There are people who think it is irrational to cross a large ocean in a small boat. After all, you could cross it for considerably less expense in a plane. It has been suggested people do it to chase something, like Captain Ahab. Or, that you are escaping something. In fact, we go sailing because it is fun. If we get into trouble now and again the danger adds to the excitement- in retrospect.
FIONA is a Westsail 42. My wife, Edith, and I saw the first hull of the series under construction at Costa Mesa, California in 1974. The salesman was very pressing and for a small deposit we arranged to have a hull delivered in 1975. We had sold our beloved Dutch boat, IONA, a couple of years before. On that boat we had cruised the Caribbean with our son Colin, then 3 years old, for 15 months in 1968-69. Both IONA and FIONA have the old-fashioned long keel of the genuine ocean cruiser and when Edith first saw the Westsail 42 on the stocks she exclaimed, “My God, another f-ing IONA!”. This is how FIONA got her name. Our daughter Brenda arrived on the scene in 1971 and it was clear our cruising days were over for a while. When I saw the Westsail 42 I figured I could complete her in about 3 to 4 years. In fact it took 8 years; she was launched in 1983. The interior is mostly mahogany and teak. The head liner and most bulkheads are made of white Formica glued to plywood. I added some structural re-inforcing in the form of 1 ½ inch diameter stainless steel poles between the hull and cabin top. These are also very handy to grab for when the boat rolls unexpectedly. The engine is an 85-hp Perkins diesel. The engine room is lined with 1/16 inch thick lead sheet for sound-proofing. There is an engine-driven cold-plate freezer . Eric originally built this using the compressor off a Chrysler Newport air conditioner but in 2004 he installed a ‘Sea Frost’ freezer kit which uses the newer R134A refrigerant. Electric power is generated while sailing by an alternator coupled to the propeller shaft.
About Eric & Edith
Eric and Edith Forsyth were both recruited by Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, New York in 1960. Eric was completing graduate studies at the University of Toronto, prior to that he had served as a fighter pilot in the RAF. Edith qualified as a physician at Manchester University (UK) in 1956 when she was 23 and married Eric in 1958 in Canada. They learned to sail on Bellport Bay and made their first transatlantic crossing as crew in 1964. In 1965 they purchased the Dutch-built KOK 35 sloop they named IONA. Their son Colin was born the same year. In 1968 they sold their house in Brookhaven and Eric sailed IONA to the Caribbean. Edith joined him with Colin and their 8-year-old cat. By late 1969 they were broke and Eric reluctantly returned to work at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Their daughter Brenda was born in 1971 and Edith then started a private practice. FIONA was delivered as a bare hull in 1975 and completed in 1983. During that period they chartered in the Caribbean and sailed with friends. Eric participated as navigator in 6 Newport to Bermuda Races between 1972 and 1982. From 1984 to 1989 FIONA made long summer cruises, Edith joined the boat at the destination by air as her medical practice was very busy by then. In 1990, shortly after returning from a sojourn aboard FIONA in French Polynesia Edith was stricken by ovarian cancer and died in September, 1991. Eric returned to FIONA a month later with two young men and they quickly repaired the ravages of the year left unattended in the tropics and the visitation of thieves. They sailed from Tahiti in late November, 1991 and rounded Cape Horn in January 1992. The 16,000 nm trip to Bermuda took five months with stops at only six ports. Eric made two long summer cruises in 1993 and 1994 to Newfoundland and Labrador. He retired in 1995 and sailed around the world. FIONA was damaged by heavy weather off the N. Brazilian Coast in late 1995 and after repairs in the Caribbean left via the Panama Canal for the circumnavigation in January 1996, returning to Long Island in September 1997. In July 1998 he sailed to Easter Island and the Chilean Canals, revisited Pt. Williams and crossed the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula. On the way home he sailed to South Georgia, Tristan da Cunha, Cape Town, St Helena, Brazil, Barbados, St Martin and Bermuda. A six-week fall sail to Maine rounded out 1999. In the 2000/2001 cruise Eric sailed to the High Arctic, Spitzbergen, Norway, Scotland, Ireland, Portugal and the Caribbean. Another cruise to Maine in August and September completed 2001. Eric was awarded the Blue Water Medal of the Cruising Club of America in January, 2001. This was a 21,784 mile voyage, completed in ten months with a crew that varied between one and two young men. Furthermore, Forsyth wrote copious descriptions of his entire cruise including a special guide to the Patagonian passages, including mileage of each segment, fuel consumption, and all the features of the land and nature encountered.” Eric completed another circumnavigation in 2002/2003. The cruise followed the track of the old clipper ships around the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin and Cape Horn. Fiona suffered a fair amount of wear and tear on the trip, necessitating a big refit in the winter of 2003/2004. Eric sailed to Canada, Europe, South America and the Falkland Islands in 2004/5. The long cruise in 2006/7 took Eric to the Antarctic Circle. Capt Forsyth was honored in November, 2007, at the annual convention of the Seven Seas Cruising Association with the presentation of the Seven Seas Award.
Iceland to Norway[/lang_all][lang_all]
Alesund, Norway August 2000 Fiona will soon be heading for Scotland and as we leave the Arctic Circle it seems an appropriate point to the list our adventures so far. On board, as we left Patchogue in mid-June, 2000, was myself, John, an Englishman who flew over specifically to join this caper and Chris, a German physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory who was squeezing out a month’s vacation in order to sail as far as Iceland. We should have stayed in port: as we sailed out of Fire Island Inlet we encountered a stiff easterly wind that did not let up for a couple of days as we clawed our way to Block Island. Normally this leg takes about 20 hours from Patchogue, this time it took us a day and two-thirds, it was midnight when we picked up a mooring in the Great Salt Pond, Block Island. A good night’s sleep, a brisk walk to the Southeast light-house and supper at Ballards restored our good spirits. We left the next morning, bright and early, for a sail to the Cape Cod Canal and a mooring at Provincetown, on the top of Cape Cod. Here the best entertainment is to sit on a bench in front of the Town Hall and watch the throng passing by. The prize goes to a creation on 6-inch platform shoes dressed in gauzy pink, of indeterminate gender. Probably there is no greater contrast to Provincetown than Lunenburg in Nova Scotia. We tied up there after a three day trip across the Gulf of Maine, mostly in foggy, windless conditions. Lunenburg was one of the leading fishery and shipbuilding ports on the Nova Scotia coast. Now the collapse of the cod fishing has had a dramatic impact. There is an interesting museum devoted to the Atlantic fishing business including a genuine Grand Banks schooner. Tied up at the Scotia Trawler dock we encountered a fascinating yachtie – Bill Butler. He and his wife survived 66 days in a life raft in the Pacific after their sailboat was sunk by a whale (they think). He now has a new wife and a new boat. Our next stop was in St Johns, Newfoundland. St Johns was England’s first colony, a tribute to the enormous value of the cod fisheries, now fished out. It is the capital of Newfoundland, and an impoverished town. The residents are extremely pleasant, one cruising couple invited us over to their apartment for supper. It is unnerving for a New Yorker to step into the street and finding all the traffic grinding to a halt, crosswalk or not. The residents complain a lot about the weather. The passage to Iceland took 11 days. The logbook is full of “foggy”. The Labrador Current, coming down the Davis Strait on our port gave us plenty of fog, sometimes calm, sometimes winds to 25 kt. The period of darkness fell to a 3 or 4 hours as we gained northing. The boom and sail dripped and condensation appeared in the cabin. The seawater temperature fell into the 40’s. Chris was not impressed. It reminded me of my first transatlantic passage with John and Barbara Knight aboard Arvincourt. When we entered the snug harbor at Reykjavik we found a NATO exercise in full swing with six frigates tied up. The public telephones in the town were very busy with crew calling home. Reykjavik is a pleasant town with striking architecture. Virtually all the buildings are heated by geothermal springs as Iceland lies on a major fault line in the earth’s crust. These springs also provide electric power in such abundance that Iceland is a smelter of aluminum using bauxite transported from half way around the world. The thought crossed my mind that when we run out of fossil fuel the Icelanders will still be warm and and running cars using hydrogen obtained by electrolysis. In Iceland a friend of a fellow South Bay Cruising Club member, Eli, had been prepped to meet us- he was waiting on the dock when we tied up. He was a treasure, we had a great supper with him and his partner, Hilda, in their modern apartment. On the day Chris flew home he gave us a tour of the southwestern corner of Iceland. Near the coast the terrain is barren; jumbled rock with little vegetation. Inland it is a little greener. We walked through the rift which is slowly tearing Iceland in half. It is in a dramatic setting and was the site of the first parliament when the Vikings settled Iceland in the 900’s. It was a society ridden with blood feuds- parliament was a neutral place with weapons laid aside. We had an elegant meal with Eli and Hilda in a small restaurant one evening which was astonishingly expensive by American standards. Perhaps it was the fare: smoked puffin for appetizer. One can only wonder at the energy and productivity of the Icelanders: it is a fully functioning democratic society with good social services, international and national airlines, ferries, a fishing fleet, etc and virtually free energy (but imported fuel is very expensive), all with a population of 280,000 souls. When Chris left we were joined by Doug, a recently retired professor of oceanography who flew in after just completing a field trip to the Great Barrier Reef. He likes his life to be full of contrast, obviously.[/lang_all][lang_all] After leaving Reykjavik we sailed by Surtsey, an island formed in the 1960’s by a volcanic eruption off the south coast. After that we tied up next to a trawler in the Vestmann Islands. Legend has it that they were first inhabited by escaped Irish slaves during the Viking period, figuring no one would venture to such a wild place. But the Vikings tracked them down and killed them anyway.
The main island, Heimaey, was threatened by an eruption in 1973 when a river of lava might have closed off the harbor. They imported dozens of big diesel driven water pumps and cooled down the flow so now the lava forms a nice breakwater, the harbor was saved. We climbed to the top of the volcano, Eldfel, which is still gently steaming and warm underfoot. Halfway up is a monument to the occasion when the harbor and town were threatened- a rusting diesel engine and pump!
Our next landfall was Jan Mayen Island, north of the Arctic Circle. We were not sure if we would be able to land- there is no harbor thus one must get ashore by dinghy and, perhaps more of an obstacle, prior permission is required from a Norwegian government office on the mainland. The passage was a study in contrasts: high winds then calm, fog then sunshine. The nights grew shorter. A day before we arrived the first sign of engine trouble surfaced. Early in the morning the smoke detector in the engine room clanged away; there was steam everywhere, the engine had lost its cooling water. The leak was in the water pump, the problem would continue to plague us, as you will learn. Jan Mayen is dominated by a 9000 ft or so high volcano, permanently covered with snow. When we had it in sight we called on the radio and were directed to anchor in Walrus Bay, on the west side of the island. It was late afternoon when we finally got there and conditions were calm. We were formally given permission to land “for two hours” and a knot of people met us on the rocky beach, including the station commander. I think the two hour limit was simply to meet some official directive about admitting strangers to the island, we stayed over five hours. A jeep-like vehicle transported us to the main base 18 km away, dubbed ‘Aluminum City’ from the style of the clustered buildings there. Twenty six people live on the island manning radio transmitters and a meteorological station. There is a sprinkling of women, we met a couple in the cozy lounge while being served tea and cake. First our guide insisted we take a shower- towels and soap were ready. Was that for our benefit or theirs? After visiting most of the facilities and a small museum we return to the beach. Even though it was after midnight it was quite light. In the museum were some pieces of a German Kondor that crashed on Jan Mayen during WW II. It was probably damaged spotting Allied convoys that were often routed this far north. The pilot obviously hoped for a successful crash-landing on this rocky island but all six aboard were killed, a story we will never learn.
It was still clear when we left and we got several snaps of the volcano, Beerenberg , as we left. According to the guide book we carried, the peak the Beerenberg can only be seen one day in a hundred, so we were lucky. We got good ice charts from the met office in Jan Mayen. The pack ice was a little further south than usual this year.
The last tendril of the Gulf Steam is deflected along the west coast of Svalbard (also known as Spitzbergen), this causes the pack ice to be further north close to the coast. As we sailed northeast from Jan Mayen we encountered northerly winds which pushed the sea ice to the south. We finally encountered ice at 78o 37’N, about 10% sea coverage. Some of the floes were 100 ft long and perhaps 10ft high. John spotted a dark object on one but it slid into the sea on our approach, it was probably a seal. We started the engine to keep maneuverability and took lots of photos, we had no difficulties working free of the ice as we sailed east and a day later we raised Ny Alesund, near the north coast.
At 79o N it claims to be the world’s most northerly settled town. It was founded in the 1920’s as a coal mining village but a series of explosions, culminating in a shocker in the 1960’s, shut down mining operations. For the last couple of decades it has been the home of a number of teams interested in high arctic scientific research. It is very busy in summer with visiting investigators, a few hardy ones winter over. I talked to one British scientist who knew Dave Burkett , the chief at Port Lockeroy, who I met in 1999 during the Antarctic cruise- small world. A museum full of mining artifacts and photos testifies to the hard life the miners and their families lead. Some coal mines (mostly operated by Russians) are still in business in other parts of Svalbard. Ny Alesund must be one of the few places on earth where you are not allowed ashore WITHOUT a gun. Doug had put his 12 gauge shotgun aboard before we left New York and it was checked by a policeman on our arrival. The danger is polar bears, which in summer move north with the receding pack ice looking for seals to eat. For some reason a few forget to go north and they hang around the coast looking for something else to eat- you! This is a historic spot in the story of arctic exploration.
Many expeditions set out from Ny Alesund, for example the tower for mooring Nobile’s dirigible, in which he flew over the North Pole in the 20’s, is still there, about half a mile from the dock. We tied up next to a very interesting fellow, Hans, who had built his own steel sailboat which he charters each summer to scientists going further north. The same length as Fiona, she weighed 50% more- the bottom and bow were made of steel plate over an inch thick. I asked how far north he had sailed and he replied 83o N in a good year, this must be a record for a yacht; only 420 miles from the pole. One afternoon as John and I walked into the village an Arctic fox raised havoc among the nesting terns by searching for eggs. Ultimately it found one despite the distracting attacks by the terns and then scampered away.
After a couple of days we sailed down the scenic Forelandsundet, a spectacular 90 mile journey past high mountains and wide glaciers to Longyearbyen , the capital of Svalbard. This too, was a coal mining village and overhead cables and supports dot the rugged terrain. Although the population is under 2,000 the village boasts “the second best restaurant in Norway”, to quote a guidebook. Doug felt a trip there for the crew after all our hardships ought to be his treat and so one evening off we trooped. The room was impressive: gleaming glasses and plates on snowy table cloths, each setting had four knives and forks, not counting the little fork for desert. Now it has always been my maxim that the bill is proportional (not necessarily linearly) to the number of forks, in the past I have steered the guys away from places with only two forks. Four forks would be a new point on the curve. The meal was indeed sumptuous, the wine list ran to about six pages. The waitress was disappointed we only ordered one bottle, as each course appeared she suggested the appropriate bottle, which we declined. Doug did pay the bill, for which we thanked him. It was in the stratosphere. On the day we arrived as we walked past the police station on the way into town we noticed the police unloading three dead polar bears from a trailer. Apparently they consisted of a mother and two two-year old cubs. The mother was shot by a Polish scientist at a base out of town when it destroyed some equipment. The police shot the cubs, which appeared fully grown to me, as a precaution based on past experience. It was tragic to see these wonderful animals lying supine and bloodied. Alcoholism must be a problem in these northern communities, we discovered residents are rationed as to how much they can buy and they are given a ration card. Unfortunately visitors don’t get a ration, we had hoped to add a couple of cases of beer to our dwindling stock. Fortunately Hans showed up and when he learned of our plight, got himself a card (he resides permanently in Svalbard) and went with me to a store to get a case. One evening we went to a pub in town for a quiet drink before returning to the boat. When the owner heard our accents he insisted on setting up tots of vodka on the house, to be downed in one gulp, Russian style. After the fifth round we staggered home in the light of midnight sun. While in Ny Alesund I had called my ship’s wife, Red, in Bellport on the phone and asked him to mail a new water pump for the engine to my English friend Derek who is planning to join FIONA at the end of August. Since Jan Mayen it had been necessary to add fresh water to the system whenever we ran the engine, but I felt we could live with that for a few weeks. This turned out to be a miscalculation. Shortly after we left Svalbard, while still under power, there was a loud shriek from the engine room followed by the now familiar clamor of the smoke detector. This time it really had detected smoke- the pump had seized up solid and the slipping fan belt had caught fire. Our destination was the Lofoten Islands about 600 miles to the south, but still above the Arctic Circle. After I removed the pump it was clearly past fixing on board- broken ball bearings fell into my hand as I pulled it apart. Thus we decided to head for Bodo (pronounced Buddha), a fairly large town just south of the Lofotens. One problem was that without the engine we had no way of keeping the batteries charged, so we instituted rigorous electrical economy, no heater and only one side of a tape at happy hour. As we sailed south Murphy struck again: the jib fairlead came loose, the sheet chaffed on the after turning block and broke. The subsequent flogging of the jib caused the roller furler foils to separate and the jib got ripped. This left us with only the main and staysail as a means of propulsion.
Over the next few days we rigged a spare bilge pump so we could run the engine and we stitched the jib so it could be hanked onto a temporary stay. We crossed the south end of the Lofotens near the infamous Maelstrom and tied up at Bodo eight days out from Svalbard. We were able to contact a charming lady sailmaker who bore away the jib for some TLC. Next to us was a 103 year old Colin Archer sailboat owned by an amazing character called Steinar. When we said we needed a new water pump he cell-phoned an acquaintance on a nearby island who ran a diesel repair business and arranged to have a new one shipped to the airport by the local SAS carrier that afternoon. By half past-five on the day we arrived I had the new pump in my hands. I was deeply impressed by the demonstration of Nordic efficiency. Not only had I the pump I had also paid for it at a bank on the waterfront who transferred the money electronically to the vendor’s account. The next day I installed the pump while Doug and John took a bus ride to some of the local scenic spots including Saltstraumen, the fastest flowing tidal stream in the world (20 kts). A couple of days later our sail was delivered and we left for an abbreviated cruise to the Lofoten Islands.
These islands, lying about 30 miles off the Norwegian coast, are famous for their mountainous beauty and rugged coast line. The night we crossed over the wind piped up and we ducked into the old whaling port of Skrova for shelter. Later in the day we ran downwind to Stamsund, which is Steinar’s home port. He was nice enough to pick us up at the boat that evening and give us a tour of Vestervagen island.
On the morrow we caught a bus to the interior to visit a reconstructed Viking long house and ship. Although the coasts of these islands are forbidding and look like the homes of trolls the interiors are quite gentle, with fertile valleys, farms and grassy meadows. A veritable northern Shangri-la.
We visited two quite charming fishing villages, one of them, Nusfjord, is a world heritage site, we liked the pub there anyway.
Then we left the islands from Reine for the 400 mile leg to Alesund on the Norwegian mainland, crossing the Arctic Circle on our way south. This concludes the arctic phase of the cruise, since leaving New York we have logged 5,493 nautical miles.[/lang_all][lang_all]
Arctic, Scotland, Portugal
Lisbon, Portugal October 2000
We are tied up in the magnificent marina that forms part of the impressive Expo 98 site in Lisbon. It is quite definitely the end of a phase in the cruise. We have spent nearly three months since leaving Norway mostly day sailing: tied up or anchored each night in Scotland, Ireland and Portugal. This is reflected in the mileage logged: only 2,207 nm since leaving Norway. But the next leg will bring the average up; Madeira then St Martin in the Caribbean by Christmas. Before that I will fly to New York for a couple of weeks. When we left Norway we saw the Northern Lights for the first time in the cruise; further north it was too light but the apple green curtain appeared in the northern sky after sunset as we ploughed our way to the Shetland Islands. We also sailed through the North Sea oil field; one evening we had twenty rigs in sight at the same time. As we approached the islands the wind piped up on the nose and we gave up the idea of making Lerwick by nightfall, instead we tacked into a wide bay on the southeast side of Fetlar Island, with gale force 7 forecast we gratefully dropped the hook before dark and contemplated the barren landscape: almost treeless with a few isolated farms. The next day was an easy sail to the capital, Lerwick. This old town of sturdy, stone buildings was a great introduction to what would be a dominant motif of this part of the cruise; European history. Lerwick is so picturesque, with twisting quaint streets that scarcely run twenty yards before disappearing round a corner, that it could form a set for ‘Brigadoon’. Doug was delighted to be re-acquainted with the typical highland pub. An overnight sail brought us to Kirkwall, the principle town of the Orkneys. We tied up next to several rather dirty and smelly fishing boats. We toured the island by bus and stopped off in Stromness, just in time to visit the beer festival held at a Victorian edifice called the Stromness Hotel. We also visited the Stromness museum, which had a section devoted to the Hudson’s Bay Company. Many of their factors (supervisors of the trading post) came from the Orkneys. It was in Stromness that half-Indian children were sent to school; the offspring of the Orkney men and their (temporary) Indian wives. I suspect it was very cold at those HBC trading posts in winter. There was also an exhibit about one of my favorite Arctic explorers; John Rae. In Kirkwall itself there are the wonderful ruins of Patrick Stewart’s Palace, a magnificent 16th-century building next to the cathedral. South of Kirkwall lies Scapa Flow, the deep-water harbor used by the British Royal Navy north sea fleet for many years. In 1918 the German fleet surrendered here at the conclusion of WWI, nearly seventy ships. A year later the commanding admiral, Von Reuter, convinced the Versailles peace talks were going badly for Germany, ordered all the ships scuttled. On receiving the secret prearranged signal the skeleton crews on every ship simultaneously sank them. At the time a party of school children was touring the impressive sight in a launch. Goodness knows what they thought as each mighty battleship began to sink and turn turtle. “It wasn’t my fault, miss, honestly, I didn’t touch anything!” Salvaging the wrecks provided work in the Orkneys for years. There is some suspicion that the Brits colored the reports of the treaty negotiations received by the German admiral, as they did not really want a competitive battle fleet left in Europe in the post-war years. We powered overnight to Inverness across a calm sea full of coastal traffic. At Inverness John signed off and we were joined by Colin, a serious Englishman who was studying for his Royal Yachting Association (RYA) skipper’s ticket, I had known him many years ago when he spent a sabbatical leave at my laboratory on Long Island. [/lang_all][lang_all] In addition my old friend Derek and his wife, Hilary, joined us briefly for the passage through the Caledonian Canal to the Atlantic Ocean. The passage is real fun, there are lunchtime and evening tie-ups, often near castle ruins or charming Scottish pubs. The highlight is a traversal of Loch Ness, of Monster fame. The highland scenery is magnificent the whole way. There are a couple of dozen locks and FIONA was raised to over a hundred feet above sea level. When Derek and Hilary left us at Fort William we sailed to Tobermory on the island of Mull. We took a bus ride to Craignur, where a gimmicky narrow gauge steam railway transport tourists to a restored family castle and garden called Torosay. By sheer chance the late owner, David James, was in the Royal Navy in 1944 when he helped build the base at Port Lockroy in Antarctica, the southerly destination of FIONA’S 1998-99 cruise. Before that he had served on MTB’s in the channel, got captured, busted out of the POW camp and was subsequently posted to the Antarctic to keep him out of more trouble. From Tobermory our destination was Coll, a remote island on the western fringes of Scotland with a population of 140 hardy souls. The forecast was not good, gales, gales, and our anchorage was open to the south. The next day we left with the hope of sailing to Ireland, but wind and seas were against us, the forecast was force 8, perhaps 9, so with rare prudence we altered course for a cove on the SW corner of Mull. We sailed past Staffa on the way with Fingal’s Cave on the south side. On entering the cove the engine refused to start and we anchored under sail. The problem lay with the starter motor, after a couple of greasy hours in the engine room. I changed the starter for the spare which FIONA had carried on all her previous voyages without ever being needed. The SW gales persisted but never mind; we were only four miles from Iona, so a bus ride and a trip on the ferry landed us there for a tour of the famous abbey. By the 6th century AD monks were discovering the western islands and establishing themselves there, goodness knows why. The living must have been terribly hard. Later the Vikings made life even tougher. The abbey has been restored and is used today as a religious retreat. The museum contains some great 12th and 13th century effigies of dead knights displaying the Norse influence. The nunnery, established in the 12th century, lies in ruins. A westerly wind gave us hard sail past Bloody Foreland, the NW corner of Ireland and in view of the time lost at Mull we sailed right past the mouth of Donegal Bay without stopping and anchored at Clifden, in County Galway, two days out from Mull.[/lang_all][lang_all] Clifden is an interesting town, it is about as far west as you can get in the British Islands. For years Marconi maintained a radio transmitting station nearby in the early part of the century. When Alcock and Brown made the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic in 1922 they crash-landed at Clifden. The mayor at the time, bedeviled by the poverty of the area, envisaged a great airport because of the proximity to the American continent. We took a bus ride to Galway, the nearest city. As the bus trundled along the coast road I was struck by the harshness of the countryside; vast gray-green rocky outcropping interspersed with bogs. Here and there stood the gable ends of small, ruined cottages, probably abandoned in the Great Famine of the 1850’s. More on that subject later. From Clifden we beat past Slyne Head with a moderate wind and headed for the Aran Islands. We moored in Kilronan harbor, on the largest of the islands; Inishmore. Until very recently life was hard on those islands, located on the fringes of the Atlantic Ocean west of Galway. A famous documentary, “Man of Aran” made by Robert Flaherty in the 1930’s, is shown several times daily at the visitor center. In order to grow anything the islanders had to scrounge soil from cracks in the rocks and mix it with seaweed. Now they just go to the supermarket. There is a fantastic iron-age fort on the west side of Aran overlooking a 300 ft vertical cliff. In some ways it reminded me of the defensive Maori settlements I saw in New Zealand in 1996. Apparently in all primitive societies there were always people who found it easier to kill and steal rather than toil to produce food. Have we changed much? When we returned to the boat we found the wind was forecast to be NW for the night so we slipped the mooring for an overnight sail to Dingle. Any help in sailing round the prominent capes, which jut out to the SW, was welcome. This part of Ireland is full of pre-Viking monasteries, on a tour our guide claimed 440 AD for the founding of the earliest, which I felt was a little fishy as that would pre-date the arrival of Christianity in the British Isles. Still the ruins are obviously very ancient. One small building, possibly 8th century, known as the Gallarus Oratory, is still in perfect condition and quite watertight. It is constructed of dry stone, no mortar is used, even for the roof. The ruins of many churches in the area contain graves from the 12th century and again reflect the enormous Viking influence after about 1000 AD. It seemed to rain continuously during our stay in Dingle. From Dingle we sailed, again with a NW wind, to Sneem Harbor which is a very pleasant, wooded, anchorage. It is a two-mile walk to the village itself, a picture perfect Irish village with a rustic bridge over a gurgling river. As we were leaving to walk back to the boat a van in the small market area was displaying antiques for sale. There were several small oil paintings in heavy, old-fashioned, gift frames. The owner said he had got them from a nunnery which was being closed. One of small fishing boats clawing off a stormy coast caught my eye and I hesitantly asked the price. When he quoted forty pounds (about $50) I could not resist buying it. At that price Colin also bought one. It left us with the problem of getting them back on board via the dinghy and then protecting them until we could get them home. When Colin examined his painting more closely at home he fund our ‘paintings’ were actually varnished prints – but they look nice! We sailed from Sneem to Dursey Sound, a turbulent, tide-wracked strait, and then to an anchorage at Castletown, where we refueled at the fishing boat dock in the morning. We were now on the south coast of Ireland and were through with beating past rocky capes sticking out in the Atlantic. On the way to Kinsale we sailed past the imposing edifice of Fastnet Rock lighthouse. From Kinsale we had a relatively short sail in heavy weather to Crosshaven; we tied up at the Royal Cork Yacht Club, (RCYC) our final port in Ireland, where we planned to rest up for week before leaving for Portugal. [/lang_all][lang_all] In fact there was not a lot of resting achieved: apart from a few repairs to the boat it had to be restocked for the next leg. In addition my Aunt May flew in from London with her sons and we had a couple of days in their rented car seeing the sights and chasing down a little family history in Cork. The attentive readers of these newsletters (there must be one or two) will recall I visited my great-grandmother’s grave on Barbados in 1999 on the return trip from Antarctica. When she died in 1880 her husband returned to Cork and married her sister. Their house is listed in a 1900 census. So, in the pouring rain, May, my cousins and myself tramped through some fairly mean streets looking for my great-grandfather’s old addresses. We did find one, (and perhaps two, streets have changed so much in a hundred years) it has been greatly gentrified and looks like it’s worth a million dollars. We also visited Cobh (pronounced ‘Cove’) which is perhaps better known as Queenstown, when it was the last European port for many transatlantic liners. In the old railway station, now no longer used for trains, there is an Irish Heritage center. Naturally there is much of the great emigration from Ireland in the 19th century, many left from Queenstown and probably arrived there at that very station. I was surprised at the different emphasis on the tragedy of the Great Famine and subsequent emigration by the Irish as opposed to the Irish-American view. In the latter the villains are the English who allegedly refused to provide aid and encouraged emigration to clear the land. The Irish view is more balanced, I thought: that the land was too poor to support so many peasants and well meaning people in Ireland and England tried to help. When the potato blight was added the problem was overwhelming. The same benefactors provided money for emigration because it was genuinely felt that the only chance for the poor peasants (who generally agreed) to lead better life was in the New World. When we arrived at the RCYC I renewed my friendship with Barbara and Frank Fitzgibbon, who live nearby. We first met during the circumnavigation, 1995-97. Barbara and Frank have a lovely house overlooking the approach to Crosshaven. They invited myself and the crew to dinner and later sponsored a cruising evening at the yacht club when we showed the video of the Antarctic cruise (1998-99). When we left Ireland we had a stiff NW gale behind us that gave us more than 180 nm made good in the first twenty four hours, but then the wind switched to SW and we sailed close-hauled, sometimes in gale strength. Near 44oN we sailed into a high that produced lighter wind which finally headed us before dying out and we motored the last eighty miles to Viana do Castelo in Portugal. The swell from the remains of Hurricane Isaac a few hundred miles to the NW caused impressive waves at the mole guarding the entrance to the harbor. It had taken us five days from Ireland. As soon as we got to Portugal there was a noticeable improvement in the weather and Doug was moved to put on shorts for the first time this cruise. However he enjoyed only a day in Viana before leaving for the U.S. His place was taken by Bill Steenberg who was actually waiting on the dock at the marina as we pulled in. Bill sailed on FIONA last year on the Cape Town to New York leg and has signed up for the transatlantic run to St Martin. Viana do Castelo is a charming town with pleasant plazas, restaurants and pastelarias (my favorite: a variety of cakes and tarts with coffee). There is an imposing church on a hill overlooking the town which is reached by means of the elevador, or funicular. We took a bus to Porto when we tied up in Leixoes, which gave us a chance to see the countryside. The Portuguese are a lovely people, but they do love their dogs, so when walking in town it pays to do so penitently, with head bowed. Many of the harbors on the coast are about thirty-five miles apart. Sailing from one to the other is quite feasible during a daylight run. This set the pattern of our Portuguese cruise – a day sail followed by one or two days in port to allow exploration of early attractions. Porto is not recommended for yachts due to heavy seas that frequently break on the bar of the River Douro. It is a fascinating town, almost vertical in places with red-roofed houses crammed into the slopes. On the south bank are the famous port wine cellars, from which all port is shipped after aging. A tour of the Sandeman cellars revealed why I am quite partial to port: it is 20% brandy, added to ‘fortify’ it. From Leixoes we sailed to Aveiro, just an overnight anchorage on the river, then we headed for Figueira da Foz, a nice seaside resort. We took a bus to Leiria to inspect the old castle and the next day a train ride to Coimbra. There is an amazing miniature village, which predates Disney World by about fifty years. But the main point of interest is the site of the country estate where Inez de Castro was murdered in the 14th century. Now it is a very up-market hotel but they have preserved a small building called the ‘Font d’Amores’. The story of Inez is fascinating so here it is: Prince Pedro, the son of King Afonso IV of Portugal was forced into an arranged marriage with a noble lady. Although they had three children the marriage was loveless, typical of the political maneuvering of the period. Pedro fell in love with a lady-in-waiting called Inez and moved her onto an estate at Coimbra. Inez was Spanish and the King was very concerned that Portugal would become embroiled in the feuding between Aragon and Castile. When Pedro’s wife died during the birth of her third child the king decided Inez was too much of a threat and sent three knights to kill her. They tracked her down to Coimbra and stabbed the defenseless lady to death – so much for chivalry. It was at the Font d’Amores, close to the scene of her death, that Pedro and Inez first made love, according to the legend and the tourist bureau. A year later Afonso died and Pedro assumed the throne. He had been distraught over the death of his beloved Inez and now he had revenge of sorts. He caught two of the three knights, who died rather cruelly. He then had Inez disinterred from the Monastery of St Clara and the body moved to Alcobaca. Before reburial Inez was cleaned up and sat on a throne wearing the crown of Portugal. Pedro made his nobles kneel before her and swear allegiance while kissing her boney hand. Pretty macabre. When we were tied up at Nazare we took a bus to Alcobaca, where Pedro and Inez still lie near each other under elaborate effigies in the vast Monastery. From Nazare we sailed to Cascais near Estoril and then arranged to spend a month at the Expo 98 marina in Lisbon. The Expo is still going strong with crowds on the weekends. The aquarium is fantastic, it is one of the largest in the world. The buildings are most imaginative and interesting. Bill has left for a couple of weeks with friends in Zimbabwe and soon I will fly to New York. Colin has gone home having accumulated enough sea miles to get his RYA skippers license and having learned how to plot running fixes from sun sights. Total mileage for the trip so far is 7,701 nm.
Capt. Eric Forsyth
To be continued…