My Mate Steve


Steve White and his Vendee Globe entry Toe in the Water

Every week we are thrilled to meet new people aboard Velvet Lady.  We meet people from all walks of life who have a wide range of sailing experience.  Some people come to learn and participate, others to sit back, relax and enjoy.

This week learning about speed and sail trim was high on the agenda.  We spent a lot of time easing and winding the sheet winches and watching the instruments. We played with the staysail on different points of sailing and saw when it added to our speed and when it slowed us down.  We saw that when it was time to put a reef in the main the boat went faster, and if we left it too long the boat slowed down.  Velvet Lady is set up for cruising and so the good thing about all of these sail changes was that they were done from the comfort and safety of the cockpit with no need to fight the elements on the foredeck.

From the comfort of our cockpit the conversation changed to single handed yacht racing and the Vendee Globe in particular.  To sail 24000 nm around the world in all weathers, is such an amazing achievement.  I sailed with a crew of 17 when I raced around the world in the BT Global Challenge 2000/1.  After the luxury of sailing with a full crew to help in sail changes I can only imagine how difficult it is on your own.  I can think of 1001 jobs necessary to keep the boat going which are easier done with a second pair of hands.  I have great admiration for all who take part.

Along with many of our guests, Richard and I have been following the progress of all the British entries in the current race.  Congratulations to Sam, Dee and Brian who finished during this week, but my heart is still with ‘My Mate Steve’. 

As I write Steve is 150 nm from the finish, being hindered by headwinds but due to arrive on Thursday.  As in everything with Steve White’s project he seems to have more than his share of hard times.  Steve sailed with me as my mate when I worked for the challenge business, and I would like to hope that I passed a tip or two onto him.  Even then Steve knew he wanted to get into the world of single handed sailing and I watched him sympathetically as he struggled to find a sponsor.  So determined was he to take part in the Vendee Globe this time that he bought himself (by remortgaging his house) a very old Open 60 and proceeded to sail it the required distance to get him to the start line. 

I was so pleased and thrilled to hear that he signed a sponsor at the last minute, and have watched him avidly since.  One of the things about long distance sailing (both racing and cruising) is you need to look after the boat.  You can only get to the finish line if the boat stays in one bit!  He is already planning his entry for 2012 and my fingers crossed for him that he comes up with a sponsor with enough money to buy a boat to do him justice.   

In this last week on Velvet Lady we sailed 182 nm in winds ranging from Force 1 to Force 6, and managed to spend every evening in the comfort of a harbour or anchorage.  We ate splendid home cooked meals and drank quite a lot of wine.  We were visited most days by dolphins and found time to climb a volcano on La Graciosa. During that time Steve sailed 1200nm some of it beating to windward in 35 knots of wind and a large sea, surviving on very little sleep and freeze dried meals, whilst coaxing the best out of his boat.  That is the difference between cruising and racing, thankfully not everyone is the same and there is room on the ocean for both cruisers and racers.

We are now just preparing for our 8 island dash.  Very popular with the ladies this trip is, the crew are just starting to arrive and with 4 female guests and myself, Rich is seriously outnumbered.  Watch out for next weeks blogs to see how he coped!

PS – Guests have now gone to bed and I’m checking up on Steve’s progress!  Just found this great story on the Vendee Web Site – Enjoy reading it!

‘This is Sailing for Sailors’


All of our sailing trips are subject to the weather, and the itineraries on the website are merely an example of what may be done in the time.  We may not always follow the itinerary but we do always follow the ‘spirit of the itinerary’.  Adventure sails promise more sailing, one overnight sail and less shore time, so that is what we aimed for this week.

The wind died during our first night sail – it was beautiful ghosting along under a starry moonlit sky, and so although we sailed all night we didn’t get very far.  Rather than motor to our intended destination in Fuerteventura we decided to complete our circumnavigation of Lanzarote and continue sailing slowly to Puerto Calero. 

The wind was forecast to increase again and with 2 days left of the week we needed a plan.  Roque del Este is a small volcanic rock/island, 47m high, which lies to the north east of Lanzarote – and of course with nowhere to stop it is somewhere we don’t get to visit.  We all agreed it would be quite a challenge to sail from Puerto Calero out around the rock and back again and looked forward to another night at sea

25 hours and 150 miles later we dropped the anchor off Papagayo, leaving enough time for lunch and a walk along the cliff tops before heading into the marina. As we ate lunch on the deck in the sunshine we discussed our night at sea.   In the words of Bob – ‘that was proper sailing for sailors!’ 

At first the wind had been very favourable for a fast sail along the coast, not quite enough to need a reef, and plenty for a flat water reach – with speeds increasing up to 8 knots.  Velvet Lady was perfectly balanced and needed no one on the wheel. Then as the wind freshened and headed us, we reefed down and hardened up for a beat out to the rock.  We reached the rock at midnight, and although there is no lighthouse there, we could clearly see the outline of the two humps in the moonshine.  Once around the rock we surfed downwind in the slightly building sea and watched the sun rise.  With day break the wind shifted a little and we finished our challenge with a burst of 9 knots before reaching the anchorage.

This was the end of our first Adventure sail of 2009 – we had just sailed double the amount of miles we do in a relaxed week and spent 2 separate nights at sea.  We were finally ready for some ‘chill time’.  Our next adventurous sail with more ‘proper sailing for sailors’ is due to start in 10 days time when we set out to visit all 8 islands.  We are planning on sailing 600 in 13 days including at least 3 nights at sea.

The adventurous trend continues as we start heading north in April, our relaxing sails are over and we start on our longer offshore passages.  See our ‘Schedule’ for details of dates and prices

Relaxing in Lanzarote


2009 is certainly rushing by, I can’t believe that it’s February already.  Richard and I have just had a thoroughly enjoyable and busy January where as well as sailing we made time to go skiing and then on to UK to my sisters wedding.  Leaving Velvet Lady and sleeping ashore was strange as it was the first time in 2 years!

Our week skiing in Chamonix was fantastic. There was no new snow during the week but with clear blue skies and not a breath of wind we were not complaining – apart from our muscles.  My little sister’s wedding was beautiful, and it also gave me a chance to catch up with lots of family that I haven’t seen for years.  Very quickly it seemed to be over and we were on our way back to Lanzarote fully refreshed for our late winter/early spring season.

We quickly settled back in to life aboard and were ready and waiting for our guests to arrive for our first ‘relaxed cruise’ of the year.  The major difference between our relaxed cruises and adventure cruises is that on the relaxed weeks we aim to do short days sailing and spend one day ashore exploring Graciosa, on the adventure cruises we do not have a ‘shore day’ and include one night sail during the week.  The weather systems don’t seem to take any notice of whether we are doing a relaxed week or an adventure cruise, and so we sail in what we get.  The advantage of being in a nice large solid boat like Velvet Lady is even on the odd occasion where the forecast takes us by surprise we can still enjoy exhilarating sailing.

We sailed 167 miles in the week and combined great sailing with a fantastic day at anchor in La Graciosa.  Not a cloud in the sky, the temperature got up to about 22 degrees C and the sea was flat calm.  A perfect opportunity for Richard to spend time in the dinghy taking some new photos.  In the evening we enjoyed drinks in the cockpit at sunset, and stayed in the cockpit to gaze at the stars that lit up the sky.  The only light pollution was the screen of our chart plotter so that was quickly turned off.  It was so clear that far more stars than usual were visible and we were mesmerised by the trail of silver light cast on the sea by Venus alone.  We went to bed in a glassy sea.

What a contrast the following day as we set off in a forecast which read Westerly 5 or 6 to be greeted with gusts of 50 knots of wind – definitely more than we had bargained for.  Velvet Lady, Pete and Stuart took it all in their stride and there were smiles all round as we reached along at 8 – 9 knots with a good deal of spray.  The beauty of roller reefing sails and electric winches were really brought home to us as we managed to control everything from the cockpit and not need to crawl on the foredeck to reduce sail.

No sooner than it had begun it seemed to be over, and by the time we arrived at our destination there was no wind and flat calm again.  We tied alongside in Puerto Calero having definitely earned our Gin and Tonics. 

As I am writing this blog, the local English radio station is broadcasting the current snow warnings for UK.  Our forecast for this coming week is moderate winds, partly cloudy skies and sunshine, average temperatures 18 degree C.  Now that our skiing holiday is over I know where I would rather be – still some places for you to join us!