The first glimpse of Costa Blanca, a bay full of hippies and sailing Mar Menor with friends

After some busy weeks with hard decisions being made and us focusing on ourselves and getting the boat into shape for a sale I am now back in Sweden for a break while Jens continue to sail the boat. But before all these decisions were made we had some adventures that I would like to remember for the future, and of course share with you guys!

Leaving Almerimar in the morning with a hangover was a challenge, but we needed to take advantage of the first day of Westerlies in a long while, since we had visits from friends planned further up the coast. Of course, the winds were still not so strong, but at least they could hold out the sails. After just a couple of hours our sailor friend Stuart, who we partied with the night before on Pegasus, catched up and passed us on the way north. At least we made it around the Cabo de Gata which is the start of Costa Blanca and anchored up in a pretty sheltered bay among about 10 other boats by nightfall. When the new morning dawned we could enjoy the dramatic landscape, compared to Costa del Sol it felt like we were in the wilderness even though there were some people on beach who had arrived by car to enjoy the day. This day we sailed along Pegasus all day, and it was nice to not be alone at sea for once!

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The next stop “Cala San Pedro” just north of San Jose was meant to be a swim break together with Stuart, but we never really left. It was such an unique place – a good anchorage with an old castle and a hippie community. The isolated beach can only be reached by foot or by sea. The cove has a community of people who live there all year, built their homes with local materials and live disconnected from modernity and in harmony with the environment (read more here). Apparently the cove has a natural source of drinking water which enabled the inhabitants to live in isolation and it is a truly inspiring place, we were just sorry that we’re not good enough in Spanish to make some interviews on what it is like to live there…

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The landscape is dramatic, and from the anchorage it’s hard to see all the houses that exist here built into the cliffs and on the hillside, because they blend in and are sometimes covered by the vegetation. This is not a place for people who are convenient, but the creative and hardworking free spirits grow their own crops and build creative homes connected by narrow paths up the hill. The water is crystal clear and full of fish, the beach is full of naturists and tents from tourists that come here for a shorter stay and to party. One dinghy came over to our boat to ask who we were, what we were doing there and if we were coming over to the beach later that night with a bottle of rum to party with them 😉

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Continuing north the next day, the winds were not strong enough to take us to Cartagena, instead we stopped to sleep a few hours at Aguilas and then continued to the small coastal town of Mazarron. As the wind direction turned (of course not in our favor), we decided to stay one night and instead spend a day on the beach and get some stuff done in the cool office of the club house with their excellent WIFI. But with a friend arriving in Alicante just a few days later, we could not rest long. Jens took the night shift to get us up to Mar Menor, an inland sea between Cartagena and Alicante. This inland sea is the perfect anchoring spot, since it’s between 3-6 m deep all over. We spent the first night in the harbour and met up with Mattias and his brother the next day. It was nice to hang out with the family, go swimming and just relax. In the evening we dropped the anchor in Mar Menor, did some fishing and enjoyed some tapas together with Jens childhood friend.

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The next day it was time to head north and introduce Mattias to sailing. Since he brought some new gear we were fishing all day but didn’t have any luck – is there really any fish in the Mediterranean?!? We had a great day out on the sea and arrived at Torrevieja just in time for some dinner.

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On Mattias last night we celebrated with some ice-cream downtown. Thank you Mattias for stopping by and lighting up our stay at Costa Blanca! It is always interesting to share the cruising lifestyle with the people we love from home, hear what things they like and what they would not endure in this way of living. It is easy to imagine that the cruising life would be like an everlasting vacation, but unfortunately that is pretty far from the truth. The splurges we have done when we have visitors cannot be made every week, and most days it is all about sailing – longer hours and a greater distance than we would many times prefer. In all types of lifestyles you get a routine, a routine that can become dull and exhausting even though there are also many highlights. We have learned not to make any deadlines when sailing, but a life completely without planning is not so fun either, and when you know that bad weather is approaching there is no choice but trying  to get to a good place before it hits.

– Petra

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NOTES FOR SAILORS

To see the location of all the harbours and anchorages we stayed at on our sail along Costa Blanca click here. There are many good and beautiful anchorages along this stretch of coast, and we highly recommend staying Cala san Pedro. The harbours vary greatly in price, Club de Regatas Mazarron being one of the cheapest (16.19 €/night for us) and Aguilas being one of the more pricey (39€/night for 10 m boat).


 

Radical sabbatical – taking the leap and learning the hard way

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the thing you didn’t do than the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Samuel Clemens a.k.a. Mark Twain

Taking the leap and building resilience. I would not say that I am a coward. But I would say that I am very aware of what people around me think and feel and that I prefer safety before risk. If given a choice between taking a risk or playing it safe, I would probably play it safe. With one exception – taking risks together with someone I trust. The best thing with my close colleagues back home and my partner on the boat is that they are the kind of accomplices that I trust to take a route that has not been taken before. In fact, I might even be the one who suggests it.

But even though I have been fortunate enough to have friends, a partner or colleagues that make me more courageous, it doesn’t mean that it’s easy to make life choices. And as a researcher I know that we as humans don’t always know how to foresee what the future would become depending on what choice we make. I have learned three things:

  • Memory is a treacherous thing – we remember what stood out more than what was the usual. (Unfortunately we remember the negative events better than the good ones…)
  • A traumatic or stressful event (usually) make you stronger rather than more depressed in the longer run.
  • The grass always seems greener on the other side

So how then should we live our lives?

As a TED-talk junkie, one of my favourite talks is one on this very topic. “How to make hard choices”. Basically she says that when given a hard choice (one which is not easy to rationally just list pro´s and con´s), you have to go back to yourself and think – what kind of person are you? Or rather, what kind of person would you like to become? This doesn’t mean that the choice is easy, or that the life you choose will not be full of hardships, it just means that maybe those hardships are worthwhile because in the end you have taken a conscious decision on what kind of person you would like to be. Which really is all you can do.

The blessing and problem living in the society today is of course that we have too many choices.

One of the advantages with this lifestyle is that there are more opportunities to read than in an ordinary life, which is usually full with stress running in between job and other activities, plus the constant stream of TV and internet always accessible. On-board we don´t always have that luxury, so we talk, read, play an instrument or talk to people.

One of the books that struck a chord in me I started reading even before we left, and it seems a lot of it holds true for our journey – Radical Sabbatical. It tells the story of an American couple that left their hotshot jobs in Chicago and left for Costa Rica, where they rented a house to explore another side of life and see if they could create opportunities for the future there instead. They describe their journey like this: “It was the greatest and most dreadful part of our lives” – a statement I think both me and Jens can relate to when reflecting on the journey so far.

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One of the things I reflected on when reading the book was that a lot of times they had a really rough time. One of them got really sick, the house was a mess, they argued a lot, had culture clashes, it cost more than they thought it would and they were once on the verge of breaking up. But they also had wonderful nature experiences, met awesome people and learned a lot more about themselves and each other in that year than they would have spending five years in their ordinary life at home.

This journey, too, has been full of challenges. It has been much harder than we expected. We have doubted a lot of decisions and there has been many painful conflicts on the way. We haven’t been able to “sail in harmony” as much as we wanted to, even though we constantly tried to lower over goals and expectations. We have got great friends we would never have met otherwise, the nature experiences and sailing experiences have many times been magnificent and there is a luxury of having so much time with your partner. But what we really have learned from this experience? I don’t think we know yet. The end chapter in Radical Sabbatical offered their perspective which I would like to share.

“Most of us live within our comfort zones. Our training wheels are on. Do you remember riding around with those pesky little wheels? You’d have to stay on the beaten path. You’d look at your friends and see them having a blast, riding faster to places you couldn’t go. They had more guts than you. They were having more fun than you. But you couldn’t get yourself to take the wheels off until one day. All you had to do was to get the guts to do it, and then off you went – completely free.

If you’ll take at least three months to go on a radical sabbatical to a place where your geography and daily life are drastically different, you’ll see the training wheels that were on your life. The great thing is, once you stretch, you’ll never want to ride with them on again. In that moment, you’ll wake up every morning, like we do, immediately thinking on how you can take life to a place where you never have. Don´t worry. You don’t have to jettison to bats, scorpions, and reverse high-speed drives down mountains. But you will want to pick something that creates a good dose of healthy discomfort, preferably in a setting where you’ve always wanted to live.

“But where will we end up in five years?” you ask. To that we answer, “Exactly”. You’ll end up exactly where you want to end up. After a radical sabbatical, it becomes all about the journey, not the destination. And you know what? You’ll automatically have the courage to live this way because you’ll have seen that no matter what you go through, whether it’s life after Pair-o-Dice Village or the unexpected vehicle that came along to pull us out in the Serengeti after 15 minutes, everything always works out if you’ll have the courage to let it. Fear becomes your friend. The training wheels are off, and it’s awesome, thrilling ride. There’s magic in it. It’s a life without boundaries. It’s a life that’s yours”

Radical Sabbatical, 2013, page 332.

We will soon get an opportunity to reflect on our experiences. Because we are coming back home. I have extended my leave from work until 1st of October, and then our “radical sabbatical” will end for this time. We don’t yet know what we will do with the boat, where we will live, and where our lives will take us. But we know that we have managed to sail through the UK in winter, down the French coast as the first visiting boat of the year and hand-steered all the way to the Mediterranean. The comfort zone is definitely extended!

We are making an attempt at selling the boat from the Med, see the Swedish Ad here, and simultaneously looking for alternatives to ship the boat home. Please share the ad to anyone you think might be interested.

But I´m also curious about you. What would you do for a “radical sabbatical”? If you would forget about the (time/money/relationships) limits that you have in your life right now?

For more inspiration, watch this TED-talk “The power of time off”.

– Petra

¿Quién eres tú?

Don´t you worry! We have not disappeared into the sea or forgotten about you, it´s just that we don´t have any internet in the marina and have been quite busy

 

Since we last wrote, we have finished the last stretch of France and sailed across the Bay of Biscay to Spain. We will stay put one more week since Petras parents are coming for a visit. But more about that when I find some internet and can upload some pictures and videos – this time we are writing for a different reason.

Writing this blog can be quite therapeutic as a means to process everything we do, see and feel. It definitely is fun to have a use for some of all the pictures we take, and to save some parts of the journey for the future. But it can also be quite hard work and not always the thing you want to spend the evenings doing. The comments and cheering we sometimes get here on the blog or on Facebook (link) makes it worth the effort – and we really enjoy hearing your thoughts.

So now that we don´t have enough internet to share some new comment I wanted to direct this post to you!

Who are you?

We know who some of our most dedicated readers are, but I am still curious. So if you are still reading, please leave a comment below and let us know where we reach out.

What would be interesting is to hear why you read this blog, and what you would like to read more about.

So, challenge us! Ask us a question or suggest a topic that you would like to read more about and we will try our best to oblige in the coming months.

Last but not least – THANK YOU for reading and sharing this adventure with us!

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– Petra & Jens

Life at sea – from Ardglass to Kilmore Quay

I think many of you back home wonder what life at sea (in the winter) is really like. Besides putting on countless layers of clothes, sailing in the British Isles means that you really have to take the tides into account, as we have described earlier. Also, January is considered one of the months with most stormy weather of the year. So when we have a window of opportunity to sail south, we take it. Here are some notes of the 194 nautical miles journey that took us from Ardglass in Northern Ireland to southeastern tip of Ireland!

Saturday 28/1

1.00 Beep beep, not enough sleep. Jens get up as the alarm beeps and gets ready to take off.

01.40 Leaving Ardglass marina, the waves bounces Mouni just as we get outside the pier. The AIS alarm on our VHF radio goes off telling us we have a lot of fishing boats close by. Impossible to sleep, so much noise! I go up to stow away some more stuff, and put on the navigation lights that Jens forgot.

4.30 Still no wind, we are bouncing on the waves and using the engine to get ahead, slowly. What I don´t know is that Jens has got rather seasick out there, as the motion from going by motor is not as pleasant as when sailing.

7.30 Jens was supposed to wake me up when he got tired, but since that has not happened I go up anyway and starts to make breakfast. We are finally proceeding by sail, but Jens seasickness has not passed and he does not want any breakfast.

8.30 Starting my shift. Jens takes down the Genua since the wind has picked up and then goes down to sleep. The forecast said it should be about 4 m/s but this is clearly at least 7 m/s. The sun comes out through the clouds. I am racing!

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10.30 Not fast enough! We pull out some of the Genua and Mouni is sailing 6-7 knots. Yay!

12.00 A screw falls down on my lap when I´m sailing, where did that come from!? Jens goes to have a look, and then take back the helm while I go down to the galley to cook some lunch.dscn0239

13.00 Try to transfer some podcast to the mp3-player, it doesn´t work so I rest instead.

14.00 Decision point. Should we try to pass Howth or not? Hoping that we could pass Dublin and reach Greystone before the tides change direction. We eat some cookies and then decide to stay at Howth since our speed is too slow. Jens makes up a song about the clouds.

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17.30 Reach Howth and tie up the boat by sunset. Cook some bulgur and sausage with feta cheese to make sure that Jens gets his energy back after a day on empty stomach. The sailor life: “What did you do last Saturday night?” “We cuddled up after dinner and went to sleep waiting for the tide to change”.

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23.00 Beep, beep, not enough sleep. Jens gets the boat ready for takeoff while I stow away everything down below, do the dishes, prepare some sandwiches and some ginger water for my skipper to help against the seasickness.

23.30 We leave Howth marina behind and head south passed Dublin.

Sunday 29/1
3.30 Wake up from a dream as the bow crash into a wave. From calm waters there is steep waves in the middle of nowhere. I get some refreshments and join Jens out in the cold night. We decide to head for Wicklow harbour.

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4.53 First lights of Wicklow spotted. But as usual, the last part takes forever.

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7.10 Two hours later we arrive and tie up to the massive pier. The ladder is made for a giant! We go straight to bed

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After brunch with pancakes and fruit we study the weather forecast and tide tables and decide that the best time to leave and continue is in the night. This gets us the day the day to explore Wicklow and rest. The reason for not staying here is that there is no real Marina and no electricity, which means that we will not be able to heat the boat properly for the week of strong wind that is coming. We run the generator to charge the batteries. We head downtown, have a tasty lunch at the restaurant by the old prison and take a walk to the old roman castle by the sea. After some dinner and an episode of Games of Thrones, we try to get some sleep.

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Monday 30/1

00.00 Beep, beep, not enough sleep. Stowing away all the stuff once more and make some sandwiches.

00.40 Jens untie the lines from the pier while I hold the boat by the ladder. There is no wind so we use the motor.

01.15 We are sailing around a buoy on a shallow part of the sea, and the waves created are rocking us back and forth. We are doing good speed – 6 knots – half by the motor and half by the tidal streams.

02.00 I go down to read about Arklow harbour in the Nautical Almanac. A look at the map of tidal streams indicate that the streams can run in up to 3,5 knots. We should arrive in HW+5 to have a safe and easy entry to the harbour. We are too fast! New strategy, Jens turns off the engine completely for a while and we drift in 3 knots only by the stream.

05.00 We arrive in a quit and completely sheltered marina in the dark. Tie up and go to bed once more, this time with electricity plugged in and the heating fan is on! Nice and comfy.

Now Arklow was supposed to be the place where we stayed for the week of strong winds forecasted. But, when the forecast changed so did our minds. We decided to make a run for Kilmore Quay, our last port we needed to reach in Ireland, as there was a 24-hour window left. So, on Jens birthday I got up and served him a nice birthday breakfast and then we set off. While we did have a nice day of sailing, it was too slow of a start and we were forced to enter the commercial harbour in Rosslare in the evening to wait five hours so we would have the tides with us again and charge the batteries.

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After some tacos and wine we rested a couple of hours, and once again took off in the night. The last 27 miles to Kilmore Quay was a little tedious after the long day of sailing the day before, but in the middle of the night Jens got a perfect late birthday present – at least 4 porpoises (or dolphins?) were playing in the waves next to our boat and swimming alongside us for at least 20 minutes. At five in the morning, we finally arrived to Kilmore Quay and in this well protected fishing harbour/marina we will rest and wait out the storm in good shelter.

Are we still tired? Oh yes! Was it worth it? Oh yes!

So, tell me. Did this post give you any more insights about the cruising life?

– Petra

 

 

Bits and pieces of 2016

Approaching the new year, it is time to reflect and see if we are heading in the right direction. This year has probably been one of the more exhausting one’s in our lives, but in the same time so rich in experiences. So what really happened this year? We will give a summary of the different steps on our journey, and in the end you can find a map that shows our track across the oceans so far.

 

In the first half of this year, it was all about preparations. We moved two times, spend hundreds of hours going through all of our stuff and thinking about the life on the boat and what we would need. I was working to fund our adventure and Jens worked hard on renovating the boat and managed to do a skiing expedition he dreamed about for years. There were several big jobs that he managed to do during the winter and spring – changing from diesel engine to electric propulsion, designing and building a bowsprit and moving the toilet to the forepeak to mention a few. In the spring we also discussed with our workplaces if it would be possible to get a leave from work and discussed a lot with friends and family about what it was we wanted to do and how we could make the dream come true.

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Renovating Mouni on land, in the water and on the inside with the help of friends. The new and shiny engine room got a lot more spacious with the electric motor.

In the early summer we moved aboard Mouni, while also increasing the pace of the renovation. June, July and almost the whole August past before we felt about ready to throw off the bowlines. During this summer, while we had high ambitions on what to be able to complete with the renovation, we also promised ourselves that we would never say no to someone who wanted to come visit us. So in the middle of the big renovation mess, we did meet a lot of our friends and family and had a wonderful goodbye party that will stay as a precious memory for us. It is hard to say goodbye, but nice to know it´s rather “see you later”. Even if we left a couple weeks later than we had planned for, the summer was rather hectic and we were quite drained of energy when we left.

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Farewell party with friends and family before leaving our home port

 

The first phase going around Sweden was also spent visiting a lot of friends and family along the way. Sweden is such a beautiful place to sail and we really enjoyed exploring the coastline from the sea. It soon became clear that even this first phase was a big test on our vision about “sailing for harmony”. Leaving the stressful life behind, we still brought it along in our minds and had trouble deciding what was most important – progress in distance, fixing the boat or enjoying life. We still haven´t learned how to always sail in harmony, but we do know not to measure progress in miles. Because this is not what this journey is for.

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Sailing the Swedish archipelago visiting friends and family along the way

Nevertheless, it was a milestone to sail to our first foreign land – Denmark. The reason for this detour was specific, we wanted to meet the supplier of our electric motor to do some tests and discuss the future. Besides helping us to trim the motor, we also got a sailing lessons and had some wonderful days in Copenhagen with our friends. We were really impressed with the ambitious sailors in Denmark who sailed all the way in and out of the harbours

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30 degrees and engine testing in Copenhagen, Denmark

By the time we got to Norway, we could really feel that we were on our way. This was also where we had our first experiences of hard weather. While we did sail in harder weather than we ever did before and really could put Mouni to the test, we also got land-bound several times. From that point the gale warnings would constantly follow us for the rest of the year. In Norway we also had our first crew aboard – a lovely couple of weeks with Jens mom that took us across the North Sea.

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New crew and big heights in Norway

 

The sailing through the UK – Shetland, Fair Isle, Scotland and Northern Ireland has really shown us what a great hospitality there is here and that it is actually not so hard to make friends (at least if you get stuck :-)) We have sailed in cold and rainy weather week after week, learning how to deal with the tides (we´re not quite there yet) and learned the hard way how easily things break. The last month we have settled in Belfast and spending most of the time making Mouni safe and pretty.

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Sailing from Shetland to Northern Ireland before settling at Belfast Harbour Marina for renovation work and enjoying the company of neighbours

One of the wisdoms from our guest book onboard says – “It’s not about the miles, it’s about the smiles”. So what did we really think about 2016?

What was the best with 2016?

Petra: Finding a new pace in life, getting to know lots of new places and friendly people. I have really enjoyed getting to know the sea and having that nature experience every day. I didn’t expect to feel safe on Mouni in the wide range of weather we have sailed in, but she handles the waves well.

Jens: 2016 was the year when we got to taste the first bites of the sweet fruit after spending so much time figuring out how to change the direction in life. It has taken several years to get here and as always when starting to learn something new it takes a lot of time. I can still remember all the thousands of different boats researched before before deciding on this one. All the reading required to learn about plastic work, rigging repairs, bow sprit designs, engine propulsion, marine wiring, thru hull fittings and so on. All the sleepless mornings figuring out how to do all the required changes and all the late evenings trying to finish one more piece of the puzzle before going home. This was the year when it all paid off and the feeling to finally set sail was definitely something special.

What was the hardest during 2016?

Petra: All the decisions. Where should we sail? How? What is more important – getting ahead, renovating for comfort and safety or having fun? Just having each other makes it really important to get along and agree. I´ve never been really ill during these months but have spent a lot of time with some type of physical problem that have drained a lot of my energy.

Jens: Long distance cruising can be done in so many different ways. Not too long ago cruisers still circumnavigated our globe without any engine or electrical gadgets at all. Some still do even today. But the development, especially on the technical side, has been tremendous last few decades so as a fellow cruiser put it – Today you can have your yacht automatically sailing around the world without even leaving your kitchen table. The hardest thing was definitely defining where on this scale to position us and Mouni. So far the philosophy has been to start off simple and let our own experience guide us in what kind of equipment to acquire. Hopefully this will end in a boat much more fit for our purpose and financial strength than listening to skilled sales agents.

What do you look forward to in 2017?

Petra: Sailing in warm weather and always being able to jump in for a swim! Anchoring in a bay with my love and enjoying some Mediterranean food. I am also looking forward to taking off from here and enjoying all the improvements we have done on Mouni. Hope I will improve my sailing skills even more!

Jens: We have discovered that sailing can be both exhausting and relaxing. The weather of course plays a big role in how the sailing is perceived but I also think that with the right knowledge, experience and mental attitude you can find most circumstances relaxing. In 2017 I am looking forward to increase my comfort zone and taking the first trembling steps to master the ever changing seas. Sometime in the future I hope that even fast moving tides, swirls, moving sand banks and technical malfunction still can be comfortable handled in sharp but yet relaxed manner.

Finally, here´s the map of the track we have made so far, we will update it as we go along!

We wish you a really happy new year, cruising through life in harmony!

– Petra & Jens

Life continues at Belfast harbour

Hi everybody! If you haven´t found us at Facebook yet, you might not know how we are getting on so we thought it was about time for an update! We are still hanging out at Belfast harbour, waiting for the delivery of the new batteries that we have ordered and that the insurance company will help us with. They are getting shipped from Holland to Sweden first, where our supplier will add some cables and other supplies we need and then send them here in one big package. So, probably another week until they will get here and then there is some work to get them mounted in place and installed in a proper way. The short version is that we have focused on reparation, renovation and getting to know our neighbours!

Learning from this experience we of course started to think about what we can do to make sure the sea water stays outside the boat in the future? Here are some of our ideas:

  1. Making sure that each chain holding down the bowsprit can take at least as much load as the forestay.
  2. Changing the permanent design of the bowsprit and replace the current board with a stainless steel netting so that there will be less force when the bow crash down into the water. Or, another possibility is the make our own mesh using dynema rope (similar to what many catamarans have in the front between their hulls).
  3. Putting a new buckle on the anchor chain locker, so it won´t break open again despite big waves.
  4. Installing a sea cock and through hull fitting where the air ventilation goes into the anchor chain locker, so that we can close it while under way – making the anchor chain locker completely sealed from the rest of the boat
  5. Installing a floater in the bilge where the batteries were mounted, so that we get an alarm if there for any reason gets water down there again.
  6. Possibly move the batteries and make a new mount higher up and thus more protected from any water entering again.
  7. Get stainless steel covers for all windows making sure breaking waves will not crush them.
  8. Another weak spot is the companion way entry which could definitely use some reinforcement or possible a complete new design. The current doors cannot take the massive force of a breaking wave so the question is how to find a suitable solution. It must be easy, even with big bulky clothes in big seas, to get in and out. Opening and closing must be possible to do quickly, preferably with one hand only. If a big wave forces you to let go no parts should be lost (a common sail yacht solution is to have two or more sheets that you slide into place but if you drop one of those sheets wind and waves can easy wash them over board making it hard to seal off the living compartment). And, of course not too pricey, ugly or complicated to make 🙂 This part still requires some pondering.

Belfast is a rather large city, so we have spent some time walking out to the industrial districts to buy new 10 mm chain and some stronger shackles to connect it to the bowsprit. We also rented bikes for a couple of days to be able to go to a ship chandlery between Belfast and Bangor.

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Biking to Down Marine, and fitting the new 10 mm chains to the bowsprit

Except installing the new chains, the through hull fitting and new hatch we are also taking on some more renovation projects onboard. The communication station is complete and Jens is almost done with installing the AIS, so everyone can see where we are (and we can see them). We are still hunting for a coaxial cable to be able to connect it to the GPS antenna, we´ll let you know how it works after that ;-). We also started to think about how to make a new door to the boat, and maybe changing the bunks so that we could keep the batteries a little bit higher up in the boat. Installing all the appliances connected to the VHF and AIS is harder than you might think!

While Jens have been busy with the more technical aspects of renovation, I have made sure to get some holiday spirit into the boat with a little Christmas tree, picking some ivy and making an Advent candle holder (of the piece that was left after adapting one of our cuttingboards to fit over the sink). Now I just need to figure out how to be able to bake some gingerbread cookies and saffron buns without an oven aboard?? Maybe I can find help with that here in the harbour? 😉

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Watching the Swedish Advent calendar show online together with some christmas porridge

Let me tell you, the people in Northern Ireland are a friendly bunch! Here in Belfast we already made friends with a bunch of people. There are some that live on their boats some of the time and quite many spend at least one day a week on their boat. Early on we got to know Elliott, the poet, who spend a lot of time on his boat together with his cub writing a play. He helped us move the boat over to the sunny side of the harbour together with Ian. Ian is also dreaming of the blue water cruising lifestyle and will head off south in the spring. Besides the fact that it´s nice to have some people to chat with as we are stuck here fixing the boat in some weeks, we have also got a lot of help and ideas from the gentlemen in the harbour.

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Elliott and Ian helping us to pull Mouni over to the sunny side of the harbour

After our closest neighbour Ians boat, lies Sylvana with Simon and Paula onboard. They invited us over the other week to discuss different options for routes down to France, since they have sailed over there several times. They are also planning to go cruising next spring. It is great to listen to the experience from the people who have local knowledge on the routes we are planning to take south.

One day earlier this week, we heard about a Christmas dinner being organized by Simon to gather all the people who have boats in the marina. We asked if we could join and that was fine! We walked into town together with Elliott and met up with all the others at a bar to take a drink before we headed to the restaurant. The crew from most of the boats had joined and there were about 35 people on three tables in the restaurant celebrating the holiday season approaching. When Elliott thanked Simon with a speech he also mentioned the Swedish guests, and we felt we should introduce ourselves and thank them for letting us join. Of course, we couldn´t help but sharing a piece of Swedish tradition, and told the story about the French monk that in the 1600´s wrote down the lyrics to a song he heard the Swedes sing so engaged, that he knew it must be the national anthem. Years later it was revealed that it actually was a drinking song called “Helan går”. So, now at least part of Belfast know the most common Swedish drinking song, and that cheers in Swedish is pronounced “Skål”! The evening ended with some rum and tea onboard Ian´s boat, which is nicely decorated for Christmas.

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Christmas dinner together with all the nice folks from Belfast Harbour Marina

Since that evening, it feels like we know everyone in the harbour and it´s great to have a nice community surrounding us. Most of the people here expect us to stay over Christmas, only time will tell 😉

– Petra

Shetland islands – dramatic cliffs and friendly people

Come to the boat club tonight, they said, there will be live folk music!

After dinner we went past the harbour and through the little ally until we found the door to the Leirwick boating club. We could not hear any music out to the street, but when we went up the stairs we found ourselves in a room full of people with their own instruments – violin, flute, guitar, mandolin etc. There was no people there just to listen – everyone was there to play. So we sat down, and they asked us if Jens was the Norwegian man who was going to bring a flute? I started to regret that I joked about Jens having a flute with him onboard, when they told him he could borrow one and join in. The flutes where a whole different kind, and these people were out of our league. But we were free to sit down anyway, and they started playing Scottish folk tunes, and other traditional music from different parts of the world. All of a sudden, one man stood up and sang a traditional song, all by himself, with a loud but beautiful voice.

After a while, we had finished our beer and wanted to say goodbye. They thanked us for coming by playing a Swedish “polska”, and we went downstairs to say hi to the guys in the bar that were playing darts. The Leirwick boat club was our waterhole during our stay – a place to take a shower, wash some clothes, update the weather forecast with their WIFI or just grab a beer.

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Leirwick town

Leirwick is an old town with beautiful stone buildings and narrow streets. There is a lot of different restaurants and pubs to choose from and small quirky shops. We spent the evenings trying out different restaurants, but in daytime we wanted to see more of Shetland than the capital, so we decided to rent a car. Join us up and down the hills of Shetland!

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Roads on Shetland mainland

The landscape in Shetland is rather special, it reminded me a lot of Iceland or northern part of Sweden. The hills are covered in grass or heather and the lack of trees enable you to see far away across the lakes and sometimes all the way to the ocean. Our first stop was Scalloway, a small village that lies on the west coast and also the former capital of Shetland.

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Scalloway harbour

We wanted to visit the Scalloway Castle, built in 1600 by Patrick Stewart, Earl of Orkney and Lord of Shetland. We were lucky to find the castle open even though the museum was closed, and learned about the Lord who has been portrayed as one of history´s villains, always in conflict with the landowners which finally led to his execution for treason in Edinburgh in 1615.

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Scalloway castle

Then we turned north, heading for the famous cliffs at Echa Ness. Before we arrived, we stopped for lunch in a hotel that was open for business already the year 1900, and had a magnificent view of the sea. It was clear that we came in the off season, since to only people there was the friendly and quirky staff. One of the men working there told us how he fell in love with Shetland in the 70´s and never left since then. The winters in Shetland is rather mild, but he fondly remembered the days when the snow could be several meters high, and even though they got stuck in the snow when they headed up the mountains they still got paid full. We also learned that it is not uncommon to see killer whales around Shetland, but we of course are here in the wrong season.

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Church beside the hotel close to Echa Ness

Approaching Echa Ness, the landscape was getting more and more dramatic as the you could see the dramatic cliffs close to the road.

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Shetland scenery

Finally, we arrived in Echa Ness. The sun was shining and the sight was clear. Jens was disappointed that we didn’t go here a stormy day, but the waves clashing towards the cliffs were rather mighty even a calm day like this. We agreed that this is not a coastline you want to sail close-by.

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Echa Ness

In the ravines, the sea birds were circling up and down, or laying down to rest in the sun. The sound of the birds were lost in the high noise from the breaking waves.

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Group photo in front of the bird cliffs

We took a hike along the coast line. Furthest out on one of the cliff Jens pointed out the perfect spot of grass to have a “fika” break before we continued walking.

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Jens and Lotta gazing towards the lighthouse

Shetland is maybe best known for its Shetland pony, but when you’re here the only animal you really see across the island, besides the sea birds, are sheep. They are everywhere! If I were a sheep, I would be rather happy to walk along Echa Ness 🙂

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Endless grass and small lakes for the sheep to wander next to the cliffs

Driving back to Leirwick, we took the opportunity to stack up on groceries on a supermarket before returning the car. After a nice dinner together with Lotta it was time to go to bed for the last time in Leirwick, and say goodbye the next morning to sail south aiming at Fair Isle.

– Petra