2022

A pinch of Halifax and beautiful Saint Pierre et Miquelon (Aug/Sep 2021)

 

We arrived in Halifax late afternoon after a pleasant passage. To our relief we encountered no lobster pots after passing the Canadian border. We decided to have some dinner first and anchored near Mc Nabs Island. A few hours later ARIA arrived too.

We were not sure if we should contact the border control yet or wait until morning but at some point André decided to call them. First they seemed very relaxed and wanted us to come over to the waterfront the next morning but as soon as they realized that we were not US residents they wanted us to come over right away. We told them that we will be there at the waterfront in one hour.

It was about 10 pm when we moored at one of the floating pontoons at the Halifax waterfront. No one showed up… we could watch the people at the waterfront enjoying the night and taking selfies. After endless hours of waiting two officers showed up. They were friendly but determined and explained us that the borders are open for US residents only but of course they would allow us to provision and to wait for a good weather window to move on.

So we prepared for plan B which was sailing to the two small French islands Saint Pierre et Miquelon, southwest of Newfoundland. Like Reunion Island in the previous year the French will save us once again… After the first day, no one checked on us again and we split the provisioning in several tours so that everyone could have a stroll. Karsten had also moved over to the waterfront and as he had a flight ticket to Switzerland they allowed him to stay on the boat and wait for the flight. Lucia had to do a school exam back home. We would meet them again in Halifax in September when hopefully Canada will open his border to Europeans as well.

We left for SPM on Thursday. The wind was perfect but there was a lot of fog. Thick fog was something we had not experienced yet in that way. We were sailing for two days in fog and did not see anything at all. Thanks good we have a radar, otherwise this would have been very scary. Just before St. Pierre the fog lifted and the sun came out. It was a beautiful arriving.

The harbourmaster advised us where to go and took our lines. Right after that he asked us about our Covid tests… because boats with no test would get a 700 Euro fine per person. We still had our pcr tests from the US and as the Canadians did not let us in, we officially came from the US with a short stop (but no entry) in Halifax. Luckily the French do not ask tests for kids younger than 12. So there we were. We could stay at the dock for free and the sailing school was just a few steps away. The harbourmaster explained us that maybe the local television would come the next days as they were always curious about new boats in the harbour. That sounded familiar to us… we all remembered the Réunion news channel very well.

It was Saturday afternoon and we got ready to have a first look around in the village. As we walked past the townhall we heard some noise… people clapping hands… it sounded like some party or festival. We followed the noise and came to a big orange red wall ” le fronton” they call it. There were two teams of two players playing against each other ” la pelote”. It is a game that the Basque people brought to the island. The first settlers were Basque, Norman and Breton fishermen in times when cod fishing was a big industry on this archipel. The flags of the Basque, Britanny and Normandy are still represented in the local SPM flag.

The festival “La fête des basques” had started the beginning of the week and would end on Sunday. These were now the last two days with the finals in the pelote turnament and Basquue folk dances and games. Perfect timing for us to see that part of the local culture. We ate some delicious risotto and basque sweets at a food stall. Of course we would came again on Sunday afternoon to see the games of “force des basques” and the final of the pelote turnament. It was great fun! Several teams played against each other to proof their skills in sawing a tree stump, throwing hay stacks over a high line or carrying heavy jerrycans as long as possible and so on. The whole village seemed to be there to cheer the teams. What a great event and fun beginning of our stay in St. Pierre.

On Monday morning the television team came to ask for an interview and it was broadcasted the same day in the evening journal. Two days later we had a friendly visit of Emilie. She had seen us on television and was curious to see the boat. Her daughter Lilia was 5 years old and went to the sailing course for the small kids. Emiliee’s husband Guillaume worked for the French marine. He had already worked in a lot of different places, like the Caribbean, French Polynesia and before coming to St. Pierre they had lived in La Réunion for three years because of his job. With our love for this beautiful island in common we connected very quickly and arranged to do a picnic together on the weekend.

Amina would have loved to join the same sailing course as Lilia but it was unfortunately fully booked. Where as Jaël was able to join the optimist course Thursday and Friday and the whole following week. But first she had to proof that she can swim… on Wednesday afternoon they took her to the étang where the sail school had their sup and windsurf classes . The water temperature there was a bit warmer than in the sea. The instructor quickly saw that she could swim, so she was welcome to start sail class the following day.

Jaël loved the sailing course. It was the perfect setting anyway. She could jump off our boat and just walk over to the sailing school. The team there was extremly friendly, motivated, well organized and great with the kids. Amina always accompanied Jaël in the morning in order to play with the other kids before the class and towards the end of the class she would hang around there, hoping she would also get a chance to climb up the mast and ring the bell. And she did! They let her climb up too and she was so happy!

After one week, Annika and Thomas from ASTA arrived. We had not met them in Maine as they where always a bit ahead of us but we had been in touch with them on whats app. They had also tried their luck in Halifax but were not let into Canada either. So Saint Pierre et Miquelon was also their Plan B. It was great to see them again.

Our days were filled with boat schooling and exploring the island on beautiful hikes. Blueberry season had already started…. hmmmm… delicious! Some afternoons Jaël and Amina went to the scooter park by themselves and they enjoyed their independence. They even walked to Emelie’s house to play with Lilia one afternoon. Saint Pierre is a very safe place. There is hardly any crime and people don’t even lock their houses.

We felt very at home and had also found our favourite restaurant ” le petit gravier”. It does not look very special from the outside, you can barely notice the restaurant sign, but what a surprise when you made it through the ” tambour”. You will find yourself in a beautiful restaurant with a very nice interieur. They serve French cuisine with a local touch… we can highly recommend!

These “tambours d’entrée”are a typical feature of the houses in St. Pierre. It is a small enclosed porch projecting out into the street. This has the practical effect of allowing everyone to get their wet gear off before going inside. The town of St. Pierre is packed closely around the main harbour in small colourful houses. Most houses date from the first part of the 20th century, after a series of fires destroyed the old 19th century town. St. Pierre had a burst of prosperity in the 1920s, when it was the base for smuggling liquor to the east coast of the US during prohibition. There are even a few houses built from the discarded whisky cases. Since the collapse of the cod fishery SPM largely depends on subsidies from Metropolitan France.

The signs of the ancient cod fishing industry are still very present though. On Île aux Marins, the small island close to the main harbour, there is a beautiful museum built in several historical buildings, where you can learn more about the life on the archipel these times. There is also a group of people “les Zigotos” who would like to preserve the heritage of the traditional fisherboats called “les doris”. Jean-Marc and his friends are happy to welcome people in their small museum and sometimes they have live music and small events at their boatshed. We were invited to go rowing in one of these doris on a afternoon…. not so easy… they could stack these boats on a bigger boat and deployed them at the fishing grounds… that must have been tough work for these brave fishermen to be out there in these small boats in rough weather.

As Miquelon has not many protected anchorages you have to pick a good weather window to go there. We missed that oportunity because of Jaël’s sailing classes. But so we enjoyed St. Pierre even more. On Sunday the 5th September there was a charity childrens play day on the football ground near the scooter park. Jaël and Amina were all excited about it and could not wait.
Lilia and Emilie joined us and it was a great event with a lot of fun games for the children and even pony riding to Amina and Jaël’s delight. Later in the afternoon we met another family from la Réunion. Nicolas, the father had a 3 month job as emergency doctor in the hospital in St. Pierre. After that, in December they were planning to travel from Canada to Central America. They had four kids: the oldest Lola, a bit older than Jaël, then Timothey, who had been in the same sailclass as Jaël, another boy called Mahé, a bit younger than Amina and baby Zoë, the cutest little person you can imagine. Nicolas and Méli invited us for dinner the next evening, which unfortunately also was our last evening in St. Pierre before leaving. We spent a wonderful evening together with and the kids had a great time. Of course everyone was sad to leave our friends in St. Pierre.

We left St. Pierre on Tuesday, 7th of September. Finally the Canadian borders will now open for Europeans. Unfortunately the weather forecast also showed hurricaine Larry making his way up North to Saint Pierre and Newfoundland… The plan was to sail to Fortune, which was only a 20 nm trip, clear into Canada their and then sail West to the South coast of Newfoundland. We were planning to hide deep into a river fjord. There we should at least be protected from waves and swell.

Thank you to all the friendly people we met in Saint Pierre, especially Emilie, Guillaume and Lilia. We enjoyed our time on this beautiful and very special place on earth and will keep wonderful memories.

 

2022

Caribbean to Azores in March/April (2022) – how to do it

March/April is very early in the season to sail from the Caribbean to the Azores. We knew that well before we started and yet we had all intention of going this early.
We sold our yacht whilst we were in the Caribbean and had agreed to hand it over to the new owner at the end of June in Italy. We wanted to be in the Mediterranean at the end of April to have as much time as possible in the Med before we finaly say goodbye to our beloved Mirabella.

So we drew up a plan of how to do it early in the season. We would leave the Caribbean in late March and aim more or less directly at Horta. Once we reach the designated ‘waiting’ area we would evaluate the weather forecast and only continue into the ‘High Wind Zone’ if we have a favourable weather forecast. If the forecast is not good enough, we would sail slow or stop.

Key points of our plan to sail across the North Atlantic
Real time screen shot from a friend: Perfectly positioned at the edge of the low. Winds 30kts, gusting 40kts for us. 50-60kts near the Azores.

Why is it more difficult in March/April?

The ideal time to cross from the Caribbean to Europe is in May/June. By then the lows and winterstorms in the North Atlantic are fewer and they don’t go too far south anymore. The Azores high is well estabilshed and keeps the lows up north. Later then June is not ideal cause the Hurrican risk starts to increase.

We split our voyage into three different stages.
1) Leaving the tradewind belt
2) Crossing the center of the high
3) Sailing east north of 30N

Tradewind belt

The first part was no problem but maybe a bit uncomfortable. To leave the trade wind belt we had to sail close hauled against the trade winds and a substantial swell. We found a window where it only took us 36 hours to get out of the tradewinds. It was managable.

Crossing the high

This wasn’t a real big deal either. Luckily Mirabella doesn’t need much wind to move. Once we left the tradewind belt the winds got lighter and we unreefed the sails and switched to the code zero. We managed to sail most of it but for two periods of about 24hours we needed the engine to continue.

Amina, 6, goes for a swim in calm seas

 

We play Monopoly whilst motoring through the center of the high

 

Sailing east north of 30N

Here it started to get interesting. There is a real risk of strong lows tracking across the Atlantic north of 30N. In Winter and well into spring this risk is significantly higher then later in summer.
When one starts in the caribbean, this sailing area is 1000nm and more away. This means there is no real forecast for this area when you leave the caribbean.
Our strategy was to cross the tradewind belt and the center of the high and then decide based on the latest forecast if we shall continue. Before we left I defined that we only cross 32N/40W when we have a acceptable forecast all the way to Horta.

The front arrives, with rain as always

How did it work out?

When we were about 1500nm away from Horta the first forecasts started to indicate that a very powerfull low was about to cross our path. We kept sailing for another two days until we got further clarity about this low. Once it was reasonably certain that the low will come with very strong winds (50kts wind, gusts more then 65kts) we slowed down and ultimately stopped for 3 days. It was very awkward to heave-to in the middle of the Atlanic, 1000nm from anywhere. We did not want to cross 32N 41W before the center of the low had passed.

The kids are hiding below whilst it is blowing hard outside

This strategy worked out perfectly. We kept enough south to avoid the very strong winds and started sailing as soon as the front was near. We experienced 30kts wind with gusts just below 40kts. Strong winds for sure, but nothing dangerous. Without stopping we would have seen 50+kts.

Thanks to todays satellite communication and weather forecasting we have great possibilties of planning and executing save ocean crossings even early in the season. The key is to understand the weather pattern before departure and draw up an action plan for the different possible forecasts.

Hiking in the Azore. Beautiful!
2022

Bermuda April 2021

 

Our arrival in Bermuda went very smooth, although we arrived at night. They are very well organized and talk to you on VHF so loud and clear and in perfectly spoken English that you exactly know what to do and where to go. On most places you have to deal with bad VHF quality and broken English or dialects that are difficult to understand in a place you are not familiar with. In Bermuda there is someone on duty 24 hours. The port authorities checked our documents, the Travel Authorization. They let us stay at the customs dock for the rest of the night and next morning we had to move over and tie up alongside the harbour wall. We just had to wait until health authorities were in the harbour to do our Covid test.

We got our test and a red wristband and were advised that we will be tested again on day 4, day 8 and day 14, if we do not leave until then. Whatever… for us Bermuda was more a functional stop as we wanted to get an appointment at the US embassy to get our US visas. Bad luck though as Bermuda just went into a lock down, shortly after we had left Antigua. So the embassy was closed and it was not clear yet when they would open again… Earliest appointments would be more likely end of May, beginning ofJune….

ARIA had arrived too and we discussed what we should do. André did a lot of research and found a solution, we could apply the ESTA visa. He described the process in detail in a seperate post you can read. It seemed to be our best option so Karsten decided to fly to New York with a one night stay to get the visas and we booked a flight to Atlanta with a two nights stay. We were there to watch ARIA while they were away and when they got back they watched MIRABELLA while we where in Atlanta.

Of course there was also time to explore Bermuda before our flights to the US. It is a beautiful island with some of the most pristine beaches we have ever seen. If you are more into hiking, there is also the Bermuda Railway Trail National Park. Spanning the island from end to end, the railway trail follows  an abandoned railbed that winds through tranquil landscapes and along stunning rocky coastlines. This combination and also the very pleasant clima makes Bermuda a great holiday destination. The only downside is the high prize level which is not very cruiser friendly. Even basic groceries are expensive as everything is flown in. There is no agriculture on the island. If you are aware of that, it is really a great destination.

Everything went well with Karstens flight to New York and we were just about to get ready to fly to Atlanta. We had chosen a good anchorage with a lot of room around and we had stayed there already a night to be sure that everything is gonna be fine, as there was quite some wind forecasted for the next day. André just wanted to quickly ask something at the harbour master office about the checking out procedures (when we are back from Atlanta). When they realized we are going to leave the island, they told him that we can not leave the boat unattended at the anchorage. Sometimes it is not good to wake a sleeping dog… if we would have not told them, nobody ever would have noticed that we are not there. But anyway, André came back quite angry and said they want us to move to the harbour wall…. that was just about two hours before we had to leave for the airport… and it was blowing. Not really an easy thing to do…

We lifted the anchor and moved towards the small harbour. The guy from the marina showed us where he wanted us to go. I asked him if he is sure that it is deep enough there…. he said “Yes,  I think so!”  by that time we already felt that Mirabella was touching the ground….this was just no good! I was getting really angry…we just hit the ground a second time. André reversed and the guy from the marina told us to grab the last buoy…the one really close to that shipwreck which lay there grounded. Honestly we trust our anchor more than some buoys, where we do not know how well they are maintained… We grabbed the buoy and I managed to get one eye over the starboard cleet. Before André could help me to get the second eye over the port cleet it snatched! The line of the buoy was torn apart! André ran back to the helm as the wind was blowing us right into that shipwreck. He managed to pull forward just on time and moved to the anchoring area to anchor in a good spot. That was just a lot of unnecessary stress! Not really what we needed before flying out to Atlanta. But except that hustle before leaving everything worked out perfectly. We got our visas, managed to get a PCR Test on time for our flight back to Bermuda and had a great day in the Aquarium of Atlanta.

After our return to Bermuda we got ourselves ready to leave for New York. It will not be an easy passage as we will have to cross the gulf stream. But the reward will be priceless… this will be another ultimate highlight of our trip. Arriving in New York will be just as unforgettable as arriving in Sydney Harbour. We were really looking forward to that, so let’s go!