The Voyage to Brasil and back in retrospect

My eldest daughter Tanera, who has been a great support with this website and the related Facebook blog (@Svalen), transforming cryptic messages and small photos sent by SSB/ SailMail or Iridium GO/ into sensible text and stories, and editing, said in Inverness that the blog was more about food than about sailing!

The Skipper enjoys food, and thinks that it is a very important element in Ocean or Coastal sailing. The crew looks forward to a meal. On Svalen as on many other boats, meals are mostly in common, making them one of the few times when all the crew is together. That means a time for discussion – what went wrong, what went right, how could we do better, and what are we going to do, etc, etc. So if we wrote too much about food, it probably reflects our slight obsession with it!

We also had various seemingly endless problems with both fridge and freezer. Indeed, we were wholly without either for most of the 31 day crossing from French Guyana to The Azores, making for considerable difficulty in concocting interesting as well as nutritious meals. One does get rather tired of pasta, rice, beans and lentils even if the nutrition remains good! This problem was compounded because we were not very good (i.e. not at all good) at catching fish in the vast Atlantic. Sometimes, it is true, the fish catch themselves. Like those poor flying fish in southern waters who land on deck at night. But these are mostly very small and quite boney!

It is a fact that most boat fridge and freezer repair persons we found were not very good at their job. It was only in Ireland that we found someone who fixed them both and kept them going afterwards. Indeed we were variously told that the problem was the control box for the compressor, and finally the (very expensive and rather unavailable) compressor itself. Neither were in fact the case, as we discovered in Ireland. It had simply been about poor wiring or re-wiring in the end.

Anyhow, at the moment we are thinking about writing some more about food and sailing. How to prepare for a long period at sea, how to preserve food by bottling and curing, how to keep fruit and vegetables fresh for long periods, cooking in difficult seas, varying the diet, keeping sourdough yeast and kefir grains alive, and so on. And we will write about the voyage with the culinary aspects as a main feature, embedded in the narrative.

One of the greatest pleasures in Ocean sailing to South America (and indeed anywhere) is the range of interesting and adventurous people one meets, including many young people who have taken that advice “sell up and sail”, often in rather small, if sturdy, boats, and sometimes with young children. We found many to be French and Dutch, and marvelled at their plans and spirits. Many French were heading towards French Polynesia, perhaps following Bernard Moitessier´s example. For them this is the ultimate sailing destination. But some were heading to Patagonia, where one French couple had just spent two years exploring almost uncharted fjords and islands in Southern Argentina and Chile. They were also interested in food, being good at catching and curing fish, and sharing their kefir grains and sourdough yeast with us. We aim to write more about the interesting people we met from all over the place.

All together we had thirty-one crew members in addition to myself as Skipper during the voyage. They were mostly family, friends, and friends of friends. But we also had a few additional crew members who were new to us. Igor Wickens, who was Brazilian-British, and Killian Dadi, who was French-Moroccan, stood out in their various  contributions to cooking, sailing, and cultural life. Igor was on his way home to Brazil, complete with Saxaphone and Guitar, and some of his craft work, and came from Cabo Verde to  Salvador, Bahia, giving us all a valuable and interesting introduction to Salvador and its musical hot spots.  Killian had cycled from Morocco in N Africa, to S Africa, itself an extraordinary feat, and then signed on as crew on a sailing boat going from Cape Town to Salvador, Bahia, where we met. Killian crewed from Fortaleza in Brazil to French Guyana, where, again, he was a most valuable and interesting guide. He stayed there to teach in the small jungle villages and explore cycling on the small inland tracks. All in all, we had a super group of crew members from fourteen countries during the round voyage, and aged between 11 and 77.

We sailed about 16,000 nautical miles in all over the fourteen month period between 12 May 2018 and 12 July 2019. Most of this was good sailing, without the need for engine. However, we had about one day in the ´doldrums´when sailing south west to Brazil from Cabo Verde, and all too many calm days in the long stretch of ‘horse latitudes’ between French Guyana and Faial in The Azores, which took us just over a week longer than we had planned for.

We had few storms, indeed none to speak of on the way south to Brazil, even if we did have some rough seas with crossing waves and swell. However, we thought our route was good, and it both followed the Rhumb Line route and the route recommended in the Predictwind routing programmes taking us more or less directly from Cabo Verde to Fernando da Noronha, and from there to Salvador. Fernando da Noronha was not only a lovely island to stay in for three days, but also broke the journey very nicely. It took us about 10 days to sail there from Cabo Verde and a further five days from there to Salvador. Although this is probably at the western extreme of the route recommended by Cornell, it worked for us in terms of minimal doldrums weather and fairly good winds at the time we crossed, which was late November to early December.

Sailing in Brazil was excellent – indeed around Salvador there are many good islands and anchorages. Going North from there to French Guyana was a dream with favourable winds and currents, and sunny weather, almost the whole way.

However, from French Guyana to Azores was more difficult than we had imagined. Mostly because we lost the north-going current, and also the winds until about 30 degrees North. Maybe we should have followed the Windward and Leeward Islands north and sailed towards Bermuda before heading east to The Azores, this being the usual recommended route. However, at the time we wanted to cross to The Azores (April) there were still very strong northerlies in the North Atlantic, and other boats who took this route did not have an easy crossing either at that time.

The Azores is a very good place to spend some time in. They have a strong marine history, good small farming and local fishing, and local wine and tea production. prices are reasonable, and repair facilities good. We could well have stayed longer and visited more islands and ports. But in the end we had some repairs to do, needed to lift the boat out to clean off barnacles and apply new anti-foul, and only visited three of the islands, all of which were beautiful and with friendly helpful people. But I would really advise sailors to spend more time here exploring the islands on the way back from S America or the Caribbean.  Among other things, Azores is too far from mainland US or Europe for there to be many motor boats – this is a land for sailors and sailing boats!

From Terciera in The Azores (which has good lift-out and repair facilities) we sailed roughly 1200nm to Kilmore on the SE tip of Ireland.  This was mostly good sailing, although with some rough seas. We left Terciera on 8th June at 1335, and arrived on 18th June at 0350am BST. From Kilmore it was a long day sail with the right tides to Dun Loughaire in Dublin Bay, and from there to Gigha in the SW of Scotland it was a good sail of about 29 hours, again with the right tides. From Gigha to Oban and Corpach, the entrance to the Caledonian canal, was unproblematic except that the High Pressure gave us cloudless skies with no wind at all! But great views! having spent a couple of nights in Gigha and one in Oban, we arrived in Corpach on 27 June and tied up at the top of the long flight of locks for the night before proceeding to Fort Augustus, Loch Ness and Inverness, where we arrived on 29th June.

We had a great time in Inverness with visits from family and friends – my sister and all three grandchildren were on board – and also going to various music events. Our all Nordic female crew arrived from Iceland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark during our stay there, and we sailed for Thyboron on the west coat of Jylland in Denmark on the afternoon of Sunday 7th July. We reached Thyboron just after midnight on Wednesday 10th July, following an unusually  quiet sail over the North Sea, and continued to the lovely small port of Lemvig, where we arrived about 0330 local time, tying up in the main town harbour. Here we rested for a day before continuing to Skive on 12th July where our friends and Værftet owners Lars and Helle Klok had organised a wonderful reception party for us all at the boatyard. Here were my mother and father in law, Gunnar and Poula, Soeren, Martin, Karina, Julie and her boyfriend, Nils, and others who had helped us to prepare last year in Denmark. Also Icelandic crew member Anna’s man Gudmundur, and Danish crew member Elisbeth’s parents and brother. It was a splendid end to a great sailing voyage.

Now a number of issues have to be resolved. My friend Siegfried Auriol who is about to retire from the French Air Force, came to see Svalen in Salvador Brasil, and has offered to buy her at an agreed price, subject to survey. He plans to sail round the world in his retirement.

We planned to lift Svalen out of the water in Skive to allow his surveyor to examine the hull, before proceeding to sea trials etc. Unfortunately, when we lifted Svalen out last Friday we found damage to the propellor housing, and on subsequent examination after dismounting, damage to the propellor shaft itself, mostl likely caused at lift out or maybe return to the water. this has happened since we took Svalen out in The Azores, when we replaced the stern gland bush and changed propellors and anti-fouled the hull. Now it’s an insurance job, and Siegfried’s visit and survey have been delayed by a month.

Because I got a slipped disc as soon as we got back to familiar dry land, Karen and Lisbeth did most of the job of cleaning and emptying the boat of our own possessions! Never underestimate how much there is on a 49′ boat!  But thanks to them, and to Elisabeth who came back to help too, all is now in order for Sieg.

We still have our wooden Brian Lello schooner, Aldarion, which we did not succeed in selling before leaving for Brazil. We aim to keep this lovely boat and use her for our future sailing adventures, which will not be as exotic! She is 39′, or 10′ shorter than Svalen, but with simpler systems to maintain.

Thanks to all…

We have many people to thank for supporting the voyage in one way or another, and for supporting our modest fund raising events. There are too many to list here, but they certainly include the crew of family and friends who joined, the people in Stockholm and Lars and Helle and the team at Værftet in Skive who helped us prepare the boat, the people on the way there and back who helped to fix things, repair sails, and generally keep the show on the road, fellow members of Stockholm Rotary International Club, the Cruising Association, Leif and Janne at Wasahamnen, Stockholm; the support team at PredictWind in New Zealand; and the many friends we made during the voyage who helped to make the venture so interesting and rewarding. May the winds be as fair to them as they were to us.





Inverness to Skive – July 2019 Moa, Anna, Lisbeth, Elisabeth and Karen together with Skipper John


The complicated departure

Elisabeth was the first of the crew to arrive to Svalen and John in Inverness on July 1st. She helped John with preparations, such as fixing the deck light and planning and preparing food for the trip. Karen and Lisbeth came on July 4th, also in good time to assist in preparations. During the week they had a visit from a Cockroach killer. The insect professional saw a parallel between the unwelcomed insects and Europeans coming to Scotland, and also considered the lack of pest killing in Europe, e.g. of rats, as one of the reasons for leaving the EU. Hm…


Photo: Moa in the Muirton Sea-Lock, Inverness

Moa and Anna came from Edinburgh on the evening of the 6th when the dinner table was set, and Svalen was almost ready for departure. The plan was to depart on July 7th at noon, after having filled the diesel tank. The drive to the tank station was only 1-2 minutes. But, a large service vessel for the windmill farms turned up from nowhere and beat us to the tank station! It took them almost 2 hours to fill their 4000 litre tank. This delay resulted in a closed lock, so we could not get out from the Muirton basin and had to wait even longer for the next opening. If only we had been at the tank stop 2 minutes earlier! Anyhow, the Moray firth was entered in the middle of the afternoon and we set off for Thyborøn with quite good winds to begin with.


Anna: In the sea lock at Inverness.

Pragmatism and compassion

The crew was divided into three teams of two, with responsibilities for cooking and steering during different point of time during each 24 hours. Good food is important on Svalen, and night sailing demands both energy, concentration and snacks. However, one issue complicated the team work: sea sickness. We were both prepared and unprepared for what this meant. One consequence was that we had to be pragmatic instead of strictly following the plan and division of labour. Those who were able to spend time in the kitchen without being sick had to take on cooking and washing dishes, while the others tried to cure themselves by resting and fixing their gaze on the horizon while steering. In this situation pragmatism and compassion is very important! Elisabeth considers this a very good ship to be sick on. We took good care of each other and were self disciplined. For example, in spite of wobbly waters and sickness bread and cookies were baked, songs were sung and tea was made for the night shifts. Everyone took their assignments seriously. Seasickness has different impacts on people: Thile Elisabeth became worse Karen became better and Lisbeth as first helms woman felt she had to stay strong and thereby avoided sickness.

Lisbeth and Elisabeth en route Inverness-Denmark

Impressions from the North sea

The morning watches where we (read Anna and Karen) saw the sun rising together with a vast amount of oil platforms, cargo ships and fishing vessels were rather amazing. The watches also included to check the speed of cargo ships and fishing vessels, the lenth of trawls, and location of oil platforms in order to avoid a collision. Lisbeth and Elisabeth who were on the first night watch from 10-1am felt the 3 hours passed very fast and also were lucky to see dolphins on their watch. Moa and John had the darkest watch in the middle of the night and Moa went from only thinking of panicking before the tour while googling sailing the North Sea prior to being a skilled helms woman not being afraid on the dark night shift. The scenery was a surprise and the wind a disappointment: the sea was like a desert with very little waves and no wind which meant that we have to motor most at most of the crossing! Another observation is the lack of clear distinction between day and night due to the shifts and due to the Northern light.


Music and singing

While sailing we entertained ourselves in different ways: all were singing in different ways and Lisbeth and Elisabeth provided nice and spontaneous music from their guitar, charango and saxophone – great!


Entering the Limfjord

While crossing the North Sea was a piece of cake entering Thyborøn and going through the half unlit channel after midnight was a large challenge. Lisbeth and Karen had to stand at deck trying to find the red markers which where most of them were not lit – and the channel is narrow and suddenly a small fishing vessel came towards us with large projectors. Anyhow we did manage and arrived Lemvig 3:30 am very happy all of us. The following day was spent in Lemvig to relax and explore the town. The women except for Elisabeth who had to recover went to the Museum for Religious Art which is a nice little museum with a great view and of course enjoyed a coffee and cake there. Poula and Gunnar (Karens parents) came for an afternoon visit and so we suddenly were very integrated into Danish culture again. The tour ended Friday going around Salling to Skive – where a large welcoming committee and party was waiting for us with Lars and Helle Klok as hosts. Friends and family including Karens son, Morten, of the crew were there and a great fest with champagne, BBQ with all sorts of nice food was enjoyed and even more wine, beer and drinks. The evening was great, long and a real party. A fantastic welcoming and a fantastic crossing with a great crew.



Ginger biscuits

Fish chowder

Boef Bourgignon

Fennel with parmesan




Inverness to Denmark


We had a great time with family and friends on the way to Inverness from Ireland,  in Inverness, and on the sail to Denmark and final arrival in Skive, even if it was all rather hectic!  Sally and Dave came to Dublin to greet us, which was amazing. Stuart and Frazer arrived to crew from Dublin to Inverness.


Dave, Sally and me in Dun Loughaire, Dublin Bay.

We were able to meet ups with Mags MacSporran on Gigha, and return some of her kind hospitality on our way south last year.

  1. Skipper and Fraser on Gigha, after a dip!  2. View of the Paps of Jura from the N end of Gigha
  1. Stuart at the wheel, North of Gigha 2. Garbage collected at the beach, N end of Gigha. They are “plogging” on Gigha too!


  1. Looking back at Ben Nevis from Loch Lochy, Caledonian Canal, 2. The lighthouse at Corran Narrows Loch Linnhie, 3. Fraser and John in the canal.

In Fort Augustus we had a visit from Stuart´s parents, and from his friend Andrea and her two spaniels. The pace hotted up even more when we reached Inverness. Alasdair and Philomena came to lunch, and we had a good chat. Elisabeth (who we made friends with in Salvador, Bahia) came on board, followed by  Lisbeth and Karen to sail home to Denmark. Tanera, Veyatie and Pollaidh came for lunch, and next day Rory, Sarah and Rosie. Kathy Storey was also on board a couple of times, and took  some of us to the Market Bar for late music. Moar and Anna came on board as new crew to cross to Denmark, and that night we all went out to hear Daggar Gordon and Amy Henderson (with a drummer whose name I lost) at Under The Canvas outside Eden Court Theatre, and some went on to the Market Bar later. We were very happy to see Daggar again, as he is an old friend, and was part of the Ceilidh band we had some years ago for our wedding party in Ullapool. We also met up with Stuart´s sister Catriona, her man Bill, Fraser, and others at the gig. All in all, a very nice period with family and friends.

  1. Moar at the sea lock, Clachnaharry. 2. Anna in Muirton Basin, 3. Elisabeth working the boat in the locks, 4. Karen and John 5. Karen, John and Lisbeth leaving Inverness Firth.

On Sunday (insert date) we left Muirton Basin to enter the sea locks at Clachnaharry, and set sail for the non-stop sail to Thyboron in North-West Jutland, which is the western entrance to the Limfjord. There was a reasonable wind to start with, but as we reached across the NE coast of Aberdeenshire, it slowly died. This meant we lost the power of the wind pilot self steering, and had to steer by hand. It also meant using the engine. However, the benefit for the new crew was calmer conditions at sea – calmer than any other time I have spent on the N Sea.

The weather during the crossing remained calm, and we passed many oil and gas installations, supply ships etc. At this time of year there is nearly always a light patch of sky to the North at night, where the glow of the sun is reflected when it sinks below the horizon. We spotted seals as well as dolphins, and many seabirds, en route.

We sailed into Thyboron channel shortly after midnight on Thursday 11th July, and carried on to the lovely small town of Lemvig, which has a good harbour, butcher, fishmonger, etc. Needless to say we were all quickly asleep, and looking forward to our rest day when we woke up. The crew visited the small Religious Art Gallery and its coffee shop overlooking the Fjord, while the Skipper caught up with paperwork.

On Friday morning we set sail for Skive, passing through the opening bridge at Oddesund at 0945 (opening times every half hour during the day, quarter to and quarter past the hour. Soon we had passed the islands of Venø and Jegindø and in Salling sound, between the island of Mors and Salling on the mainland.

We reached Skive around 1800, and joined the welcome party organised by Lars and Helle Klok at the wharf. Karens parents as well as Elisabeth´s parents joined in, as did Anna´s man Gudmundur. Also Nils, Søren, Julia and her man Anders, and Martin and Karina. Lasse and Birthe could not make it, but they did some around on Sunday, which was very nice.


The welcome home party at the wharf, Værftet boatyard, Skive, Denmark.

Poor Skipper got a very sore hip when arriving in Thyboron, and on Saturday went to the emergency clinic in Skive hospital which thankfully has an appointment system. There he was given an examination, and strong painkillers. The doctor thought it was the cartilage in the hip, and gave a cortisone injection and crutches to walk with. However, the pain and movement restriction remained, and so on Monday we visited the local doctor in Balling, who sent me in for an X-Ray and gave me stronger pain killers. Its very frustrating, but nearly a week later the pain and movement problems are still there with little sign of relief.

It was subsequently diagnosed as a slipped disc in the back, and poor Skip is grounded in Jutland with strong painkillers and physiotherapy for some weeks. This may be one price of relaxing now that the voyage is over!




Skipper´s blog from Inverness, June 30th

I have not been able to write much since we left The Azores for Ireland on the 8th of this month. Then we were not long in Ireland before we hastened north to Scotland and, taking advantage of the weather, finally to Inverness on 29th June.

I will not say much about Azores to Ireland because I still expect a blog on that from Charlotte, Svarte and Jon Mikko, who came as crew from Azores to Dublin before flying back too see Svarte´s new grand-daughter and of course enjoy the Swedish mid-summer celebrations. Suffice to say that we c covered the 1250 or so nautical miles to Kilmore harbour almost at the SE corner of Ireland, in just under ten days, arriving  at 0350 on 18th June. Charlotte´s father Warwick, in his 80s, had sailed his own boat across from Wales with two friends of about the same age, and he met us in his pyjamas.

Kilmore was a fine harbour, and we enjoyed our brief stay there before sailing up the east coast to Dublin with the early tide on 19th June, a sail of 15 hours.

Charlotte and Svarte departed on the morning of 20th June, Jon-Mikko already having disembarked to explore Dublin before we left Kilmore. It was great to have such a fine crew from The Azores. And they brought Jon-Mikko´s home smoked and cured Reindeer meat, as well as a nice piece of Moose (Elk) from Svarte´s forest near Umeo, as well as a nice bottle of Swedish malt whisky.

I hastened to undertake the needed maintenance tasks. At long last we found a nice man who got our Fridge and Freezer working again, without the need for a new compressor! I can thoroughly recommend Eoin Mulvey at Mulvey Refrigeration Technology (+353(86)8135996). Owen (Eoin)  lives near Houth, but was very happy to come to the harbour at Dun Loughaire on the south side of Dublin bay. He was very thorough, and tracked the main problem to wiring that was disconnected, but should not have been. Eoin is also a sailor.

We have lost the deck level navigation lights as the wiring has finally perished and needs replacement. The lamps are also becoming obsolete, and are vulnerable to salt water ingress in heavy seas.  However, we have the masthead navigation lights working fine.

Of course I shopped for the next stage. Sally Shortall and Dave visited on Saturday 22 June, which was wonderful. We had a great evening together, as usual. They left the following morning, as Sally had to get over to Trondheim for the ESRS conference.

Shortly later my new crew – Stuart Black and Fraser Grieve from Inverness – joined the boat and we set off almost immediately to sail overnight to the island Gigha off the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland. This is a tidal sail – because the Irish Sea is like a bathtub, filling and emptying from both ends at the same time.  Luckily we hit the tide right, had a good wind, and so made good speed all the way up to Belfast. There followed a quiet period with tide against us and less wind, but then as we reached the short north channel between Ireland and Scotland the wind and tide perked up, and we swiftly reached the Mull of Kintyre. After that the wind died, and it took us a few hours to reach Gigha.

We had sent a message to our friend Mags McSporran (who gave us all dinner before we sailed to Belfast/ Bangor on our way South last year), and who had requested a mooring alongside the pontoon at the outer, deep, end. We needed that for our depth. The night we arrived we had a super meal in the pub at the pier head, after partaking of a wee nip of Macallan Gold together. We can all recommend this pub for food and ale, and friendliness.

We take a day off on Gigha, which we all like very much. In the afternoon we cycle up to the lovely beach at the NW end of Gigha and Fraser and I have a dip in the crystal c lear sea, which is, however, cold! We cycle back to the boat picking wild flowers en route, and then prepare a meal for Mags McSporran. As ever Mags comes bearing gifts of local strawberries, wine, crisps, etc. We BBQ lamb chops and have an excellent evening together.

Next day (25 June) we get up early to catch the tide North through the Sounds of Jura, Luing and Kerrera. We pass the Dorus Mhor and Corryvreckan at some speed, and get to Oban in good time. There is plenty of room for us to tie up at the main pontoon, after which we repaired to the shack on the fish pier for an excellent seafood lunch.

We had another early start on 26 June to get up to Loch Linnhie and through the Corran Narrows with the tide. Svalen´s depth also means that we can only enter or exit the Caledonian canal at Corpach at High water plus or minus about two hours. As it was, our timing was almost perfect, and we had a tide in our favour all the way, if no wind! Anyhow, we got in, filled with diesel and then eventually got up “Neptune´s Staircase” of locks to Banavie, where we tied up and spent the night. The crew took the Captain our for an excellent meal at the splendid “Moorings” at Corpach, which we can also recommend to others.

On 27th June we again had to set off early to reach Gairlochy locks at the exit of Loch Lochy before repair works started at 0900. All went well, and we progressed the ten miles of Loch Lochy to Loch Oich and the opening swing road bridges at either end in good time. After Loch Oich the descent begins to Loch Ness, at first in slow stages, but then in a rush of locks at Fort Augustus, which we descended toward the end of the afternoon, mooring at the pontoons outside the locks and at the south end of Loch Ness for the night.

Soon we had visitors. First, Stuart´s mother and father, and then Andrea with her two spaniels. Now one is really feeling to be in one’s homeland. After our visitors. we had a very nice meal together and a long political chat into the early hours of the next day.

Which led to a slightly late start next day to sailing up Loch Ness. No sign of Nessie the “monster”, and no wind to speak of either, so a long motor up the loch, but mostly fine weather and scenery. Later on it got damp, and it took us a while to descend the locks to Muirton Basin or Seaport Marina where we finally moored at 1800 hours.

Now we are settled here for a week, awaiting new crew, having social life with family and friends, and preparing the vessel for the 3 or 4 day and night crossing to Denmark. This small marina in the sea basin is where Aldarion and I were based for the period 2004-7, and so we know it well. The local pub is the Clachnaharry Inn, which has good basic food, and real Ales. When the weather is cold it has a nice fire burning.


In The Azores

Jan Olsson, a friend from Wasahamnen in Stockholm where he is harbourmaster, came with me from Kourou in French Guyana to The Azores. We had decided to sail directly to The Azores, rather than do the usual sail up to the Caribbean and then Bermuda where sailors hope to pick up westerlies to cross the Atlantic.

We had hoped and expected to take three weeks and, anticipating some calms en route, took on some drums of extra diesel for the engine. Our calculation was a Rhumb Line route of 2400 nautical miles. This is roughly the same distance as from Trinidad or Antigua.

We were delayed by a day because we got stuck on the mud in the shallow channel out of Kourou – be warned this is NOT maintained at the advertised depth! However, we did get out the following day, April 11th, at high water, although not by a significant margin.  After escaping the effects of land and shallow seas, we started sailing well at 6 to 7 its, and the wind pilot steering was working very well. The wind pilot really is an extra member of crew, son we called him “George”. I guess only my family will understand that one!

After a day or so at sea we find out the neither the fridge or freezer are working, and despite our efforts, they do not start again. This is despite the best efforts of the repair man from Cayenne (who, to be fair, did not charge us when he failed to get the freezer to work). We are reconciled to a fairly boring diet for this long sail!

The wind was mostly staying in the NE, even if the forecast said it would go more E. This forced us to sail more north than we had hoped. In fact directly for Newfoundland! After about a week of this, when we were a few hundred miles east of the windward islands, we took our routers advice and started to tack to get more East and North and hopefully pick up more westerly winds at about 30N. But we faced a lot of calm weather at this point and resorted to engine-assistance, using more diesel than we intended. By April 2oth we started getting more northerly and strong winds, with high and confused seas. We were noticing cooler conditions at 24N and 53W. Then calm weather comes back, and the wind is again NE. We don’t feel we are making progress again until 24 April, when we are still about 1300nm from The Azores. In fact we are sailing in a large circle, rather than on the Rhumb Line! At this point we are over 1000nm from South America, the same from Bermuda, and about 1300nm from Cabo Verde. Truly mid-Atlantic. On this day Jan saw  green fish with yellow fins, and Sieg emails that it is a Yellow-Finned Tuna.

On 25th April we are able to launch the Parasailor at last and although the wind is light, we are making over 5 its in calm seas. Later in the evening the wind dies and we take off the Parasailor again. The engine goes on and we enter 100L from drums into the tanks.

On 27th April we spot a cargo vessel heading west, and due to pass very close to us, and also a Tanker. We discuss requesting diesel, but decide to carry on, hoping for more wind in the right direction. The seas are unusually calm, and we are proceeding slowly even with the engine assistance. We blame barnacles on the hull, and the folding propellor. We decide to lift the boat out and clean hull etc in The Azores.

Meanwhile, time passes slowly, and the sailing is not good. On 1 May we still have about 900nm to go to The Azores, and I am getting nervous about our diesel supplies. We spot the cargo ship S*** G***** approaching from the east, and crossing our path, and decide to request some diesel. The captain says yes after we call on the VHF. But he does not want to change course or slow down. He asks us to send the dinghy. We get the dinghy into the water and put on the engine and gas tank, and wait for SG to appear. Jan then sets off. In the end Jan has to sail the dinghy alongside, while the crew lowers 160L of diesel in drums over the side of this large vessel. It is not an easy manoeuvre, but jan gets it done and returns. we load the diesel and enter into tanks, stow the dinghy, than the cargo vessel, and proceed.  We are doing 2,2 knots under sail.

Next day the wind strengthens a bit and we start to sail at 6-7 knots again for a while, but by 3 May the seas are confused and difficult. We work out that we have already sailed 3255 nm from Kourou (with tacks) and still have 716nm to go to Horta on Faial.

We have some good sailing now, but have to use the engine at times. We have problems with the auto helm, which is not maintaining a course, and of course use the wind pilot when we can. We also have to bleed the engine a lot, and suspect the fuel we took on board. We plan a series of maintenance and rapid tasks in Faial, and also in Terciera which is where we can lift the boat our of the water at reasonable cost. We contact Duncan Sweet at Atlantic in Horta, and he links us to Perrairas in Terciera.

On 9th May, despite changing filters and bleeding the engine, we cannot get the engine to start. We are now approaching The Azores, the wind is strengthening and the forecast is for a near Gale of F7 with gusts. There is no moon at the moment, and it look as though we will arrive in Horta in the middle of the night, under sail. We review the situation and discuss whether to stay out at sea and heave-to, in oder to enter Horta is daylight. However, the forecast is for strengthening winds the following day, so we decide to enter at night, but request assistance to moor when we reach the harbour, since mooring would require us to sail directly into a very strong wind fuelling through the gap between Faial and Pico. I put out a Pan-Pan on the VHF, and the GMDSS radio man contacts the harbour master. The latter says he will send a boat out to help us in when we reach the harbour.

In fact we now have some quite good sailing under reefed main and Genoa, and get to the harbour safely at about 0300. We call on approach, and the HM send out a remarkably small boat with one man aboard. Jan passes him the rope, and he takes us in not without some difficulty – Svalen weighs 22 tons or so, and she has a fair bit of windage. However, by 0330am we arrive safely at the waiting pier, and Karen is on the pier to meet and greet us, complete with a nice bottle of highland malt! We tie up and settle down, the wind whistling outside. But we feel safe and secure inside, and enjoy a wee dram before turning in, rather exhausted!

In the end we sailed 4060nm from Kourou (including long tacks) in 31 days. Our longest continuous sail. We did not run out of food or water, but we both needed some meat and red wine!

Karen comes on board again next morning with breakfast, which we enjoy. We then go through all the entry procedures at the harbour. Duncan arrives to discuss work to be done, and we decide that the fuel system needs to be emptied, cleaned etc. We have also found a small leak, and trace this to the earth plates below the aft cabin floor. These will be replaced when we get the boat out of the water in Terciera.




We do some touring and walking together on Faial, Karen having hired a car for a few days. Including the Volcano Caldeira at Cabeco Gordo, the old whaling village at the west end near Ponta de Capelinhos, another old whaling harbour on the North of the Island (where we had an Atlantic. dip!), and the old Whale oil factory and museum at Porto Pim. we also ascended Monte da Guias and viewed Caldeira duo Inferno from the top.


With Jan at the old whaling harbour, west end of Faial



Karen, after out Atlantic dip!



View of Horta’s impressive harbour, from the S.


Skeleton of Sperm Whale, In the Museum at the Old Whale Oil factory, Horta

We paint a symbol of Svalen on the pier at Horta, because bad luck is said to follow if you do not!


We added Svalen to hundreds of others who left their mark on the Pier. The flags are Danish and Scottish.

Jan disembarks to return to Stockholm on Monday 13th May.  Duncan and his excellent crew proceed with the fuel system, fridge and freezer, and other things. Karen and I see something of the island, have a dip in the cold sea, and when Duncan is finished sail off to the nearby Island of Sao Jorge, and the beautiful small harbour of Velds, which is a lovely place N of Pico. We get a tour from Carlos Brasil, taxi driver, and walk back via the small Dairy of Canada, where we buy a lot of cheese from Manuel. Next day we have a long day sail to Priaia de Vitoria on Terciera, but the winds mostly good for that.  Karen departs for Stockholm on Monday 20th May.IMG_0543

Jan Olsson departing in Horta.



View of Pico, early morning 19th May, from Sao Jorge

The boat comes out of the water on Wednesday 22 May. We first had to remove the two forestays in order to fit into the travel hoist. I live aboard, on high so to speak, while cleaning hull, antifouling, changing the propellor, changing the earth plates, and generally cleaning up and checking things above and below.


Svalen being lifted out of the water, Praia de Vitoria, Terciera

The boat went back in the water on Friday 31 May, and there were no leaks! Some inside things to finish, fuel to take on board, engine to service etc, but all do-able before next crew – Charlotte, Svarte, and Jon-Mikko – arrives from Sweden on 8th June to sail with me to Ireland, which is about 1200nm.



Landscape with sheep and cattle grazing, near Lajes, Terciera


Church at Lajes.

Azores – almost!

Skippers Blog, Friday 10 May 02.44AM

It’s a clear and calm night. We are 118 miles from Horta in the Azores. The new moon made a welcome appearance, casting a carpet of light towards us as we sail. But it has now gone to bed again. We expect wind from the south by morning, and it will probably be after midnight today (ie Saturday early morning) before we get into harbour.
Karen arrives tomorrow for a ten day visit, which is super. But Jan will return to Stockholm in a few days, and I will miss his cheerful company, and his ‘let’s get it fixed’ approach to any technical problem !

Update Friday 10.30AM:

We are now 80 nm SW of Horta in Faial and expect to arrive this evening or tonight. As soon as we can, in fact, because a gale is coming this evening!
The wind came back this morning, and we have been sailing since 0300UT, up to 6.3 knots. It is drizzling – feels like a West of Scotland summer day – a bit damp and cold!
By the time we get in we will have sailed over 4,000 nm what with the curved route, tacking etc. It has taken over a month, and no land or shops. Now we need red meat and red wine!

Saturday night blog

Skipper’s brief blog – Saturday night (4/5May):
Am now on 0200-0600 watch. Its very dark! No moon. And not much wind at the moment, so only sailing at 3,2 kts. We expected that though. It will get windy again later today until about Wednesday. We hope to get to the Azores by 9th May: Karen arrives on 10th. The weather router says 8th or 9th. We need good winds, with about 500nm to go. Supplies ok but meals more of a challenge every day. Our last fresh fruit has gone – vitamin pills from today.  Changing time zones slowly – now at UT-1
We had lentils and duck cassoulet from a tin for supper last night. I also got two loaves of bread and two boller for sunday breakfast baked!
We had about 10 dolphins of all ages playing around the boat yesterday pm, and hope to see whales in Azores.

Dolphins, en route to Azores

Skippers Star Sight Blog, Night of Thursday-Friday 25/26 April

Parasailor up, mid Atlantic 25 April  Parasailor up, Thursday 25 April

Skippers Star Sight Blog, Night of Thursday-Friday 25/26 April

Another thing we do while ocean sailing is to take sights of Stars, Planets, Moon and Sun in order to determine our position, and in case the GPS goes wrong, or is taken out of service by malevolent forces.

The principles of Astro-Navigation are fairly straightforward- the heavenly objects are imagined to be mostly stable in relation to each other out there on the heavenly sphere, a kind of extension of the earth in the heavens.

If we imagine them in this way, then at any point of time, each heavenly object has a point on the earths surface where light coming from it would pass through on its way to the centre of the earth (if of course the earth were transparent!). If we can see the object from our own position, then it is above the horizon, and its altitude from our position can be observed, and, using a device for measuring angles from the horizon called a Sextant, we can measure its angle above the horizon. We can also measure its latitude, or Zenith, in the spherical hemisphere using the hand-held compass, up to 360 degrees (a complete circle), but this is really only to check that it is the star we think it is because the Zenith of each star and planet used for navigation purposes (the brightest and most stable in terms of light) for any date and time of day, and part of the globe, is given in the Almanacs, and a hand held compass will only give an approximation.

Given the star sight we can proceed to calculate our position by using the tables in a special almanac for each time (expressed in Universal time), date, hemisphere and our estimated position.

Would it were that easy in practice!

Several problems are faced when one tries to take a sight in the real galaxy.

First of all, the boat moves, sometimes violently! It is almost impossibly hard to stand up straight while using both hands to hold the precious sextant for long  enough to take the sight of the celestial body and note the time accurately. Really hard to understand how these old salts found their way around at all, far less how they got home again! Of course the geezer who invented the device was desk-bound, and probably never took a sight from a boat.

Secondly, the idea of a sextant is that you look at the celestial object through a small eyeglass or telescope and move the image of the star down until it just rests on the horizon. Of course it is usually dark when this has to happen, and seeing the horizon at all is a challenge even for good eyes. It is at best a fuzzy line, usually obscured by mist, fog, or haze. Also, seeing a star (as opposed to the Moon or Sun).

It is recommended that sights of stars and planets are taken around half an hour either side of sunrise or sundown, since at those times the horizon is supposed to be clear. The Almanac allows you both to check when this is each day, and to discover in advance which of the stars and planets used for navigation will be visible at those times in any place on earth (assuming of course that the sky is cloudless!). However, it happens also to be very hard to see the star and planets at dawn and dusk!  They are easiest to see in the middle of the night when it is dark. The sensible solution should be to use what is called a “bubble sextant”, which has a device like a masons level to indicate the horizon. However, such devices are used by those nasty airmen in flying machines, and not by sailors, who are only allowed to use “real” sextants requiring real horizons!

Then again, there is a list of errors to be factored into the calculations, such as “sextant errors”, reflecting the facts that they are not always made with 100% precision, or that they have been knocked around a bit on a ship, etc. There is also a correction for the height of the eye above the ocean, but how do you measure that when the boat is going up and down like a yo-yo? These are local errors, but there are more, attached to specific planets or objects, such as Venus, or the Moon, all of which have to be computed (with the right sign, for the right date and hour, etc) and factored into the calculation.

When you have finished it all, you arrive at a magic result that tells you how far, and in what direction, you are with respect to the estimated position you started with.

Of course all that was some time ago!  So now you have to make corrections for your speed and direction of travel since he sight were actually taken.  Maybe its time to start again, or take that noon sight of the Sun. At least you can see it on a clear day!

But seriously, it is one of the great pleasures of night sailing far from those over-lit urban conurbations that one can see, and reflect on, the stars and planets above. There are so many of them out there, visible to the naked eye. But where to start? Its all so massive!  Before doing anything, though, just gaze. The more you gaze, the more stars there are up there, at least on a clear night. Take in the wonder of it all. While doing that, you will notice that some stars are brighter than others, and some make interesting shapes with other nearby stars, such as bears, horses, dogs, bows and arrows, necklaces, snakes, fish, etc etc. In ancient times both the Arabs and the Greeks named the stars and galaxies after such resemblances, and incorporated them into their mythical worlds of gods, goddesses, heroes and so on.  For the Greeks in particular the mythical adventures and battles of their Gods and Godesses, their lovers, bulls, goats, horses like Pegasus, and dogs, and so on are reflected in the heavens above for all to see, free, for all time. What a great gift to humanity.

Thus stars like Aldabaran, one of the 57 navigation stars, was named by the Arabs. It is “the Eye of the Bull” in the galaxy Taurus, meaning the bull. The galaxy, however, was named after the flying bull that Jupiter transformed himself into  in order to escape with Europa, the King of Crete’s daughter.  Aldebaran is the brightest star in the galaxy.

One of my favourites, part,y because it was nearly always present on the way to Brazil as well as on the way back, is the constellation of Orion. It is easy to spot. Patrick Moore thinks it is the “most splendid Galaxy in the entire sky”, and I agree with him on this.
Three bright stars form the core of Orion’s belt. Another two bright stars lie some distance from the trio, and perpendicular to it- The upper one is Betelgause, and the lower one is Rigel, both good bright navigational stars. To the left of Rigel and below left from Orions belt we find Saiph, and between Saiph and the belt we have what looks like three small stars in line, well clustered together. In fact this is the Great Nebula or “Trapezium”. If the eye follows a line to the upper right from Saiph and through the lower of the three stars of Orions belt, one finds the star Bellatrix, also a bright navigational star. Last night (24/4/2019) I could see them all very clearly in mid-Atlantic at 2340 UT.

It is so much fun trying to find the patterns of the Galaxies in  the stars, identifying them, and finding out how far away they are. More fun would be to write a book about this heavenly playground of the Gods, the story of the naming of the stars, and to be equipped to follow those nightly ancient battles and drama for all time. It can absorb hour and hours of pleasurable time on the part of sailors.

Even without all the fuss and bother of Astro navigation, we use the stars as guides to the direction to steer in at night – making life much easier than it is with a dark compass. This is an ancient skill, and nearly universal among seagoing peoples of the world.


Skipper’s Blog, Thursday 18 April

Jan adjusting sails in light winds 18 April

Svalen crew Jan Olssen adjusting sails in light winds


Skipper’s Blog

What do you do all day on the boat? This is a FAQ from non-ocean-sailors, and it is reasonable to ask it! I asked it of myself before starting on long voyages. Well, now I have the answer. But first a little preamble.

Now we are on a circular route from French Guyana in South America to the Azores. French Guyana is at about 5 degrees north of the equator, and the Azores is about 32 degrees north. The straight line distance (ignoring the complexities of chart projections) is about 2400 nautical miles, but the distance we have to sail is about 3000 nautical miles. This is because the winds are from the NE to start with and until about 25 degrees north of the equator. Then we reach the ‘variables’, so feared by sailors in the old days, before picking up the usual westerlies of the north Atlantic. Those that bring depressions to the UK.

We do an average of about 5 or 6 nautical miles an hour, which means that each day we cover about 120nm. This in turn means that the sail will take us about 24 days and nights non-stop. It is a lot of time to be “sitting on a boat”! So what IS the answer to my starting question?

First of all, we find we need between 6 and 8 hours sleep, and we are two persons on board. We divide the days and night into four hour segments called “watches”, and one of us is on deck in the cockpit during his or her watch, looking after the sails, steering etc.  They may also be multitasking. The first watch after or around dawn starts at 0600. A cup of tea must be brewed. Then if everything is ok on the sailing/ steering front, the last watch person goes to get more sleep until breakfast, while first watch downloads the latest GRIB files (weather files) and weather forecasts and routeing advice from PredictWind. This comes via SSB Radio or the Iridium GO Satellite box.  The files can be large on a passage like this, so it takes quite a lot of time, and several new connections, before this is finished, After that, the forecasts etc have to be examined and compared, and decisions taken about the route for the next few days in the light of wind and wave strength and direction, and gut instincts.

Both crew are now normally on deck and it is breakfast time. We like fruit and muesli, with coffee, and if we have some fresh bread (see below), some of that with marmalade and honey as well. In other words a good breakfast to set us up for the day, and usually with chat about our performance and plans.

Then it’s time to check emails and reply or send, perhaps to sources of spare parts, or to the next harbour, or to the blog, etc.

The rest of the morning is taken up by a range of work items, such as baking bread, washing clothes and dish cloths or towels, repairs, engine checks, charging batteries with the generator if they are low, making water if needed, and adjusting sails.

But you will ask, who is steering the boat while all this is going on? Well it’s “George” our favourite member of crew who does not eat or drink, use electricity or diesel, or cost anything after coming on board. George is a WindPilot wind vane steering device on the stern of the boat that, when correctly set, keeps the boat pointing at the correct angle to the wind for the course we are following. He is great, because he allows us to get on with all the other things day and night, sea mile after sea mile, and is usually reliable, at least if we have wind!

I have not yet mentioned cooking, except for baking bread, and assembling breakfast. We take cooking of the main evening meal very seriously, and try to make sure it is both varied and nutritious. We do not like pre-prepared food of any kind, although we do sometimes resort to packets and cans. On this trip the fridge and freezer are out of action for reasons we cannot fathom, and cannot fix until we get to the Azores. So some of our fresh food has not lasted well, and even had to be fed to the fishes. It makes it all more challenging. Staples are lentils, rice, pasta, dried meat, dried fish, tinned tomatoes, and onions and garlic which last quite well.

On this trip we have also been doing a little sewing – the Kapok filled cushions began to leak because of wear and tear. On other trips we have had sail repairs to do, which also means sewing.

Not to mention fishing, but so far most of the fish caught on the boat are flying fish, which really do fly, if close to the waves. They catch themselves by landing on the deck at night, and are unable to get off again. Sometimes we see birds catch them in mid air, or failing to catch them. This morning Jan saw a Tuna fish catch one by flying right out of the water and snatching it in mid flight. What a shock!

And, by the way, everything takes at least twice or three times as long on a small sailing boat because it is usually at an angle and jumping up and down, which means that you are often one handed, or tied on, which restricts maneuverability.

And so the day goes in, and we are usually tired when we turn in for our 4 hour spell of sleep.  Too tired to read! Jan brought a guitar thinking he would start playing again, but he has only had it out twice. In the end, being self-sufficient in food, water, energy, transport, etc for about a month is hard work! But also fun! And you lose weight!

Skipper John. Thursday 18 April 2019

1100 nm from Kourou

Sunrise 20 North

Sunrise, 20 degrees North

Skipper’s blog, Wed

It is now Wednesday morning one week after leaving Kourou. The weather is a bit fresher, especially at night when we have jackets and jeans etc now. The sun is still hot during the day, though, and we still have flying fish landing on deck. the wind changed a couple of times in the night, creating havoc with sails and wind steering, but we fixed it. Now we are heading north east, more directly towards Azores, which is still 1900 nm ahead.
Still, we sailed 1100 nm in the first 7 days.
Today I must bake bread!