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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 180daysvisafree.org.

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 Afloat.ie

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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When your name is Wolfgang Bee and your boat is a top-of-the-line Hanse 455, the smart money would say you’re German. But when your wife is a Fenix from a family with roots in Tippperary and a couple of other Irish counties, and your beloved family boat is called Saoirse, then the smart money would also say that Ireland is never far from your thoughts.

Saoirse’s approaching arrival from the Azores in Ireland, with an ultimate destination in Malahide, is just one of the many voyages being tracked by the Ocean Cruising Club’s Vice Commodore Daria Blackwell from her base at Port Aleria on Clew Bay in Mayo. There, her husband Alex Blackwell (incidentally an OCC Rear Commodore, there’s a right nest of them at Port Aleria) is the whizz on the technology side as they work to provide a support service for the hundreds of OCC yachts worldwide that went off for long carefree dream cruises, but now find almost every potential port choice deeply affected by the Covid-19 restrictions.

This voluntary assistance has attracted such international attention that Daria recently found herself featuring on the Russian service of the BBC World News. And we well know that - just as the eyes of the Skibbereen Eagle used to be firmly on the doings of the Tsar of Russia - so the Kremlin is now keeping a close eye on Afloat.ie (howya Vlad, how’s it goin’, boy?), so here’s the link to show how far the OCC is reaching 

german saoirse crew2The German-Irish Bee-Fenix family on Saoirse are bound for Malahide from the Azores, where they had a restricted but very welcome five day stop in Horta after saioing from the Caribbean

For boats making the almost 4,000 mile hop to Europe from the very closed-down Caribbean, the legendary hospitality of Horta in the Azores has been a godsend. And though crews arriving at Horta have not been allowed ashore, they’re provided with a sheltered berth, and ways have been devised of helping them to re-stock with stores, water, fuel and Peter’s own special Horta-distilled spirits, which will cure anything.

The Quinlan-Owens family on the Galway Bay-based 39ft ketch Danu are still in the midst of the Antigua to Horta stage, but the departure a couple of days ago from the Azores of a loose flotilla of six boats included at least two bound for Ireland, with Saoirse well-followed thanks to her regular Facebook postings  However, all that is known of the other, a boat called Vibe, is that she is heading for Cork.

Time was when wandering about the oceans with only the occasional contact with anyone was what sea-voyaging escapism under sail was all about. But what with the increasing spread of AIS, and the all-involving effect of Covid-19, the crew of the good ship Vibe – which seems to lack AIS – will find themselves shaken out of their solitary little world of voyaging with something of a culture shock when they finally reach Cork

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At Port Aleria on Clew Bay in Mayo, Alex and Daria Blackwell can see their Bowman 57 ketch Aleria when she’s on her moorings off their house. But at the moment, their minds are often elsewhere, as Daria is Vice Commodore of the Ocean Cruising Club, whose many voyaging members worldwide have sometimes been finding themselves on the wrong side of local Covid-19 Lockdowns.

Helping them to plot a route home, or at least to a more friendly environment, has been entrusted to the Vice Commodore and her husband-shipmate. Thus Port Aleria has become a nerve-centre for passage planning and monitoring for a wide variety of craft from many nationalities in a large number of locations. And one of them has been Danu, the Kinvara-based 39ft steel ketch which is currently on a Transatlantic circuit cruise with Vera Quinlan, her husband Peter Owens, and their two children Lillian (12) and Ruari (10).

Their dream cruise was beginning to take on several aspects of a nightmare, as some of the Caribbean islands imposed local hyper-strict lockdowns. But the crew of Danu are a notably resourceful and good-humoured foursome, and even in situations which others might have found maddeningly frustrating, they managed to make the best of it to add to their rich store of experiences. Eventually, they found their way to Antigua, which was one of the assembly points for a flotilla of OCC boats due to leave for Europe at much the same time from several islands.

There was further frustration with a lack of wind for some days, and with the need to conserve fuel and use sail as much as possible over what might be a 4,000 mile voyage - though with the possibility of a pit stop at the Azores – patience was need until the breeze filled in. When it did, they finally got away on Saturday in company with Peter Whatley’s La Boheme. Their patience is rewarded, as Danu is currently making good progress under sail in the right direction three days after departure.

Meanwhile, ocean voyagers everywhere are either trying to do the same thing, or are watching to keep an eye on how others are doing, and a couple from Northern Ireland, Kevin & Susie Harris with the 1993 Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 47 Temptress of Down (originally Laragh based at Crosshaven), have been negotiating tricky waters as they draw towards the final stages of their global circumnavigation, which started in 2013.

TemptressThe much-travelled Sun Odyssey 47 Temptress of Down was Crosshaven-based when new in 1993.
“Final stages” is a very relative term when you’re cruising round the world, for in the case for Temptress and her crew, it has involved how best to get from Sri Lanka into European waters. The situation in the Middle East is so volatile that the Ocean Cruising Club are reluctant to advise going there, but the prospect of the long haul down round South Africa seemed equally unappealing, so Kevin and Susie kept with their plan of simply going for it through the notoriously windy Red Sea and the Suez Canal.

From time to time, yacht convoys get formed to transit these potentially hazardous areas in the hope of finding safety in numbers. But like circumnavigators Pat and Oliva Murphy of Howth with Aldebaran in 2007, the Harrises found themselves on their own, and just went for it despite the added problems of the spread of Covid-19.

Fortune favoured the brave, and they were through the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean by May 2nd. After replenishing stores and resting up in Crete, where they were provided with generous supplies of welcome fresh produce by the neighbourhood farmers, Temptress and her crew are now in mainland Greece at Missolonghi (yes, Byron’s Missolonghi) with the country and its minimal Coronavirus infection rate rapidly emerging from lockdown.

Meanwhile, the Ocean Cruising Club’s support network is a reminder that the club was founded in 1954 by Humphrey Barton (1900-1980), who was very active in the Irish Cruising Club when he was working in Belfast as a consulting engineer in the 1930s. He continued to maintain these ICC links, and today the OCC has a significant Irish membership, with the Vice Commodore Daria Blackwell based in Clew Bay, while the OCC Roving Rear Commodore (Baltic) is Andrew Curtain of the Royal Irish YC in Dun Laoghaire.

The OCC Atlantic Fleet are in this Wind Prediction Tracker here

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Today, all being well, a flotilla of eight boats will be leaving Antigua, bound Transatlantic for Europe in the hope of being well clear of the Caribbean before the hurricane season sets in. Included in the group will be the Galway Bay 39ft ketch Danu with Marine Institute scientist Vera Quinlan, her husband Peter Owens and their two children Lillian (12) and Ruari (10).

In all, there are about 150 Ocean Cruising Club boats spread through the Caribbean, and anxious to get clear of the sometimes extreme Covid-19 lockdown in the islands. Ocean CC Vice Commodore Daria Blackwell has been much involved in advising and coordinating this movement, working from the home on the shores of Clew Bay in Mayo where she lives with husband Alex Blackwell.

danu berthed2The Quinlan-Owens family’s ketch Danu hopes to depart Antigua today for the almost 4,000-mile voyage back to Ireland, possible with a brief stop at the Azores. Photo: Peter Owens
Some of the crews in the Caribbean have experienced decidedly harsh lockdown treatment at the hands of the island authorities, and while many are prepared to sail non-stop until they reach their own home waters, others are encouraged by the fact that the authorities in the Azores have indicated that they will do everything possible within their own restrictions to help the voyagers on their way.

Included among the voyaging hopefuls is Garry Crothers from Derry and Lough Swilly Yacht Club with his 43ft aluminium cruiser Kind of Blue, whose problems are particularly acute as expected crew have been unable to join him, and when he says he may have to sail single-handed, he really means it as he lost an arm in an accident some years ago.

More on this story and others in this account in the Guardian newspaper here and in this interview on the BBC World news here

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