The Boat | July 27, 2012

Meet Ashling, our 35ft cruising yacht which will be our home for the next year

Built in France in 1982, she weighs 11 tons and is a slow but strong boat. She holds 635 litres of water and 270 litres of fuel for the 50hp engine. 

Ashling has already provided us with many hours and days of adventures since we purchased her in Opua, New Zealand in June 2011. Over the next year we are embarking on a sailing adventure from Auckland, New Zealand to Co. Mayo, Ireland via the Panama Canal. 

Click on the following link to take a video tour around Ashling and get an idea of what our life will be like onboard over the next 12 months:

The Crew | September 7, 2012

On board Ashling, Myles is the Skipper and Eithne is the First Mate. Both originally from Co. Mayo in Ireland, we have been living in Auckland, New Zealand since 2007. 

Growing up by the sea, I started to sail as a young boy, mucking around on Old Head beach in Louisburgh. As I ventured to islands around Clew Bay, and later participated in Tall Ships races around the Atlantic Ocean, I always dreamed of sailing my own boat around the world one day. Then in 2005 I took four months off work to complete my RYA Yachtmaster qualification and started to realise that my dream could actually become a reality. I just needed to get myself a trusty first mate...

After listening to Myles' old sea stories for years, I started sailing in 2008 to see what all the fuss was about. The Coastguard Day Skipper course was a big eye opener as I started to realise that it wasn't all just about sunbathing and sundowners. I kept going, taking part in some ladies race series and indulging Myles as we traipsed around marinas for his occasional dose of 'boat porn' in the search for the perfect boat. I got my VHF radio license and took an Advanced Sea Survival course, which gave a very sobering and realistic view of what life can be like on the water when things go wrong. However it has been since buying Ashling in June 2011 that sailing has taken on a whole new dimension for me. Instead of reciting mnemonics and trying to figure out the difference between a gybe and a tack, I have been getting to know Auckland's Hauraki Gulf and finally seeing the attraction of heading off on a Friday night for a weekend adventure. 


The Route | September 8, 2012

The first two legs of our trip will take us across the Pacific Ocean, first from New Zealand to Tahiti (average three weeks) and then from Tahiti to the Galapagos Islands (average seven weeks). 

After reaching the Panama Canal in January 2013, we will make our way through the Caribbean and up the east coast of the USA over several short 1-2 weeks sailing trips. 

It takes an average of three weeks to cross the Atlantic from Boston to the Azores Islands, and a further two weeks from the Azores to Ireland. 

The Departure | September 10, 2012

Well the time has finally come to cast the lines and head for blue water. 

After talking and planning for so long, it feels surreal to be setting off, almost as if neither of us really ever believed that we would get here. The last six months have passed by in a blur as we have severed our land ties one by one...the house, the dog, the car, work. The last six weeks have been filled with the million and one things that we needed to buy or find or fix to ensure that we and Ashling are in tip top shape for the voyage ahead. 

It has been exhausting but we are now as confident as we will ever be that we are ready. Now all that's left is to take the final step. This always feels like the hardest part as the last minute nerves kick in and that annoying inner voice says "Hang on, you were serious about this???". 

So deep breath, shoulders back and heads up, let's go! First stop: Tahiti in early October. 

The First Week | September 14, 2012

A 25 year old American called James Baldwin sailed alone around the world in the early 1980s with just US$500 in his pocket. In his book Across Oceans and Islands, he writes: "The sea, especially in its moments of fury, demands first your attention, then your endurance, and finally your patience and acceptance. If you lack this capacity, the sea will soon find you out and make it known to you that the shore is where you should make your home."

Waving goodbye to Roger from NZ Customs at Marsden Wharf by the Cloud, we set sail out of Auckland on Monday afternoon with some good strong westerly winds behind us and a few dolphins to guide us on our way. We passed North Head and Rangitoto, and headed for Great Barrier Island which was to be our last glimpse of New Zealand for the next year. After lunch (thanks Steph!), we started the four hour watches with Myles settling down for a nap at 4pm. The First Mate was overheard muttering something about Skipper taking liberties but nobody on board could confirm or deny so it must have been the wind.

That very same wind increased overnight and by Tuesday morning, the sea had caught up. Then the rain arrived to give us two full days and nights of intense sailing conditions. Ashling was loving it and making great ground - we averaged 150 miles a day compared to our expected 100. However it was a tough start for the crew as we were already exhausted from the final weeks of preparation and had hoped for a quiet few days to get our bodies used to life on the water. We were cold, wet, tired and everything on board was a struggle as we switched between the bed and the cockpit every four hours. Looking at Baldwin's quote above, there was no delay in the sea getting our attention and as soon as it did, our endurance (read bumps, bruises and tears) was heavily tested.

By Thursday the wind and sea had started to ease and the sun came out, which made things a whole lot better. We crossed 180 degrees moving from the eastern to western hemisphere, Eithne washed her hair and we discovered a third crew member – a fly who was hiding in one of the lockers. We've named him Wilson and he has proved very useful in any debates, generally tending to take Eithne's side as she has apparently added fly-speak to her list of known languages! We had another pleasant day on Friday with nice winds and more sunshine, and the discovery that if we zoom out on our GPS Chartplotter, we can now fit our current position and our destination, Tahiti, on the same screen. Mind you, they are still very far apart but it is small things like this that lifts crew morale and gives us a renewed energy to keep going.
Today is Saturday and we have no wind so it's a day off. Not strictly lying around doing nothing, but doing less than what we've been doing every other day. We started off with an attempt to raise the parachute to keep us moving in whatever little wind there was, but there was not even enough wind for that and we resorted to gently rocking over and back and staying in one place for the day. Eithne got stuck into washing some clothes and airing out the boat after the week that has been, including moving some supplies around in lockers so that they don't come hurtling out when we change tack. Myles dug out the toolbox to fix up some lines around the mast and service the autopilot which has done a great week's work and deserved a day off too.

Now it's Saturday night and it's time for a beer and a movie. I think we've earned it!

Rockin' and rollin' in the South Pacific | September 21, 2012

Position: 33°S, 162°W

One night this week, the Skipper called out to the First Mate from his bunk - "Hey Dave". As if we don't have enough to deal with crossing an ocean, now the Skipper is mistaking his wife for his brother! He says he was dreaming of the two of them at sea, embarking on a smuggling adventure of some sort. Whatever next.

It's been another tough week on board Ashling as we seem to find ourselves moving from one squash zone (between a high and low weather system) to another. The wind builds up, the sea swell follows and we are have a few days of rocking and rolling around as we try to make as much ground as possible. Then the weather clears and we have a nice day or two before it starts all over again. The upside of this is that we have continued to make good progress and are covering more than our expected 100 miles per day. The downside is that we work hard for 3-4 days to get sails up and down and trimmed at all times of day and night; we get wet and can't get dry; and we wonder how on earth this was supposed to be fun.

The irony of Ashling's model – Endurance – is not lost on us as we realise that she has what it takes to handle these ocean passages but wonder do we? In all our dreaming and planning, we pictured us cruising around beautiful, blue waters; stopping in quiet, sheltered anchorages; and enjoying sundowners and a barbeque on deck as we watch the sun goes down. So far the passage from New Zealand to Tahiti has provided us with a much more arduous adventure - average winds over 25 knots and five metre swells. For now though, our focus is to get to Papeete, Tahiti within the next ten days and review our next passage over beer and steaks.

This week the Skipper turned hunter and threw out a fishing line with the hope of bringing in something exciting for dinner. Whatever about the fish, our regular albatross visitors were very interested; so much so that we had to pull in the line before we had a plucking incident on our hands. We haven't seen much marine life over the past two weeks but we know there is definitely something out there as the rope pulling our toed generator line through the water is now a few chunks less than what it was when we left Auckland. Probably best not to think about that one too much.

And last but not of luck to the Mayo football team as they attempt to break a 51 year drought and win the All Ireland Gaelic Football Final at Croke Park in Dublin tomorrow. On board Ashling, we'll be putting on our red and green, and cheering you on from the Pacific. Mayo for Sam!

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Land Ahoy! | September 30, 2012

Position: 22°S, 150°W

We have sighted land! At 0400 on October 1st, the Skipper was struggling to fix one of the anchors that had loosened in its fitting overnight and the First Mate was clearing up the cockpit before finishing her watch. As the sun came up, one of the peaks of the island of Rurutu appeared on the horizon. It's a small island on the outer fringes of French Polynesia with only 2,000 inhabitants. For us, it has been our first sight of the rest of the world after 20 days and a huge psychological boost to the crew. 'Just' another 300 miles (3 days) to Papeete now...

Our third week at sea continued in the same vein as the first two, with strong weather reducing the fun and comfort factor to zero at times. As we have moved northeast, the wind has been coming predominantly from the east which has meant we have been sailing 'on the wind'. This means that both the wind and sea is coming towards us (rather than pushing us from behind) so we have been basically pushing against both to make our way forward.

This has pushed both the boat and crew to their limits. Ashling has done extremely well so far, her strong hull taking the strongest of waves and wind with no complaint. However a few deck fittings have started to suffer and the steel structure around the cockpit is showing signs of stress, so we'll be ringing around a few chandleries and boat workshops when we get to Tahiti to give her some TLC. As for the crew, well we are still here, still speaking to each other and still in good shape physically. However we both admit that these three weeks have been harder on us than expected. Here's hoping that more pleasurable sailing awaits us as we cruise around French Polynesia over the next two months.

Highlights of this week included hearing news of Rob & Steph's engagement in New Zealand (Stephanie Byrne, email deets asap!), venting the cabin as temperatures started to rise and seeing land this morning. The lowlight would have to be Wednesday morning when a large wave from astern showered the First Mate from head to foot as she stood at the wheel. Meanwhile down below, the Skipper was assessing the damage of a saucepan full of porridge oats that the same wave had caused to volley across from the cooker to the chart table, covering everything in sight. Almost a week later and we're still finding porridge in the strangest of places!

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Nous sommes arrivés! | October 6, 2012

Position: 17°S, 149°W - Tahiti
We have arrived! We are white, tired and weigh a good kilo or two less than when we left New Zealand but the next 4-6 weeks on land should help to fix that J
After 23 days at sea, we docked at Quai des Yachts in central Papeete city on Wednesday morning. We were apprehensive entering the harbour as we had read many conflicting versions from other Skippers about where to dock and who to contact, never mind having to communicate on the VHF radio en français. We got there though and Le Capitaine, as the Skipper is called here, set off to complete all the entry formalities with the Harbour Master, Police and Customs. It’s been a long time since he parle français so it’s a small miracle that they let us into the country at all.
Dry land is A-MAZ-ING! After our experience over the past three weeks, we deliberately had no expectations of Papeete and arriving on land. We didn’t want to set ourselves up to be disappointed and furthermore, all the tourist guides describe Papeete as underwhelming and ‘just another city’ where tourists should spend as little time as possible. That may be so for people who arrive here by plane but for us, it was like arriving in paradise. We swung off the bow at Quai des Yachts and felt like we had walked into a dream. Land life, i guess, hit us all at once in an assault of our senses – colours of flowers, cars, shops; smells of land, food, people;  sounds of traffic, birds, laughter. Remember that 1980s movie Twins with Danny de Vito and Arnold Schwarznegger? We were like Arnold’s character, arriving into civilisation for the first time and finding pleasure in the smallest of things like a smile from a stranger or biting into a crusty baguette. We turned on taps and stared at the water, no longer worrying about how many litres came out or how many volts the pump was using to pump the water through. So many things we took for granted before setting sail.
Catching up on emails and Facebook, we’ve been absolutely overwhelmed with the many messages from friends and family all over the world. When we are out on our own in the ocean, it’s easy to forget just how many people are thinking of us and rooting for us to succeed. It’s hard to put into words how comforting this is – when reading all the comments for the first time, the First Mate choked up with tears of happiness and for those who have heard about Madame Ice Queen on our wedding day, that’s some achievement!  Please know that we really really appreciate it, and feel very lucky to have so many people who care and support us on our adventure.
Yesterday we moved from the busy Papeete Port to Marina Taina, 5km west of the city, where we have access to showers, launderette,  water, electricity and internet. Even our arrival at the marina was like a dream come true – after radioing in to announce our arrival, a guy appeared in a dinghy to guide us around to our berth. At the berth, another two guys were waiting to take ropes to secure the boat as we came up alongside a wall. This may not sound like much to the non-sailors reading this but berthing is one of the most stressful activities for any Skipper due to the high risk of collision with posts and boats in a confined space, so even one extra pair of hands is a valued asset.  
We’ve just had a cocktail at one of the bars in the marina while watching the sun set over the island of Moorea. For dinner tonight, le Capitaine is cooking up steak and spuds. Crew morale: 10/10

Life's always better when someone else does the cooking.
At Les Roulottes, Papeete.

Life at anchor | October 14, 2012

Position: 17°30’S, 149°50’W – Moorea

One week on land and already our journey across the South Pacific feels like a lifetime ago.

We have continued to settle back into life on land, rediscovering the great French institution - Carrefour! Almost ten years to the day when we ventured into a Carrefour in Suzhou, China, we set off with a backpack, a shopping list and the same feeling of doubt over how much of it we would find.

There were no live turtles, snakes or fish, and we didn’t attract a following of locals looking into our trolley to see what we were buying. However there were plenty of things that we never found in New Zealand (tinned spinach, tinned ratatouille, tinned ravioli) as well as familiar things that are crucial to many of our boat recipes - bless Fonterra and their Anchor UHT cooking cream. Faced with so much choice, it dawned on us that it’s really the most basic of staples that we appreciate. We still have a lot of non-perishable supplies on board but fresh milk with cereal, fresh ham & cheese & lettuce in a fresh baguette, and a cold beer in the evening make us feel truly spoiled while near land. 

Welders at work
We spent most of our first week in Tahiti working on the boat as we wanted to take advantage of boat yards and boat stores in Papeete before heading to the more remote islands. Some joints in the bimini frame (steel structure above and around the cockpit) had cracked during our trip from New Zealand and we arranged to have them welded closed. While we were waiting around to do this, the Skipper produced a list of boat jobs that resembled that bottomless bag of tricks that Mary Poppins used to carry around with her – no sooner is one completed than another two appear.

Welding done and a ceasefire declared on the list of jobs, we set off from Tahiti and arrived in Cook’s Bay, Moorea just before nightfall on Wednesday. By pure coincidence, a Polynesian drum performance started up at the nearby Club Bali Hai hotel as we anchored, followed by a heavy downpour. When you are rationed to 500ml of water per day for a shower, rain really is mana from heaven so we grabbed the soap and shampoo and freshened up al fresco before dinner.  

Thursday was our first official ‘day off’ since reaching land and time to stretch our legs. Many tourists rent a scooter or a car to reach the Belvedere lookout over Cook’s Bay and Oponuhu Bay. Not our First Mate. She had her runners on and we were off for a two hour hike before the Skipper knew what was going on. Along the way we stopped at some archaeological sites, including a marae dating back to 900AD. 4,000km from Auckland, it was quite comforting to see the familiar Polynesian structures and customs that we take as a given in New Zealand.

Belvedere Lookout -
Ashling anchored in Cook's Bay in background
As we arrived back at the boat, we met our first fellow yachties when an English couple stopped by in their dinghy to introduce themselves after noticing our Irish flag. Brian and Sue have been sailing around the world since 2005 and we’re heading over for a beer this evening to hear about their adventures and experiences to date. Very excited to meet some other sailors and make new friends - it's been a while! 

From Le Capitaine | October 17, 2012

Position: 17°28’ 51.2S, 149°48’ 12.7W – Moorea, by the pool

I've just been beaten badly at cards by the First Mate, and my punishment is to do a blog post.
That was 2 hours ago, and so far I've only written one sentence but spent 1.5 hrs googling marine maintenance. Very interesting but the First Mate is on my case again, so best persevere...

30 mins later, i've got this far...

Leaving Auckland. Do it. Do it now.
We left in Spring (September) but as it turned out, spent most of the time running with following seas trying to go as slow and controlled as we could while maintaining enough speed to surf with the swell instead of being pushed about like a hockey puck.
The first week was tough. Average wind speed was 25 with regular gusts of 30+ and the sea built up accordingly.  Each hour we'd monitor the average and gust speed by staring at the instruments hoping to see a 1 or 2 as the first digit but be disappointed by seeing a '3' and occasionally a '4'.

There is a Sweeney in there somewhere.
Flying the Mayo colours for Sam. Shame.
First customer at Salon de Miley
The day the sun came out
6 knots with just a hanky up.
First night in Papeete harbour
Tucked up in Marina Taina

A summary of the trip from Auckland. Based on route planning information and reports from others, we had two choices for sailing to Papeete. Leave Auckland in Autumn / spring and have an 'uphill slog to windward'  Or, leave in Spring and have a slow passage with light winds.

Out of 23 days at sea, one day was becalmed and of the remaining, we only had full sail up for 1.5 of them. The conservative approach paid off and we thankfully didn't have any damage to the sails, steering or hull. We arrived two days ahead of schedule into Papeete after three final days of magic sailing due north slowing down to arrive at day break.

Arriving in Papeete, Tahiti took a bit of planning. The island is surrounded by a reef, and so we had to negotiate our first reef pass. These are safest just after low tide when the lagoon inside stops rushing out to the open sea. The harbour is confined and so the harbour master keeps tight control on traffic in and out of the pass. Then, once through the pass, there was a lot of confusion about where we go to do the relevant jobs of 1. park the boat, and 2. clear into the country. This is normally a one stop shop, but the Tahiti officials have somehow split it across four different offices & officials.

I'm beyond useless at French, but luckily for me, it turns out the First Mate  is quite handy at it. Ever since we lined up for the approach to Papeete, I've taken a back seat and done as directed by Madame Eithne. While it's been a welcome break from the skippering responsibilities, I've been a little frustrated playing the role of a hapless mute while Eithne babbles on with all the locals. I've progressed from " j'ai un petit peu francais" to "francais pas tres bien" and finally to " mon francais- c'est terrible" to which the gentlemen at customs replied "oui". Every time I try to speak French I get a noun or two out then all the rest is in Chinese. Eithne has been awesome at getting all the formalities and repairs organised as well as taking control of all the radio work. Meanwhile I've really improved my mandarin.

After a hectic first week ashore, we're finally on holiday at a beautiful tropical island. We've slowed right down, rested and gotten lazy. It's nice.