Friday, 27 May 2011

Back on dry land

We left from Ramsgate early afternoon and sailed into Gravesend early morning where we docked along side a stationary old barge used only for mooring. Unknown to us, it was to become the scene of the death of Miles’ magic slippers.

The old barge seemed fine at night until Miles and the magic slippers jumped aboard to attach the mooring ropes. To his and the slippers’ surprise, the surface was not what it seemed. The Thames seagulls had decided to use this platform as a convenient place to do their business which consequently spelled the end for the magic slippers!

Albeit without Miles’ magic slippers we finally made it to London after 14 days at sea. And what a way to arrive: sailing with all sails up under Tower Bridge!

I didn’t see much as I was poised on the downhauls of the flying jib and the staysail ready to bring them down in 30 seconds. Very nerve racking indeed! All went well though … that was until I received my ‘Irene Tattoo’. Every member of the Irene’s crew has an ‘Irene Tattoo’ just below the right knee cap. It’s given by the metal pole that sticks out from the anchor housing under the front of the staysail which, in the moment of madness when bringing down the front sails, is invisible. OUCH!

We moored at Butler’s Wharf where we were greeted by journalists, Laithwaites staff and Libby.

We had a great evening at the Laithwaites Arch shop in Borough Market and the auction was a huge success raising a lot of charity money for MacMillan Cancer Support.

The goodbyes to the crew that evening was quite emotional and I was so sad to leave what had become a family over the last 2 weeks! Thanks to all the crew Leslie, Pat, Claire, Red, Miles, James, Jamie, Bruno, Alex, Hugh, Tony, Anne, Pearl and Sacha for a truly wonderful experience.

Looking forward to being back in the cellar tomorrow!!!!

Friday, 20 May 2011

Tuesday 17th, Ramsgate

We pulled into Ramsgate, last night, pulled down the sails, and moored on the jetty thanks to Red's brilliant driving.

We had a bit of fun, yesterday and we made our own version of a message in a bottle. We wrote a message on the lid of a wooden wine box and threw it overboard somewhere between Selsey Bill and Brighton. The message I'd found is an invitation to our arrival party on London and to claim a bottle of Le Voyage wine. So take walk on the beach if you live near the south coast, good luck!

Hopped of the boat for the morning and took the train to London to meet Tony and do some radio interviews and a couple of live slots. I’d never done radio from a studio before and it was good fun but my land legs aren't back and everything was swaying around as if I was still aboard the Irene. It was strange to be off the boat and away from what has been home for the last 2 weeks.

By 3pm I was back on Irene and straight back into the groove as we left the harbour in Ramsgate and made for the Thames estuary. Hope there is wind, Tower Bridge is opening for us at 1:15pm so can't miss that! Better get practising bringing my flying jib sail so I'm ready for tomorrow.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

And she's moored!

Safely moored in Butler's Wharf ... cargo and crew intact.

Now, where's that corkscrew?

Thursday 18th, 1.30pm, London

The Irene has reached London and she just passed beneath Tower Bridge. There will be better pics to follow, but in the meantime ...

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Sunday breakfast in the English Channel

On my watch we navigated through the Royal Sovereign Shoals. Just after Beachy Head the coast was lit up all the way along and with the busy shipping lanes to the south, it certainly wasn't as isolated as the last eight days.

The best moon yet, almost full, shining silver, and then at 3:45am a really spectacular setting of the moon. It turned blue with green hints, then yellow, amber, deep Seville orange until it melted into the horizon behind us. Turning my head to the east, the faint glow of the sun could already be seen beginning to rise.

Managed a few hours sleep before back on deck ready to help pull into the port of Ramsgate. As it was Sunday, James decided to cook up what he calls his 'special eggs' for breakfast. What a recipe! So here it is:

James' 'Special Eggs'
Serves about 5 people, but depends on who is up on deck first

1x Large brown onion thinly sliced
2-3x crushed garlic (chopped fresh aillet if possible)
3x Fresh green chillies de-seeded and chopped
1tbsp smoked paprika
1tsp cumin
1tsp dried provence herbs herbs (marjoram, basil,thyme, parsley)
Thumb size piece of chorizo finely chopped
5x organic eggs
Fresh coriander (dried if at sea)
400g tin peeled plum tomatoes
350ml tomato passata (tomato pasta sauce)
1tsp sugar
Mature cheddar cheese handful grated
Tabasco sauce
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Add glug of olive oil to pan, then add onion and garlic, sweat on low heat 5-10 mins
Add smoked paprika and cumin stir in well and sweat 5 mins
Add chopped chillies
Sweat 5 mins
Add can of tomatoes, tomato sauce, chorizo and stir
Add sugar and provence herbs, keep on heat, mix well and continue to heat until bubbling then lower heat and simmer and reduce sauce for 5-10mins
Make little craters in sauce and crack an egg into each one
Cover and simmer 5mins until eggs are cooked
sprinkle over cheese and coriander, cover pan and heat for 2mins, season, add Tabasco to taste and serve with fresh crusty bread

Just seen the next watch timetable and at last I got the 8 to midnight watch! Cost me all my Kitkats though, and a secret stashed cadbury's boost too!

Saturday 14th, leaving Cowes

More sunshine motivated everyone to get up and going. I sneaked off early to the yacht club for a shower … two showers in 23hrs, wierd!

Irene was ready to go by 11am, by which time the Saturday sailors were out in force, decorating the Solent as far as the eye could see.

Not such a smooth departure this time (maybe because Claire had left the ship to go home last night?) The Irene pulled away quickly and Miles was left stranded on the jetty. But not to worry – he had his magic slippers on! Almost as if a magical switch was flipped, the slippers sprung into action: the harbour master arrived from nowhere in his boat and the slippers lifted Miles into the air and safely aboard. What followed next was some truly stunning safety slipper action as Miles leaped from the harbour masters boat onto the Irene!!!!!

Away we sped, right into the middle of a full-on yacht race! After navigating through the swarm of tiny boats, trying not to crush any, we were free into the East Solent. Good wind and weather once again with the three-day forecast being much of the same. That meant we soon passed Queen Victoria's Osbourne House, Portsmouth and out into the English Channel.

Yet another amazing sunset. Miles and the safety slippers were busy in the galley cooking up another hearty meal. Back on watch tonight got the midnight to 4am again. Need to make a more substantial bribe … maybe kit kats?

Friday 13th, Cowes

We were blessed with glorious morning sunshine when I emerged on deck. The lovely little town of Cowes was right on our doorstep with onlookers already gathered on the quayside admiring the Irene. Once everyone was up we tidied the ship ready for the Meridian TV film crew to interview Tony, Hugh and I about the voyage so far and broadcast the weather from deck.

I had a special delivery of kit kats via Barbara from Libby to keep me going on the last leg of the journey! My mum and dad were in town and decided to come and say hello and have a tour round the boat and meet the crew.

Our first delivery of wine directly from Bordeaux was to the Royal Yacht Squadron – the oldest Yacht Club in the world! – which we personally signed.

I finished my TV interview and a little slot on the Isle of Wight local radio and went to have lunch and a look around the town with mum and dad.

Cowes is a nice little town lots of quirky shops and good pubs serving honest food. It was great to stretch my legs for a bit, but I was back on the boat by the evening to prepare for tomorrow’s departure and the next leg of the journey.

We treated ourselves to (what I believe) a well deserved slap up meal with the crew. Miles even brushed his safety slippers for the evening out! It's great to sit down with fellow crew, everyone chatting away as if we've known each other for years! It was back to the boat early for a good night’s kip, back to sea in the morning.

Thursday 12th, just off Guernsey

Up for the 4am watch and was expecting to see open sea, but as I came onto deck Guernsey was whizzing past! We had been steaming ahead during the night and the last watch had not been over watchful. We couldn't slow The Irene down and overshot Guernsey by 14 miles! We needed to be outside St.Peter Port for 9am to pick up two new crew members Hugh Johnson and Tony Laithwaite … I think they just wanted to check on the cargo!

As we turned the corner into St.Peter Port, the Access Challenger came speeding out with Hugh and Tony clinging on. The pilot skilfully pulled alongside and Hugh hopped in first. Tony was lingering with a crate of beer and wasn't sure that if he handed over the goods first we would make a run for it! We didn't and both were safe and sound on board.

We left the Channel Islands via the exciting Alderney Race, named because the sheer speed of the tide racing through this narrow channel … and we certainly raced through! We were then out into the English Channel and the next task was to cross the nautical equivalent of the M4 motorway.

Huge tankers steam up and down, with each boat being 7 miles apart. 7 miles sounds a lot, but believe you me, when crossing this seaway by sail it isn't much of a gap … and there are no lollypop ladies or zebra crossings either! The Irene was dwarfed by the enormous ships as we weaved our way through the traffic, reminding me of that old computer game where you have to get the frog across the motorway before it gets squashed.

Over the next 9 hours I experienced and learnt what sailing was really all about! The wind was up and in the perfect direction and the sea was calm, every single sail on the Irene went up and leaned gracefully to the port side and accelerated, gliding effortlessly through the sea. We were really sailing, getting up to 8.5knots! The balance of wind, sail and water meant you didn't have to even touch the wheel.

Amazingly, by 9pm we had the first glimpse of land: The Needles!

Thursday, 12 May 2011

New Hands on Deck

We've been joined aboard by Hugh and Tony who'll be with us for the next leg of the journey.

Thankfully, they've brought supplies ...

... but there are no passengers on The Irene ...

... and Tony's soon set to work.

Wednesday - a beautiful morning, but no wind!

And with tide change during the night we had hardly moved. On the other hand, I think everyone had the best night’s sleep yet! So to make the most of the calm water my personal mission was a shower! All the daily mundane things you take for granted suddenly become very difficult indeed: brushing your teeth; putting your socks on; showering and shaving … I imagine it's a bit like being in space!

The shower is about the same size as an upright coffin and once inside – with door shut and no light – there is the most-generous five litres of cold water available! Trying to have a shave is most frustrating as the mirror is on the back of the coffin door where there is also a sink about the same size as a shot glass. Once inside, with your face is close to the mirror and without any elbow space it is virtually impossible to manoeuvre the razor. And that's my theory why sailors have beards!

The wind dropped dramatically around 10am and the noise of the limp swaying sails sounded like a novice clown endlessly practicing making balloon animals!

Leslie was worrying about how quick the sails could go up and back down again so made us practice! I was paired with Jamie and allocated the flying jib we practiced with Leslie timing us and managed to get from 1minute 32secs down to an impressive 33 seconds although we did improve significantly when he said no sausages for lunch unless 35 seconds or under! We got our sausages and if you know your sails and the flying jib doesn't come down quick enough on the day you will know who is responsible!

We ambled along towards Guernsey........

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Plane-sailing Tuesday

We passed Ouessant – the NW tip of France – at midday, right on our change of shift. Everyone was dreading this part being on their watch, due to the notorious reputation of this treacherous area. However our luck must have changed and when we took the wheel it was sunny, warm and fairly calm!

With the NW point of France behind us, we swung east and the wind and tide picked up behind, speeding us towards the Channel Islands. We began to see more commercial boats coming down the shipping lane.

We set our next course for St.Peter Port in Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands … unfortunately not my home and birth place Jersey. Jersey is the most southerly of all the islands and quite far out of our way. The tides and currents are also notoriously bad between the islands so Guernsey is a safer bet this time round. We had an exciting moment when a small plane swooped down within 100 ft of our mast to have an inquisitive look at us!

The wind dropped off so gave us the perfect opportunity to enjoy James' moussaka for dinner with Henry's 2008 Verniotte and a Grand Chai 2009 St.Emilion. I asked ship owner Leslie if he was happy, he replied "I'm always happy, except when I'm not!" Miles, Red and I took the 8pm to midnight watch – very quiet as we’re in the back waters to the Channel Islands. Hopefully more wind tomorrow.

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Tuesday, 10 May 2011

High Waters Rising, Rising Night and Day

Some really big swell throughout the night with the bow seeming to rise almost vertically into the air then diving down the next rolling wave … exhilarating stuff!

A bundle of lights appeared on the horizon directly on our course and Miles came to have a look to work out what it was. Miles was still wearing his slippers on deck and according to the rest of the crew this is normal … they’ve been dubbed the 'safety slippers'! He identifies the UFO as a huge fishing trawler doing circles with maybe two miles of net as there are now smaller boats to our east holding the edges of the net. Soon a radio signal came through from the trawler asking for our depth so they can lower their nets to let us over the top.

We passed the trawler making good solid progress and at 3am, identified the lighthouse Ar Men up ahead in the distance from its unique 3 long flash sequence: a good sign that the next watch may be the ones who turn in towards the Channel Islands. It would be a race against time to get round Brittany before the tide turns back and we must get into the channel with the westerly wind behind us or things could become uncomfortable!

The rest of the night passed by without seeing much traffic, apart from the odd trawler heading home. But we did see plenty of shooting stars.

I awoke to much calmer weather as Lesley had navigated to the westerly tip of France, beginning to turn North. And so the race starts!

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Back On Route

We left Belle Isle just after yesterday’s lunch, straight out for the final stretch of the Bay of Biscay and around Ouessant; the most westerly point of France.

It’s a different language on deck and I'm at last beginning to pick up some sailing vocab … boom, thumb, jibe, sheet in, sheet out, pin and jib, and I now know what fenders are! Another term I learnt and certainly won't forget is bow sprit and cargo net. The bow sprit is the large wooden post that points directly out from the bow, beneath which sits the cargo netting that allows access to the very front sails.

Today it was my turn to venture out and pull in the front sails tying them to the bow sprit. I donned my life vest clipped on to the safety wire and precariously headed with a bunch of sail ties draped around my neck. As I edged out carefully, looking towards the farthest sail, I looked down and it was like I was floating over the sea! I managed to do all the sails moving back towards the bow. A quite brilliant experience and I was very pleased with myself until Sacha walked past and said "should of taken 3 minutes per sail, you took nine!"

Around late afternoon Leslie gave us his in-depth weather report which was "it's not good for us but it's not bad for us"?? I decided to hear only the latter!

It was a mighty big swell once out of the protected coastal waters. Suddenly a huge pirate ship appeared on the horizon. By the time it passed us, we could identify the vessel as the famous old Bellem, a French 3 mast ship built 1897. She was named after a Brazilian port and used for transporting cacoa beans from South America, later used for shipping wine.

Jamie made a great pork stew and I provided a 2007 Grand Chai Pomerol. Although the seas were rolling it was a sunny evening and we ate on deck and watched the sunset. Our watch late tonight.

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Monday, 9 May 2011

Monday Morning

After much-needed sleep were greeted with a glorious beautiful morning in Le Palais on Belle Isle. But pressure was on to get out of the lock before the tide otherwise we would have to wait for the 15th of May for the next big tide!

The Harbour master was anxiously smoking in circles on his little dingy. Needless to say it was all hands on deck as we drifted away from the quay. Sacha expertly guided The Irene back out through the narrow lock where we once more hooked onto a buoy to wait for the final go ahead to set sail.

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Picture Blog from Le Palais, Belle Isle

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