Keeping Busy

So, another week has flown by, Shoestring’s only movement has been swinging around her anchor due to wind shifts, yet I feel that the time hasn’t been wasted.

We were originally going to move closer to the marina where we’ll reside whilst I do the repairs to the engine’s transmission, a nice little beach in shallow water, with fresh water and a cold shower on your doorstep, but our spot is so peaceful from 5pm to 10am, we have plenty of water, enough to shower with fresh water every evening, anyway, that it seemed like the wrong choice to take. Instead we’ve kept busy tidying and changing things where necessary, applying sandpaper and brush to exterior woodwork that needed it, and generally making life more comfortable. It’s left plenty of time for reading, swimming, tanning, eating, sleeping, and all life’s other pleasures.

One ‘spur of the moment’ change I’ve made, which I guess only sailing people will understand, and that I’m very keen to try out, occurred  whilst I was busy tidying up the foredeck. Sailors will perhaps have noticed from photos of Shoestring that she has a masthead cutter rig. The staysail is not on a roller furler, but is kept hanked on and ready to raise at fairly short notice in a long sailbag tied to the rails. One sees this quite often on cutters, but with the sailbag being much more compact, and living at the base of the inner forestay. My staysail is made of fairly heavy-duty material, plus the sail has battens, so this is not possible. The issue that’s bugged me from Day 1 has been tacking with this setup. Getting the genoa to thread its way between it’s forestay and the inner stay has usually been a slow and very energetic exercise, often requiring a trip to the foredeck to physically haul the flapping canvas through this narrow wedge of an opening. Now, the fact is that I very seldom use the staysail, she’s perfect for heavy winds and weather, and in those conditions would be the only foresail in use. Five minutes with a pair of spanners, a little encouragement to the clevis pin holding the inner stay to the deck fitting, and the inner stay is now wrapped around a lower shroud and tied out of the way. Tacking will now be quick and effortless, when gybing I’ll be able to focus on the mainsheet until the boom is safely across before dealing with the genoa, again quick and effortless, and our normal sort of day sailing will be much more fun. The inner stay can be reattached in ten minutes if it’s needed, and a pelican clip would make it a two-minute job so that might well make it onto the Joblist. Now we must get moving again so that we can try our new rig out. Can’t wait.

Many years ago I was told that ship’s engineers always kept a supply of sanitary towels/pads in the engine room. Small oil leaks could be caught and absorbed by the skillful attachment of these items, and the machinery would stay smart and clean. Modern times have brought changes, and towels became pads, then slimline, then slimline with wings, and the engineers have migrated to disposable nappies. For many years my racing car was equipped with a thin aluminium bellypan under the motor, which held a couple of nappies, and kept the scrutineers happy. Always a clean dry bottom! Two packs of nappies made it into Shoestring’s stores, but the engine needs to leak MORE to stop her continually building surface rust. However, there is a tiny but persistent leak of diesel coming from somewhere on or near the fuel tank. I’ve searched but can’t find it. Someday the tank will have to come out to find it, but not now. Anyway, this has provided a use for the nappies, and they’ve performed perfectly, but eventually I ran out of them. Yesterday’s trip to the supermarket had me hunting down the biggest and cheapest replacements. Guess what? Adult incontinence diapers are much bigger AND cheaper. On top of that, where I used to use two at a time, now I’m only using half a diaper. You Live and Learn.

The last item I’ve attended to, has been to make a flexible but easily useable side ladder for swimmers. There are permanent ladder steps up the rudder, a clever safety feature, but they can get slippery and the angle you climb at requires a bit of extra arm strength. The existing side ladder stopped short of the water and is meant for climbing from dinghy to deck. My new creation, designed by moi, involves solid wooden rungs clamped to a single stainless steel cable that runs down the one side and up the other. It hangs well under water, but can be bent up out of the water when not in use. It still needs finishing off, but more importantly it needs me to jump in the water to test it first. Today is cool, cloudy, and not conducive to such a test. I need to persuade the 1st Mate to be the guinea pig!

My next report should give news of successful repairs to the transmission, as well as effortless sailing manouvres.

Still Smiling,

The Skipper.

Trouble in Paradise

If you’re going to have to wait for repair parts for your boat, this is about as perfect a spot as you could choose.

So, here we are, another week has vanished into the memory bank, and this time I have mechanical maladies to talk about. I suppose it had to happen at some point, but you always hope it won’t. Still, it could be much much worse, we are still afloat, and well provisioned, and also have a yacht that’s fairly mobile.

Basically, we can sail her with the pointed bit ahead, and motor her with the squared off end up ahead. Our ability to motor forward is severely restricted by a worn and slipping clutch that engages only foreward gear. There is a separate clutch for going astern which is still fine. Luckily I had to open up the gearbox and replace these clutches myself two years ago, and have the tools I need to do the job onboard. The parts have been ordered, and surprisingly are much cheaper than back home despite much higher import duty. They should take about ten days to arrive. I did try to carry out a temporary repair of swopping the clutches over but was beaten by four well buried nuts I couldn’t get a spanner on properly, so gave up. That night, as usually happens with me, I woke at 3am with the solution. Half an hour with a grinder the next morning had the spanner fitting perfectly. I’ll save it until I have the parts, then move, backwards probably, the 3 miles to the nearest marina. Apart from the night we arrived in Brazil, this will be the first time I’ve had to pay, but you do get hot showers, shore power and water, so it’s not completely wasted.

We must have looked really odd the day this problem happened. We had started out at 9am to sail  to Paraty. The wind died after 20% of the distance covered so we atarted motoring. An hour later the speed started dropping away, and after identifying the problem we hoisted sails again, now into a headwind. No problem, we had plenty of time. Well eventually we were lookin short on time and the water traffic was getting hectic. That’s when we dropped sails and started motoring the last 3 miles in reverse. The water was absolutely flat, the boat’s handling was stable and comfortable, and we could easily maintain 3.5 knots. I guess we stood out from the crowd, because as soon as we had dropped anchor, a couple in an inflatable arrived from the next little bay to offer help, which we declined. Half an hour later they were back, this time in a beautiful 53foot sloop, making sure we were fine. This led to swopping phone numbers, and yesterday enjoying a wonderful beach barbeque with all the yotties, mostly young, self employed, and having thrown off the shackles that society tries so hard to imprison you in. On top of that, they could braai every bit as well as us Japies.

Next week on Tuesday, I am now entered in a yacht tender race with these guys. There are 4 classes, 3.3hp, 5hp, over 5hp, and rowing. I fancy Shoebox in both the 5hp and rowing category, but the competition is stiff! More news sure to follow.

Gin and Tonics oil the keyboard

I was surprised to see it’s been almost a fortnight since my last writings. That may have something to do with the fact that I’ve been drinking beer mostly during this period. Finally, however, we have ice trays for the icebox, and now G&T’s, with two slices of lime and three blocks of ice, can fuel my thought processes. Every other posting has been accompanied by a glass of the same, not as cold though, so maybe the effects will differ.

I seem to remember mentioning in my last post that I was missing nice fresh breezes here, and that seemed to have the required effect. The very next day our movements were assisted by goodly winds, even exceeding 20 knots at times. That was all wonderful, but what wasn’t quite as appreciated was the winds we had at a bay/beach spot we chose for the night. We were anchored in 7m of water with the wind blowing us offshore. I set an anchor watch on the iPad but without the alarm, and checked our position every few hours, and we seemed to be well attached to the sea bed. The wind died late in the night and so I relaxed. When I felt it pick up again at 6am I didn’t bother checking and dozed until my bladder forced me out of bed at 07.30am. Looking out of the portholes, I couldn’t pick up any landmarks, so I went up on deck to find us drifting out into open waters, a couple of hundred meters offshore, and heading along the coast of Ilha Grande. This created a very quick change in the crews’ dawn tempo, and within a minute the motor was running and the skipper was cranking away at the windlass. Did I mention that one of the first things to break on arrival in Brazil was the electric motor for the anchor windlass? Well, doing the job manually is okay in water up to 6 or 7 meters depth, but thereafter the weight of the chain plus a 27kg anchor becomes hard work. Now I had 20 meters of chain plus the anchor hanging like a big fish hook off the bow! It was a long slow hoist with Pat chugging us slowly parallel to the coast. Job done, it was carry on around the corner to one of our favorite spots where we cheekily hook up to someone else’s vacant but permanent mooring. We happen to know that he is cruising currently much further South on the continent, so he’s not going to arrive and chase us away.

Anyway, that episode rather hammered any growing confidence in my anchoring ability! As I write this we are again anchored in a dodgy spot where a wind direction change in the night could put us onto rocks if the anchor were to drag, so guess who’s gonna be up regularly all night, checking.

In the time we’ve been here, we’ve pretty much travelled from end to end of the cruising area, and spent time in many gorgeous spots, but have nowhere near covered the area in much depth. The rest of our time here, whilst we’re aboard anyway, will be spent not only returning to some of the best discoveries, but also delving deeper into the unexplored parts. The only time we go near a marina is to fill up with water and diesel, so living costs are proving reasonable. We did go and check out a yacht club with a reputation for the friendliness of their welcome, and spent 5 days there. They gave us a mooring to use, all their facilities were free to use, and the restaurant and booze prices were good. Plus they gave us a visitors card that all our food and drink was charged to. I just had to settle up when we left. Fantastic hospitality and keen to help us wherever they could. I left an empty gas cylinder with them for filling and must return for it in 2 days, when they just happen to be having a cheese and wine function. I  may just be persuaded to spend another night there!

As far as provisions on Shoestring go, we are now down to 38 toilet rolls, enough sugar and condensed milk to make another 10 batches of fudge, enough tinned breyani, corned beef, and mackerel, to cross another ocean, but NO MORE Mrs Ball’s chutney. They have no such thing here so we are going to have to improvise. A BAD mistake this and maybe I’ll have to sail back to fetch more!

No shortage of Gin, Tonics, or Limes I’m pleased to say. Pat says the pink wine she’s tried from both Chile and Portugal has been very acceptable!


Chum (aka – The Skipper).





Cruising Observations

The skipper has had his 1st Mate with him now for over two weeks, and it’s allowed him time to observe a couple of things.

The 1st Mate brought not only an aeroplane virus with her, but also rainy and cooler weather, rendering the skipper sickly and off colour. This lasted almost a full week, during which time we didn’t move around much. I had left Shoestring moored up against a local sail maker’s jetty whilst collecting Pat from Rio, and upon return the first thing we did was to refit the main and genoa sails that had been removed for minor repairs after our Atlantic crossing. How cool is it to be able to sail to the sail maker! He  had found plentiful tiny holes in the main that could have appeared long before the voyage, and the sail now looks a bit like we’ve sailed through a war-zone! He also solved a couple of chafing issues, and I can’t say anything but good things about the service Dalmo and Anna of Tlaloc Sails rendered. Once fitted, with the staffs’ help, it was a quick stop at the fuel jetty for a couple of litres of diesel and a fill up of the water tanks, and then anchoring outside the marina. Evening involved a Shoebox trip back into the marina to a restaurant that serves amazing Argentinian steaks, along with the inevitable caipirinhas.

Next morning it was a motor across to Piratas Mall, situated in a marina fairly close by. Two hours of free mooring, and pretty much all you might need right there. A word of advice, don’t leave your mate alone for too long there or you’ll get the sort of greeting I got the second time we went there, “Darling, come and look at a couple of lovely little tops I found on sale just around the corner.”. Potential Danger Everywhere! Another motor brought us to Ilha Grande, the centrepiece of this whole cruising area, and picking up a mooring at Praia da Tapera. Here we sat out my virus, as well as some crappy weather, for several days, until the cruising started in earnest. Since then we’ve covered the Western third of the Bay, but not in any great detail, rather checking places out for a later return.

Philippe, crew and designated “tactician” on our crossing, joined us with his lovely and overworked wife in their yacht for a long weekend, and we were shown many of the nicer areas. Now we’re back on our own again and growing in confidence all the time.

Now for the observations the title promised (you notice how I drag these things out).

  • Victualing a yacht for a voyage bears no resemblance to the requirements for cruising with your wife! I had insisted that the one non-edible item that we could under no circumstances run out of, was toilet paper. Well we sailed from Cape Town with 54 rolls of the stuff, enough to deal with permanent tummy upsets for the whole crew. It turns out that sailing changes or regulates the human digestive system to such an extent that we arrived in Brazil with 46 rolls still awaiting the call of duty! A male only crew probably made all the difference, because the attrition rate has shot up since the 1st Mate stepped aboard. Nevertheless, there’s still enough on board to last a year. Bad planning!
  • Again as to the victualing, it appears that Lucky Star’s Middle-cut Mackerel is not the hit I thought it might be. I heard it being called catfood as well as other even less kind things. Other items I felt any responsible skipper should provide his crew and that weren’t house favorites, were tinned breyani, corned beef, tinned peas, and a few other things. Funny how the 48 slabs of chocolate were only complimented, as were the countless packets of biscuits. The instant coffee it appears should really be made by Douwe Egerts, but then we were one of the very few yachts worldwide equipped with an amazing device called a Handpresso. This clever little chap, which I bought online a year ago, looks rather like a small bicycle pump with a bulbous growth on the one end. Boiling water, a paper real ground coffee sachet, and vigorous pumping until sufficient pressure is stored within, a press of a button, and a perfect espresso is delivered into your cup. We left Cape Town with probably 100 sachets, which are all used up now. Luckily Philippe, who owns two of these devices, has already delivered another 150 sachets, so our mornings are well-started.
  • This area, the Baia da Ilha Grande, complete with hundreds of small islands, and countless anchorages, is paradise. There is one thing I do wish there were more of, and that is wind. As a rule the days start out wind free, a breeze building up from midday, and dying out as the sun sets. That is about perfect, except that the breeze is a bit too light for someone more used to Cape Town weather. I never thought I’d say this, but a bit of spray, a well heeled-over vessel, and maybe even a reef or two in the sails, would be welcome once in a while. Who knows, maybe it’s still to happen.
  • Finally, given the choice of my ocean-crossing crew or my 1st Mate, there’s absolutely no doubt which I’d pick. Sorry guys, the mate wins by a country mile!

Time to sign off, turn off van Morrison, a quick cold cockpit shower, and turn in for the night.

The Skipper.

Sunsets, and other heavenly objects.

Bracuhy, Baia da Ilha Grande.

There are long periods for reflection, when crossing an ocean. With other crew you don’t need to talk to yourself, not out loud anyway, but I found myself doing it all the time. The outside world has ceased to exist; politics, sport, world events, just don’t matter anymore. You may be faintly interested in what may be happening, but as it doesn’t affect you in any immediate sense, these things all get put to the back of your mind.

In my case, what came very much to the forefront, was the incredible vastness and majesty of the natural world, the breathtaking beauty of things we often take for granted, and our own utterly insignificant part in this universe. Certainly we are doing our best to screw our planet up as quickly as possible, but in the greater scheme of things the universe won’t even notice if Earth ceases to support life.

Back home, my nocturnal visit to empty my bladder usually times itself to allow me a view of the Southern Cross through the window above the toilet, and there she is, sorted of laid on her side. By comparison, sitting alone on watch from 02h00 to 04h00 on a crystal clear and moonless night, and you struggle initially to pinpoint those same five stars. The pointer stars are much easier to see, and they help confirm that you’re  looking in the right space, but the sheer number of faint stars that make up the Milky Way along with their brighter companions, and which even in Pringle Bay are invisible to the naked eye, literally smother out the familiar ones. I thought I’d experienced seeing clear night skies, but this is on another level altogether. Perhaps it’s the fact that you’re getting literally half the night sky, unimpeded by any land or manmade structures. Add in the view you get of the moon, in all it’s phases, and it’s an experience you’ll want to repeat again and again.

The title to this piece starts with the word Sunsets, so perhaps it’s time to get to the point. Sunrise and sunset seem to be the time that the whole crew was awake and together. Breakfast and sundowners certainly had something to do with that, but I have another idea. There’s something magical about sunrise and sunset, some sort of transition. Of the two, generally the sunsets were far more beautiful. Sunrise was peaceful, calm, and slow. Sunset by comparison, was vivid, aflame, and spectacular. Many an evening I’d scuttle off to fetch my camera before the moment passed, and many of my attempts to capture the drama were utterly pathetic. Once I work out how to post pics, I’ll present a couple of my better and more artistic efforts, but don’t hold your breath. The sunsets were always worth waking for, despite sleep being important too. Sunrise happened behind you on this voyage, and was less colourful. I did enjoy the warmth it brought, and standing at the wheel, you could start rebuilding the suntan that autumn had taken away.

Not quite Heavenly Bodies, but certainly skimming across the heavens, were the number of satellites passing overhead. Some jumped out at you, others required watching a segment of the sky for a while before you picked them up, but there are plenty up there. Asteroids, or shooting stars, or whatever they are, were also an almost continual occurence, certainly when I was on watch. Some were brief, some covered a large range, but most seemed to attract your attention without your having to look for them. At one point it occured to me that I’ve probably got more chance of being hit by something from space, than Shoestring hittting a semi-submerged container or big floating object.

Time to go now, there’s a gin and tonic calling my name (tip – a slice or two of lime is better than lemon).


The Skipper.


Challenge 1 Completed

Sitting here alone, after living in close quarters with my two wonderful crewmates for six weeks, requires a complete mindshift. Hurdle No1 in this adventure was the crossing of my first ocean, the South Atlantic. Choosing to undertake this well into winter might sound a bit crazy to those who know weather patterns, but my research showed that, apart from being careful in choosing a good departure window, the chances of a rough crossing were about the same all year round. As it transpired, if anything we had too calm a voyage. Apart from a wild night on Day 5 it was mostly a case of waiting for more wind, which never came. Our passage to St Helena took 14 1/2 days which is average, and we ran the motor continuously the last 29 hours to ensure arriving late in the afternoon on St Helena Day.

Five days later, after enjoying a wobbly dry land, seeing the sights and chilling out at Anne’s Place, it was back to downwind sailing, leaving in a healthy breeze. Again, this didn’t last, and we were forced to accept that this would be a slow passage. On a day we were becalmed, we all took a plunge into the most beautiful water I’ve ever seen. It’s not in my vocabulary to describe the depth of blueness of the water, seemingly crystal clear and 25 deg C or thereabouts. Highlights involved passing by both Martin Vaz Island and Ilha de Trindade, rising out of an empty ocean in the middle of nowhere. Then it was on through Brazilian oilfields in boisterous and wet weather and making landfall at Cabo Frio in first light. Not landing, but passing through a VERY narrow passage between land and island, we continued down the coast, past Rio in miserable weather, and at night, and on to our final destination in the Baia de Ilha Grande, after !9 and a bit days.

To Bryan and Philippe, my trusty crewmates, a HUGE Thank You, never once did I feel apprehensive leaving either of you at the helm. Your individual experience makes me wonder how much you worried about leaving ME alone to sail the boat, but you never once showed it. We experienced an endless stream of issues that required a morning spent fixing things, but they never slowed us or caused us to suffer. I suppose the fact we had fresh meat and veggies almost the entire way eased any discomfort we may have suffered. Oh, and the biltong never ran out either. It was interesting to learn from two people whose approach is almost diametrically opposite, the one a ‘seat of the pants” sailor, the other leaning more towards technology and information acquisition. I don’t think either side convincingly won that. Anyway, to the both of you, I’ll happily cross any ocean with you.

The hero in this adventure, without a doubt, has been Shoestring. Solid, swift, a beautifully smooth action in any seas, she has delivered us here safely, and sits ready to head off again at any time. I understand better now why Shearwater owners all rave about their boats.

And now I sit on Shoestring, alone until the 29th when the real 1st Mate, Pat, arrives, with a long list of things to fix and clean and service, in an environment I can only describe as paradise. It’s a tough life, but someone has to do it.

Bracuhy, Brazil.

The Launch

Well here I am, sitting at the keyboard, typing my first ever Blog to an audience of NO-ONE. This situation will hopefully change as the future unfolds, but I am outside my comfort zone here and can’t promise anything worth reading. I’m using a laptop now, but suspect future posts may emminate from my iPad, if I can fathom it out that is!

As things stand, Shoestring and her intrepid crew should be sailing from Gordons Bay Yacht Club, around Cape Point, and docking in Cape Town Harbour at Royal Cape Yacht Club. Then, all that’s required is to stock up with fresh fruit and veggies, complete the daunting sounding Clearing Out process, including customs and Immigration, and hitting the high seas, destination St Helena. The weather forecast shows we should be starting our voyage on Sunday morning early, but in reality this voyage started 40 years ago. That is when the seed was planted, only to be buried under a mountain of ‘life and living’.

I can’t promise any sort of schedule to these posts, so you’re gonna have to just wait, all none of you. I’d love to fill you in with thousands of details, but the intensity of these final weeks has prevented any hope of that happening.

So climb aboard, take your seasick pills, and enjoy the ride.


Peter , “Skipper”, Chum, whatever you prefer.

Blog at

Up ↑