2020, 2021

South Africa (Nov 2020 to Jan 2021)

 

After a tearful goodbye we left la Réunion together with our friends from MILANTO and LOUMARAN. SEA LOVER waited for a crew member to fly in and followed after lunch. As usually on passages friends boats disappear very soon from the AIS because every boat has a different pace and routing but with MILANTO we finally found a buddy boat with very similar speed. We were able to talk to each other regularly on the VHF and once on a sunny morning we even got a short guitar concert from Lorenzo via VHF and we crossed. We sailed together the last day of our passage with 30 knots wind from behind and strong Agulhas current with us and the coast of Africa in sight. It was beautiful sailing and a special and unforgettable day.

We arrived in Tuzi Gazi, Richards Bay and were welcomed by our friends Rudy and Tom who crossed on MONFREID, our neighbour boat in La Réunion. They had left Reunion on the 1st of November. Also Alejandro and David from SEALOVER were there and took our lines. Unfortunately it was Friday afternoon and the PCR test could not be done before Monday. So we were not allowed to leave the boat and could not yet move to the Zululand Yacht Club where our friends from Réunion were. The waterfront was very busy on the weekend. Locals were strolling up and down the pier, taking pictures of the boats. Every morning at sunrise the monkeys came to the boats on the pier and were looking for open hatches to steal some food. We had been warned before so we had closed the windows and the companionway over night. On a catamaran they had found an open window and they managed to steal a few oranges before they were discovered and chased away.

A staff member of one of the waterfront restaurants was very clever. He brought us the menu and offered delivery to the boat. What a treat! On Monday we could finally do our PCR Test but unfortunately it took a while until we got the results. After that we had to go to customs and immigration to fill out some more forms… Mélanie and Romaric had rented a car and took us to the grocery stores. We had heard about the braai culture in South Africa and after we had seen the meat in the supermarket we understood why it was so popular. We have not had meat in that quality at such a reasonable price for a long time…

Finally on Wednesday we could move to the Zululand Yacht Club. There we met more of our Réunion friends again. Mélanie and Romaric were there of course, Fred, Rudy and Tom from MONFREID, Daniel with his crew Marcella, Alejandro and David from SEALOVER, Valerio and Lorenzo from MILANTO and Alain with his crew Jenny and Mia from TEC’HADENN. It was nice to be together again. There was also the Swedish boat DAWNBREAKER. Lars had flown home from Réunion and had the boat on the hard for most of the time there so we had met him just towards the very end of our Réunion time.

Richards Bay was a good starting point to go on safaris. There were a few nature reserves within a few hours driving distance. As South Africa had just opened his borders there were not a lot of tourists yet and the safari lodges offered discount rates. Together with MILANTO, LOUMARAN and SEALOVER we had booked a stay in the Rhino Ridge Lodge in Hluhluwe Imfolozi game reserve. It is the oldest proclaimed reserve in Africa. Still very wild with a size of 96000 hectares. The last half hour of the drive to the lodge led through the reserve. We already saw some zebras and impalas. The location of the lodge was a dream. It was on a hill looking over the nature reserve With the binoculars you could observe the rhinos and zebras drinking at a waterhole. There was always a morning safari with a coffee break and an afternoon safari with sundowner drink on a beautiful view point. It was beautiful! We saw lots of warthogs, zebras, impalas, nyalas, rhinos, girafes, wildbeests and elefants. Our guide was very experienced. He was very good at spotting also the smallest creatures like leopard turtles along the road, baby crocodiles in a creek or a dung beetle rolling his huge ball of dung to create the perfect home for his future family. He also knew a lot about the plants. He tried hard to show us a big cat like a lion or a leopard. I always had a sharp lookout too if I would spot a sleepy leopard on one of these beautiful amarula trees… but no luck. But also without seeing any wildcats this was a unique and unforgettable experience. After three nights we drove to St. Lucia and visited the Isimangaliso Wetland park there on our own. You think twice when there are some rhinos or buffalos close to the driveway. Should we stop or should we try to pass slowly… or maybe turn around…. it is very different to drive by yourself a normal car and pass these powerful creatures than sitting in a safari jeep with an experienced driver and ranger. These people know so much better how to read the animals signs. But nonetheless we had a great day in the park and in St. Lucia.  We stayed at the Urban Glamping tented village which was a lot of fun. The staff told us to lock the tent because of the curious monkeys… and indeed there were a lot of them all over the place.  It was fun, to watch these clever mammals from the veranda of our tent. The following day we were heading back to Richards Bay.

If you want to sail around the Cape of Good Hope you have to be patient and wait for the right weather window. There are just a few stops on the way where you can hide. The wind is usually blowing full speed North or South and changes direction very quickly, which makes the weather windows very short. There is also the strong Agulhas current pushing South. You absolutely have to avoid having the current against the wind as this can produce high standing waves.
To make things short the passage to Durban did not get very high ratings among the crew but we made it in time to Durban before the wind was turning again. Valerio always said it is not a pleasure cruise it is a delivery that is how you should see it!

Durban is not a very nice town.  People told us it was nice once but now it is very rundown and even on the short way from the marina to the Durban Beach Front we did not feel very comfortable and safe. We were really just waiting for the right weather to head further South. If possible we wanted to skip East London and sail directly to Port Elizabeth. We wanted to visit the Addo Elephant park from there as it is very close and in addition we wanted to visit the parents of a former colleague from work from André.  After 4 days we left Durban and really got a window that took us all the way down to Port Elizabeth.  MILANTO and SEALOVER were with us, LOUMARAN decided to pull into East London.  More boats of the Reunion fleet followed early next morning like Mélanie and Romaric on REDER BRO and Niklas on HAFSORKESTERN.

The marina in Port Elizabeth is in very bad condition. The pontoons are all moving around a lot and the wind blows all the metal dust from the iron ore storage just next to the marina on the boats.  And of course there is a lot of wind and therefore a lot of dirt. Because of that you can not really sit outside in the cockpit and downstairs you get seasick because everything is moving.  For the boatschooling we moved to the nearby restaurant on land and most of our cruising friends were there too because of the same reasons. It is a DELIVERY we were once again reminded from Valerio…  But in spite of the bad maintained marina we had a nice lunch at Donald’s parents place and a great day in the Addo Elephant park together with Mélanie and Romaric.

Our next planned stop was Knysna. The entrance is only doable in settled conditions as it is narrow with dangerous rocks on both sides. It looks spectacular and beautiful but you have to pay attention to get your bearings right. The Knysna Yacht Club is one of the most welcoming Yacht Clubs in the world and definitely the best Yacht Club in South Africa. They let us stay at their dock at the prime spot, free of charge and even brought us a wooden staircase (normally only the superyachts have those)! What a treat after the rocky pontoons and howling winds in Port Elizlabeth! We felt at home immediately. There is a nice restaurant in the Yacht Club, a lively bar and even a small playground just around the corner and the view over the Knysna lagoon is fantastic. Welcome back to the cruising mode… the delivery was done – not yet around the cape but it seemed at least the worst part of it.

While MILANTO and SEALOVER soon wanted to move on to Cape Town we decided to stay a little bit longer. André had found a paragliding school in Wilderness where he could do his licence and I made a few beautiful excursions with the girls. Lars and his crew from DAWNBREAKER asked us if we would like to join them on a excursion to Plettenberg. We visited together the huge free flight bird santuary “Birds of Eden” and the Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation & Awareness Center. Both places we can highly recommend.

Of course we also wanted to see where André was doing his flights. One day we accompanied him to Wilderness and Mélanie and Romaric joined too. We had a great had a great day at on the beautiful beach together and joined André later in the afternoon to watch him paragliding. As the monitor asked me if I would like to come on a tandem flight I spontaneously said yes. It was really beautiful and I could understand André’s excitement about the paragliding there.  You fly alongside the cliffs and you can even spot the dolphins in the clear blue sea!

The amazing thing when you travel with kids is that they make new friends in no time. On Friday, 18th of December, André was back from paragliding and had to do some work on the boat and I went off to do some laundry. When I got back late afternoon Jaël was all excited telling me they got two new friends and as I stepped on the boat there was a woman in the cockpit I had not seen before. She introduced herself as Silvana and was mother of two boys, Michael and Gregory same age as Amina and Jaël. Her boys were invited at a kids birthday party on the Yacht Club terrace. Jaël and Amina were hanging around and kind of joined the party. They told the other kids that they live on that blue sailboat and had sailed all the way to South Africa. So Silvana (she has Italian roots) of course wanted to know if this is all true and asked them for a boat tour…. and there she was 🙂 her husband Warren joined, we offered them a drink on Mirabella. Later on we all moved by dinghy to their holiday apartment for a BBQ. They were from Johannesburg and spent their Christmas holiday always in Knysna where Warren’s father lived. They invited us over to a big family lunch at Warren’s uncle’s place. It was a beautiful afternoon with a lot of laughter and fun. Thank you again Warren and Silvana for inviting us! And of course thank you Jaël and Amina for chatting up these nice people!

 

As most boats of our Reunion fleet were already in Cape town and we wanted to spend Christmas with them we thought it was time to move on. André had accomplished his paragliding pilot licence and there was a good weather window ahead.  On the 21st of December we passed the heads of Knysna and left for Cape town. We rounded the Cape Agulhas, the most southern point of Africa the following day in settled conditions.  What a mile stone of our journey! We arrived in Cape town on the 23rd of December.  One of these moments that I will never forget… arriving in Cape Town on our own sailing boat, seeing the famous Table Mountain in the morning sun.

We decided to stay in the V&A Waterfront Marina as you can discover the town on foot.  Andre’s sister Karin was supposed to visit us and therefore it would be much easier to explore if we do not need a car. The other option would have been the Royal Cape Yacht Club which is less expensive and very cruiser friendly with a nice BBQ area. But it is located near the industrial harbour area and from there you do not get anywhere without car. The location of the V&A marina is simply unbeatable. It is well protected and very calm. From the boat you can watch the sealions swim around and at night you find them sleeping on the pontoons. Within a short walking distance you can reach supermarket, shops, restaurants and also a playground.

Our French friends from Reunion were all in Hout Bay so we spent the 24th of December there together with REDER BRO, SOLEDAD, MONFREID and TEC`HADENN.  The 25th December we celebrated together with the boats who were at the V&A Marina, like MILANTO, SEALOVER, LOUMARAN, SEABISCUIT, OSPREY and ANNA CAROLINE. As the Covid-19 cases were rising the gouvernment implemented a night curfew and selling alcohol was prohibited in restaurants and supermarkets. Normally we  would not have cared about the ban on alcohol but being in South Africa with all these great winerys and not being able to go on a winetram in Stellenbosch was a bit of a shame… Most of the restaurants closed earlier as everyone was supposed to be home at 9 p.m.  But during the day everything was open, so no need to complain.

One day André took the kids to go climbing near Hout Bay with Charles, Fanny and Tom. We arranged to meet at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden in the afternoon. Mélanie, Romaric, Charles and Fanny would join for a visit too and I would take the kids while André would go back to Mirabella. I had a nice city stroll in the morning,  I walked to Greenmarket square, the Company’s garden and the Bo-Kaap area. Cape Town is a beautiful town with a lot to discover. The history lays still heavy on it though and you still rarely see black and white people together. Too many things have happened and still happen. The call for redemption was so loud that now things seem to turn the other way around which is not good either and will only cause more hate again. You can not make things undone but you can learn from mistakes. It is never good to legally favor a group of people. I do hope that South Africa will find a way to solve these difficult conflicts. Naturewise it is a beautiful and very rich country.  We cought a glimpse of that beauty in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. The location is a winner already and the variety of protea flowers (South Africa’s national flower) is incredible. On New Year’s eve we made a small get together with all the cruising boats in the Waterfront marina. By the our French friends were all in the Cape Town Yacht club and because of the curfew we could not celebrate all together.  Instead we made a BBQ at the Yacht Club early January.

 

Karin had booked a flight to come and visit us in Cape Town but things had become quite complicated with the new South African variant of the virus. Her flight was firsts cancelled, then put back on schedule and finally postponed by a day. We could hardly believe, that she managed to come and visit us in these circumstances . But there she was – she arrived on January 1st! The last time she stayed with us on the boat was from Niue to New Zealand in September/October 2018, that was a while ago. So nice to have her back again. André managed to rent a car for a few days so that we could also explore the surroundings  of Cape Town with her.  There were plenty of things to do and see .  One day we drove to Simons Town. It is famous for it’s colony of African penguins at boulders beach. This picturesque area, with enormous boulders dividing small, sandy coves is home to a colony of some 3000 African penguins. Fascinating to see those funny walking creatures that close. They can make quite a noise…

On another day we booked the Cape Canopy Tour near Grabouv. We left Cape Town early morning and had a late breakfast at a cool Sunday market,  the Elgi n Railway Market. There was a big selection of delicious food stalls located in a beautifully restored old apple warehouse.  What a great start into a beautiful day. We continued our drive to to the Canopy tour location. We got equipped with helmets, harnesses, gloves and the zipping device. A 4×4 jeep took us on a 45min. mountain trip to the starting point of the Canopy tour. All in all there were 11 slides and a suspension bridge all beautifully hidden in the mountainous scenery. It was a lof of fun and we would highly recommend it!

The Elgin Railway Market is just one of many cool weekend markets in and around Cape Town. In the waterfront area there is the Oranjezicht City Farm Market. It is a great location and the perfect way to start a Saturday or Sunday. There is a huge variety of food stalls and it is difficult to make a choice.  The Old Biscuit Mill is another cool place we visited one weekend. Valerio was with us that day and there we met Maurizio and Catherine, who were selling delicious salami on one of the numerous market stalls. Maurizio is Italian and if an Italian sells salami you can be sure that it is really good! We bought some for our next passage and Valerio exchanged phone contacts and invited them over.

While Karin was still with us, André and me could go on a hike together without the kids. We normally wanted to hike up Table Mountain but unfortunately there was too much wind that day so we decided to hike up to Lion’s Head instead which offers a beautiful view on Cape Town too and you can walk down Signal Hill afterwards, where they still shoot the gun at 12 o’clock midday. Karin had to head back to Switzerland after 8 days. We had had a great time together!

Maurizio and Catherine visited MILANTO and came to see us on Mirabella as well.  We suggested to go on a hike all together and Maurizio and Cathering picked the hike to Suther Peak. What a great choice. There were some friends of Catherine joining as well and so we met Nina from Geneva, Elena, a very experienced sailor, and Sylvie, an English Teacher. It was an unforgettable and beautiful hike with stunning views. Nina and Sylvie wanted to see our boat as well, so we invited them over another day. Maurizio and Catherine joined as well and also Alessia, who had two kids, Aline (10 years) and Conrad (8 years). It was just great to meet all these people. The longer you stay at one place the more connections you make and the harder it gets to leave. Alessia invited us over at her house (by the way a really cool house) and the kids had a lot of fun to play together in the pool and in their tree house.

Our friends from SOLEDAD; REDER BRO and MONFREID had already left for Brazil early January. St. Helena whose borders had been open all the time suddenly closed the borders because of the spreading South African variant of the virus.  What a pity! We had been looking forward to stop on that interesting island in the middle of nowhere… Frank from MAXIM had decided to sail directly to Martinique, many others decided to stop at the northeastern tip of Brazil. Cruising friends recommended us a marina in Cabedelo where they would let us in even if Brazil was closed. We were not yet ready to leave. André had helped Valerio with his engine problem and after what he had seen there made him think that maybe he should take a closer look on our engine as well….  It is like opening Pandora’s Box… What he discovered was not so good. The turbo was completely stuck. To get the turbo cleaned he litterally had to take all the engine apart.  A quite adventurous thing. Luckily he found a good Diesel engine specialist, a very relyable guy named Werner (with German roots) who could clean all the parts. It was a challenging two weeks project. But at the end André had put all the cleaned parts back together and the engine worked! Well done Captain!

While André was busy with the engine project we focused on boat school and bicycle practice. Very close by there was a bicycle rental where. We went there several times in the afternoon and rented a bike for one hour. It was not a very busy area and Amina and Jaël could do rounds  and practice their bicydle skills. At the beginning I had to hold Amina and run along with her but she quickly made progress.  At the end she just needed a little help to start.  We also went on a short bike tour in Stellenbosch, that was fantastic. There André rented a shadow bike for Amina .

 

As soon as the engine project was finished we were getting ready to leave. We ordered some first class parmiggiano and more salami from Maurizio for the passage which lasted by the way until Antigua and was a real treat! Best cheese on board since a long time!!! Thank you Maurizio! Nina brought us some Ragusa chocolates and Jaël and Amina got two heart shaped boxes with Lindor chocolates from Maurizio and Catherine which they both kept like a treasure. Before we left we had a lovely dinner at Maurizio and Catherine’s place and farewell drinks with all our cruising and Cape Town friends on LOUMARAN. When we left Cape Town for Brazil we even got escorted by MILANTO with Lorenzo singing a farewell song. It had been a lot of fun cruising together. MILANTO, LOUMARAN and SEALOVER were not ready yet to leave beautiful Cape Town and we where not sure if and when we would see each other again. Thank you South Africa for a wonderful time!

 

2021

Alone – Sailing 1600nm across the Atlantic in winter (Nov/Dec 2021)

Ice on the sprayhood at the end of November was the final reminder that the sailing season in North America is well and truly over. It was high time to head south.

After a freezing night, leaving Marion at Sunrise, .

Our second visit in New England was later then originally planned. This time we came in from Canada. However, due to US travel restrictions, travelers from Canada were not allowed to cross the border to the US on land or water until 8 November 2021.

Why so late?

So instead of an October visit to see our dear friends in Maine and Massachusetts again, it turned out to be a November visit. November in New England is beautiful. The automn colors are still there, the days are often sunny and cool and everything is in a very nice light. The nights were getting really cold, but thanks to our forcefull diesel heater, we never had a cold cabine.

The thing that remained was the thought of when to escape to the Caribbean. An old salt in Halifax told me that there is no weather window before mid December. I wasn’t convinced and consulted the pilot charts instead. They were very clear. November is not a good month to cross to Bermuda, but December is definitly worse.

The journey, approx. 1600nm from Marion, MA via Bermuda to St. Martin, Caribbean.

Additionally, Eva Maria and the kids wanted to visit Switzerland to see family and friends again. The grandparents were asking more and more often.

Shall I try it alone?

I thought this might be the best opportunity to have a go at single handed sailing. This is something I always wanted to try and I felt that both Mirabella and myself were ready for it. We booked flights to Switzerland and return to the Caribbean for Eva Maria and the kids at the end of November. And I watched the weather closely.

On the 24. November, there was an acceptable weather window. Strong  NW winds till Bermuda, forecasted mostly around 20kts, increasing to 25-30kts when the front passes, gusts forecasted in the 30+kts. Not great, but by far the best for a long time and probably as good as one can expect at the end of November. I spoke to Ed, our friend who has done the crossing to the caribbean in November/December multiple times. He agreed, yes, this is an ok window.

Temperature curve as forecasted by Predict Wind

On the eve of the departure Eva Maria and the kids left the boat, it was freezing cold and I planned to leave at first light the next morning. After a good but short sleep I got the boat ready at 5am and slipped the mooring line shortly before sunrise.  

It is happening

Ice cold wind blew in my face as I made my way out of Buzzards Bay, the diesel furnace blew hot air into the cabin, but outside I was exposed the the elements. I needed to sail upwind for the first 20 miles before I could turn south towards to sun. It was a challenging sail against the wind and it gave me a queasy stomach that wouldn’t go away for a day. After 3 hours I happily turned the bow south, getting the wind over my starbord stern. Much better.

Rough beginning in cold weather

First time alone on the ocean

The feeling of sailing alone was very strange. After 45’000 miles with the family, it was an unnatural feeling to be alone on the boat.    There was no one to talk to, no discussion about the sail plan or weather routing. No kids that demanded my attention. Only me and some less then ideal weather.

The first two days were broad reaching in 25kts of wind and maybe 3m of wave. Not very comfortable but managable. It was the anticipation of the front passing over us on the 3rd day that occupied my thoughts. 30kts steady wind, gusting to 40kts was forecasted.

I kept Mirabella moving quickly, I wanted to be south of the gulfstream when the front hit. The gulfstream can be treacherous place to be caught out in bad weather. This strong current quickly creates waves that are much higher then normal. Luckily, the wind was in the same direction as the current, this should keep the waves to a more normal level. But still, better to be out of the current.
On the evening before the front would hit, I took the main sail down completly and tied it down. This way it could not accidentially open up again. My plan was to weather the front under genoa alone. Just in case I needed to reef further. 

The waves started to get larger

The strong front passes

The front arrived as predicted the next day and quickly we had winds gusting into the 40s. I observed the spectacle from the companion way when I saw a large mean looking cloudbank arrive. Heavy rain and even stronger winds were coming for Mirabella! The wind started to gust up to 54kts, it was loud, wet and uncomfortable. The genoa was reefed to a few m2, we surfed down the waves with up to 16kts. It was freightening but everything was stable and all I had to do was hang in there.

Around the world but NEVER have I seen this much wind. I didn’t have any willpower to take pictures from outside.

After an hour the winds reduced to 30kts again.  Coming from 50+kts this felt already normal again. I gradually unfurled more genoa and continued on my path to Bermuda.

When the wind pipes up like this, it feels good to be on a well maintained X-Yacht. Luckily, nothing got damaged, no water came into the boat and all systems just continued as normal.

Bermuda

After 4 days I arrived in Bermuda after sunset. Bermuda is very professional and everything is well marked. They have the worlds best radio operators and a very efficient customs. One hour after my arrival, I was cleared in. I dropped the anchor in the Powder Hole bay and was ready for a long sleep.

I love arriving in Bermuda!

Together with Aria, I enjoyed 5 days of relaxed life in Bermuda. Then a nice looking weather forecast came up. 5 days / 880nm of beam reaching to Saint Martin. Yes, that sounds like me.

Most beautiful sailing to the Caribbean

The second leg was everything the first wasn’t. The wind was great, the weather was warm and it didn’t rain. I managed a very good 180nm per day. Alone! Sailing was just great. I started to really like this way of sailing. When the going is great, I found the solitude beautiful. I was busy keeping Mirabella moving, checking all the systems and cooking. But there was enough time to watch the dolphines and read a book in the cockpit. If it wasn’t for the interrupted sleep pattern I would have wanted to sail on for much longer.

Leaving Bermuda
Beautiful sailing
All is perfect!
The sunset start to look very tropical

We arrived in Saint Martin at lunch time after 5 days. Marigot bay, the French side, was too rolly so I moved on to Simpson bay on the Dutch side and anchored there for the night. On arrival I spotted Patrick on Ostrika. He gladly helped me to get the dinghy in the water.  

St. Martin!

Together with Patrick and some of his friends, I spend the night at Lagoonies. A great evening with very good food and a nice beer. What a way to arrive, Caribbean I’m here!

The family is back
2020

La Réunion, (May – Nov 2020)

 

In the morning of May 14th we could see the lights of la Réunion. We arrived at sunrise and had to wait one hour to enter the marina. While circling close to the entrance I heard a splash and saw a big tail disappearing in the water. A whale!!! We moved towards that direction and circled a bit around keeping a good lookout. And we got rewarded for our patience. The whale jumped out and breached several times…. What a welcome!! La Réunion we love you already!

After the beautiful welcome of the whale in the morning things continued just perfectly. Jerôme, the harbour master and Mikael waited for us at the berth in the „darse Titan“ which is the newer marina. Within less than an hour Mirabella was safely tied up and we were cleared in and free to go on land. Restaurants were not open yet only take aways and masks were mandatory in shops but that was it. No other restrictions! Hurray! Back to an almost normal life!

We headed off for a walk to the village to find a bakery. We were longing for a crispy baguette and a pain au chocolat! We enjoyed both on the square in front of the church and felt like newborn. We arranged a reservation for a rental car and continued our village tour towards the „darse ouest“ where our friends from Tec’hadenn were. It was quite a walk especially after our passage and the lockdown time in Maldives where the maximum walk was around our small island which was sometimes – depending on the tide – more a swim than a walk.

Tycho and Alain were not on the boat and Amina’s batteries were running very low. So we enjoyed an ice cream at the small cafe at the fuel station. We were just about to finish when Niklas a Swedish single-handed sailor on his boat HAFSORKESTERN arrived. We had doubled him the night before and André has had a chat with him on the VHF. He had been one of the other boats stuck near Male during lockdown. We offered to show him the way to the „darse Titan“ and he offered us a lift. So we jumped on board and moved. When we arrived in darse Titan there was a group of people waiting for him… Jerôme and Mikael from the harbour but also a lady from the Norwegian embassy and some reporters with a camera. We helped Niklas with the lines and then quickly got off the boat trying to be as invisible as we possibly could be with two children (haha) but of course the reporters had seen us too and asked where we came from. They were doing a short story for the daily news about the first foreign sailing boats arriving to la Réunion after the lockdown. So they interviewed us as well. It was just a short story on the news that evening but funny enough we had several encounters with locals during our time in la Réunion where the people told us they had seen us on television.

What a beautiful first day and what a change to the previous two months! And this was just the beginning of our wonderful time in la Réunion! We met a few other boats who also had the same plans like us and were also stuck in la Réunion as Mauritius and Madagascar were closed. For example two young French couples, Mélanie and Romaric from REDER BRO and Fanny and Charles from SOLEDAD. They became very good friends and also Jaël and Amina loved to spend time with them. Amina decided to give Mélanie English lessons as she said that she herself was not made for speaking French. A few weeks later arrived Frank, a German single-handed sailor on MAXIM who had tried in vain to get into Mauritius and Lisa and Johan from the Swedish boat RUBICON who had crossed the Atlantic with us in November 2017. We had not seen them since Barbados and it was nice to see them again after such a long time.  German single hand sailor Frank on MAXIM who had tried to get into Mauritius

There were also people living on boats in the marina permanently like Delphine for example who started to give yoga lessons during the lockdown, then there was Olivier, a teacher who regularly went climbing and Manu, who rents two holiday appartments and dreams of a longterm sailing adventure himself. On the same pontoon as Manu there was Ian, who worked on the Maïdo Observatory 2160m above sealevel and his wife Patricia. The only family with a kid who lived in the marina was Lucrece and Julien with her son Tao, who was a bit younger than Amina. Then, next to SOLEDAD there was Jean-Marc who left la métropole long ago and would never go back to live in France. He showed me which market stall had the best pineapples. On the same pontoon were Noemie and Iker with their dogs Dodo and Rita. And of course there was Georges a real Créol who knows everything about the local kitchen, Maloya music and dance. He always brought the sweetest and juiciest pineapples to every party we had. He lives on a small selfbuilt red catamaran and maybe will also leave for a sailing adventure one day. On our pontoon there was Christian, who was very helpful in the regalvanising process of our anchor and Aurélie and Gilles who always had time for a friendly chat.

So to make things short, there was really like a „Darse Titan community“ and we felt very much at home. In addition we also made friends with two local families. David, who we had met in French Polynesia, when he was travelling as crew on another boat, with his girlfriend Stéphanie and two kids, Kénoa (same age as Jaël) and Eileen (same age as Amina) and Christine and Christophe with their daughter Lola (same age as Jaël), whom we met on our first Sunday  evening in St. Denis, while we were waiting for our pizza… Christine was playing „un, deux, trois soleil!“ with her daughter and Amina decided to join them. Christine recognized us from the TV interview and was very excited. During the week they live in St. Denis, the capital city of la Réunion, where Christine works as an English teacher. On the weekends they live in the South of the Island. Christine is a very proud of her island and absolutely wanted to show us the beautiful and wild South of la Réunion. So we exchanged whats app contact. What a beautiful encounter!

From the beginning we realized, that this is a very special place. Two days after our arrival, on  Amina’s birthday, we made a beautiful hike from Dos d’âne to Roche vert bouteille with Jacques and Tycho. The scenery just blew us away and we enjoyed this beautiful hike. Réunion really has it all…. Stunning beaches, countless hiking trails, waterfalls, natural sweet water pools, climbing routes and perfect conditions for paragliding. Impossible to get bored. And in combination with all these friendly people we met it just made the perfect place for us to be. Fanny and Mélanie started a planting project with our girls which was a lot of fun. Jaël and Amina sometimes also went by themselves to buy fresh baguette in the morning.

 

More French cruising boats arrived and towards September also more international sailing boats. MILANTO a beautiful Swan with two Italians, Valerio and Lorenzo on board arrived and  LOUMARAN a Chilenian boat with father and son, Jorge senior and Jorge junior on board. SEALOVER a Mexican Catamaran was in the other marina. Daniel, the Mexican, and Valerio had started the World Arc but due to Covid 19 the World Arc got cancelled in Tahiti. They decided to continue and sailed together since.

The landscape of Réunion Island was mainly shaped by the volcano „Piton des neiges“ which is not active anymore. With its 3060m above sealevel it is also the highest summit of the Indian Ocean.The big eruptions of his active life shaped the areas of Cirque de Cilaos, Cirque de Salazie and Cirque de Mafate. The other volcano „Piton de la Fournaise“ is still active and already had two eruptions early that year. The Cirque de Mafate is the most remote one of the three. You can easily spend several days there hiking from one village to the other and stay in one of the lovely gites overnight. We spent a wonderful Mafate weekend with Christine, Christophe, Lola and some of their friends. Cilaos became also one of our favourite spots. The curvy road to get there and the scenic views are simply spectacular. We went camping there with Stéphanie, David, Kénoa and Eileen by a small creek, that was great fun. André and I even did a night hike all the way up to the summit of Piton des Neiges together with our friends  from Soledad and RederBro.  We started at 2 o’clock at night with our head torches to be up on the summit at sunrise. It was an epic hike we will never forget! We can highly recommend! Réunion is also a paragliding paradise. Jacques and Alain told us how fantastic it was and so André and me had a go. Whereas André turned out to be a natural talent, I had a few rough landings on the second day which made me doubt if I will ever fly all by myself. On the third day there was the tutorial tandem flight on the program. We had to do a few technical exercices in the air like clapping in the outer wings. I focused oh the wings above me and felt a bit dizzy.  Nothing serious but just enough to confirm my feeling that my paragliding career will end with this tutorial flight and I will never fly all alone. André made great progress and he made a bunch of solo flights during our time in Réunion. Jaël and Amina made some new friends in the Marina. During two weeks of the school holidays Vincent and Claire lived on their boat with their two boys Sydney and Kim. The kids got along very well and enjoyed playing together when there was time. Vincent worked on the Marion Dufresne , a research and supply vessel which was moored just next to the Darse Titan.

 

In August we flew home for a few weeks. Prices for flights were outrageous when we had arrived in May but all of a sudden they had dropped. So we thought that it is a good opportunity to see family and friends…. as in Covid times you never know what is happening in a few months. The plan was that André would return to la Réunion after one week to do the antifouling with the help of Romaric. Me and the girls would return three weeks later. We had a one night stop in Paris. Just enough time to climb the stairs of l’Arc de Triomphe and stroll by the Eiffel tower. From Paris we travelled by TGV train to Zurich. The girls and me enjoyed to be home in summer time. We could go to the public swimming pool with my parents, enjoy the woods with friends and roast some cervelats on the stick over a fire and simply have a lot of time with familiy and friends, it was beautiful and made us all very happy.

When we got back we just arrived in time to witness the finish of the antifouling and the splash back in the water. André and Romaric had done a fantastic job. Mirabella looked great again! Slowly but surely everyone was getting ready for moving on. RUBICON was one of the first boats to leave for South Africa but they got stuck at the dock in Richards Bay almost a month as the borders were open for people who flew into South Africa but nobody had thought of the cruising sailboats. We did not want to leave before we knew that we could go on land, so we waited and enjoyed beautiful La Réunion a bit longer. Rudy, a guy André knew from paragliding was looking for a boat to travel to South Africa and André gave him Freds number. It turned out to be a very good match with Fred and Tom from MONFREID. Bruno and Eloise on LAKATAO left for Tanzania, Georges joined Jacques on TY’ BALOO to sail to Mayotte to get some off shore experience.  Almost every week in October there was a goodbye party on the stairs  of the marina. I also had a great birthday party there with all our friends and Jaël was so happy to celebrate her birthday with so many kids.

It was one of the most difficult goodbyes when we left la Réunion on November 2nd… What a beautiful half year we had spent on this unique island and how many wonderful friendships we had made… one day we will come back I promise! Merci La Réunion!

 

 

2020

Leaving the Maldives (Apr 2020)

 

 

We already fell in love with la Réunion when we were still in the Maldives. It was incredibly hot and the weather started slowly to change. Winds were getting stronger and there were more squalls with heavy rain fall. For the long dinghy ride to the village to get provisioning from our agent we had to pick the right weather window…

So we were checking our options where to go. There were not many options…. Mauritius was closed, la Réunion was closed, Seychelles were closed and Madagascar as well, all due to Covid 19 lockdown. Our original plan would have been to go to Mauritius then to la Réunion and then to Madagascar. We thought our best chances to be let in would be La Réunion, as it is French territory. After googling around a bit and seeing pictures about the hiking in „Cirque de Mafate“ with stunning mountains and beautiful scenery we were hooked and absolutely determined that this was IT.

We wrote an email to the harbour master in le Port la Réunion explaining our situation and asking for permission for entry in May… no answer… A few days later we saw a catamaran approaching on the outside reef and heard them talking with the coast guard in Addu. It was a French boat on the way to la Réunion, coming from Sri Lanka. They had arranged an emergency stop with the embassy to refuel and provision. They were guided to an anchorage near the village and we contacted them by VHF.

They invited us for dinner and we enjoyed a beautiful evening with Alain and Tycho on TEC’HADENN. Our first social contact after middle of March! There was also a second boat TY BALOO with solo sailor Jacques, but the coast guard did not allow him to leave his boat. Funny enough they did not say anything to us. They must have seen our dinghy too… The next day TEC’HADENN told the coastguard that they had an engine problem and asked for permission to anchor in the same area we were to fix the problem. TY BALOO of course followed as they were sailing together.

Tycho swam over to our boat and invited the girls to do an apple cake on TEC’HADENN and then have lunch all together. Jaël and Amina were excited to go and jumped into the water. I promised to bring a fresh baked bread for lunch and off they swam. In the meantime I resent our message to the harbour Master in la Réunion using the address that Tycho gave me. He had had email contact and the harbour master had confirmed their arrival.

We had a wonderful lunch the three boats together with a lot of laughing and jokes. We all enjoyed the pleasant company in these strange lockdown times. Alain Tycho and Jacques left the next day at first light and we were looking forward to see each other again soon in la Réunion.

The next day we received an answer from the harbour master. Hurray!!! He said that if the lockdown period will not be extended by the French Government we could enter after May 11th. He sent a few forms to fill in and we all sent them back except the health declaration form, which would only make sense to send before leaving. So far so good – we received confirmation including a map, indicating our berth number.

This was good news! We were all excited and happy to have such a wonderful place to go to. We timed our departure for being in La Réunion after the 11th of May and before the 16th of May as we were hoping to spend Amina’s birthday on land. We were really desperate to leave… after 46 days quarantined we were done with snorkeling, spearfishing and collecting garbage on our small remote island and the weather was really getting worse. The forecast looked alright for checking out on May 1st. But as Maldives is an Islamic country not much is happening on a Friday. Check out got delayed but on Saturday May 2nd we could finally leave.

After one day sailing we received an email from the harbour master, telling us that our request for clearing in was rejected from the „préfécture“ and he hoped we had another solution. Well we did not have another solution, as all the other countries were closed and as we had checked out from the Maldives they were closed for as well for us. We explained that and repeated our reasons why la Réunion was our only solution. In addition André contacted the Swiss embassy in Sri Lanka for help. After a few days we got the ok from la Réunion. The passage was not very pleasant. Before we reached the latitude of Chagos the winds were very unsteady changing between heavy squalls and periods of no wind after we had periods with very uncomfortable waves and strong winds and a few days of nice sailing. In the early morning of May 14th we could see the lights of La Réunion.

 

“Mom, do you know what will be my job, when I’m grown up?” “No, I don’t know Amina, please tell me!”

“I’m gonna save the world! I’m gonna collect all the plastic in the sea….. and maybe I’ll do a little bit of drawing too…”

Amina’s first words after she woke up one morning on the passage from Maldives to La Réunion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2020

Maldives (Feb – Apr 2020)

 

Our friends from ALKYONE and ALDIVI were already waiting for us in Uligamo. They had left Galle earlier than us. Hans guided us with his dinghy through the shallow waters  of the anchorage and helped to find a good spot for anchoring. The water was turquoise and crystal clear. We could just swim and snorkel off the boat. The variety of colorful fish in all shapes was simply stunning. What a beautiful anchorage! 

Also the clearing in was a bit different than normally. I think this was the first time the kids got sweets and ice cream while we were getting cleared in. Our agents Assad and Hanoon really spoiled our kids. Ashore they drove them around through the small village in some kind of motorcycle pickup and our kids had a blast.

One afternoon Assad and Hanoon arranged a small get together on the beach for the three boats of us where local women prepared some delicious Maldivian specialities and our kids could play with the local kids. During the day we enjoyed the fantastic swimming and snorkeling around our anchorage. And of course it was also a paradise for spearfishing… we made a few spear fishing sessions and André caught enough fish for the three boats. Delicious! André’s spear fishing skills came quite handy as in Maldives all the fresh food has to be flown in from far away. There is of course no agriculture or farming on these islands except maybe some chicken delievering a few eggs, but that’s it. Maldives completely depend on tourism industry.

As we had decided to take the route around South Africa instead of going through the Red Sea we had to say goodbye to our friends from ALDIVI and ALKYONE. That was not easy… we had been cruising together since Port Moresby and we really enjoyed their company. Without cruising permit they were only allowed to stay one week before moving on to Djibouti and we wanted to sail south to meet Karin and Hanspeter, who were on holiday in Vilamendhoo Island resort, located in the Ari atoll.

With heavy hearts we said goodbye to our cruising friends and left Uligamo. Everything worked out as we had planned.  Just the thunderstorm that welcomed us in the morning was not exactly what we had wished for . But it passed on time so that we could enter the atoll in good visibility. We anchored off Dhangethi a local island with a few small hotels. From there we could dinghy over to the resort island. We got a special permission to dock with our dinghy and pick up Karin and Hanspeter.  They came over and explored Dhangethi with us. We found a nice restaurant where we could have lunch and has coffee on Mirabella later on. It was so great to see them. Karin had arranged that we could come over to the resort the next day and spend the whole day there in the pool area. Jaël and Amina were in heaven…. after all these beautiful beaches they still love to swim in a pool if they have the opportunity.  We enjoyed the pool area and also went snorkelling on the reef which is very close to the beach. After a sundowner with beautiful views we hit the road – I mean jumped into the dinghy – and drove back to our anchorage as long as there was still some visibility.

 

The next day Karin and Hanspeter flew back to Switzerland. We spent some more time in Dhangethi as we really liked this place. We had made some local friends… Jonayed, a very charismatic young guy who worked for Leela, a local shop owner. Leela took our kids to her sister Zidhuna’s place, who had three kids as well. That’s how we met Zidhuna, her husband Fayaaz and the three kids Fawwaza, Fauza and Zayaan. They were a strong islamic family but very open minded. Fayaaz himself had worked as a captain on a safari boat for many years and could speak English, French and also some Italian. One day we invited the whole family, Leela and her friend Shaheedha on our boat for coffee and tea. On this anchorage we experienced the easiest spearfishing ever… we could spearfish unicorn fish just off the stern without even going into the water… You just had to throw a few bread crumbs and there they showed up. We could just catch them with the hawaiian sling. Never caught any fish from the stern like that before… 

In Dhangethi we also went on a fantastic dive trip to see some manta rays. Jaël and Amina could join too and were snorkelling with a guide. They were able to see the same manta ray from above as we observed from down below. I was so happy that they had the chance to see these wonderful creatures with their own eyes.

After about a week we wanted to go to Male to get some repair supply for our dinghy and then come back again to see our friends again and do some more diving. Ari atoll is famous for their whale shark dives. The evening before we left we met a safari boat captain, Mohamed Hanimaadu. He gave us a number of good anchoring spots.  Our first stop was one of his recommendations:  the lagoon of Rihiveli Maldives Resort. It was an incredible spot. From far we could already see the dolphins jumping. They were everywhere! You could just jump in the water  and swim with them… try to follow them… it was amazing! Under water you could hear their sound. It was just beautiful! What a great anchorage. We also went snorkelling on the reef. The great thing in the Maldives is, that you barely get cold as the water is so warm. You can spend a lot of time exploring and observing the colorful variety of fish and you will never get cold. Of course the warm water is also a disadvantage if you are looking for refreshment but for snorkelling it is perfect.

We continued our journey to Male and stopped in Maafushi, one of the mixed islands where you have local people livinig but also some tourism with hotels and restaurants. It was a mixture we liked although the anchorage offered not the best protection. It was a bit busier than Dhangehti. We spoiled ourselves with a buffet dinner in one of the hotels at the beach. Jaël and Amina of course were most excited about the dessert buffet 😉 We moved to the neighbour island Gulhi for better protection. There we had a dream anchorage in the lagoon almost just to ourselves. Gulhi is a smaller island than Maafushi with just a handful of guest houses. The anchorage was well protected and the snorkelling and spearfishing  around the reef was great. For André’s birthday we wanted to go out for a nice dinner and moved to Maafushi again.

When we came back to Gulhi on the evening of 15th of March and wanted to get ashore we were stopped by a health officer and a police man. They told us that we were not allowed on land as there was a lockdown for all the tourists because of Covid-19. We had been in the Maldives for a month already by that time and it made not really sense to treat us differently than the local people but these were the rules and there was no exemption.  From that day on we were in lockdown on our boat. No more cruising, no more exploring on land. For groceries we had a local contact from our agent who could bring us stuff when he was going to Male. We spent our days with boat schooling, swimming, snorkelling and spearfishing. Lucky enough there was plenty of fish and the spearfishing also kept us busy… But of course it was very strange to be in lockdown on the boat while the locals on the island had no restrictions by that time. There were hardly any cases  except a few on some resort islands. Most of the tourists had been flown out of the country. There were no tourists left and they simply did not know what to do with the cruisers on sailboats. They would have loved to get rid of us but of course we were already cleared in and the season was not yet right to move South. 

At some point they wanted all sailing yachts on a few designated anchorages. Most of the visiting yachts were stuck in Uligan up North and some were around Male. Our anchorage in Gulhi  was not one of these designated spots so they wanted us to move. Male would have been a short daysail but of course we did not want to go there. Male is the capital and hub of the Maldives. All the supplies are there and it is a busy place. There is no snorkelling and swimming around the boat there so that would have been a nightmare in lockdown. We told our agent we are gonna move to Gan the most southern atoll of the Maldives. Sooner or later we wanted to go there anyway to checkout of the Maldives. The windforecast promised very light winds so it was gonna be a slow passage and that was just what we wanted as we were in no rush. André forwarded a passage plan to our agent indicating a few stops on remote places to stay overnight as of course we can not sail during the night (;-)) We did not really wait for the feedback as we were afraid they could change their mind and ask us to come to Male. So we left Gulhi on the 3rd of April. It was very strange to pass Maafushi, which had been full of life just 3 weeks ago – now it looked completely deserted. It was sad that we could not go back to Dhangethi to see our friends again. We had not even said goodbye properly as we had thought we were gonna see them again soon anyway…. It felt wonderful to move again and we enjoyed a bit of freedom. We stopped on the way ond a few beautiful anchorages, always far from villages. On the 8th of April we arrived in Gan. There was just one anchorage close to the village and it was already taken by another boat. The entrance to the small harbour was too shallow for us so we chose an anchorage a few miles east with good protection from a reef and close to a small uninhabited island. We had been there already all day when the coast guard arrived at 5pm and wanted us to move closer to the village. We told them that we for sure won’t leave now with just a little bit daylight left and that we had already checked out the area there and did not find a good anchorage. At the end they let us stay and never came back.  

We were on a different place now but the daily routine in our lockdown life stayed the same…. boat schooling, swimming, snorkelling, spearfishing and baking bread every second day. Through our agent we had a contact where we could order groceries. It was a 20 minutes ride in the dinghy to pick it up. It was always supervised by the police to make sure that André stayed in the dinghy and did not go on land… kind of ridiculous, treating us like criminals. By that time Maldives were starting to have more Covid-19 cases as some local students returning back from the UK had not been tested nor put in quaranteen. They had brought back the virus… 

After a while we started going to the small uninhabited island… a very unpleasant surprise as it was full of garbage. We started to collect it and put it together in some kind of BBQ area in the middle of the island. It was not garbage coming from some far away places it was all local rubish being washed onshore by the prevailing winds. The BBQ area was covered with even more garbage. I wonder how one can enjoy a BBQ sitting in all this plastic waste leaving all the water bottles and plates and cutlery etc. there afterwards. Very sad to see that. During our time in Gan we filled about 10 extra large bags which cleaned only about 20 meters of the shoreline. 

 

Our lockdown anchorage in Gan

 

 

 

2020

Sri Lanka (Jan 2020)

 

Arriving in Sri Lanka was fantastic… not the official part though. As Galle is a commercial harbour things are not as easy as we were used to from other places. Everytime we left or entered the harbour area we had to pass the gate and show a copy of the crewlist. In addition to the complicated formalities it is a very dirty place and there is a lot of swell.  Hans from ALKYONE was so kind to let us raft up to his boat instead of to the concrete wall and we were very thankful for that.

As soon as you have passed the gate,  things were not complicated at all. We decided to go out for dinner and Marlin, a local guy who organizes all kind of services for yachties like laundry, tuktuk tours, sail repairs etc. recommended us a nice restaurant in Unawatuna Beach. So we squeezed in a tuktuk and  immediately plunged into the lively evening traffic. There seemed to be a traffic jam and Pahan, our tuktuk driver explained that this was due to a Buddhist procession. Shortly after we saw the parade… it was fantastic. There were elephants and dancers and music between cars and tuktuks. What an exciting welcome to Sri Lanka! The restaurant was located right at the Unawatuna Beach with plenty of space to roam around for Jaël and Amina after being a week on the boat.

Timing worked out very well for Martin. There was still one spare day to visit the beautiful Old Town of Galle together. The following day he left by train to Colombo to catch his flight back to Singapore. We had enjoyed his company and for him it had been a great opportunity to experience an ocean passage.

Pahan, the friendly tuktuk driver showed us a beach bar on Dewata Beach where his sister just lived nearby and worked in the kitchen. This little beach bar became one of our favourite places because of the friendly and relaxed atmosphere and the fantastic beach and waves. André showed Jaël how to surf on the waves with her boogie board and once she got the hang of it she could not get enough. She paddled out with Andrea and Tobias, the oldest of the ALKYONE kids and waited far out for the best waves. Amina needed some help to get out into the right position and a bit of a push to set off but then she surfed very often all the way right onto the beach. We had a lot of fun together with our friends from ALDIVI and ALKYONE.

Every morning at 8.30 the sound of the Sri Lankan anthem rang out of the loudspeakers and all the security  guards had to stand in line. The melody often followed me during the day and always will remind me of Sri Lanka. Even the whole passage to Maldives I could not get it out of my head.

Sri Lanka has not only beautiful beaches it also offers a lot to discover on land. So we decided to do a landtrip for a few days.  We hired a car with driver to get us and our broken code zero sail to our sailmaker who is based near Colombo. It was nice to see Phil again and he gave us a tour of the whole factory! That was really awsome! We also could pick up our suncover which was custom made to André’s design.

From the sail factory we continued to Kandy. This is a big town set on a plateau surrounded by mountains. It is a very popular town not only because of the beautiful setting by the lake but also because it is home to some sacred Buddhist sites, including the temple of the tooth.  We went for a stroll in the city and ate some Kottu Roti, a typical,local dish. You can hear the fast cutting of the roti from far and the sound of it became almost as familiar to us as the national anthem, which was played every morning at 8.30 am in the harbour.

The following day we had to get up early. One of the two owners of the hotel drove us with the tuktuk to Peradeniya station. There was already a lot of traffic and he drove really fast. We did not want to miss our train. Luckily we were there on time! I would highly recommend this train ride from Kandy to Ella to anyone visiting Sri Lanka. It is quite loud as the windows and doors are open,  but it is a great way to travel through the country. We met Kenuli, a local girl  travelling with her father to a badminton turnament. Jaël explained her how to play UNO and another girl joined too. Amina made friends with a couple from Finnland and André and me enjoyed the stunning views.  After about 6.5 hours we arrived in Ella.  Ella is located 1041m above sealevel and is surrounded by hills covered with forest and tea plantations.

We stayed in a nice small hotel with a beautiful view on Ella Rock. On our first day in Ella we started with a hike to Little Adam’s peak and then stopped at beautiful 98 acres restaurant. From there we walked to the 9 Arch Bridge and waited for the train to come to shoot some nice pictures from the bridge with the train. The trains do not run that often, so once the train has passed you can walk on the railway all the way back to Ella and that’s what we did. What a wonderful day that was! Back in Ella we went for dinner and unfortunately André’s had bad luck with his choice. He had an awful, sleepless night and was sick for the following two days days.

While André was in bed Jaël, Amina and me took a tuktuk to the Uva Halpewatte Tea Factory. It was fascinating to see how the green tea leaves got transformed into different qualities of Ceylon tea. To stay into the theme we visited the Ella Tea Shop in the afternoon where we could pick tea leaves ourselves and produce our own tea. After having seen the process in the big factory Jaël and Amina could grab a basket and learned now from Lanka which leaves to pick. Afterwards we put the leaves into a dryer and then grinded them with a mortar to start the fermentation. In the end we could taste our self made green tea!

In our hotel there was another family with two children, a little bit younger than ours. The following afternoon we booked some cooking lesson together. That was great. It was just us and no one else so the kids could also help cutting the ingredients. Lanka prepared with us some delicious Sri Lankan curries and coconut rotis. Afterwards we ate all together and also the kids liked it. Such a shame that André still did not feel well enough to join. We even had to postpone our return to Galle by one day.

We had a different driver than the one on the first day. Nihal was extremly friendly and told us a lot of interesting things about the places we passed. He also stopped to let us taste curd with tree honey at one of the stalls where they sold it. I had seen the clay pots already on our journey to Kandy and wondered what it was. It tastes similar to yoghurt and is simply delecious together with  tree honey. Nihal’s wife is a kindergarden teacher in Galle and so we arranged a visit in her kindergarden. These are the things that make travelling so special. You meet so many friendly people and get great opportunities to learn about their way of life.

Nihals wife Pinky also loved cooking and was interested to give some cooking classes. So I told Berna and Jutta about my fantastic experience with Lanka’s cooking lessons in Ella and they immediately wanted to join Pinky’s cooking lesson too. We had a great time all together. The kids could get henna tatoos and play in the kindergarden while we were cooking delicious food with Pinky and her mom Renuka.

Nihal also arranged for us a safari in the Udawalawe National park. We slept in a beautiful lodge and got up early to start the safari. It was magical to hear all the birds in the morning. We saw beautiful peacocks, an owl hidden in a tree hole a horde of water buffalos and had to wait a bit until we saw elephants but were rewarded at the end. A whole group of elephants just passed us and we could see them from very close.

After long discussions with our agent and the port authorities we were able to invite the Finnish couple we had met in the train to Ella. We could not really understand why this was so complicated but finally it worked out and Jaana and Pekka could come aboard Mirabella. Amina was very proud to show them around. We also tried to invite Pinky’s  kindergarden class to the harbour to show the kids our boats but it did not work out. At least we were able to get the permission for Pinky, Nihal and their son Nikil to visit us. We really enjoyed our time in Sri Lanka and Nihal, Pinky and their beautiful family made us enjoy our stay even more.

Sri Lanka was a beautiful discovery for us. It is not necessarily a destination to visit by boat as there are no anchorages and no good marinas to leave the boat while you explore land. Lucky enough we were a bunch of boats and there was always somebody there to keep an eye on our boat while we were in Ella.

We had to say goodbye to POLARWIND as they headed to India and not to the Maldives. What a fantastic time we had spent together in Sri Lanka. It is always hard to say goodbye to Cruiser friends. You never know if and when you gonna meet again…

We left Galle on the 12th of February and arrived in Uligamo, Maldives on February 16th. Our friends from ALKYONE and ALDIVI had left Galle earlier and were already waiting for us. It was a beautiful arriving. The water in Uligamo are turquoise and crystal clear. There is an incredible variety of colorful fish in all shapes and the water temperature is 29 °C.

2019, 2020

Thailand (Dec – Jan 2020)

Our first anchorage in Thailand was Koh Lipe. A beautiful small island with a bit of tourism but not too much. On the northwestern side where we anchored there were just a few small hotels. We went for a walk to explore the busier part of the island. It was wonderful to dive into another culture. We strolled through the village and really liked the vibe. It was early in the season and luckily not too crowded. We tasted delicious homemade icecream and in a restaurant Jaël could watch how a friendly lady painted the menu on a wooden board.

In the evening we enjoyed dinner in a small restaurant overlooking our anchorage. What a beautiful welcome in Thailand! This was just our first stop but actually Koh Lipe will be our favourite at the end.

 

The next day we continued our way to Phuket Yacht Haven Marina. We cleared in with the help of an agent as we had just little time before taking the flight to Switzerland. We wanted to be sure that there will be no issues with leaving the boat in Thailand and come back again afterwards. Everything went perfectly well and we just had enough time to pack our bags for Switzerland.

On the pictures above some impressions of our visit in Switzerland. What a change of temperature!!! It was so nice to see family and friends and we all enjoyed our stay to the full. Jaël and Amina were thrilled by the snow and the iceskating. And of course Jaël and Amina were thrilled by the snow and the iceskating :-).  

When we got back to Thailand, ALDIVI was there with visiting family. We had some visitors too: Karsten who already chartered a sailing boat in Mallorca with his kids Lucia and Luca when we were there at the beginning of our trip. We had inspired them with our adventure and he and his wife Xiaolei were close to buy a catamaran to start their own sailing trip. They chartered the same type and size of catamaran they were planning to buy.

We stopped in Koh Dam Hok and celebrated Christmas with Karsten and his family. The following day we were heading towards Kho Phiphi with its stunning scenery and famous Maya bay. We were lucky and managed to grab a buoy. They closed the beach but there is a snorkelling area open to the public in the corner of the bay. It is absolutely crazy how many tourist boats there are. In the evening it gets quieter but early in the morning it starts all over again. You can not even swim from the buoys to the snorkling area because there is so much traffic… it was actually quite shocking.

Before going back to Yacht Haven Marina we stopped at the Island Koh Yao Yai and had dinner in a beautiful restaurant just by the beach. The following day Karsten and family had to return their boat to the charter company. It had been a fun week together. Maybe we would soon meet them with their own boat…

 

After Karsten and family had left we rented a car and drove to Kao Lak to celebrate New Years Eve. For André this was a very special trip as it was the first time he returned there after the Tsunami. Back in December 2004 he had been very lucky. Despite an ear infection he decided to go on the dive boat (without being able to dive). This decision saved his life. When he came back his bungalow was gone… Being there again after 15 years brought back the memories of the terrible devastation…  walking on the same beach and reading the notes of families and friends who had lost their beloved ones was very moving. It felt like André had got a second life. If he would have stayed in his bungalow he certainly would not be among us today.

In the evening we sent together a lucky balloon to the sky. It was beautiful. A lot of people were on the beach and the sky was full of rising lucky baloons. The next day our friends from ALDIVI joined us and we spent a wonderful day at the beach and by the pool. In the evening we met up also with Jasmin, Jaël’s favourite supervisor from the daycare. She was on holidays with her boyfriend Cris. What a great coincidence!

Back in Yacht Haven Marina we started to get ready to move on. We waited for Martin from Singapore to fly in as he wanted to seize the chance and join us for the leg Thailand to Sri Lanka. After he had arrived we went one last time to our favourite small restaurant Papa Mama. It is a small family run restaurant within walking distance from the marina. The meals are authentic, delicious and extremly good value for money. We left Yacht Haven Marina on the 11th of January to anchor in Ko He.

Many of these beautiful small islands are really busy during the day. Tourists are shipped there by tour operators every day. Only around sunset they all leave and then you got the island to yourself. It was also that way on Ko He. The staff in the restaurant was just about to finish cleaning up and by the height of the stacks of plates we could imagine how busy this must have been during the day. Beautiful hornbill birds tried to find some left overs and we enjoyed watching them.  After an overnight stop in  Racha Yai where we met up with our friends from ALDIVI and ALKYONE we moved to Nai Han Bay which is a wide bay on the  South Western Coast of Phuket.

We went on land for a stroll the beach and had dinner all together. The three captains organized a bus for all of us the next day to check out. So the following day we drove all together to check out of Thailand and everyone had a blast in this beautiful bus.

We left on the 15th of January for Sri Lanka with Martin on board with us. It was a perfect passage for him. We had nice sailing conditions almost all the way and no one got seasick. To tick also the box in the fishing department we even caught a delicious fish.  On the 22nd lf January we arrived in Galle, Sri Lanka.

 

 

 

2021

Sail to the US on the Visa Waiver program (May 2021)

‘You and your crew have been cleared to enter the U.S.’

was the answer that followed shortly after we filed the arrival with our yacht Mirabella in New York. In the end, the whole story how to enter the US by Pleasure Boat turned out to be fairly easy.

I wasn’t too sure about it for a long time and maybe some of you fellow sailors can/will benefit from our experience.

Sail to the US as a non-US resident, what is the challenge?

The visa rules that apply if you arrive to the US on a private yacht are different then when you arrive with an official carrier like an airline. For most european citizens and many other countries traveling to the US for tourism is not too complicated. Thanks to the Visa Waiver Program the need for a visa for short term visits is, as the name suggests, waived.  One needs to obtain an electronic travel authorization (ESTA) before starting the journey and on arrival you get a 90 days visa waivered stay.

If you arrive by a private pleasure boat, however, you are not eligible for the  Visa Waiver Program. In this case you need a B1/B2 Visa, an actual visa. This requires a bit more planning as the process can take some time and involves an in-person interview at your nearest US Embassy.

Cruising friends of ours have done this in the past and we were prepared to go down that road as well. Due to Covid, the waiting times at the  US Embassies in the Caribbean (Barbados, Grenada, Bahamas, Bermuda, etc…)varied a lot. Mostly the waiting time was many weeks, possibly months. Not practical for us.

Bermuda however, had a waiting time of one week only. Great, the decision was made quickly, we sail to Bermuda!
Unfortunatly, during our sail from Antigua to Bermuda a new Covid-19 wave hit Bermuda and everything went into shut down. By the time we arrived in Bermuda, the embassy stated the waiting time as ‘maybe 6 weeks’. Bummer.

The Visa Waiver program option

So, we searched for alternatives and found various information of cruisers who entered the US with just a Visa Waiver. They all did this in the Caribbean and the story goes like this: You sail to the BVIs with your yacht. You complete an ESTA. Then, from the BVIs, you take a normal ferry to the USVI, get your Visa Waiver for 90 days and return to the BVIs.

Next day or later you sail to the USVI with your own boat. As you posses already a Visa Waiver everything is in order and no B1/B2 Visa is required. The stay is limited to 90days from your first entry.

As we were in Bermuda when the problem with the closed Embassy arose a simple sail to a US Port of Entry with a ferry was not possible. However, we could fly to the US and return to Bermuda within days and then sail to New York.

Unsure if this is really a correct way of entering I asked the US Embassy in Bermuda and they pointed my to the official Customs and Boarder Protection website. But the website was not overly clear and left some room for interpretation in either direction.

How we actually did it

We decided to give it a go anyway. We filed in our ESTA, got it approved and flew to Atlanta for two nights. Visa Waiver and corresponding I-94 optained. A weather window to sail to New York opened shortly after we returned back  to Bermuda and so we set sail immediatly.

Before we left we filled in the electronic Notice of Arrival/Departure (eNOAD) and once we arrived we reported our arrival via the Customs and Border Protection App ROAM. Everything as per the book. 
Within hours after arriving we got the information from Customs and Border ”You and your crew have been cleared to enter the U.S.’

2019

Big city life in Singapore and sailing to Thailand (Nov 2019)

Singapore… the first big city since Sydney was only about 20 miles away. But before exploring this city we had to cross the busy strait between Batam and Singapore. We felt a bit like a rabbit, crossing a busy motorway. We first motored along the traffic separation scheme, observed speed and course of the numerous cargo ships and tankers and then chose the right moment to cross. We found a good slot and made it safely to the other side. We headed towards the quoted area for clearance. Our anchor was not even down yet, when the Officials came sideways in a speedboat to pick up our papers and passports in a plastic bag with a fishing net. It was about the fastest clearance we ever had… cleared in before we even had set one foot on ground. The process was finished a little while later by another boat coming alongside, taking our passports and doing the visual check by calling every one of us by name through a loudspeaker, comparing photo and reality. That was it! Passports were stamped and we were allowed to proceed to the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club.

We passed an incredible amount of cargo docks. We have never seen that many before… and finally made it to the marina. Our friendly agent John came to say hello as well as the Yacht club manager. We could’nt believe our eyes when we saw the big pool area with warm shower facilities. Close to the marina there was a park with a bicycle rental place and big playgrounds. So whenever the kids would be tired of city sightseeing there were alternatives just around the corner, perfect! The same evening we met up with Jeremy at the restaurant. Jeremy and his family crossed the Atlantic also with Jimmy Cornell’s Odyssey on the catamaran INFINITY. We spent some time together in French Polynesia, Niue and Tonga. Jeremy had sold Infinity in Noumea and was back at work in his former hometown Singapore. He told us about many nice places to visit in Singapore.

The next day we were invited at Martin’s place. Martin was André’s boss at Crédit Suisse many years ago. He lives in Singapore with his wife Sandra and his son Maurice since 9 years. They live in a modern apartment complex with a huge pool area where Maurice and the girls could play. In the evening we went to town together, enjoyed the fantastic view of Singapore skyline and ate delicious dumplings in a cool restaurant downdown.

The following days were spent with sightseeing and meeting up with our local friends again. The girls were happy to catch up with Quentin and Theo, their friends from INFINITY. We invited Martin and his family to our boat and slowly but surely Martin got hooked by the idea of joining us for the passage from Thailand to Sri Lanka.

In the meantime the first of our buddy boats had arrived. ALKYONE was going to stay a while in Singapore as Hans flew to Germany to work. The kids enjoyed playing together in the great pool and Amina made good progress in her swimming skills. We enjoyed our time in Singapore a lot and would have loved to stay longer but as we had booked a flight home to Switzerland from Phuket early December we had to move on. Because of a broken starter battery we could not leave Singapore on November 25th as originally planned. André bought a new battery and POLARWIND arrived. So maybe a lucky coincidence. It was nice to spend the afternoon together with POLARWIND. We had not seen each other since Lombok.

On November 26th we said goodbye to our friends from ALKYONE and POLARWIND left Singapore towards Malaysia and the busy strait of Malacca. We tried to keep right of the traffic separation scheme and left of the uncountable fishing boats… not an easy endeavour. This was by far the most uncomfortable cruising ground that we have encountered on our entire trip. We had to be constantly vigilant and in addition got hit by very strong thunderstorms. In addition it was also by far the most polluted waterway. There was floating plastic everywhere. We were very happy to reach the beautiful island of Langkawi for s short stopover. Phil from our sailmaker zoomsails lives in Koah and we met him and his family for dinner on our arrival day. The next day we checked in and out on the ferry terminal and Phil took us to a beautiful restaurant of a golf club for an early dinner. Phil suggested that we bring the broken code zero sail to their factory near Colombo, when we are in Sri Lanka. There they could have a look at the sail and we could see where our sails were made. This seemed to be a good plan and we promised to come to the factory in Sri Lanka.

On the first of December we left Langkawi and had a beautiful sail to Koh Lipe. Welcome to Thailand!

The busy Strait of Singapore
Merlion, Marina Bay Sands and the Art Science Museum

 

Does anyone know these two?
Beautiful Gardens by the Bay
Waterfront in Langkawi with the Langkawi eagle square
Koh Lipe

 

2019

Indonesia (Oct-Nov 2019)

Ricefields in Lombok


So the plan was to sail from Kupang to the Komodo National Park and then move on to Lombok and stay there a while. Very soon we realized that our concerns about nightsailing in Indonesia proofed to be true… André had a quite scary encounter with a fishing boat in his shift. They had no lights at all and were just floating silently. It was quite a shock for him, when he discovered the boat so close! We tried to be as vigilant as possible but some of the fish attracting devices were almost impossible to see at night. So in the end it is also a bit a question of luck if you hit something or not.


After two nights we arrived in Rinca early morning and found a beautiful anchorage in a stunning scenery. We hoped to catch a glimpse of the famous Komodo dragon and were very lucky indeed. From our boat we could observe some monkeys on the beach. And later in the afternoon, when we were all on ALDIVI three Komodo dragons appeared on the beach. We jumped in our dinghies and could watch two of them from very close. This was more than we were hoping for.

Three Komodo dragons on the beach in Rinca


Hans from ALKYONE had some information about a spectacular dive spot, so we wanted to have a look the following day. But as we arrived we quickly realized that neither the anchorage nor the dive spot were protected in the present conditions. So we had to find another anchorage. We anchored in a bay on the west side of Kepala and were invited on ALKYONE for coffee and delicious cinnamon rolls.

As we were already a bit late in the season we wanted to move on. Soon the season would start to change and we would end up sailing against the northwest monsoon. So we moved on to Lombok. We stayed in Medana Marina on a buoy and had a fantastic time there. There was a nice restaurant at the marina surrounded by huge green area where the kids could play hide and seek and other games. Jaël was very happy to celebrate her 8th birthday with all our cruising friends from ALDIVI, POLARWIND and ALKYONE.

We made a trip to beautiful  Gilli Air, where we did some nice snorkeling & enjoyed a ride in a horse carriage taxi to the kids delight. Another day we hired two busses for all of us and made a lovely island tour. After a short stop at a local market and a tipical ancient local Sasak village we drove to the beautiful Strawberry Hill Gardens Ponds at the foot of Mt. Rinjani. On the way back we took a refreshing bath in the Sendang Gile waterfall just before sunset. It was a bit of a hurry as it was already late in the afternoon. So we decided to visit the waterfall again on another day and do a nice picknick there.

Strawberry fields forever…

In close dinghy distance to the marina there was a small resort with a restaurant and a pool. We went there for lunch and they showed us a small covered basin with baby tortoises. Jaël and Amina were even allowed to hold them. They were just a few days old. The owner of the resort protect them until they are strong enough to have a good chance to survive in nature.

After 10 days we left Lombok and headed towards Batam, where we wanted to check out from Indonesia. In the distance accross the straits of Singapore we could already see the big city lights. The staff from Nongsa Point Marina was very efficient and helpful. Within half a day we were checked out and had all our documents ready for clearing into Singapore the following day.

Thank you Indonesia for this short but beautiful insight. Maybe one day we will be back to have a closer look. We will keep good memories of your friendly people, delicious food, colorful markets and stunning sunsets.