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Monday, 16 April 2018
Sunday, 8 April 2018
Thursday, 22 March 2018
Tuesday, 12 December 2017
Thursday, 30 November 2017
Sunday, 5 November 2017
Wednesday, 18 October 2017
After 4 days of Tuscan cycling we have arrived in our most exotic hotel accommodation yet. The dimly lit resident’s lounge of the town centre SAN NICCOLO Hotel is a frescoed delight. We are, after all, now closing on Michelangelo country.
All of our accommodation has been fabulous and, sometimes, fabulously cheap. The price being one of the pleasures of cycling through the vineyards and olive groves of Tuscany at the end of the season.
Most days we pedal around 50km and on our most strenuous day we managed 1,200m of ascent. The hills hold no fears for electric legs but Sally and I remain firmly rooted in the age of steam. For us the hills of Tuscany mean sweat and toil as electric legs and electric lungs pass effortlessly by with the merest hum betraying their pedal pushing assistant. We catch them up at the hill crests where they wait patiently enjoying the autumn colours in the Tuscan landscape.
Lunch is usually in a medieval town centre preceded by some interminable battle with Italian one way systems and mischievous signposting. Asking for directions, as we did disastrously last night, usually leads to a long and unplanned descent down steep, cobbled streets and then a long climb back up to find we were in the right place to start with.
We are cycling through Chianti Country and the route is punctuated by expansive vineries and invitations to taste their ware. A fine bottle of Chianti accompanied last night’s meal and I am sure there will be more to follow tonight.
Monday, 16 October 2017
Sunday, 15 October 2017
Electric Lungs & Electric Legs
On the river Arno flood plain it was barely possible to discern the difference between eBikers Rosemarie and Seppl and Luddites -relying on lungs - Sally and Simon. It helped that Ro picked up some thorns that did for her front tyre twice. But on the first hills of Tuscany they switched on their electric legs and electric lungs and effortlessly shot past us leaving us sweating and puffing in their wake. The good news is we had the map so inevitably, at the crest of every hill, the hares and the tortoises met up again.
In all today we pedalled 50km after a late start building the bikes after their journey with Jet2.com. A little mist swathed the pastures around Pisa but it was thin enough to let the sun burn through and, as it did so, the temperature rose to the early twenties. We dodged on and off roads to add miles to our day and this included following a long meander of the river Arno on top of a flood defence dyke. That’s where Rosemarie found her punctures.
On Sunday most Tuscan bars and restaurants are closed at this time of year but we did find a lovely lunch in the centre of Pontedera where we pondered where to stay over an Americano. On Booking.com Rosemarie found a ludicrously cheap b&b which we pedalled up to though the first of the Tuscan hills. The B&B was idyllically perched on the summit with the valley below lit up in the afternoon sun. A perfect place to rest the bikes and recharge the batteries.
Friday, 13 October 2017
The bikes are boxed
The bikes are boxed and we will soon be Tuscany bound to rendezvous with eBikers Rosemarie and Seppl. They will have electrons pushing the pedals whereas we will be relying on muscles made flaccid by a summer of sailing. Plenty of excuses then to call a halt on a regular basis to top up the batteries and the caffeine levels.
As hurricane Ophelia bears down on the Irish Sea we will hop on a Jet2.com flight to Pisa to begin a leisurely pedal around Tuscany. The weather forecast for Italy is for a cycle friendly 22 degrees and light winds so we have packed very little in deference to our atrophied musculature. Packed little apart from the bikes that is. They have been dismantled and squeezed into to big, airline friendly, bike boxes that now fill the back of our estate car.
So tomorrow we have to manoeuvre 60kg of bike and box through the crowds at Manchester Airport and somehow shoehorn them into a taxi to our B&B in Pisa. Then an evening of oily hands and bike re-assembly in readiness to take on the eBikers. Let the battle begin!
Thursday, 28 September 2017
Sunday, 17 September 2017
Tuesday, 12 September 2017
Greenland 2017 from Simon Currin on Vimeo.
Sunday, 3 September 2017
Friday, 1 September 2017
The overalls are neatly folded and packed and the last hose clip has been tightened. Sally has blitzed the boat with her vacuum and the bilges would be gleaming if it weren't for the pink antifreeze sloshing around to protect the pumps The dehumidifier is set to 'Sahara' to suck the last bit of moisture out of the boat. Tomorrow morning we throttle the dehumidifier back to a more sensible and temperate setting before closing the hatch, turning the key and taking the taxi to the airport.
The sailing season is all too short in these northern waters and we have had the best of it. Our season started with a spring cruise from Reykjavik to the wintery mountains of Iceland's West Fjords. We left Iceland at the earliest opportunity as decreed by the ice and were one of the first pleasure boats to make a landfall on Greenland's east coast this year. We squeaked through Prins Christian Sund the first day it opened. We then had all of August to meander our way up the coast. Now we are in Aasiaat- the capital of North Greenland at 68 42N. An unglamorous Arctic town which bustles with hunters and young families eking out an existence in a harsh and unforgiving landscape.
With the nights drawing in at great speed it's definitely time to turn our backs on our floating home and leave her to face the winter in the care of Sisak Technik - the Aasiaat shipyard. We have done all that we can to prepare her for her ordeal. We have injected strange coloured fluids into her veins and cosseted all the electrical and mechanical systems.
What next for team Shimshal? Sally and I are already getting excited about sailing south to new continents. We hope to launch in June and potter back south to Maniitsoq waiting for a perfect weather window to cross to Labrador. If we can finesse it with the Canadian authorities we would like to make our landfall in the Tongat Mountains National Park and creep south down the Labrador coast to Battle Harbour before crossing to Newfoundland.
Friends have recommended Lewisport so we will probably leave the boat there before continuing south along Newfoundland's east and south coasts. Our plan, at the moment, is to haul out in Halifax, Nova Scotia at the end of next September. So Shimshal and her crew have much to look forward to.
Before then though Sally and I are most looking forward a cycling trip to Tuscany where we hope not to see icebergs, glaciers and frigid fogs. Life is at it's best when it's full of contrasts!
For the first 3 days in Aasiaat there was unrelenting rain, some wind and Scotch mist. We began to fear that we would never get the sails off and dried for the winter.
A brief respite was forecast for the 4th day and so, immediately after breakfast, all hands were on deck to dry and drop the head sails. Folding a socking great foresail on a narrow deck is, in the skipper's experience, a time to take a low profile as making a three dimensional shape fold flat is not always intuitive. Today he was allowed only to control the halyard and the rate of drop and was thus able to watch, with amusement, the rest of team Shimshal battle it out.
All ended well with the sails bagged and parked in front of the dehumidifier to desicate them to winter storage levels.
Next job was to wrestle the boat cover in place which we completed just as the patter of drizzle returned.
We then took on the indoor jobs of winterising the 2 heads and the two saltwater taps which went without a glitch. With seacock closed we managed to squeeze my oil pump hose down as far as the seacock and backfill with antifreeze. With a jug coupled to the distal pipes we then pumped antifreeze through the taps where we caught it and recycled it into the toilet and bilge pump. We then reconnected everything so that when we come back all we have to do is open the seacocks and away we go!
With the boat now in bits Sally went off to the fire station and bartered a fill for the dive cylinder. A packet of filter coffee and a bag of sugar is the going rate in Aasiaat. She also humped all our home bound gear to the hotel as we have decided to move off the boat for the last 2 nights to get it as dry as possible for the winter layup.
After lunch I attempted to fix the leak from the calorifier with judicious use of some anti-clockwise wound PTFE tape. I'm keeping my fingers crossed in the hope that we do not get that irritating trickle seepage next year.
Meanwhile Sally got us an invitation to a free coffee and cakes event to commemorate the arrival of fibre optic broadband in Aasiaat. We had seen the French cable laying vessel L'Isle des Aux on our trip north and speculated that it might be laying fibre. Sure enough they have, today, completed the laying of a cable from Iceland to Qaqortoq and on to Halifax with a spur up to Aasiaat. It was great to see the town celebrating the arrival of such a crucial bit of infrastructure. At home we just moan that it's slow to get to the countryside. By my reckoning this 30mm diameter cable (they had a sample on the coffee table) must be 3,600 miles long as that's the sailing distance from Reykjavik to Aasiaat and then on to Halifax!
After Sally repaired a rip in the spray hood we called it quits for the day and moved into the hotel for showers, a bed on land and, briefly, super fast broadband.
Tomorrow's jobs are now few. Sally is going to manicure her galley having already drawn up an inventory of remaining food stores and sell-by dates. The boys will disconnect 2/3 of the batteries leaving them to face the winter cold fully charged which should mean that they wont freeze in the expected temperatures. The remaining 1/3 we will keep on trickle charge. That way we can leave the bilge pumps on for the 2 months the boat will be in the water before she is lifted. The latter being an insurance condition.
More or less the last job will be to pump antifreeze through the 4 fresh water taps taking care to ensure we do both the hot and cold circuits.
Our last few days in Greenland have been
and will continue to be busy but Sally and I are already making plans for a return in the spring whilst the sea ice is still here to go dog sledding and snowmobiling. They say the weather here in March and April is stunning!
Thursday, 31 August 2017
Trip statistics for SHIMSHAL's summer cruise 2017
Here's the numbers for this summer's voyage:
Total distance: 1669.68NM
Time moving: 212.16 hours
Average speed: 6.03kn
Max speed: 12.5kn
Trip time: 7 weeks
Anchorages and ports in Greenland: 16
Anchorages and ports in Iceland: 3
Wednesday, 30 August 2017
At 0800 Monday we crept, with just 30cm of water left under the keel, alongside Polaris which was already docked at the shipyard's barge pontoon. Once docked our cruise had ended for the year.
The dock itself was a rusting barge sheltered by a wrecked fishing boat. The shipyard had a rugged and utilitarian look and was littered with both scrapped boats, boat parts and boat 'projects'. This was to be Shimshal's new home for the next 9 months.
We had heard good reports of the yard and despite it's disheveled appearance it was encouraging to watch the care they took over slipping a steel 70' trawler.
It looks like we won't get hauled until November so we are going to have all of the winter preparations in the water which was a challenge we hadn't expected. However we have come well prepared and the no frills chandlery here were only too pleased to sell us the pink antifreeze that's good down to -40C. I'm told it's always preferable not to mix colours with antifreeze and pink is what we had for the last 2 winters in Reykjavik so extra concentrated pink is what we will stick with for Aasiaat.
Aasiaat is renowned for it's dry climate. Imagine then our consternation when rain arrived a couple of hours after us and has stuck around ever since. The scene is truly Scottish with the relentless patter of rain which is forecast for the week. The only difference between here and being tied up at a rough and ready Scottish shipyard is the procession of icebergs that drift past the harbour entrance. Fortunately none thus far have found their way into the harbour.
We are hoping that sometime between now and when we fly home on Saturday the rain will relent long enough to let us get the sails off and dried. If it doesn't then they will move into the hotel with us!
We spent Tuesday winterising the engine and generator and, as always, Tim was a mine of information. His overalls finished the day with new psychedelic antifreeze coloured stains but we were both confident we had done all we could to protect Shimshal's mechanical systems against the savage cold that they will encounter.
First the generator was drained of antifreeze and then topped up with a stronger fix that should be good to -40C. Then the oil was drained and topped up. Then the seawater intake seacock was closed and the hose disconnected so that we could run 5 litres of antifreeze through the sea water cooling system and exhaust.
Then we did the same for the engine but took the lid off the strainer to pour the pink stuff in until it came spurting out of the exhaust when we ran the engine.
All machinery having been thoroughly cosseted we replaced the floor boards and the companionway steps and let Sally and Heather back in who had been banished for the duration to the Fisherman's Mission.
The truth is they hadn't spent all their time at the Mission. As usual they had made good use of the rainy day. The had walked to the HQ of Aasiaat Radio which is the home or Greenland's Marine Safety operation. They really enjoyed meeting the voices that had been our constant VHF radio companions since Prins Christian Sund with messages such as, "Shimshal, Shimshal what is your name?" I gather that Aasiaat Radio too were delighted to put faces to names.
Sally also befriended a rather splendid Maltese yacht tied up on the main wharf. They are one of a handful of boats that have successfully transited the North West Passage this year. The owe their success to flying a drone to discover the leads in what seems to have been a very bad ice year there too. It sounds like plenty of dramas are still being played out in the NWP with boats hemmed in by adverse winds and, of course, the advancing season. Thank goodness we have no aspirations to head west that way. Instead, next year we will head south and west in search of softer scenery and more temperate weather. Canada beckons!
Sunday, 27 August 2017
I think it's true to say that few pleasure boats come this way. Maybe it's the fog, the ice, the cold or the the hit and miss charts that deter people? There's the North Atlantic crossing and the Davis Straits too that are sure to put people off as both have a certain 'reputation'.
Since arriving in Greenland a month ago we have seen only a handful of other yachts and one of those was Alchemy. There was the French boat that passed us going south in the fog as we neared Nanortaliq. There was the other French boat that we overtook going into Nanortaliq as well as the crewless luxury Nordhavn motor cruiser tied up in Nanortaliq. After that nothing for 3 weeks and 500 miles. Until today.
We met two of the Swiss paying guests from the Italian ketch anchored in the bay this morning. They were drinking coffee in the fisherman's hostel. The Italian couple that ran their charter boat had spent a couple of months cruising Disko Bay and were now on route to Halifax, Panama and Alaska.
This afternoon I was busily topping up the fuel tank when the first distraction pounced. A sixty foot steel trawler, built like a tank, nosed in behind us passing our stern with a few centimetres to spare. He came onto the quay at right angles and, in doing so, bisected a raft of speed boats. He then sprung in alongside the quay behind our raft and, as if by magic, the raft of speed boats re-emerged on his starboard with no damage done. I returned to my siphon and my diesel.
I had just set the third diesel can going with the siphon when a yellow American yacht entered the harbour. The yacht came along side us and, from what seemed a very long range, hurled their mooring lines at us. It later turned out that they had broken a steering cable and were struggling to manoeuvre. Sally and I took their lines and tied them alongside us. We chatted about their cruise of Disko Bay and their destination. They were planning to overwinter here in Sisimiut and then head for the North West Passage next year. Then I remembered the diesel siphon!
Too late! The tank was overflowing and a large pool of diesel had accumulated on the deck. Too many distractions for one afternoon but thank goodness we managed to soak it all up with diesel wipes and, as Sally says, "you can never have too much Fairy Liquid!"
Therefore, in the six weeks we have been sailing we have encountered just six other foreign pleasure boats. Not a lot for such a magnificent coastline and vast country.
Tomorrow, Sunday, we will sail at 0700 for Aasiaat and prepare Shimshal for haul out and her long sojourn ashore in the grip of an arctic winter.
Saturday, 26 August 2017
The early morning alarm call went off this morning with a heart stopping sense of urgency. "Tiiiiiiiiim!!!!!" was the yelp that Heather made from the deck above our cabin. Quick as a flash the rest of us were on deck in varying states of undress.
Heather, on her way to the fisherman's hostel, was climbing from Shimshal on to the monster green, steel fishing boat we were tied up against when something had gone wrong. At the exact moment she had her hands on the trawler and her feet on Shimshal the two boats started moving apart leaving Heather straddled between the two as a human gang plank. Luckily the shriek was not followed by a splash and she held on long enough for the boats to come back together with a tug on the stern line.
So began our second day in Sisimiut. Another warm and sunny one. The morning's weather forecast indicated a start the following day for the last leg of a voyage. We thus had all of Saturday to relax and enjoy in Sisimiut now that the first drama of the day was over with no damage done and no clothes to dry.
Top of my list for the day's activities was an Internet fix which saw me cruising the website of Andersen winches. The day before we had removed the electric motor and discovered that the drive train had broken. On the face of it the whole assembly looked in perfect condition and hewn out of solid bronze but it had definitely died after 11 years of very light use. We will take it home and send it back to Andersen to see if they can repair it. The website allowed me to post a support query but didn't enlighten me as to why such a premium marine product had died without warning.
Maritime premium product failures are a recurring theme of Shimshal's voyages. Last year it was the throttle system and now thruster. The throttle cost a fortune to replace. The year before it was an alternator, the autohelm and the Whitlock steerer. All quality products, lightly used and well maintained that had failed suddenly, completely and without warning.
Our last car died after 210,000 miles with little more than an annual service. My current car is 17 years old and goes like a bomb. So why is it that anything designed for a boat, even safety critical items such as throttle and steering, seem to have a license to fail suddenly and catastrophically in away that no car owner would tolerate?
I suppose the production volumes aren't huge so things don't get snagged by millions of users but there does seem to be an element of industry denial at work. When we reported the autohelm failure to the manufacturer their help desk said they had never heard of any such issue. Yet the internet is alive with similar reports. Are they just deaf to trouble or is it they don't train their staff? Maybe they just don't care? One high end navigation light manufacturer faithfully replaced our lights under warranty five times when, year after year, they failed during the season. Despite their obvious, and widely reported, failure the manufacturer still advertises these lights as being, "indestructible, maintenance free and so waterproof they could be used on a submarine"!
Then there's the marine environment. I concede that salt water presents lots of challenges but none of our recent failures have been subjected to salt or showed any sign of corrosion, overuse or abuse.
Some say that intermittent use and, in particular long periods of no use, presents real challenges for engineers. But why should a drive train on an expensive electric motor be more vulnerable because it is used 2 months of the year rather than when in continuous use?
Sailing would be so much more fun and less expensive if the guys that make this things refined their designs and manufacturing processes when their products fail. "Built in obsolescence" was killed off in the motor trade 30 years ago so why do we tolerate it on boats and keep shedding out the dollars?
One of these days things will go legal when a boat's throttle fails off a lea shore and folk die because of it. In my trade we would be prosecuted for man slaughter if we could be shown to have negligently turned a deaf ear to previous reported failures. So why is it different in the marine trade?
Let all us Boaties unite and demand better from those who seek to fleece us.