the Ffestiniog Railway was opened in 1836 he traveled on it’s first historic train. In 1843 he became treasurer of the railway then Chairman in 1844. Just two years later he purchased the slate quarry. Smart move! By 1846 his son, now managing the quarry, built an incline for the slate to go directly from the quarry to the railway then has the slate transported to a fleet of sailing vessels waiting at the port for transport to their markets.
Today the slate quarry is a museum. Production had a dramatic decline with cheaper slate, of low quality making it’s way from China which seems to be the story everywhere. Population today 564.
Philip could explain this perfectly. It’s right up his alley …. but this is how a woman explains it.
Equipment had to be built to build the water wheel. That amazed me to start with. It’s one hundred years since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution so I guess all these machines are now available. The water wheel played a major part in modernising the manufacturing process. With a foundry, machining, timber cutting and blacksmith all under one roof, the slate mine increased it’s production from 7,000 tons to 23,000 tons of slate per year. Everything had to be made under one roof. I could draw similarities to our company AusProof Pty Ltd. All manufactured under one roof. Quality control and repairs being done immediately on site. You can’t just pop down to the local hardware store! It’s 1870 for goodness sake!
Flowing water turned this massive 15.4 meter wheel. It’s 1.6 meter width turned on a 30cm axle. It’s the size of a five story building! With the speed the wheel was turning, the inside of the outer wheel looks flat but there are actually teeth machined precisely to fit the size of the smaller gear wheel.
One shaft attached to the smaller wheel run below the ceiling through the entire factory giving a turning mechanism for the workings of all machines. Gear wheels and belts drove all the lathes, saws and cutting machines throughout the factory.
This was all made to get the slate out of the mountains. Every building we have seen in Wales has a slate tiled roof. Cutting slate tiles was a 5 year apprenticeship only given to the sons of the aristocrats. In his first year he worked for zero wages and had to supply his own tools. You would want to be sure of your career path, wouldn’t you! A good tradesman should cut between 450 – 500 slate tiles a day.
Now back to Betws-y-Coed for lunch. Good old British fish and chips with mushy peas! It doesn’t get better than that in the UK.
Panic attack! Went to pay but didn’t have my credit card or iPhone. Used Philip’s ‘Find a Friend’ on his iPhone which pin pointed my phone at the public toilets. Sprinting across the road I found the delightful caretaker who had put it aside. So grateful! Good lesson learnt, do not put your phone on the toilet roll holder!
A little bit of history first but where do I start! Civilisation here goes back as far as Neanderthals some 230,000 years ago. But, let’s bring time forward to modern humans arriving around 9,000 BC and even later. The Romans began their conquest of Britain in 43AD. They departed in the 5th century opening the doors to invaders. Rulers of Britain extended their control over Welsh territories and into western England but they were unable to unite Wales for long. King Edward I conquered Wales and in 1282 seized control the church here and built his castle with walls surrounding their homes, markets and trading area. Inside the walls were now for the British and the Welsh were banished to the outside. Curfews at night would have kept the Welsh out only to enter during the day to trade. No wonder the Welsh have revolted against the British over the centuries. Despite heavy British rule the Welsh have always retained their language and culture.
800 years ago, having British heritage, Philip would have been welcomed within the castle gates. I am of Irish decent so who knows if I would have gotten in! Or smuggled in under a bail of hay in the back of a horse driven cart! I think I’ve seen too many Robin Hood movies!
The photos below show our walk to the main shopping town of Conwy. It’s quaint little shops, florists, bakeries, butcher and coffee shops leaves a nostalgic feeling of bygone years.
We now wait for our main crew member to arrive from Australia, Carrie De Britt on 29th May. At the moment we are planning to sail on 7th June, northwards to Scotland, through the Caledonian Canal, Loch Ness to Inverness. Weather permitting, sail on wards to the Shetland Islands then Tromso in Norway.
Changes can happen at any time though. Watch this space….
No! It’s not a spelling mistake! It’s Welsh and the longest known word of any language.
It means: ‘The church of Mary in the hollow of the white hazel near the fierce whirlpool and the church of Tysilio by the red cave’. Here is proof, there is a place with this name….
I didn’t attempt to learn how to say it but James was very fluent and the perfect guide for our Conwy tour. Established 600 years before Cook discovered Australia and 300 years before Bartholomew Dias discovered Cape Horn, South Africa, Conwy welcomes you with its 13th century medieval castle off the starboard bow.
Worship has flourished for nearly 850 years in St Mary’s and All Saints Church where foundations were laid in 1172. Unbelievable! The European ‘Dark Ages’ and it is still thriving. The Great Plague of 1347 estimated loss of 75-200 million people across Europe and Asia. Unbelievable! Such a fascinating place. Loving it!!!
I am estimating the population at about 25-30,000. Edward 1 delighted in conquering this Welsh town, taking over the church then claiming his territory by building a castle in 1287 with walls keeping the English in and Welsh out of the main city.
Hi Robbie (Wilson)! Lovely talking to you yesterday. Looking forward to hearing from you on my blog.
A break in the weather finally came. James arrived on the 25th March bringing sunshine and light breezes. A message to Doc Kitchen; it was impossible to get Philip’s eye injections here, so let’s get out and find another ‘you’ in the UK before we have to organise an emergency flight for him back to Rockhampton!
Morning of 26th we had a very pleasant farewell visit from Francois who gave Philip a bottle of Puech-Haut Saint-Drezery Rose wine for his birthday tomorrow and myself, a beautiful book on Cherbourg. Thank you Francois and for advising us to put a heater on French Kiss! Our heater is now known as ‘Francois’!
Planning to leave at 10:30am, Sophie arrived on the dot to wave us goodbye. Being the ‘Godparents’ of French Kiss, they have both been wonderful to us, an honour to be invited to their home for dinner; onto Francois’ yacht for dinner and drinks; meeting Sophie’s girls Maude and Mathilde and translating french when we needed it. We are extremely grateful.
10:20am we pulled off the dock and motored through the Petite Rade passed the Military Wall boundry into the Grande Rade. We have lived in France all together for 4 months. It was sad to leave.
With only 5 knot winds we set the mainsail and continued to motor all the way to Alderney in the Chanel Islands.
As soon as we arrived we took our tender over to the Harbour Master where we had our passports stamped and yacht papers signed to state our vessel had left the EU. Europe is quite confusing with which countries are in the EU, the Schengen area and Common Areas of Passage.
27th March 2019. Happy Birthday Philip! What a birthday present …. crossing the English Chanel. The weather was certainly in our favour so we decided to sail\motor parallel with the Traffic Separation System through the night, then once that ended to sail towards Lands End, UK. All went well so we carried on into another night doing 3 hour shifts each from 9pm to 6am. Through the day we shared and took a nap when we could. Taking a short cut through the Menai Straits we stopped on the third night, tying onto a buoy at Port Dinorwic, untying at 3am to make The Swellies on the slack high tide. Making it through the worst part of the straits with James on the helm we anchored at Angelsey for the day to catch the high tide into Conwy. Our autopilot has been named ‘James’.
Llangbadrig Church -Isle of Angelsey If you see a walking sign (above right hand side) it means you can step over the farmers fence (see wooden plank steps) and walk through his property. It is a public walk way!
****************************************************A message from Francois I just had to copy and paste…. Like Philip always says: ‘Trees and mountains never meet but people always do!’
Fair winds my friends! See you soon somewhere… up in Scotland, down in Africa, far away in Australia or just here in Cherbourg where our home is yours… Enjoy and take care! Friendly yours. François