I haven’t got a clue where to start. So much has happened in these nearly 18 years, how can I make this long story short? I’ll try:
Not all of it happened together with Tonga. I’ve done some sailing with other boats too. And not everything was done by boat.
I had a Dutch boyfriend for some years who wasn’t very keen on sailing. For several years in a row we spent around 6 months per year in Australia and New Zealand, doing up his house in Taumarunui (the place where the 4 winds meet in Maori) and traveling around in New Zealand and Australia for months. And we spent a lot of time crisscrossing Europe. My time with Tonga goes separate from that and happened in the other months of each year. This might sound a bit confusing right now, but you’ll get the hang of it I’m sure :-D!
During this period, the longest we stayed in the same place was maybe once 3 months in his house in New Zealand, followed by 11 days when we were flooded in in Normanton in the Gulf of Carpentaria/Queensland/Australia, then 9 days on North Stradbroke Island in Queensland/Australia where we were invited by my best friend for his 60th birthday and 8 days with my sailing-friends in Sweden who had actually invited me for my own birthday-party they wanted to arrange for me which was super-nice of them and really awesome! The rest of the time we were constantly on the move.
This land-based part happened by car from Motel to Motel or by campervan. We’ve seen a lot and I’m still curious about what’s behind the next bend, but I was never able to really make it work for me. It was too superficial and much too fast for my taste. I like to travel at a slow pace so I can feel and see things that make a place special for me and worth to remember. But even so, sometimes it still worked to sidetrack a little bit and I met some wonderful people, found breathtaking landscapes and experienced some very special stuff I definitely wouldn’t want to miss for my life, and I think this should be a part of my future posts too.
Tonga wasn’t abandoned during this time. When we were not sailing, she was safe in Almerimar, which was probably the cheapest and safest port in the whole of Spain. Almerimar was kind of my “homeport” for 12 years. The place I would always come back to kind of thing. There was also some maintenance to catch up with, something I concentrated on sorting during these years. She got 2 brand new masts, new mainsail and mizzen. I worked hard to replace most of the electrics, and some upgrades of gear. When I bought Tonga in 1996 I could have sailed any boat to the end of the world, but I didn’t have a clue about maintenance and was scared to hell of electricity. Well, it doesn’t work like this on a boat, you’ve got to be capable to understand everything and be able to repair whatever comes along. There are certain limits. I’ve been digging deep into a lot of subjects, but I still won’t replace a broken or worn out part with a second-hand-one. This is just not what I can accept or want to have. Sure, there are situations where there is absolutely no other option – be it one is far away from any suppliers or there is no replacement at all.
One day I had to leave Almerimar for good. There was a possible problem with Customs developing and I wasn’t sure if it concerned me as well or not. It was about foreign people staying more than 182 days in the country without registering their boat under Spanish flag and paying the fees and taxes involved, plus a fine. At the time Tonga wasn’t properly ready for sea but I was lucky that – against all odds – the weather changed dramatically within a day and stayed like this. Well, at least till I got to Gibraltar which was great! I headed to Vila Real de Santo Antonio in Portugal, where there is no such problem. Well, at least not now.
Vila Real de Santo Antonio lies on the Guadiana River which forms the border between Spain and Portugal in the south. I also spent a long time upriver, in winter, anchoring in wonderful places (the photo above is taken there) and going on discovery-trips with the kayaks or by foot. But, as beautiful as it is, one day I just couldn’t stand the brown-greenish river-water any more. I was longing for this deep blue of the ocean, the breathing of the sea, the space, the dolphins, these brownish birds chasing down the waves, the sparkles of the sun on the surface of the water, it was just getting too strong. So I made ready and left.
A few more tiny hops along the Algarve and then off to Porto Santo and Madeira. I haven’t seen Tonga this happy for years, she was flying along like never before, and you can’t imagine how happy I was!
We stayed for maybe 6 weeks in Porto Santo and Madeira and then sailed off to the Azores. There’ll be more about this later in another post.
However, sailing from the Algarve to Madeira and the Azores was my first trip ever where absolutely everything was working perfectly and I didn’t even have one single breakdown of something. It was a great feeling I can tell you and I was super-proud of my good ship and me :-D! Well, that is, not counting the hydraulic ram for my steering which had just been overhauled by a specialist and provided with a new pushrod. Unfortunately he forgot to secure the piston properly on it.
On this trip on my way back from Terceira/Azores, more or less halfway or 400 Miles out, I had an encounter with Hurricane Bill, and 120 Miles off the coast, when everything had started to slowly calm down, this hydraulic ram of my steering broke. Tough luck. I was on my way to Camariñas in Galicia/Spain and had lost a lot of way to the north with the strong winds and trying to escape the worst. Steering by hand, and actually by lines leading through blocks and connected to the emergency tiller down in the aftcabin meant that I wasn’t able to use the autopilot. I could have lived with that, but something kept blocking and made steering very difficult. I decided to head for the nearest port I could enter whatever the tide or the weather is doing. The only choice I had was between Leixoes and Nazaré, both in Portugal, so Nazaré it would be. An All-weather-port safe to enter at any time. Two years later (in 2011) the North Beach of Nazaré started to be claimed by Big-Wave-Surfers and is now the spot where the biggest waves in the world are surfed. Still, even on the wildest days, the port is open and safe for navigation.
The Dutch guy and I were together for 8.5 years and split up after the trip to Madeira and the Azores with Tonga. It would have happened anyways, but with not taking him with me I could have avoided making this trip hell for myself, if only I had listened and taken his statement “I’ll come along, but I won’t do anything. It’s just to give you a better feeling sailing singlehanded. And I will never wear a lifejacket” serious. Coz that’s exactly what he did.
Never mind, I went back to the Azores to catch up with friends and help another friend to sail his boat back to the mainland. What was planned to be a 2-week-trip turned into something like 2 months. We plucked up Karen who was super-sad coz she had just sold her boat and off we went together to Sao Jorge and Faial. On the return-trip to Nazaré we were first greeted by a huge amount of dolphins and then, nearing land, had a double-rainbow over the village, how awesome is that?
I had discovered a problem with my deck, which needed replacement. Trouble is for a job like this one needs storage-space and this is not easy to come by. Luck would have it that I could have storage-space right here in the port. Tonga went on the hard, I started, and my nephew came over to stay with me for a few months and give me a hand. Unfortunately the military was keen to have him, so he had to go back. I kept on going on my own for the time being.
Till a close friend of mine kind of lost his crew in Porto and asked if I please could come. Just a quick turnaround, sail up to Ireland to visit his youngest son, over to the UK to get him a new passport as his old one had run out and the Embassy couldn’t issue a new one, and back to Nazaré. We should manage to do that easily in 3 months I thought, so off I went. We came back 23 months later, having had a great time with lots of stories to tell, even of being on the rocks.
Tonga had suffered some water-ingress when I was away. Although friends regularly kept an eye on her the interior couldn’t be salvaged. It was heartbreaking for me, till a few days later I realized that this is actually a new chance to do all these changes I had been thinking of but never did.
Opening the deck on the stern made me face a problem, and, together with the shipwright for the wooden fishing-boats, we replaced the stern and some planks. That is also when I found out that after nearly 60 years Tonga has to be re-fastened (for non-sailors: I’ve got to bang new nails in everywhere a plank meets a frame).
I’ve promised Tonga and sworn to myself that I’m not going anywhere unless the deck is finished, the hull is seaworthy again and she’s ready. And this too is the stage I’m looking forward to, which is to continue our own voyage. I’m far from finished, although I had the occasional help of the shipwright and sometimes sailors on passage who had the 1.5 hours to spare in giving me a hand with laminating the big sheets in. But, to be honest, there is a compromise I made and that concerns my parents. Since a while we meet every year for 2 weeks time, and every second year somewhere away from Nazaré. But the danger of overstaying these 2 weeks is negligible.
Not everything is nice and shiny. I had 2 accidents since I started with the re-build of Tonga, both of them took ages for me to get back up and running again. I seriously hope that there are no more accidents to come, fingers crossed!!!
I’ll see how things will turn out with this blog, but I’m pretty certain it won’t be a regular thing. And now … back to work, got a stern to close :-D!
By the way, just in case people should be reading this blog one day: I’m happy about any questions, suggestions or comments. Nothing worse than spending a lot of time, love and energy into writing, when the good people on the other side don’t give any feedback. That was the reason I stopped writing Emails although everybody claimed he loved them, it was just a one-way street. So, say something!