Sunday, 30 October 2016

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For photos of the adventures of Taipan click.

Monday, 13 June 2016

HELLO FLORES. 13th June 2016

This morning in misty damp conditions we made landfall in Flores, the most northerly and westward island of Portugal. We left Bermuda on the 1st of June in sunny conditions with favorable, if light, wind. The next several days were light as we made our way eastward and gradually north for 1756nm

The sail boat in the middle of the Atlantic is us!
The bulk of the journey was reasonable weather bar the last couple of days which blew over 30kn. Still manageable but less comfortable. This was not a fast trip. Quite and amount of unfavorable current, light wind and then too much sea.

The islands are volcanic in origin and Flores coast line looks very formidable with a high hinterland where the major industry is farming. We are tucked into a tiny marina for our stay in Flores.
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After a rudimentary attempt to bring order to the disorder and disarray aboard Taipan after the passage, we were delighted to be invited by the intrepid trekkers Gerda and Sven of Safari Njema fame, to join them for a "medium difficulty" trek in the high country. Being Swiss, and part mountain goat, we were also somewhat skeptical of the term "medium difficulty"; however, undeterred, we ventured forth with enthusiasm.

Christian, a local German guy picked us up in the morning and we drove through glorious sunshine ever higher to the caldera. The scenery is spectacular and its all framed by hydrangea draped in pink wild roses. The rock walls are testament to generations of tenacious Portuguese settlers who have cleared them from the small fields to create rich fertile farmland.

We commenced walking at the top of the island where several beautiful lakes cluster in the base of the caldera. Low scrubby vegetation interspersed with flowers and moss threaded with sometimes boggy, but predominantly grassy track, provided pleasant strolling for the first few kilometers. Gradually we climbed up to the rim and over the edge where we lunched, overlooking the Atlantic all the way to USA. The next section of the trek was indescribable!! The track suddenly disappeared over a vertical wall and fell several thousand feet to the rock walled fields below.
That is steep!

By the time we had made the decent both David and I were feeling very much in need of a horse or two. Legs were wobbly. Sven and Gerda showed no sign of the ordeal!. Confirming my previous speculation that they are indeed half mountain goat! Upon reflection, it was a fabulous trek however had I know what was involved I would not have gone! 
Thats the cliff we climbed down!

Fortified with coffee and cake at the small restaurant at the base we were collected by Christian and had a "cooks tour" home to the boat to be greeted by Hunda crew and several new boats arriving from Bermuda. Wine o'clock at the neat little cafe overlooking the marina finished the day off nicely.
Its so unspoiled here. No pollution. We have even sourced fresh eggs from the chicken!... and fresh milk, straight from the cow and I cant begin to describe the coffee we make with that.  And to top it off.... its unbelievably cheap! No plans to leave yet!

 More Flores Photos.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016


Royal Naval Dockyard.

Today we received confirmation that the weather window has opened! We are going to leave beautiful Bermuda and head out again into the big blue briny. The total length of the passage to Flores is roughly 1700nm. Not a really long passage but we are expecting less predictability of the weather on this run. We hope to be in in less than 2 weeks. It will of course all  be in the hands of the weather gods. Check out our track on the link to follow our progress. The Iridium Go also enables us to Facebook and post to this blog which we will do if there is anything interesting to report.
A very small piece of Grahame Fosters amazing mural in the Museum.

Bermuda has been a great stopover and we have languished here for nearly 3 weeks enjoying the sights.  We sailed the 17nm down to Hamilton, the capital, and explored the sights for a week. There is plenty to see and do in this delightful small city.

The Anglican Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity.
There are a number of impressive Churches, parks and Historic buildings within easy walk of the waterfront. 

Bermuda Day, a national holiday came and went amidst much frivolity and fervor. The whole island population seemed to be in attendance. Streets were lined with revelers.

Small boat house.

The Royal Naval Dockyard, site of the next Americas Cup and the cruise ship terminal was an entire day outing. There has been a huge effort to restore the old Fort and the National Museum before the Cup.  We caught several glimpses of the Cup contenders practicing in the bay and enjoyed beautiful anchorages in the "lakes" area just off Hamilton. The Cruising brochures could have been filmed here.
One of many beautiful secluded anchorages. Hawkins Isl.
 So now its time to move on. Next adventure beckons.

For more photos from Bermuda click this link. 

Friday, 20 May 2016


Arrived in Bermuda.

This was a motor boat trip. Six and a half days to do 750nm. The sails spent the last few days in the bag. The big blue briny was a rolling, heaving expanse of dunes. We rendezvoused with Safari Njema at 900 am on Monday 9th (day 4) at a pre determined location. It had calmed enough to drop 55 lt in Jerrys for them to retrieve thus enabling them to motor the remaining 300 nm to Bermuda. The forecast showed very light to calm for the next 4 to 5 days.

Safari Njema. Fuel safely aboard.

The transfer was accomplished smoothly, at first pass. We threw them a monkeys fist attached to a long floating line with the 3 jugs tied onto it at about 3 meter intervals. Sven got the line and David dumped the jugs. We turned away, they stopped and hauled the fuel aboard. Teamwork. Taipan carries about 1200nm of fuel. We had extra tankage installed in Phuket before we re-engined. The old engine used more fuel so now we often have too much but we keep them full nonetheless. You just never know if you will need it. Worst case would be broken rig.

Dont know what it is but was delicious.

Little to say about the rest of the trip save that we caught a nice fish and one day the boat was looking like a Chinese laundry with all the washing drying on deck in lieu of sails. We made lots of water, did baking and arrived in Bermuda at dawn on Thursday, refreshed and ready to party.
Bermuda Justice for the nag and gossip!.
The entrance to the harbor is narrow but the channel is deep and well lit. Clearance was simple with no talk of removing any meat, fresh fruit or vegetables, despite info received to the contrary. We tied up right at the Customs building on the St Georges Town waterfront. Bermuda Radio monitors arrivals and departures and can be heard on VHF up to 150nm out. They are very organized and happy to provide information. We filled in an online arrival form and sent it before departure from the Bahamas so they had all our details at their fingertips. This made it unnecessary to provide passport and other personal information over the radio.

Approaching Bermuda.
The first yachts on the ARC Rally from West to East was just starting to arrive so most of the walls were booked. Around 30 rally yachts are meeting in Bermuda from Tortola BVIs and Norfolk US to continue as a fleet to the Mediterranean. We prefer to anchor and the anchorage is expansive, well protected and beautiful. Dingy access is free, as is rubbish disposal. The dingy dock is right in the center of St Georges Town, just meters from the town square where there is also free wifi. A very good supermarket, Irish pub and tourist information is just 50 or so meters from the dingy dock. All frightfully civilized!!

We had heard some reports that prices were huge!. This may be the impression of those sailors who arrive directly from the US. Certainly it is dearer than the US but not dearer than the Bahamas for grocery. Fuel is dearer but not much dearer than Australia.

There are no hire cars on Bermuda but mopeds are available. We chose to use the very efficient and regular bus service. There is also a good ferry service.
Our first recognizance was to Hamilton, the capital city. Bermuda has a population of around 66 thousand but this number swells with foreign tourists and employees of big global financial and insurance companies. 

Hamilton. Water front.
Hamilton is set on a hillside overlooking a beautiful bay of islands. A mix of old and new has been tastefully accomplished giving the city a peaceful but efficient feel. Its easy to see there are a lot of wealthy visitors. There are many lovely shops displaying very fine quality goods, clothing and jewelry. Its only about 5 blocks square so its manageable walking distance.
Crews from Hunda and Safari Njema. Duncan Dorothy Sven and Gerda celebrate with David and I on Taipan.
Birthdays come and go on passage but Davids birthday was celebrated here in Bermuda. We spent the day enjoying the historic trail around the northern end of St Georges which showcases a number of the 40 old forts on Bermuda. The most notable is St Catherine's, a 400 year old fort which is well restored and is an interesting stop. It has well preserved Canon on original carriages from the period.

DHL strikes again. Our small parcel was on the island.for 9 days before we managed to get hold of it... Many excuses and long phone calls later the Customs boss lady intervened and our diodes were delivered. DHL repeatedly fails to provide service despite advertised promises. Use FEDEX! Now we will be able to resuscitate the generator. Fingers crossed.

Fort St Catherine.
Our plan is to sail the 17 or so miles around to Hamilton and anchor there to further explore the islands snorkeling and the Naval Dockyard tourist precinct and home of the Americas Cup in 2017. The weather is dirty for the next couple of days so we will stay put and dust off a couple of jobs between forays ashore in St Georges Town.

More photos of Bermuda Bermuda Photos

Saturday, 7 May 2016


Boring or frenetic!
For the uninitiated, wethers are castrated male sheep. What's that got to do with sailing?? Nothing in a word. But wait.. Yes weather... Derivations of same. I was just ruminating on the possibilities, in a long drawn out moment of boredom, when it occurred to me that in Australia there is a sheep weather alert current. Current? Another relevant word we could play with but .... So you can tell it's boring from the rambling.

It's been one of our slowest passages on record. We did leave Marsh Harbor, in the northern Bahamas, in a bit of a hurry because a good window opened up. Unfortunately we didn't properly take into account the effect of the very prolific vegetable garden growing on our hull; the consequences of which we are reaping now. A mere 163 nm in 34 hrs! We should have produce to sell in Bermuda at this speed.

Sails have been up and down like Noddy's jocks. 2kn to 30+, arriving fortunately in daylight, so pre warned, we had double reefed the main and with only the staysail up, we accomplished a jibe with little fuss as wind suddenly shifted 90 degrees from 10 kn to 30kn. In the dark the next squall was not anticipated but fortunately not as strong, and abeam, so we didn't have to jibe. The radar showed it to still be 10nm off when we suddenly went from 10 kn to 22 kn.

Most of the trip so far has however been too light for Taipan. Market garden not withstanding.
"Hunda", a British boat, and "Safari Njema" a Swiss boat, are also on passage to Bermuda and are somewhere within 20 nm of us. We had radio contact this morning and have organised to communicate each morning on the SSB.

Each morning and evening we speak to Chris Parker at Marine Weather Center on SSB. He gives us a pretty accurate 12 hour forecast so we have some forewarning of approaching weather conditions, enabling us to make better course decisions. Being a sailor himself, Chris understands well the idiosyncrasies of sailboats and is also familiar with most sailing destinations on the US East Coast and Caribbean. He personally knows their orientation, accessibility and potential weather related problems. He has access to far more information than us and can therefor offer appropriate advice on routing to facilitate optimum speed, comfort and safety on passage.

We have 590 nm to go to Saint George's Town Bermuda.

Thursday, 7 April 2016


Beautiful anchorages in secluded bays epitomizing the sailing ideal. Crystal clear water all the blues of the spectrum framed by deserted white sand beaches. Almost no one lives here so the beaches are freely accessible.

The more rugged east side of Hog Cay.

This is such a rare situation. We take for granted our freedom to access beaches in Australia but it's not so in the US or Bahamas where the waterfront and beaches are most often privately owned. Many wealthy owners only use their properties briefly during the high season and the rest if the year it's maintained by staff and remains off limits to the public.

Hog Cay is the pearl in the necklace, with a newly constructed Tiki Bar for cruisers and townsfolk. The Tourism Commission provided the funds for materials and the Duncantown residents and cruisers built the building. Edward a resident at Bonavista Cay, thatched the palm roof. There are many Avatars in and around the hut with the names of passing boats on them. We left one there for Taipan. Some well marked trails criss-crossing the island provide another diversion. Many goats roam the island so the underbrush is quite thin.

Duncantown is 3nm south and they use the beach here for recreation as the town is on one side exposed to the large ocean swells and on the other festering mangrove swampland. There is a salt pan which is farmed by the local populace but the population is slipping and is down to just 50 souls. Limestone and sand with little fresh water is not too conductive to agricultural pursuits. 

Tiki bar on the beach at Hog Cay.

Several islands in the group have abandoned buildings on them, testament to the vagaries of life in the hurricane prone Bahamas. Rebuilding is an expensive process requiring private barges to ferry supplies and materials in and that's before one even considers the labor problem. Insurance is prohibitively expensive. Edward from Bonavista Cay is determined to persevere and endeavors to eek out a living raising goats for the Nassau market.

Taipans Avatar at Hog Cay
The clandestine drug trade route between Jamaica and Nassau, is reputedly alive and well. The banks here are also the back door to Haitians trying to get into the Bahamas but that door is closing with an agreement by the American Coast Guard to conduct surveillance exercises in the area.

Fishing for Conch and Lobster is a major industry on these islands and surrounding banks during the season. The main port is Spanish Wells at the northern end of Eluthera though so their contribution to the economy of Duncantown is minimal. The season is drawing to a close for lobster but we managed to get a feed when Bernie off "Countess Cosel" took David hunting and gathering one afternoon at Bonavista Cay. They also got Conch, a big sort of sea snail. The jury is still out on Conch. Traditionally eaten deep fried it is not very appealing, however as a salad after soaking in lime juice and eaten raw it's pretty good. Further experimentation is pending.

Snorkeling around  these islands is relaxing and pleasant with great water clarity. There is very little marine life or coral comparatively but it's fun until a big Bull Shark comes by and shows way too much interest, forcing us to make a very graceless leap into the dingy which we were fortunately towing with us. The Bull Shark is considered by many experts to be the most dangerous shark in the world. There are many fishermen who regularly clean their catch in the anchorages, a practice known to attract sharks. There have been several shark attacks in the Bahamas with at least two deaths in the past 2 years but these reports are kept under wraps because the tourist dollar is so important here.

Bull Shark Photographed from the dingy after a rapid exit.
The Comer Channel was not so calm during our return crossing but with 500+ mm of water under us (a little more tide) we had a relaxing passage anyway. Georgetown is a good stop to re-provision, catch up with friends and refuel so now we are back.

Our time in the Bahamas is getting short and we are busy preparing the boat for the Atlantic crossing we plan to undertake, leaving Bahamas around mid May for Bermuda. Onward after Bermuda to Azores and Spain. 

Before we leave we hope to remove the generator to replace a leaking oil seal. Hopefully this will not prove too complicated. In Fremantle in 2004, we installed the Mase 3.5 KVA ourselves so maybe we still remember how it was attached! It has been a great little unit in spite of the fact that it needed some modifications to fuel and water system to iron out a few wrinkles but it's been running for over 4000 hrs now. For a single cylinder motor we think it's done pretty well to date and is worth the effort to repair. Only time will tell.

A Conch Shell Midden.... traces of the work of many fishermen over many years at Water Cay.
Ragged islands. Bahamas

Wednesday, 6 April 2016


Entering Puerto De Vita.
Dawn broke as we furled sails and prepared to enter Puerto De Vita. The Marina / Guarda Fronteria, Coast Guard eventually responded on 16 and we then communicated on 14. The channel is deep and well marked for a daylight entry.
The similarity to eastern Indonesia, without the volcanoes, was remarkable. Dry fields, a few people fishing, a pony cart and scrub. The Marina's escort boat met us at the fork where the channel divided, to lead us into the anchorage just off the marina, where we awaited the arrival of Ronaldo, the Doctor who first clears crew preparatory to arrival in the Marina. Once the medical clearance was given we entered the dock area. It's a stern or bow too mooring system. No side dock. Marin's staff assisted with securing us to the dock and we were soon visited by several officials and a little spaniel. The inspection was cursory and polite. 
One of the fancy vehicles in the Tourist area.

Entry price has soared just this week. From 25CUC to 75CUC. (App.A$100) each. So that was a shock given the fact that we are on limited, cash only, reserves. The other fee is 55CUC  (app US$63) is the Cruising Permit for the boat. The Marina is CUC0.75. / foot per day and includes water and electricity.

Two other yachts arrived just behind us. One from US and Mithril from UK. Given that we all needed to change money we teamed up with Mithril and shared a taxi to Guardalavaca, a big tourist resort area, where we exchanged US$ for $CUC and then adjourned to the Bar to get acquainted and exchange info.
Cuba. Approximately 620nm long.

The resort area was also very Indonesian! Friendly but basic. Pretty beach and lots of fat sunburned tourists laying about getting skin cancer and soaking up the all inclusive alcohol. We decided not to stay long and after a simple pizza meal we headed back to the boats. Taxis are pretty expensive. $20CUP each way. App. 15km. It was an ancient Lada and the fit was cosy. Given that the average local wage is only $20 US per month, taxi drivers are doing very nicely.
We discovered that the sand flies (noseeums) are ferocious at the marina, so fully covered or bug sprayed is the dress code.
An average street scene. Hougin. There are not many cars.

Saturday after assembling cables for power to keep refrigeration happy in our absence, we took a taxi to Hoguin, 35 km, to stay the night and planed to ease ourselves into travel mode and progress from there to Trinadad for a few days.
Everyday transport is horse or people powered.

Hoguin is a large, by Cuba standards, provincial city. Our Casa Particular was a short walk to the city square. The room was small but adequate. It was clean but the water didn't work so well and was cold. Nothing unusual for Cuba. There are very few buildings with glazing. Timber louvers keep most of the rain out I presume. They don't have bug screens, so travel with spray. Especially in this time of Zika Virus. There are no public reports of the virus here in Cuba and they are taking the threat very seriously. Evidenced by the smell of chemicals used to fumigate the residential areas. Our Casa was $25CUC and included breakfast however our hostess was ill at breakfast so we didn't feel inclined to eat with her. 
Don Quixote sculpture in Hoguin

Food in Hoguin is of various quality and prices are affordable, $12CUC to $20CUC will purchase  food and drinks for 2. Good food was hard to find and the price for very ordinary food was not much less than decent food. We didn't find any great food, that's not to say it's not available, just that it's hard to find. Cuba is not noted as an epicurean destination so leave your special requirements and fancy appetite at home. It's hard enough to purchase the basics in Cuba without looking for specialties.
Trinidads cobbles and architecture.

We wandered around the streets of Hoguin for a day but there was little to see or do. The town square is the center of activity and people watching seems to be the preferred entertainment. Having decided by mid afternoon that we had "done" Hoguin, we booked tickets on the overnight bus for Trinidad. UNESCO Recognized as a significant site architecturally and historically. 

The 600km bus trip, $26CUC each, commenced at 11.30pm so we didn't see anything. The road was atrocious, so even though the bus seating was reasonably comfortable, nothing could disguise the road conditions. 7 1/2 hours later as the sun rose we descended from the highlands into Trinidad.
People watching in Trinidad.

Our pre-booked Casa Particular had sent a taxi bike to pick us up so we managed to avoid the scammers trying to drag us off to some favored establishment of their own choosing. Our Casa was decent enough with good aircon, reasonable beds and a functional ensuite. We negotiated breakfast and had a quick rest before setting out for the day to explore Trinidad's cobbled streets and old Spanish Architecture, dating back to the early 1500s.  The Architecture, I'm sure, is important historically but getting a glimpse inside is tricky. The streetscape is all pretty much the same. Unless you happen to be staying in one of the buildings, they are not open to the public. Once again we spent the day wandering around the streets, people watching in the square, queuing at the bus station and the bank for several hours and generally filling in time. We did find a very good Restruant called El Dorado in a street just a little way from the Viazul bus station. Tasty food, good service and a nice local music quartet housed in a lovely old restored building.
Scenes from the rural areas.

We returned to Hoguin on the Viazul bus from Trinidad, an 8 hour trip during daylight, so we're able to see the countryside from its high vantage. The taxi trip from Hougin back to Resort Taipan was hairy! It was pouring with rain, the first rain for 6 months. The ancient Lada was definitely not roadworthy by my standards. The driver drove it as hard as it would go, skirting, at speed, great pools of water, pot holes, carts, cars and bikes, to narrowly avoid on coming vehicles. His command of English did not include the phrase "slow down!!!" Something I need to learn in every language before we next use a driver. Shaking and relieved we disembarked that treacherous jalopy and staggered gratefully aboard. The next two days we decided to take advantage of the dock facility so David could finish building and install the new anchor reverse switch. It's a complicated board with solenoids, fat cables and a prayer at start up!
And thats just the switching.

It works! The job took a couple of days but now we can haul stubborn chain out of the locker when it gets snagged and tangled on passage, previously a 2 man job as our anchor chain is accessed from below deck. 

Departure was a painless affair except for the ferocious sand flies at 7 am Friday morning. Back came the little dog and a couple of officials. They checked the boat a little more thoroughly, probably for stowaways, and then clearance to sail was given. We  were outbound by 8 am and an uneventful passage to the Southside anchorage at Ragged Island had us anchored in the Bahamas again by nightfall.

I have hesitated to mention all the horses. Horses are at work in Cuba, filling the role of car and tractor. We saw a few dilapidated ancient Russian tractors and one newish Chinese tractor but most of the haulage is done with horse or bullock carts. There are hundreds of horses pulling people around the streets. It's a cheap form of taxi here. The horses are mostly dejected and skinny. Harness is ill fitting and cobbled together from scraps of leather and plastic or webbing. Some had bits but many had chain wrapped around their nose. To many had ugly scars, evidence of heavy handedness. Not once did we see a horse offered a drink during the hot days, nor did we see any evidence of any facility for horses to drink from.

Out in the country the horses were marginally better off. I even saw one or two quite fat shiny horses but they were very scarce. It is the end of the dry season and end of tourist season so hopefully most of them will get an opportunity to rest and fatten up before the next tourist season.

One of the things I was most looking forward to in Cuba was the horse riding. I didn't go because I could not bring myself to get on one of those horses. I did however speak to a couple from Scotland who did find a horseback riding tour in Veradero which was well run with fat happy horses.
There are slim pickings in the stores.

Of all the tourists we spoke with. None would return to Cuba and most said the tourist brochures were wild exaggerations.
The prices have soured making Cuba a fairly expensive destination. This is such a pity because the Cuban people are friendly, resourceful and helpful. The political system has destroyed people's motivation and incentive. Casa Particular tourist accommodation has enabled some home owners to benefit and some private restaurants are benefiting from a loosening of the communist grip. Anyone touring Cuba should use these facilities to get the dollars into the community and not into the Party pocket.

Several well educated Cuban people we spoke to said Cubans were generally depressed. One, a psychologist, said she was expected to see 25 patients per day in her job and she couldn't help them. She could earn the same money working in a tourist stall without any of the stress. Cuba needs the embargo lifted but they need some real international aid to get the country functioning again. There is no agricultural equipment. Everything is broken. The once vast cattle ranches and sugar plantations are just ruins with rough grass and regrowth dotted with a few cattle and goats.
The government provides free education and free health care. The hospitals are very basic and they are critically short of drugs and supplies. The education system is also very basic judging by the standard of schools and the alleged paucity of books and basic school equipment.
Would I go back? No.

Until the regime in Cuba changes and allows individuals to benefit from their efforts, and better their standard of living through their own endeavor and industry, Cuba will remain a failed communist experiment.

Thursday, 17 March 2016


Time for an adventure! It's been a good while since we chose to cruise to a country with as many unknowns as Cuba provides. The most daunting of which is the total inability to get cash using our US or Australian cards. The 50 year old Embargo is still firmly intact and Australian bank, still in bed with Yank Banks, steadfastly refuse to deal with Cuba, so we have to take cash.
Georgetown via Comer Channel to Puerto De Vita Cuba. Return trip via the Ragged Islands.
This comes with a set of problems of its own. How much to take? Security. Do we need to have enough to cover unexpected emergencies like boat repairs or hospitalization. These questions are daunting enough to cause us to pause and reflect. We have travel insurance. We have boat insurance. ( Are they valid in Cuba?? )We are healthy and have visited more complicated places. I think we've gone soft since we've been languishing in the great US of A! We have probably also taken on board some of the widespread phobias of the average American, non travelers. So it's time to break out.
The word was out that The Rolling Stones are doing a free concert in Havana on the 25th of March just over a week away. Enough of an excuse! Let's go. Well we have neither of us ever been to a live concert so what better time and place to start!
Just like the brochures.
This morning at Oh dark hundred we pulled the anchor and followed our inbound track of the same date in 2014 when we first arrived in the Bahamas, heading south out of Georgetown through the cut. It was a spectacular morning, soft gauzy light gradually giving way to staggering azure blue as far as the eye could see. 

Our passage today via Comer Channel to the cays south and west of Long Island is about 64nm. The Comer Channel is only navigable by boats with our draft (7'2" or 2.2m) during a rising tide and in this case with at least 300mm (1') of tide. We had a minimum of 2.4m of water for about 4 of the 7 miles in the Channel. Sailing across the white sand bottom in the crystal clear water was a surreal experience. Taipans shadow was sharply defined on the bottom. Impossibly close.
After exiting the channel we turned south west towards the Water Cay for tonight's overnight stop.