Thursday, 17 January 2019

Friday, January 18, 2019.
40 11.8S 127 30.2E
After we rounded Cape Leeuwin and entered the Great Australian Bight for our west to east crossing to Hobart, Tasmania, the wind died. We found ourselves in the middle of a high pressure system with light and variable winds. The gribs didn't show much relief for many days ahead and the prevailing westerlies were too far south to motor down to. So, we resigned ourselves to waiting it out. We experienced long periods of flat calm and winds less than five knots for up to twelve hours at a time. Once winds hit a consistent 8-10 knots, all sail went up and we were off sailing for a while longer. As long as we keep moving to the SE we should eventually pick up westerlies which are usually the top edge of the low pressure systems (which move clockwise in the Southern hemisphere) continually cycling through the latitudes known as the Roaring Forties. We don't necessarily want to get too far south into the middle of these very fast-moving systems as the winds can be very strong in the middle of them. We'll have to drop down to 44S in order to round the bottom of Tasmania. Currently, most lows seem to be staying south of this, but, that could change at any time.

Between calms, we've had two, twelve hour sessions of 30 knot winds so far and some more moderate wind periods. Unusually, we even had thunder and lightning. The lightning was very spectacular, luckily not too close. We could see the squalls all around us clearly on the radar. We were hoping for rain to wash the salt and bird deposits off the boat, but, we only got a very light sprinkle. Temperatures are about 20C during the day and the cabin drops to 15C at night, a little cooler than we'd expected. We're not sorry to be missing the 45C+ temps the rest of Australia was experiencing just before we left Perth. We've been enjoying seeing albatross and other pelagic sea birds against a backdrop of mostly sunny skies.

We've been at sea for eleven days now and have sailed 1,138 miles, all sailed and almost all made good! We have about the same again to reach Hobart, so, are just over halfway through this passage. It's been a little slower than expected, due to the number of calms we've experienced, but, we're thinking the pace will pick up now we're south of 40 degrees latitude and hopefully into those prevailing westerlies.

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Monday, 14 January 2019

Friday, January 11, 2019.
35 45.4E 116 54.4S

Ever since we arrived in Western Australia, Cape Leeuwin, the extreme southwestern point of Australia has loomed large in our thoughts. We knew we'd be sailing around it at one point on our planned route to Tasmania. As time passed, its reputation grew larger in our minds. Prevailing southerly winds, wide open ocean to the west, ocean currents and swell, no good anchorage or shelter, reefs, shipwrecks, the worries grew. As is often the case, but, not always, its bark was worse than its bite and our rounding turned out to be a benign experience. If I didn't want to jinx the rest of the passage, I might even say that we enjoyed it. We were certainly elated once clear.

It was a rough, early morning start leaving Rottnest Island, near Perth. Things soon calmed down though and we were sailing, in the right direction! We were able to put the boat through its paces and we were thrilled at how effortlessly, with our new cutter rig, we could cruise along at 6-8 knots in just 13-20 knots of wind. Sail handling was easier, loads were less and sheet leads were much improved. We could sail closer to the wind than on any other boat we've owned. One successful project almost completed! I say almost because there were a couple of failures as well. Both a staysail block and a running backstay tackle broke apart. We've now done the sails and standing rigging and had started a program of running rigging and hardware replacement (expensive), but, looks like we'll have to expedite that now.

As we continued south the winds tended to either SW or SE, usually 20-25 knots, none of the dreaded southerlies. We even had some hoped-for easterlies just as we started heading south from Cape Naturaliste along the last stretch towards Cape Leeuwin. For a change, even our tacking strategy worked really well. We were able to clear Leeuwin with one very long tack out to the west and then back southeast.

Once clear and into the Great Australian Bight we entered the middle of a high pressure area, little wind and flat calm, as you can see in the picture. Beautiful, but, you're not going anywhere unless you motor. There's not enough fuel for that, so, we will just have to wait the calms out, the wind will always come back sometime...

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Monday, 7 January 2019

It was an intense last few weeks at Two Rocks (near Perth, Western Australia) getting ready for departure, but, we're finally sailing at last! Here's a shot of our new cutter rigged sails in action. We're very happy that this significant change seems to be successful.  A cutter rig has three standard sails: main, staysail (smaller inner sail) and yankee (a high-cut outer sail). When winds allow, all three sails are flown together, like in this photo. The perfect conditions shown here only lasted an hour though. The winds went south, the direction we need to go and we were soon reducing sail and motorsailing, with the main sail alone, to get some southing in.

Shortly after departing, we had a few hydraulic hiccups in our steering and a few other issues cropped up. The wind started to pick up and when a strong wind warning was announced we decided to make this first day out a mini-shakedown cruise and stop into Rottnest Island, just off Perth, to wait for a better forecast and to deal with the issues prior to heading out on our planned, longer offshore passage to Hobart, Tasmania, about 1,900 nautical miles.

We got to the anchorage at Thomson Bay in late afternoon on a Sunday. It was packed with boats, mostly daytrippers from Perth, we were the only cruising boat there. Unfortunately, the first spot we picked to drop anchor was next to somebody who didn't want neighbours, insisting that we were 'on his anchor'. We weren't, but, he was standing on his foredeck gesticulating and as we didn't want him glaring at us the whole time, we picked up and moved, three times, before we got our anchor to stick. There's one in every anchorage, it seems. The worst part is he picked up to go home an hour later. We stayed two nights. It didn't spoil our stay though, we enjoyed a beautiful day at anchor. Here's the view from the port side of the boat.

In front of the boat...

and beside the boat...beautiful! G spotted a large manta ray on the bottom.

We would have liked to have gone ashore, but, we had many jobs to do and our dinghy was all packed up and lashed down on the foredeck for our offshore passage. The island looks lovely, has trails, accommodation and no traffic, only local service vehicles allowed. They also have 'quokkas' another of Australia's unique animals. has picked up our AIS (automatic identification system) already and will be showing our current position as we go along (assuming we're near a shore station, don't worry if we don't show up on there). You can access this site from the 'Find Gjoa' page tab on the menu above.

We won't have internet at sea, but, will be able to receive emails (no attachments). We can also post to the blog with one photo, will try and post something along the way.
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Friday, 28 December 2018

The New Year is always a time for reflection, a look forward and a look back. Last year we started keeping a collection of the witty and/or interesting signs that we came across in our travels during the year. Signs can often be a blight on the landscape, but, they can be entertaining as well. Sometimes, the best ones are seen on-the-go and you can't capture them, but, maybe, you'll still find something in this collection from 2018 that will raise a smile. Happy New Year!

This one was seen in Wales.

It took us a long time to figure out what a 'sticky beak' is. In Australia, it's like a 'nosy parker', or, someone who sticks their nose in where it's not wanted

A few more Australian specimens. The water looked very inviting at this spot, but, this scary sign makes it clear you wouldn't want to go in.

An historical reproduction sign.

Also in Australia, in traffic, we saw a rather politically incorrect bumper sticker: 'this car is made with spanners, not chopsticks'. Hmmm.....

In the UK, signs had a lighter touch. This one has a polite 'sorry' preface. In any other country, it would probably read 'NO CAMPING!'

Only in the UK would you find 'thatcher' as a profession.

Brits also have a unique sense of humour, we laughed at this boat name.

We couldn't figure this one out. What's a 'car trap'? Guess it means 'no entry' for cars.

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Saturday, 22 December 2018

We're now back in Two Rocks (near Perth, Western Australia) to resume the cruising life full-time. A year ago we were wondering whether we'd be able to ever resume, so, this chance at a fresh start is very welcome and we're looking forward to it. First, though, as usual, before we can go anywhere the boat needs attention. She was only in the water for five weeks in all of 2018, so, in addition to all the outstanding tasks we had before we stopped, there is the inevitable decline from sitting unused. It didn't look too bad on arrival, the only visible sign of damage was a squashed VHF aerial from the large, heavy (and full of poop) cormorants that like to sit on our mast top and a small window leak.

The local beach, steps from the boat, was still just as wonderful.

At first, the weather was also great. Windy, as usual, but, sunny and around 25C. This summer sun is so strong it feels like a laser beam and burns on contact. The prevailing southerly wind comes direct from Antarctica and it was very welcome to cool things off. A change of wind to the east brought *hot* temperatures. As I write this, three days before Christmas, it is 41C! Humidity is low, so, it isn't as bad as, for example, Malaysia, where the heat had been unbearable, but, it still puts a crimp into things. I don't think we'll be wanting to turn the oven on to cook a traditional Christmas dinner. Boat work has also slowed down.

We're planning to leave here early in the New Year, heading for Hobart, Tasmania. Our preparations have gotten off to a good start. We launched five days after arrival and a few major jobs have already been completed. As mentioned in a previous post, we replaced all standing rigging and changed to a cutter rig in August. Now, it's the sails' turn for a fresh start. We had a new mainsail (with new stackpack), staysail and yankee made by Doyle Sails while we were away. It was a treat to bend them on, nothing like that crispy, new sail feel. As we had also changed the sail configuration, it took a bit of experimentation to get the sheet leads to work, but, all is looking good. Now, we just need to get sailing.

We also took the opportunity to improve the boom preventer system and install a Jordan Series Drogue. The drogue is a safety drag device that, in a storm, is a long line trailed off the stern of the boat. It has cones on it (we have 139) that provide resistance. It works to keep the boat stern-to the waves/wind and slow it down enough to prevent pitchpoling (end-over-ending). We used one in the North Atlantic on our previous boat and feel it's the best storm management solution for us. Hopefully, we won't have any storm conditions, but, heading around the bottom of Tasmania, we will be in the Southern Ocean, a place with a fearsome reputation where anything can happen. The drogue is an all-Dyneema model from Ocean Brake, in the UK. Our previous drogue was all polyester, just too heavy to manage dry and even worse when wet. At 18kg, we were able to carry this drogue in our airline checked baggage.

Also in our checked baggage we carried our new 5kg, three-way hydraulic steering valve. Sourcing it was a saga. There was absolutely nothing to identify it. So, we sent the old one to France, thinking it was a Lecomble & Schmitt valve (we'd found an old invoice onboard from that company). It turned out not to be theirs, so, we had it sent back and went on the hunt. With the help of a UK company (Phoenix Hydraulic Solutions), we found one (and only one) in a Twin Disc (formerly BCS) warehouse in Italy. Obsolete, with no documentation, we grabbed it for the princely sum of £1200. Expensive, yes, but it's always easier to replace like-for-like rather than redesign and install a new system. It's now installed, but, still to be tested. To finish off this round of hydraulic work we need to install our new continuous-running hydraulic pump motor which runs our autopilot systems. G is hard at work on that now.

We've been adding more items to keep our engines (main and generator) happy along the way. We'd previously stocked up on spares, oil/fuel filters, impellers and belts etc. Now we needed a stock of consumables. We need to carry a lot of everything. Note that we purchased Yanmar brand items. Their pricing was in line with the third-party brands and at least this way you know what's compatible and don't have to worry about wrecking two nearly new engines. I'd even rather pay extra if I had to, just to avoid having to look again at researching and comparing oil standard specifications, what a confusing mess that is!

To keep ourselves happy along the way, we've also started food provisioning, $800 so far and we'll need probably as much again before departure. We had a rental car for a week after we first arrived, but, now, it will be shopping by bus. So, the push is on as our departure date rapidly approaches. We just had a perfect weather window for leaving, hopefully another one will arrive to align with our projected dates.
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Friday, 7 December 2018

We're closing another chapter in our travels and are leaving the UK for a while to resume the cruising life full-time. So, you won't be seeing any more medieval-era pictures for some time to come.  Dunster, Somerset is a fine place to end this chapter of our journey. It's a medieval village, located within the boundaries of Exmoor National Park. It has lots to recommend it for a day trip. In addition to Dunster Castle, it has a medieval dovecote, tithe barn and yarn market among other attractions. Unfortunately, our luck with the fine autumn weather ran out and it was a grey, murky day for our visit, not great for photos, but, we enjoyed the visit very much, in spite of the weather.

The village was built around Dunster Castle which was built shortly after the Norman Conquest of 1066 (it's mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086). Of course, there have been many renovations over the centuries and today the Castle looks like this, mostly the result of Luttrell family occupation from the 14th to 20th century.

Due to the weather, visitors were sparse, just the way we like it and we did a quick tour of the village sites. The castle sits atop a 200 foot hill and it's a steep climb up. Today, it looks to be in fine shape and it is open to the public although we didn't go in. The daylight was short and we had a country walk in mind.We descended back down to the village and visited a welcoming tearoom for a hot cuppa and light lunch before heading out on our walk.

This was a short circular walk, only about five miles, but, it was straight uphill for about 700 feet (213 metres) for the first half to the top of the hill, which took a while and then straight down again. We went off behind the castle and skirted through a deer park around the lower slopes of Gallox Hill before heading up a steeper incline. We were heading ultimately for the ruins of an Iron Age hill fort at the top, known as Bat's Castle.

Once at the top, the views would have been spectacular, over the castle and village and across to the Bristol Channel and beyond. It was quite misty though and most of the view had to be imagined rather than experienced. At the top, it was a typical Exmoor landscape with low-lying gorse bushes spread across open heathland. The damp wind was up and blowing strongly, very atmospheric. The ruins of the hill fort's ramparts and ditches were clearly obvious. It was also prime country for wildlife viewing. Deer were there, but, camera-shy and we only got a glimpse.

More friendly were a group of wild Exmoor ponies. We sat with them for a while and enjoyed a flask of tea before heading back down.

Here's a mum with two photogenic foals.

The way down wasn't that obvious and at one point we took a wrong turn for about half an hour and had to climb back up again to resume the right path. Daylight was waning quickly and we got back to the village only just before dark and in time to catch our bus/train back to Bristol. Travelling back, in the dark, with rain lashing the windows of an overheated bus gave us time to reflect on this bittersweet ending to our time here. We've enjoyed it very much.

Now, another chapter in our travels is starting. As you're reading this, we've just arrived back in Perth, Western Australia and are back aboard Gjoa. Summer is just starting here and we're expecting temperatures in the 30's. We won't be doing much walking in that kind of heat! More to come...

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Friday, 30 November 2018

We thought we'd walked just about everywhere in Bristol. Now that we're winding up our stay here, we found that, actually, we'd saved the best for last, the walk from Clifton to Westbury-on-Trym, about eight miles. Starting at the Clifton Observatory, we headed across Clifton Down with its spectacular cliff-top views of the Avon Gorge and Suspension Bridge. We could see all the way to Avonmouth, where the River Avon meets the Bristol Channel and where most of the modern-day port operations are located. Bridging two areas of the Down was this delightful woodland trail through ancient trees. The morning was crisp and bright, just right for enjoying a walk through the autumnal splendour.

We continued through a pleasant suburban neighbourhood and came across this charming little thatched cottage with what looked like a kangaroo? and a fox on the roof.

At Stoke Bishop, we entered St. Mary Magdalen's Churchyard. We took the easy route through the open gate, but, if it had been locked this ancient stone stile would have provided access.

This nautical gravestone caught our eye. A real anchor and schackle had been embedded in the monument. Curious as to whether we'd found the grave of a noted sailor we looked him up. A google search didn't unearth anything maritime of note for Sir Edward Payson Wills, First Baronet of Hazelwood and Clapton-in-Gordano.

Further along we entered Blaise Castle Estate, 400 acres of parkland which includes Blaise Castle House, a grade II-listed 18th century mansion house, Blaise Castle, a folly built in 1766 and Blaise Hamlet, all now owned by Bristol City Council. The walk through the forested parkland was easy and led us past numerous stone footbridges, crossing a healthy-looking brook and along to an old abandoned water mill. We came out onto a large, manicured lawn and the impressive Blaise Castle House. There is a museum inside, but, we didn't go in.

We left the estate through a turnstile and went a few hundred yards down a very busy road to reach Blaise Hamlet, an incredible oasis completely surrounded by modern Bristol. Once you entered through the gate, it felt like time had stopped at a point about two centuries ago. The tiny village green was surrounded by nine thatched cottages. Everything was very calm and green and there were no views of anything modern. The cottages are occupied by some lucky tenants who probably have to put up with some bad tourist behaviour, but, when the tourists aren't there what a place to live. On our visit, we were the only tourists and it was magical place.

It seemed to be the day for unusual housing finds. Travelling back through the estate parkland we came across a rather unique gamekeeper's hut in the woods. Vacant and mostly a ruin, it was fascinating nonetheless. It looked to have stone walls overlaid with vertically split logs.

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Friday, 23 November 2018

In the past, we've visited quite a few areas of Wales: we've climbed Snowdon, sailed 'The Swellies' (got to love that name) in the Menai Strait, walked on spectacular beaches, visited enchanting Portmeirion and many other coastal villages. What we've seen so far has only whetted our appetite for more though. Wales is a fascinating country with plenty of history and natural beauty. Cardiff, the capital city of Wales, is only a one hour train journey from Bristol and we recently went for a visit, planning to walk the six mile circular footpath around Cardiff Bay.

Alighting at the main train station meant an additional walk of about one km, through some rather depressing housing estates, to the waterfront where things improved greatly. The waterfront area is still under development, but, the scale of the development is quite staggering. They've actually enclosed Cardiff Bay from the sea with a man-made Barrage and lock system. As a result, the Bay is now fresh water. You have to wonder about the environmental impact of this and there was significant controversy at the time (mostly about construction cost, not environmental impact), but, the Bay was probably always brackish anyway as two significant rivers, the Taff and Ely, drain into it. There is a fish ladder so the fish can still bypass the locks and get in and out. For humans, it has become a lovely place for sheltered sailing, walking and cycling.

First on the path was a mixed area of new bars, restaurants and entertainments alongside the old Pierhead Building, built in 1897.

...behind which was the new Wales Millenium Centre.

We then made our way along the barrage, with the sea on one side and the Bay on the other.

Along the way was a large display of picture boards noting that Cardiff was the departure point of Captain Scott's ill-fated expedition to be first to the South Pole which resulted in death for him and four of his crewmembers. His expedition ship left from this point on June 15, 1910.

At the end of the Barrage, past the locks, was part of the old harbour complex consisting of a rather nice Custom House, now converted into two restaurants and beside it, in an enviable location, a very beautiful  ruin, just waiting for someone to purchase it and hopefully make a go of it.

Heading back to town, we came across the Cardiff International White Water centre.

If you're not familiar with this type of complex, they consist of a man-made 'river' of white water to learn and practice moving water skills in a controlled environment. The level, force and path of the water can all be adjusted. We got there just at the right time to see groups coming down in all types of craft.

This open canoe came down backwards with a kayaker on guard.

Their second attempt was better.

This raft smashed into the barrier at the top, went vertical and then right over spilling the people into the water. When this picture was snapped, a couple of people were still underneath the raft, not a fun place to be.

This raft executed their transit perfectly which resulted in relaxed-looking big smiles all round!

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Friday, 16 November 2018

On yet another glorious autumn day (how much longer can it last?!), we headed out to walk the southernmost ten miles of the Offa's Dyke Path, another of the fifteen National Trails in England and Wales. Starting out from Bristol, we took the bus to Chepstow, the southern terminus. Chepstow is also the start of the Wales Coast Path which incorporates another of the fifteen National Trails, the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. Chepstow, as detailed in the previous post, was a great destination in its own right, but, our day's walk beckoned and so we quickly headed out of town.

We hadn't given much thought to the rather unusual name of the path, but, it turns out that 'Offa' was actually a person, an Anglo-Saxon king of Mercia from 757 to 796. The 'dyke' part of the name refers to an earthen bank and ditch that he ordered built. It was about 150 miles long, 20m wide and 2.5m high and was dug by hand and completed in the eighth century. Nobody really knows why it was built and from the portion we viewed it didn't seem like it would have been very effective to repel Welsh invaders, if that was the intent. The National Trail, 177 miles long, mostly follows the route of the dyke and the current English/Welsh border.

Along the way, views of the River Wye were spectacular... was this view of the ruins of Tintern Abbey, from the Devil's Pulpit lookout.

The trail was varied: from shady forest paths...

...through to imposing country estates.

We were only out for a day's walk, so left the path at the village of Brockweir where we could catch a bus back to Chepstow. Unexpectedly coming across this 14th century monk's house was a great end to another great day out. Later, looking it up online for more historical information, imagine my surprise that you can rent this property as a holiday let! From the website, it looks like they've done a fabulous job on the interior. Have a look, The website states that it is a:
"...truly historic building, which once belonged to the monks of Tintern Abbey, and which is believed to be the oldest house in the Wye Valley, this beautiful property bears witness to the passage of many centuries. Originally a 12th-century monks’ hall with an ‘undercroft’ below for animals, and extended in the 14th-century, Monks Hall has recently been carefully renovated and furnished to provide a romantic, atmospheric place to stay."

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