Virginia Crowell Jones of West Tisbury, for years the major-domo at Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway, has run away to sea. Well, not exactly. Ms. Jones, a West Tisbury planning board member and ardent conservationist, owns and runs Vineyard Sailing, a program inspired by several summers' work aboard the G&B charter schooner When and If, offering sailing respites to Vineyarders with ongoing medical problems or those recently bereaved. She acquired Airlia to continue those efforts and offer other learn-to-cruise programs, including offshore passages for aspiring sailors.
In May, she began a cruising journey that has taken Airlia and crew across the Atlantic, first to the Azores, then on to Ireland, Scotland, Portugal, and Spain. At The Times' request, Ms. Jones agreed to furnish an Islander's account of Airlia's travels, to be published serially, allowing for lapses when Airlia is at sea and unable to transmit dispatches. Installments have appeared in the June 10, July 1, July 8, July 15, Aug. 5, and Aug. 19 editions of The Times. The date at the beginning of each installment refers to the date on which the material was e-mailed to The Times.
July 7, 2004. Several days ago we were in Castlehaven anchored in a very peaceful, spectacularly beautiful small bay in the estuary of the river which runs up through Castletownshend, just a bit southwest of Skibbereen. Encouraged by the early morning calm and sunshine, Nate and Terry took a swim (lots of hemming and hawing before the first plunge, and the feet were on the ladder coming back aboard practically before the faces got wet), and then the crew rowed ashore for a quick exploration, the mate having launched the inflatable.
Later we motored up the river and anchored off of Castletownshend, which is a prosperous looking village with the bulk of the houses and small high street along the west side, as well as a few houses, and a small fishing dock with a steel trawler drying out alongside, on the east side. Again the crew went ashore, this time with the outboard to propel the inflatable, leaving me to laze happily in the cockpit, reading in the sun. The authors: E.A. Somerville and Martin Ross (female cousins) lived and wrote the 34 stories which make up "The Irish R.M." here during the early part of the 20th century. The shoregoing party reported that St. Barrahane's Churchyard has Somerville graves, and the church has memorial plaques and windows dedicated to members of the family. Along the top of the high street the male members of the crew were intrigued to note an unusual pub, named Lil's Pub (or Bar ... they couldn't remember the exact name) with beer kegs placed around the outside, an exterior painted a vivid pink, and a freshly painted door with no handle, only a key pad. The establishment was closed, but visions of what wares might be hidden behind the door have danced through their heads ever since.
We stayed the night and then motored over to Glandore, which is a bit up the Glandore River. The channel has "four dangers" - rocks and other threats which are actually well marked. We anchored on the Glandore side of the harbor, noting that Union Hall across the way appeared to be more commercial, with fishing vessels and various small coastal boats coming and going. Alas, the outboard which performed so well yesterday afternoon is now did-not-start and no amount of owner manual reading, purging, and replacement of gas (new when we left the Vineyard), or prayer and persuasion would seduce it to run. We were reminded, when reading the manual and following the troubleshooting instructions, that all owners' manuals appear to have been written by the Japanese, translated into Greek by Germans, and then translated from Greek into English by the Finns. The crew rowed the inflatable ashore - never easy - for a look-see. In the harbor Libby and I watched a junior sailing program underway. In several different types of boats, ranging from Optimists (very popular in Europe) to 420s, the kids ranged from the super confident - a 12-year-old boy who was lying on deck and steering with his foot - to the obviously very apprehensive - three red-haired, freckle-faced girls who were having trouble getting their boat to move: "Pegeen, pull that sheet right in!"
While we were motoring towards Glandore, we had observed the varying cloud forms and a very prominent ring around the sun. The weather forecast had been aborted at 0700 when we discovered that the main VHF was not set to the international channels so we could not access channel 4, and the weather forecast for Mizen Head. While the men fiddled with the outboard, and its manual, I located the manual for the hand-held VHF, which - much more modern - does have the capability to access American, Canadian, and international channels. (I later found the manual for the ICOM VHF and now know how to access international channels on it as well.) With this in hand, we listened to the forecast at dinner time: for early Wednesday we were promised northeast winds force 4 to 6, strengthening to gale force later in the day. We considered the options and decided to scamper towards Kinsale while the getting was good, as there are no intermediary anchorages between Glandore and Kinsale, 32 nautical miles away, and sailing northeast into gale-force winds has little charm. We weighed anchor at 2000 and motorsailed along the coast in a glassy, almost eerie, calm, surrounded by an incredible array of differing clouds and cloud layers on every side. We even had a band of fog which floated just off the water for several hours but dissipated without obscuring the visibility.
The Irish Cruising Club guide - the bible - confidently states that there is only one day of fog in 10 years, and two gale-force days each in June and July. This is published fact, but we've had ample proof the last two weeks that it may be blarney. Or we've experienced 10 years of weather in two weeks.
A trick at the wheel
As we motored along we passed Glandore Bay, Galley Head (a prominent lighthouse which started flashing around 2300), Clonakilty Bay, Seven Heads, and Courtmacsherry Bay, on the way to the Old Head of Kinsale with its lighthouse. Each one of us took a turn at the wheel as the night passed. I enjoyed the last hour or two of light, with dramatic gray cumulus clouds approaching from the northwest, silhouetted against the last bit of sunlight, and a line of puffy clouds to the east, which presaged the approaching front, all topped by cirrus. During my watch an Irish naval vessel - which we sighted steaming east on Sunday - passed, steaming west. Its distinctive (and very attractive) sheer and profile stood out, starkly gray and military against the limpid, light grayish blue, almost horizonless Atlantic. The moon was rising out of the ocean from the south, and as we rounded the Old Head, it broke through the clouds to light our way up the River Bandon, which loops through Kinsale. Charles Fort is to starboard (east) and James Fort to port at the narrows, which are at the entrance to the channel.
We came up the river with the moon behind us, and the navigation light from Charles Fort guiding our way. The face dock of Kinsale Yacht Club, where we had been told transient visitors may tie up, was full, so we motored along to Castlepark Marina - also full. There is an anchorage, but with the night wearing on, we decided to pick up one of the moorings just north of Castlepark. By the time we were secure at 0300, the wind was starting to strengthen, and by breakfast (admittedly late) we sat and thanked our lucky stars that we'd avoided what would have been a very wet and nasty beat. At 1300 today the weather forecast started off with a general gale warning for Irish waters. Wherever there wasn't a gale warning, there was a small-craft warning. Thursday it's supposed to gradually decrease and we have been promised a berth at the yacht club, which is where we plan to stay during the upcoming crew changes.
Kinsale enjoys a reputation as the gourmet center of the southwestern part of Ireland (some say, all of Ireland) so I'm looking forward to sampling some of the choices while Terry takes Emma and Libby to London for the weekend, and Nate goes off to meet Nicole, who flies in on the 13th. Kinsale also has a very interesting history, as "it was at Kinsale that James II landed with French support in an attempt to regain his throne in 1689, and it was later the port of his final departure from Ireland after the Battle of the Boyne. The town was an important naval base for the English Crown in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries," according to "Rough Guide to Ireland." Charles Fort (1677) is just outside the town in Summercove. "The star-shaped outer walls of Charles Fort, barely touched by weather or gunfire, seem pretty innocuous, but they conceal a formidable war machine. Within is an awesome system of barracks, ramparts and bastions, impressive testimony to the complexity and precision of 17th-century military science. The barracks were occupied until 1922, when the British left and handed the fort over to the Irish government. Today they remain largely intact, with only the barracks' missing roofs to give the place an eerily deserted feel."
In the 1800s and 1900s, Kinsale was a fishing port where hundreds of traditional fishing craft were homeported, and where they brought their catches. I've admired historic photos in one of the many local art galleries of the fishing fleet. I've looked around to see if I can spot any of the remaining examples of the boats, but so far I'm still looking. There is a replica mast with topmast and topgallant that has been erected on Pier Head, but the tourist information describes it as a mast from a Spanish vessel.
The sail inventory
Several people have asked what sails we have been using over the past couple of months. Airlia has a comprehensive suit of sails, most about 12 years old, built by Watts Sails in New Zealand when the boat was there in 1992. Because of limited storage aboard and the nature of the cruise, we decided to bring only the cruising/working sails. On board is a fully battened main with three reefs, storm trysail, storm jib, staysail hanked on the inner or fore stay, a roller furling headsail on the head stay (either a Yankee, which was on when we left the Vineyard, or a Genoa which is nicely shaped by an intricate mitre cut. We started from Martha's Vineyard with the Yankee, exchanged to the Genoa in mid-Atlantic, and just changed back to the Yankee again.
We also have an MPS spinnaker in a "sock." We attempted to hoist the spinnaker mid-Atlantic, but the sock kept hanging up halfway. In Horta the crew spread the MPS out in the park and sorted out the problem, but we haven't had a chance, or the need, to fly it since. We have used the main with one or two reefs, the roller-furling headsails, and the trysail. We put the staysail up once, but because we are sailing with just four people - or one person on watch at a time - we have used the RF headsail in various degrees of furling and either the reefed main or the trysail to limit the need to have all hands on deck for sail changes.
We've have also had various questions about what we do at sea, and in port, what we eat, what boats we see, what the climate is like, etc. Here are some answers.
Airlia's crew are all voracious readers. We left a bag of the books read on the Atlantic passage at Atlantic Marine Services in Horta (and picked up some replacements) and recently gave another bag to Helen on Grendel, an aluminum boat from Maine, which was berthed across from us in Crosshaven. Since leaving the Azores, we have read through the usual handful of spy thrillers and mysteries such as Ruth Rendell (me) as well as fiction and current nonfiction (all of us). The current crew reading includes Maria Edgeworth's "Castle Rackrent" and "Ennui," Herman Melville short stories, "The Hot Zone," T. S Eliot poems, Erskine Childer's "Riddle of the Sands," "The Irish R.M." (I'd read it years ago but have been inspired by our visit to Castletownshend to read it again), "Weather for the Mariner," and "The Bookseller of Kabul." Current crew Libby - with summer reading assignments in hand - has finished "To Kill a Mockingbird," "Siddhartha," and "All Quiet on the Western Front," and has started "The Prince." Her sister Emma is reading "The Hounds of Morrigan."
Bookstores are thin on the ground here, and the selection at Carrigaline Bookstore was mainly trade paperback; the selection in Kinsale Bookstore is slightly larger. The selections are those being heavily promoted by the publishers, arranged in publisher provided display shelves. In the Irish Times last week there was an article about what everyone would be reading this summer. The books mentioned mirror the selection available in Carrigaline and in Kinsale. The top choice was Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" - an overrated and poorly written book in my opinion, but one that has just been published in heavily Catholic Ireland and which is making bags of money worldwide.
Today, I sorted through the cans and dry stores, most of which are on the port side, and which the crew is still blaming for our persistent port list. We have cans of cheese and butter, which I use for cooking, saving fresh, local cheeses for snacks, sandwiches, etc. We also have canned chicken and turkey, which I'll start to use again once the vegetarians are back on Cape Cod. I rummage for any remaining cans of corned beef hash, the crew favorite and unavailable locally, although I can find fresh corned beef, and to assess what we have left of fruit and veg. I found two cans of hash, and lots of canned beans (chili, rice, and cornmeal muffins for supper), canned pumpkin (for curried pumpkin soup, or pies) as well as several cans of pineapple and miscellaneous cans of mushrooms, peas, corn, and hominy. The canned stores were planned with six months of cruising in mind, but I had thought that certain items such as canned soups, canned vegetables, and fruit would be readily available abroad. The selections of canned fruit and vegetables are actually quite limited: peas, peas and carrots, beans, small cans of corn, and large cans of mushrooms (which Cronig's no longer stocks), and peaches, pears, and fruit cup, all heavily sweetened. Stores here do stock cans of cocktail franks and large cans of tuna fish, as well as Irish stew, which is analogous to Dinty Moore.
On the plus side, Ireland does still have excellent butcher shops, although I have not seen a fish market anywhere, and there are shops selling fresh fruit and vegetables. The supermarkets have a reasonable selection of produce and general stuff as well. There have been some real surprises: very tasty fresh soups in cardboard cartons - tomato has been the favorite, carrot and coriander a close second, with vegetable and cream of mushroom well down in the standings. Erin and Knorr dry soup packets, particularly the tomato and potato and leek, are passable for lunches, and there are some packets of spaghetti sauces which are excellent. It turns out that Union Hall (across the harbor from Glandore) is the local fishing center, and there are kippers, smoked mackerel, salmon, and smoked trout available under the Union Hall brand name. As you would expect, frozen potato products feature prominently in the frozen food section along with peas, peas and carrots, and more peas. There are also some really good frozen pizzas, although I carp at Hawaiian (ham and pineapple) pizza. But without refrigeration (or ice) we are limited to foods which will keep for several days and to a limited palate of menus.
Unfortunately, several members of the crew are convinced that the long-life milk is bad (without even tasting it), based on the smell. It's actually better tasting than reconstituted dry milk. Yogurt and the fresh soups will keep for several days unrefrigerated, as will "cured meats" in tight plastic packages (bacon, ham, salamis), and we all enjoy trying the different cheeses (mainly cow's milk, although I did see a few goat cheeses). Perishable vegetables such as greens, scallions, cucumbers, and broccoli also keep for a day or so, as well as tomatoes, if carefully protected. We have potatoes, onions, carrots, and cabbages to supplement the fresh and canned vegetables. We also have fresh fruit aboard, but with the exception of apples, no one seems tempted by the choices: truly luscious peaches from Spain, small melons, plums, and Irish strawberries (mediocre). The stores have grapes from Brazil (expensive and tired), lovely leeks and carrots, asparagus, potatoes (disappointing), onions, excellent large shallots, gooseberries, and a limited selection of citrus fruit. I had hoped for more local fruit but it may still be too early in the season, and certainly the chilly temperature would limit the selection if our current temp is normal.
I wrote earlier about the cheeses that we found in the Azores, and more recently in Ireland; since then I've found that there is a wide selection of Irish cheese available in the larger stores, although it is difficult to find imported cheeses other than brie. There are various cheddars, Carrigaline Farmhouse cheeses, the prize-winning Durrus that I mentioned earlier, and numerous cocktail party-type cheese mixes, and that is only a brief listing. Irish butter has to be about the best in the world and we've been enjoying that on brown bread as well as Granary bread. However I think that Irish baked goods, aside from bread and scones/baps [Scottish yeast rolls], lack a certain something, but this may be because they tend to be iced in fluffy, lurid-colored coatings.
Ireland is much colder than any of us expected (please send warm clothes!) and I am currently sitting typing (on the 10th of July) with three shirts and a fleece vest on, while I have a sleeping bag over my legs. It also rains more than we expected (an Irish friend retorted that that is why he's in San Diego ... he got tired of rain 95 percent of the time in Dun Laoghaire), although the sun comes and goes all day long. A warm day here is in the mid-sixties, often with enough breeze to make it feel much chillier. This morning it was 54 degrees F in the cabin and colder on deck. Friday it was warm enough so that I felt some perspiration make its way down my forehead as I scraped peeling varnish off a dorade vent. We were hoping to remove the rest of the tired varnish and Cetol on the rail (a real disaster) to let all the teak go a natural gray, but frankly it's been cold, wet, and windy enough to make working on deck unpleasant, kind of New England in April. I understand why greens and root crops as well as dairy products are the mainstay of food production. We tried some strawberries, advertised as the cream of the Irish strawberry crop, and were very disappointed.
Thursday we were given a berth for a week at Kinsale Yacht Club, and we're now tied up on the end of "hammerhead" of the main dock among a very full complement of boats. The Irish Cruising Club is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year and the initial gathering will be here starting the 12th. To help them celebrate, the Royal Cruising Club and the Cruising Club of America are participating as well, and slowly the boats are starting to gather. Paul Murphy, the helpful and charming young dockmaster for the yacht club, told me when he greeted us yesterday that there are 180 boats expected in the next couple of days. He used to work on Asgard II, the Irish sail training vessel (which visited Vineyard Haven in 1998), and I asked him about Asgard I, which the Irish government had been contemplating rebuilding some years ago. He told me that nothing has happened and that she is just sitting, rotting, in a building in the north of Dublin. Asgard I is the boat that belonged to Erskine Childers and was for many years used for sail training. Paul sent me on to check in with the harbormaster about paying for the mooring that we had picked up on Wednesday morning, and that turned into a very interesting visit as well.
Capt. Phil Devitt, the harbormaster, has an office on the cement quay where fishing boats are tied up and can be hauled as well. Kinsale has added harbor dues to the cost of berthing, which help to maintain the local facilities. After completing the formalities of paying for the mooring, and exchanging a bit of information about Airlia and our cruise, Captain Devitt told me that Kinsale is "twinned" with the cities of Antibes in France, Newport in Rhode Island, and the small town of Mumbles in Wales. Twinning, or sister cities ("hands across the sea and all that") are common in Europe. Crosshaven is a sister town to Plumeur Bodue in Brittany, and it's not unusual to see a sign at the entrance to a town announcing its sister city. Captain Devitt related that he went to Newport last year as part of the twinning process, and to march with the delegation from Kinsale in the St. Patrick's Day parade. To honor the occasion, and as a gift to the harbormaster of Newport, he commissioned a silver replica on a mahogany plinth of the sail plan of a Kinsale hooker, which is the local gaff-rigged traditional boat. He is also the captain of the local RNLI [Royal National Lifeboat Institution] boat, which is named Miss Sally Anne (Baggy underneath) ... a year-old RIB [rigid inflatable boat] with twin Evinrude outboards. He reported that they had been called out the night before by a small powerboat which had a line around the prop. When they arrived at the boat they discovered that the local Chinese restaurant owner was aboard with his son, and they had been hauling their lobster pots. (Tonight we saw the RIB coming in and I was pleased to see a female crewmember.) He told me that over the last six years they have rescued upwards of 25 people.
The Kinsale Yacht Club dock is also the harbor marina, so the docks are constantly full. I am very curious to see how the 180 boats which are expected for the ICC celebration will fit in, and I'm very glad that they found a berth for us, as it does make life easier. The yacht club has a very busy junior sailing program - again Optimists, 420's, etc. When I went to take a shower yesterday afternoon, the shower room was full of instructors and young sailors and it was quite the most public shower I've ever taken. It was also one of the coldest. One of the instructors told me that they are practicing, as they will be going to Croatia for 10 days in two weeks. Last year they competed in Greece.
The bar is a very posh paneled room upstairs with a long view out over the harbor. On some nights you can get dinner as well as a drink. I went to purchase shower tokens (two euros for my cold, well-exposed shower) and looked at the menu, which is short but appetizing and reasonably priced. On one wall in the reception area is a large photo of Mariette under sail, and there are similar photos of traditional boats and classic yachts all around the bar.
Kinsale is a town with a lot of history; it's also known as the gourmet capital of Ireland, and there are more pubs, restaurants, and food establishments than any of us have ever seen before in one small, well-defined area. Along each street are restaurants chock a block and you can sample Thai, Chinese, several different types of Indian, Fusion, traditional Irish, deli, and even Italian cuisine, mostly at reasonable prices. I did not see a French restaurant but I would be surprised if there wasn't one.
The real estate boom that has overtaken southwestern Ireland has really mushroomed in Kinsale where there are town house/duplex/apartment complexes either just completed or still under construction in several parts of town. There is one particularly ugly row of modern, pastel-colored houses about halfway up the hill at the head of the harbor. Even the Rough Guide excoriates them. I looked at listings in several estate agents' windows and noted that Martha's Vineyard does not have the corner on overpriced real estate. A one-bedroom apartment was listed for sale at 200,000 euro, or close to $250,000. A small house for rent was listed for 1200 euro monthly, with all utilities extra, plus a large security deposit.
Tonight I cruised around the docks looking at boats, hoping to see some traditional boats or classic yachts, perhaps even wood! In Horta, Faial, the preponderance of visiting boats was either fiberglass or metal cruising boats of unusual provenance. There were also many multi-hulls. Because Horta's position at the Crossroads of the Atlantic there were many very large yachts including a Pierini ketch, which must have been about 150 feet long. Most of the local boats (small open power boats) were built of wood, well maintained and brightly painted. In Praia do Vitoria, Terceira, there was only a small number of cruising boats. In Crosshaven at Salve Engineering, we found a mixed bag - either aluminum, steel, or GRP - along with one wood Scandinavian fishing vessel converted to a ketch rig.
In the past couple of days two American boats have arrived to participate in the ICC festivities. A Swan of about 50 feet came in yesterday and I could hear some comments across the water about the rough ride after they docked. At the hammerhead dock ahead of us is Thunderhead from Blue Hill, the original Rhodes/Abeking and Rasmussen wooden cutter about 50 feet long, with the distinctive clipperish bow. She is very lovely and in absolutely mint condition. She has her original A&R dinghy - bright finished clinker built - and a hard dodger (copied later in Paul Hoffman's other Thunderheads) over the forward part of the cockpit, as well as much of what appears to be her original bronze hardware. I complimented the owner on his boat and told him how pleased I was to see a wooden boat, particularly one in such immaculate shape after what he said had been a rugged crossing. As he was telling me this, the crew was pointing out to a boatyard foreman some necessary repairs to rig and rigging, including a new pin to hold the gooseneck fitting together. And while we were talking their man overboard light fell over on deck and starting blinking. He told me that the bracket had carried away several nights before. I mentally thanked my lucky stars that our passage was as benign as it was. Another crew member mentioned that he had originally been very skeptical of the hard dodger, but that it had been an absolute Godsend, along with the auto pilot, on the crossing. I quietly repeated my thanks.