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When long-distance American sailor Nick Kats – now 62 - arrived into Clifden in far west Connemara nearly ten years ago with his 39ft steel Bermudan ketch Teddy, it started a fascinating new chapter in an already interesting life. For although his vocational training had turned him into a skilled carpenter and shipwright, his aptitude was as a sailor, he was also a doctor specialising in natural medicines, and in the exceptionally-varied environment of this part of Ireland’s always fascinating Atlantic seaboard, he was to find an area rich in possibilities, and his lifelong interest in foraging acquired new dimensions.

Nick Kats, this will be his third voyage to East GreenlandMany of many parts – for Nick Kats, this will be his third voyage to East Greenland

So although since 2012 he has had a longterm plan of sailing back to his home territory in the US’s Pacific northwest - ideally by using the Northwest Passage – events and changing circumstances have managed to prevent it, or at least put it on a very long finger. Certainly, he has made exploratory voyages to the High Arctic. But as often as not, he seems to have intentionally ended up well east of Greenland’s southern tip of Cape Farewell, way up around Iceland and Jan Mayen and East Greenland, and then Teddy invariably returns to her familiar winter berth, comfortably drying out at low water against the picturesque quayside in Clifden.

Teddy (centre) at Clifden Quay Teddy (centre) at Clifden Quay in the early days – there has been some building done beside her berth since this photo was taken

Apart from becoming part of the Clifden and west Connemara community, where he now has a shore base with a house set deep in that Land of the Sea, Nick Kats was already in several communications groupings when he arrived thanks to his eclectic range of interests, while he is also in a very special group of sailors in being deaf. Thus internet communications are a Godsend for him in recruiting crew, and the blogs by himself and various crewfolk hint at the diversity of characters that the wanderings of Teddy attract, such as Pierre the French chef who came aboard with rumours of experience in some very famous kitchens.

Nick Kats in Teddy’s comfortable saloonThe Master Forager in his den – Nick Kats in Teddy’s comfortable saloon with some interesting ingredients to hand

He’d been met through Hegarty’s boatyard at Oldcourt where he’d been working as a boatbuilder with Liam Hegarty, the restorer of Ilen among many other major projects. Yet somehow Pierre managed to spend a long period sailing on Teddy without cooking a single meal. But as Nick can rustle up superb food, occasionally from some unlikely ingredients, that was no problem.

We learn of this from crewman Josh, a New Zealander who claims with some pride to have no fixed abode, who tells also how they all get along with Nick’s virtually total deafness since his birth in France 62 years ago. It seems they simply take it for granted or forget about it as time passes, learning to face him fully when talking in daylight, while at night there’s something resembling telepathy to keep things moving along.

Teddy is the epitome of the ocean voyagerAt her own pace, in her own time – Teddy is the epitome of the ocean voyager. Photo: Kenneth Whelan

Not that Teddy is an excessively labour-intensive boat, as she is one of those rare but wonderful craft which can easily be made to steer herself on most points of sailing. Designed and built in steel as one of two in 1988 by Arne Hedlund of Denmark, her design certainly gives a nod to Colin Archer. But she’s very much her own boat, with a transom stern which provides valuable cockpit and deck space right aft, where a classic canoe-sterned Redningsskoyte design from Archer tends to be distinctly cramped.

The ocean dream – Teddy self-sailing while dolphins play around the forefootThe ocean dream – Teddy self-sailing while dolphins play around the forefoot

In fact, Teddy is a boat of moderation in everything, being neither too wide nor too narrow, neither too heavy nor too light, with as much accommodation as can reasonably be fitted without reaching sardine-can territory. Her hull balances easily, and having a ketch rig increases the options for sail combinations to minimize helm load while still providing driving power such that – like Slocum’s Spray – once set in the grove, she just goes effortlessly on steering herself for miles and miles, the ease of it all shortening the apparent distance.

Nick Kats’ pleasure in all this is such that, although he was in East Greenland waters as recently as last year, yesterday (Monday) Teddy departed from the comfort of Clifden, outward bound for his third visit to that remote area beyond Iceland, over towards Greenland, and up to Jan Mayen. There, the ice cover is certainly much less than it was when Lord Dufferin made his pioneering high latitude cruise with the schooner Foam in 1856, as a result of which the charts of that rugged and remote island still show a small cove named Clandeboye Creek on the eastern shore, far indeed from the luxuriant ‘Gold Coast’ of North Down where Dufferin’s ancestral lands were centred around Clandeboye House.

Beerenberg on Jan Mayen Beerenberg on Jan Mayen as seen from Teddy in today’s conditions, above an ice-free sea. Photo: Alex Hissting

Beerenberg suddenly appears through a gap in the clouds above the fog and the ice around Lord Dufferin’s Foam (lower left) in 1856 Beerenberg suddenly appears through a gap in the clouds above the fog and the ice around Lord Dufferin’s Foam (lower left) in 1856

Teddy’s current voyage is limited only by the fact that two of the crew – Dutch finance student Arjan Leuw (24) and Italian architect Piero Favero (33) - have flights booked out of Iceland on 6th September, following which Nick and remaining Irish crewman Aodh O Duinn (29, and a veteran of tall ships) expect to head for home and Clifden double-handed.

But just what some of the remote ports and settlements that they expect to visit will make of a boat coming in from far beyond the seas in this time of COVID-19 remains to be seen. As things are, it is quite an achievement to have assembled an international crew and get free to voyage towards distant horizons and remote snow-covered peaks.

Meanwhile, there is much busy research currently under way among various cruising and long-distance organisations as to just what is or is not possible in the Arctic, where we instinctively feel that the disease will not be so rampant, thanks to sparseness of population and the purity of air.

Northwest Iceland as seen from Teddy last year.Will it be as fresh and healthy as it looks? Northwest Iceland as seen from Teddy last year

Whether or not that is the case is a moot point. As it is, we cannot help but notice that, through the month of June, many frustrated Irish sailors were sustained by the wonderful thought of the one-armed voyager Garry Crothers successfully battling alone across 3,500 miles of the Atlantic in order to get home to Derry.

And now, the mantle of our sailing dreams has been taken over by a highly individualistic owner-skipper who has not let profound deafness limit his joy in voyaging and savouring the special nature of the High Arctic cruising grounds. Our thoughts are with the crew of the Teddy, and thanks to Damian Ward of Clifden Boat Club, we have this drone footage of the ketch taking her low-key departure from Clifden Quay, and heading out for other places beyond the northern seas.

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Garry Crothers (64), of Lough Swilly Yacht Club and Foyle Sailability, was making good progress this (Monday) morning, with a speed of 6.6 knots in the right direction on his Ovni 435 Kind of Blue, taking steady chunks out of the 500 miles which now remain between the one-armed solo sailor and his home port of Derry.

Having been left marooned and alone in the Dutch island of Sint Maarten after the coronavirus-cancellation of scheduled flights which were to bring his daughter Amy and regular shipmate Ken Curry out to help him sail home to Lough Foyle, he was faced with either shutting down in isolation for an indefinite period in the island - a hazardous proposition as his age makes him high risk in relation to the pandemic – or else making the mighty effort to sail home alone. This was despite his one-armed status as a result of a motorbike accident in 2007, and it would involve lone voyaging all the way from the sub-tropical Caribbean to the still distinctly chilly and stormy North Atlantic in the approaches to northwest Ireland.

Having departed on June 1st, his progress was closely monitored through the Ocean Cruising Club’s routing and tracking service being provided by OCC Vice Commodore Daria Blackwell and her husband, Rear Commodore Alex Blackwell, from their base at Port Aleria on Clew Bay in Mayo.

As well, his many friends in Lough Swilly YC and Foyle Sailability have been ready with advice on technical backup when any problems arise, the most recent being a day ago as Kind of Blue reached the edge of the unseasonably cold weather which we in Ireland have been feeling acutely. The Eberspacher heater wouldn’t start, but Ken Curry was immediately in touch with heater ace Cian McAllister on Foyleside, and Garry being no slouch on technical matters himself, they soon had welcome warmth filling the boat.

Garry Crothers’ Ovni 435 Kind of Blue on Lough FoyleHome waters. Garry Crothers’ Ovni 435 Kind of Blue on Lough Foyle. Photo: Peter Fallon

Yesterday the forecasts for the final approaches to Donegal were so bad for later this week that Garry for a while was contemplating making his final approach around the east of Ireland. But fortunately, the meteorological expectations are looking slightly more optimistic now, and while it isn’t going to be summery by any means, Plan A of coming in past Tory Island and Malin Head is back in place.

It’s a heroic feat of sailing which can be followed here on the OCC Tracking system here

An overview of the system reveals the number of ocean-voyaging boats which Daria and Alex Blackwell have been monitoring and helping for the past two months and more with a supportive dedication which made them our popular “Sailors of the Month” for May. Several of them are Irish boats which were heading for sanctuary in either the Azores or back home in Ireland, on voyages which became increasingly urgent as the COVID-19 Pandemic took hold in Central America, the Caribbean and the southern states of the US on such a scale that restrictions and potential infection could be in place for many months.

People go off on long ocean cruises and the live-aboard life for many reasons, but if asked to sum up why they pursue their carefree nomadic existence with such dedication and enthusiasm, they’ll say they do it to “get away from it all”.

By “all” they mean modern life in its most demanding and disagreeable forms of crowded schedules and busy cities and traffic jams, with the noise and being stuck in the grimy day-to-day rut – the lot, in fact. Yet the irony is that in order to achieve the cruising dream, the complete structure of the modern world has to be in place to make it possible. In other words, you can’t get away from it all, unless “all” is always there, and fully functional in the first place.

dream anchorage on an exotic islandGetting away from it all? Being securely anchored in a dream anchorage on an exotic island is usually ultimately dependent on the smooth functioning of global communication, health and travel systems

So although most people regard the sometimes difficult experience of modern air travel as a mixed blessing, the remote ocean cruisers rely on a worldwide airline network in order to effect occasional crew changes, and sometimes get themselves home to handle the inevitable extended family situations which arise from time to time.

Then too, like many others while they abhor the incessant babble of 24/7 communication, most of them prove to be remarkably sophisticated in using some very advanced communication systems to keep in touch when they want, which is at a time of their choosing. And equally, they rely on an advanced society ashore which will provide them with accurate weather predictions and competent technical services when they come into port, when they will of course immediately plug into shore power in order to keep their multiple on-board systems functioning.

Alex and Daria Blackwell of the Ocean Cruising ClubThe Good Shepherds – Alex and Daria Blackwell of the Ocean Cruising Club

In other words, when the going is good, they’re getting the best of both worlds, slotting into the nearest outlet of a modern society for complex services when required, and then freely sailing away to some palm-fringed lagoon when the need for escapism and the “simple” life overtakes them. It sounds idyllic, but it takes a lot of planning and dedication and a steady level of quiet vigilance and sound management – plus a very large helping of good seamanship and technical expertise - to keep such shows on the road, and no-one would begrudge the ocean wanderers their success in achieving the dream.

Yet behind its successful achievement, there is this need for a functioning, efficient and civilized society in each port they visit, particularly when it’s a major port and they’re checking-into a new jurisdiction. For several decades now this has been the case in much of the world, so much so with long-distance cruising boats being made welcome almost everywhere that pessimists began to feel that it was maybe just all too good to be true.

If we wait long enough, the pessimistic view will eventually be fulfilled, even if only for a limited period. And the adverse effect of the global COVID-19 lockdowns on many ocean cruising projects has been a classic case in point, underlining the ultimate fragility of the civilised world system on which the free pursuit of the voyaging dream depended.

Thus boats in the Caribbean which had a global circumnavigation in mind immediately had their dream cut off by the virulent shut-down of Central America and the Panama Canal with it. The area has been so badly hit that the system may take years to return to anything remotely approaching normal. Yet then they found that the friendly Caribbean itself was no longer friendly, with fearful little island nations imposing lockdowns which made any free cruising impossible. And while it was an option to try laying the boat up locally and get one of the rapidly-reducing flights home to Europe, these options soon closed off, and the only choice was to sail home Transatlantic unless you were prepared to spend an undefined time – probably many months – in virtual isolation while discovering that an island Paradises can become an island Hell.

Bill Forde’s Beneteau 44cc Cajucito at East Ferry in Cork Harbour Bill Forde’s Beneteau 44cc Cajucito at East Ferry in Cork Harbour in 2016 with preparations under way for extensive ocean voyaging. She is now securely laid up for the pandemic period in New Caledonia in the southwest Pacific. Photo: Bill Forde

Bill Forde of Cork Harbour

For those who had got well into the Pacific, the circumstances were even more extreme. Either you got yourself very quickly to a larger island with proper boatyard or cyclone-proof marina facilities (if such a thing exists) and then managed to fly home, or else you were a stranger in an increasingly strange land, facing virtual solitary confinement for an alarmingly indefinite period.

Very quickly, the traditional and formerly almost quaint view that there’s no place like home became the motto for many of the ocean cruising community. The way that COVID-19 is spreading, erupting alarmingly just when over-confident authorities had declared it conquered, made any longterm cruising plans impossible, as rumours circulated about serious yet hidden outbreaks at some of the most popular world cruising areas.

Being alone or with a few chosen shipmates wandering among remote islands no longer seemed a special private delight. On the contrary, it became hyper-vulnerable isolation, your fate a matter of indifference to officials whose first and virtually continuous concern was with the well-being of their own community and nation, with a new range of rigidly obeyed and implemented hyper-strict regulations imposed from on high.

Sensing that this was on the way, experienced voyager Bill Forde of Cork – who sailed away into the wide blue yonder with his Beneteau 44cc Cajucito in 2016 such that she is now in the southwest Pacific – made the arrangements to lay up his boat in a proper boatyard in the well-run French territory of New Caledonia in a timely manner, and flew home to Ireland.

Bill Forde of Cajucito Bill Forde of Cajucito got himself safely home to Ireland ahead of lockdown after finding a secure location for his boat in New Caledonia

island-hopping aboard Cajucito in pre-pandemic daysWhen the good times rolled – island-hopping aboard Cajucito in pre-pandemic days. Photo: Bill Forde

It wasn’t quite a “last helicopter out of Saigon” experience, but subsequent communication with friends who missed getting away have confirmed that an imposed and confined stay of indeterminate length in New Caledonia reduces the island’s charms to just about zero. However, Bill does hope that with the close attention and care the French give to their overseas territories, he will be able to rejoin Cajucito in September.

Another Irish voyager came within the Blackwell’s OCC Atlantic remit - this was Eamonn Washington from Wexford, with his Amel Super Maramu 53 ketch Travel Bug. He has been at the long-distance sailing for years now, but his exit from the Caribbean was brisk as the pandemic loomed – he sailed single-handed down the islands to Martinique to pick up two crew, then they went swiftly to Guadeloupe for two more, then with five on board Travel Bug headed rapidly for Ireland, and having checked in at Castletownbere close ahead of a gale, the boat is now in peace and seclusion in Lawrence Cove.

Eamonn Washington’s Amel Super Maramu 53 Travel Bug Eamonn Washington’s Amel Super Maramu 53 Travel Bug is now safely back in Ireland after an efficient sail from the Caribbean

Both Ireland and the Azores became highly-desirable destinations with everything in the Caribbean starting to shut down completely, and many followed the track of the Quinlan-Owens family from Galway Bay as they struggled from Antigua on their 39ft ketch Danu of Galway with light winds – often from ahead – to reach the Azores, where the pandemic was being kept well under control to the point of local eradication. When they finally arrived, thanks to what Vera describes with refreshing candour as a bit of the “Galway Gab,” Danu became the first boat in Horta to be given complete pratique to sail freely among the now Covid-free islands.

While light winds plagued Danu in the final stages of reaching the promised land, this doesn’t seem too likely a scenario for Garry Crothers and Kind of Blue as they close in one the familiar coast of Donegal. But in the current very unsettled spell of weather, all things are possible. Yet even if calm does arrive unexpectedly, they’ve enough fuel on board to motor the rest of the way. But whatever way they get there, there’ll be the father and mother of a welcome when Kind of Blue comes up the Foyle and into her home port to complete a really remarkable achievement.

Kind of Blue in an island berthThe dream on hold……Kind of Blue in an island berth. For now, the dream is on hold as Garry Crothers brings her home to Ireland and refuge from rampant COVID-19

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The autonomous Azores islands, administratively linked to Portugal and 800 miles westward of Lisbon in the midst of the Atlantic, have become European pace-setters in controlling and eradicating COVID-19. And in doing so, they have been able to provide a welcoming if closely supervised process for receiving Transoceanic crews trying to escape from the Caribbean and other cruising areas where the disease is still spreading, and where brutally-imposed emergency restrictions took little or no account of the special problems of isolated long-distance cruising boats.

In the Azores by contrast, the Lockdown was imposed in a timely manner, and while boats newly-arrived from the Caribbean were put into quarantine, it was quarantine with COVID-compliant services to meet the special needs of ocean voyagers reaching a destination port.

An alert Pandemic Patrol welcome Danu to to HortaA good-humoured but decidedly alert Pandemic Patrol welcome Danu to Horta to begin a process of several days whereby the Galway Boat became the first yacht in the port to achieve full post-pandemic clearance to cruise the newly restriction-free Azores

No harbour has been more up-to-speed with handling the situation than Horta in Faial, which is deservedly popular as the cross-roads of the Atlantic. Thus when the Galway Bay family of Vera Quinlan and husband Peter Owens and their children Lillian (12) and Ruari (10) finally reached port after the 25-day voyage from Antigua with its stifling regulations, it was to be met in Horta by a cheery “Pandemic Patrol” which put them though the procedures in as friendly a way as possible, and ensured that their time spent anchored in quarantine in the Outer Harbour was minimized.

Danu’s quarantined pontoon berth in HortaDanu’s quarantined pontoon berth in Horta. She is a 39ft Bruce Roberts-designed ketch steel-built in 1993. Photo: Vera Quinlan

As Vera Quinlan has admitted in a report in, there was definitely a bit of deployment of the renowned “Galway Gab” in ensuring that Danu was allocated one of the coveted quarantine-compliant marina berths, which permitted a minimum of shoreside exercise. But it would seem that by this time, the Horta Harbour Health officials were thinking of Danu and her crew as their restriction-lifting mascots. For as the process of formal testing to avail of the full lifting of COVID-19 restrictions throughout the islands got under way last week, it was the crew of Danu who were first to be declared free to sail among the islands just as they wished.

Jose Azevedeo (left) fourth generation host of the Café Sport, welcomes Danu’s crew Jose Azevedeo (left) fourth-generation host of the Café Sport, welcomes Danu’s crew of Vera, Ruari, Lillian and Peter to his famous ocean cruising institution of hospitality

Naturally, the first thing they did was call at Transatlantic HQ at the legendary Café Sport in Horta, where Jose gave them a tremendous welcome. But a more thoughtful moment was visiting the painted memorial left behind on Horta’s harbour wall by Vera’s father Fergus Quinlan when he and his wife Kay were visiting with their 12metre steel cutter Pylades (which Fergus built himself) during their multiple-award-winning global circuit in 2009-2012.

Danu’s crew with the harbour posting in Horta left behind in 2012 Remembrance of things past. Danu’s crew with the harbour posting in Horta left behind in 2012 by Ferus and Kay Quinlan of the global circumnavigating Pylades in 2012. Photo: Peter Owens

The orginal plan had been that Pylades would sail out to the Azores from her home anchorage of Bell Harbour in North Clare to meet up with Danu in early August as the next two generations sailed in from the Atlantic, having completed much more extensive cruising along the American shorelines than has been possible with the COVID-19 shutdowns. The two newly-united boats would then do some Azorean cruising-in-company before heading home for Galway Bay together.

It’s a reminder of what might have been before the Pandemic struck, but in the uncertain circumstances elsewhere it was decided that Pylades was best to stay in Galway Bay. So for now, everyone is grateful that Danu is safely away from islands and coastlines where the plague still rages, and at liberty to sail among the islands which are the first part of Europe to be declared pandemic free.

Fergus & Kay Quinlan’s Pylades sailing freely in the PacificFergus & Kay Quinlan’s Pylades sailing freely in the Pacific in 2011 during her global circumnavigation. Pre-pandemic plans for her to meet up with Danu in the Azores in early August as the latter returned across the Atlantic have now been put on hold, and Pylades is currently in the boatyard at Galway Docks to enable Fergus & Kay to complete maintenance projects.

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Garry Crothers of Lough Swilly YC, who has refused to let life-changing injuries from a horrific motorcycle accident prevent him from fulfilling his dream of sailing the oceans, is now better than halfway home across the Atlantic in his Ovni 435 Kind of Blue, sailing the 3,500 miles from Sint Maarten in the Caribbean to his berth in Derry on Lough Foyle.

Normally Garry (66) would sail with two others, as the prolonged after-effects of his accident eventually resulted in the amputation of his left arm. But the imposition of strict COVID-19 travel restrictions in the vulnerable Caribbean islands meant that the crew intending to fly out to join him for the homeward passage from the Dutch island were unable to do so.

The ingenious Ovni 435 – an aluminium-built ocean voyager The ingenious Ovni 435 – an aluminium-built ocean voyager with a lifting keel which facilitates extra cruising in very shoal waters – is big enough to be quite a challenge for a fully-fit solo sailor and a very real challenge for a one-armed sailor on his own

Having drawn a blank in recruiting even one shipmate from among the already depleted group of ocean voyagers in Saint Maarten, he decided he that he and his boat Kind of Blue would have to do it on their own, encouraged by the fact that he had already logged a five day solo passage in his extensive cruising during the past two years.

We’ll be looking at the remarkable Crothers story - and how his oceanic progress is continuing - in more detail this weekend in Sailing on Saturday. But for now, the good news is that, after departing on June 1st and finding some slow – at times extremely slow – sailing through the light winds which have plagued the Atlantic between the Caribbean and the Azores, he is now making a smooth 6 knots in the right direction, with Kind of Blue in the strategically useful position of being around 500 miles west nor’west of the Azores.

Her speeds have picked up to a more regular five to six knots as she and her lone skipper start to get into the Atlantic westerlies out to the northwest of the persistent Azores high pressure area. There’s a long way to go yet, but the achievements of Kind of Blue and her skipper are already remarkable, and we look forward to returning to this story on Saturday.

The indomitable Garry Crothers at home aboard Kind of BlueThe indomitable Garry Crothers at home aboard Kind of Blue

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Today (Monday), the Quinlan-Owens family from Kinvara on Galway Bay with the Atlantic-circuiting 39ft steel ketch Danu have been finally free to roam ashore as they please in Horta on Faial in the Azores, as the next phase in the lifting of the COVID-19 restrictions in the islands is reached.

Portugal and its islands of the Azores have had a marginally better record than Ireland in dealing with the pandemic, and the outcome of this significant move, in a group of islands which have become the Atlantic crossroads and stopover port for ocean voyagers in vessels of all sizes, will be monitored with international interest.

Welcome to Horta! The Azorean Pandemic Patrol managed to put a bit of fun into Danu’s arrival for (left to right) Vera, Lillian, Ruari and Peter, but the Kinvara crew still had to spend a night in anchored isolationWelcome to Horta! The Azorean Pandemic Patrol managed to put a bit of fun into Danu’s arrival for (left to right) Vera, Lillian, Ruari and Peter, but the Kinvara crew still had to spend a night in anchored isolation

Danu - with Vera Quinlan, her husband Peter Owens and their children Lillian (12) and Ruari (10), arrived into Horta on Wednesday after a 25-day passage from Antigua, their progress having been slowed by light airs and headwinds. While their welcome to the Azores was as warm as it could be (Azorean Pandemic Patrols manage to put a bit of fun into a tedious process), they were still obliged to anchor in isolation in the Outer Harbour under quarantine, but as Vera reveals, with a bit of the “Galway gab”, after a day or so they secured a pontoon berth inside the quarantine quay.

Danu gets a pontoon berthFinally there……a bit of the “Galway gab” secured Danu a pontoon berth – albeit still quarantined – after a day outside. Photo: Vera Quinlan

This allowed them freedom to walk or run or cartwheel or even try the conga (if you stayed in the family bubble) every last metre of the 300 metres of the Quarantine Quay. Most of us wouldn’t even look at it for a nano-second as an option for our daily constitutional, but after being hot and bothered and becalmed and all in the same boat out in the Atlantic, it seemed like boundless paradise………

Access to the Quarantine Quay provided Danu’s crew with just 300 metres of shore-walking space Access to the Quarantine Quay provided Danu’s crew with just 300 metres of shore-walking space for their first three days in the Azores, but it made quite a difference to the wait for the restriction-lifting. The time-honoured custom of painting your boat’s name and home port (and sometimes lots of other details too) onto the harbour wall at Horta has reached such a level that every bit of space – vertical, horizontal and overhead - is now being covered. Photo: Vera Quinlan
But now, the world of Horta and Faial and the Azores is theirs to explore, and of course they’ll have to make their number in due course at Peter’s Café Sport, the heart of Horta for the ocean voyager.

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The Quinlan-Owens family of Kinvara on Galway Bay arrived safely in Horta in the Azores this morning after a slow calm-plagued passage from Antigua in the Caribbean. It was all well on board for Marine Institute scientist Vera Quinlan, her husband Peter Owens, and their children Lillian (12) and Ruari (10), but the final stages had required real patience as Danu glided along with the islands well in sight at a sailing speed of only 3.5 knots.

Their Atlantic circuit cruise had been somewhat curtailed by the onset of COVID-19 and severe movement and landing restrictions in the Caribbean islands. But nevertheless, they had managed many rewarding South American and island visits on the west side of the Atlantic, and in a very complete programme, their shoreside explorations in Spain, Portugal, Morocco, the Canaries and the Cape Verde Islands on the outward passage had provided them with cherished in-depth insights into the way of life in places seldom visited in detail by the average ocean cruising crew.

Now that they are safely in Europe’s supremely beautiful Atlantic outposts of the Azores, it’s time for some relaxation, and if they stay on until next Monday (June 15th) in the quarantined anchorage in Horta’s Outer Harbour, the COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted and they can freely visit ashore throughout the Azores.

Danu in a Caribbean anchorage. She is a 39ft 1993-built Bruce Roberts-designed ketchDanu in a Caribbean anchorage. She is a 39ft 1993-built Bruce Roberts-designed ketch which Vera Quinlan and Peter Owens personally up-graded to full ocean-going standards

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Today is World Oceans Day Monday, June 8th, and the 39ft ketch Danu of Galway Bay has an Azores landfall in prospect for celebration as she approaches the ocean-crossroads port of Horta in the island of Faial.

Although still 150 miles from Horta itself, Danu and her Quinlan-Owens family crew are within the ambit of the Azores archipelago after a month of voyaging northeastwards across the Atlantic from Antigua in the Caribbean. There, the Danu plans for detailed exploration in the islands as the highlight of an Atlantic circuit cruise had been greatly curtailed by the onset of COVID-19, with particularly severe restrictions being imposed on visiting boats and their crews by the small and vulnerable island communities.

Vera Quinlan oversees the placing of an Argo Research Float for Ireland’s Marine InstitutePlenty of fair wind on the outward leg as Vera Quinlan oversees the placing of an Argo Research Float for Ireland’s Marine Institute – it was launched at mid-ocean last December on the westward voyage and has been transmitting useful information back to the Institute in Galway ever since

Nevertheless, Danu’s crew have much to celebrate on this special Oceans Day, as Vera Quinlan is a scientist with the Marine Institute in Galway. While she has taken a sabbatical with husband Peter Owens, daughter Lillian (12) and son Ruairi (10) to make this voyage, Danu carried a scientific Argo research float from the Marine Institute which was duly launched at mid-ocean last December on the westward voyage and has been transmitting useful information back to the Institute in Galway ever since.

crew members now – Ruari and Lillian QuinlanProper crew members now – Ruari (10) and Lillian (12) have both been standing Watches independently on the eastward passage

The return voyage has been less favoured with fair winds but much-plagued by calms, yet Lillian and Ruari have been adding to their experience with being entrusted to stand their own watches. Increasingly, the prospect of very slow sailing progress in light winds became a matter of increasing concern, but the camaraderie of the sea manifested itself in the friendliest possible way when a passing ship transferred 200 litres of fuel to Danu, and since then they have been plodding on for much of the time at their most economical motoring speed of 4.6 knots, which means they may not reach Horta until Wednesday.

That may be no great hardship, for the word is that the Azores will be lifting COVID-19 restrictions in a week’s time on Monday, June 15th. Although Danu may have to stay in quarantine anchored in the Outer Harbour until then, her crew will have access to sanitized supplies, and if they stay on until next Monday, they’ll be free to go ashore and visit other islands before heading for Galway Bay.

Horta in Faial in the AzoresHorta in Faial in the Azores, the cross-roads port for Transatlantic voyagers. Under current regulations, Danu will have to anchor in part-quarantine in the Outer Harbour until next Monday (June 15th), but then COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted throughout the Azores

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A cruising issue that has been bubbling away for some time is the change in access rules for UK citizens travelling in the EU after the completion of our exit scheduled for the end of this year.

At present, the UK is offering EU citizens visa free travel for six months out of twelve. The EU is offering only 90 days in 180, the standard Schengen arrangement. This would be an unwelcome restriction to cruising in EU countries. The UK government, having previously indicated they would seek parity are now saying that they don't expect the EU to offer more and that they don't intend to make this part of the negotiations.

The Cruising Association's RATS (Regulations and Technical Services) committee is prepared to investigate what individual countries might offer in terms of longer stay visas, and the CA is now activating a lobbying campaign that it had planned to begin when the COVID-19 virus struck.

Now that there are signs that the peak in the UK seems to have passed, and Brexit negotiations are continuing, the CA feels the time is right to make what representations it can.

The CA's President, Julian Dussek, has written to his MP and to Wendy Morton, Minister for the European Neighbourhood and the Americas, as well as a range of organisations with similar interests, including the

The CA is galvanising its UK members to write to their own MPs to ask for help in pressing for equal treatment. General points being highlighted include:

  • the UK is offering EU citizen's a better deal on visa free entry than they plan to offer in return
  • the UK government has said it does not intend to challenge the unfairness and has given no reason
  • a wide range of people in the UK will be affected, including those with family or property in the EU as well as those wishing to continue extended travelling.
  • family crises can arise outside the 90-day allowance and for people cruising in their own small boats, even the most careful planning can go awry with weather or mechanical problems.
  • the penalties for overstaying for any reason can be draconian.

The CA is also contacting those members who live in the EU to ask them to put pressure on their local parliamentarians to try and effect a change from within the EU. If the restrictions are imposed next year it will have a detrimental effect on tourism, an important part of many EU countries' economy.

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Garry Crothers of Lough Swilly YC, who voyages extensively with his 2003-built aluminium Ovni 435 cutter Kind of Blue despite having only one arm as the result of a particularly catastrophic car accident in 2007, was facing a severe problem in the Caribbean last month as reported in

Normally he voyages in the substantial Kind of Blue with a crew of two. But when he stopped off in the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten for a crew change which would have been effected through the island’s famously beach-hopping airport, while his shipmates were able to get away, his replacement crew were unable to join him as the Caribbean Islands suddenly introduced very stringent closures to keep COVID-19 at bay.

Kind of Blue in total calm as the sun rises over a peaceful anchorage. For the next few weeksKind of Blue in total calm as the sun rises over a peaceful anchorage. For the next few weeks, the Ovni 435 will be in constant movement as she voyages home to Lough Foyle

With some very pessimistic prediction being made as to how long the COVID-19 pandemic would last in its worldwide effects, Garry reckoned that his best plan was to sail home as soon as possible to the port of Derry, very much his home town for when he’s there he plays a leading role in the Foyle Sailability Project for ability-impaired boat fans.

Garry Crothers at home in the Foyle on Kind of Blue, taking part in a Foyle Sailability Project.Garry Crothers at home in the Foyle on Kind of Blue, taking part in a Foyle Sailability Project

He had though there might be a chance of recruiting at least one crew from among the small fleet quarantined in Sint Maarten. But all the boats were dealing with personnel problems, many of them acute, and he gradually became resigned to the idea of having to sail the 3,600 miles home all-too-literally single-handed.

So although he admits to being at least 64 and thus in an at-risk cohort as regards COVID-19 in addition to his other problems, he drew on experience gained in his one single-handed voyage - a passage of five days – and prepared the boat and himself to make the 3,600 mile Transatlantic crossing to Lough Foyle in one hop, as he reckons that even thinking of diverting to the Azores on the way – as most others do - would only distract him from the single-mindedness needed for this extreme challenge.

Kind of Blue and her lone skipper took their departure on Monday, and progress has been good, but it’s still one very long way to go, and patience will be needed among those following this very special voyage.

Vera Quinlan & Peter Owens on Ketch Danu

The Quinlan-Owens family’s 39ft ketch Danu in the CaribbeanThe Quinlan-Owens family’s 39ft ketch Danu in the Caribbean. With their dreams of further Caribbean cruising curtailed by the severe COVID-19 restrictions in the islands, Danu headed for the Azores in the first and longest stage of her voyage home to Kinvara on Galway Bay, and is expected in Horta in the next few days

Meanwhile, Vera Quinlan and Peter Owens and their children Lillian and Ruari from Kinvara on Galway Bay with the 39ft ketch Duna are now within a few days of the Azores, after a month of voyaging homewards from Antigua. But as the famous Azores High Pressure is keeping wind strengths down in the approaches to the islands, a specific ETA is on hold until the weekend.

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The Hanse 455 Saoirse, with which Wolfgang Bee-Fenix and his Irish-German family have been making a Transatlantic circuit cruise, is expected back in Malahide later on Sunday, after a warm welcome home to Irish waters from both the Customs and the Naval Service off the coast of West Cork this (Saturday) morning.

The messages from on board say it all, with the posting from 10 o’clock today setting the mood of the day:

“Just had the Guys from Customs and Immigration come alongside to ask us how the trip has been. They have been following our blog!! Very cool. All smiles, friendly and helpful. Gave us a few forms to fill out and wished us safe passage back to Malahide. Oh how happy we are to be home.”

 Irish Customs welcomed Saoirse back to Irish watersIt’s difficult to give a friendly smile when you’re wearing a facemask, but somehow the Irish Customs managed it this morning as their RIB welcomed Saoirse back to Irish waters.

The Customs Service RIB returns to the mothership FaireThe Customs Service RIB returns to the mothership Faire after providing Saoirse with clearance in the open Atlantic.

Then an hour later there was a broader capturing of the scene:

“After 9 days on passage from the Azores, we saw the South West Coast of Ireland come into view this morning. What a glorious sight, and decked in sunshine and blue skies to boot!! We have already had the guys from Customs and Immigration come alongside, giving us a good Irish welcome. They have been following our blog and knew all about us. They gave us some forms to fill out and wished us safe onward passage to Malahide. We hope to make the evening tidal window tomorrow for Malahide Marina. Can’t wait to get our feet on Terra Firma now after over a month at sea, between our passage to the Azores, the time there on board and now this final leg home”.

Naval Service RIB sets out to return to her ship after a further check on SaoirseWelcome Number 2 – the Naval Service RIB sets out to return to her ship after a further check on Saoirse

And then most recently early this afternoon, with Saoirse two miles off the Old Head of Kinsale and making 6 knots on a close reach with 12 knots of SSE wind:

“What an exciting morning. After a month all on our lonesome we have had two visits in one day. This time from the Irish Navy. Again all smiles, general questions and we were sent on our way wishing us safe passage home.”

Bee-Fenix family on Saoirse

Looking forward to returning to dry land – the Bee-Fenix family on Saoirse.

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago