Thinking of Friends

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Thinking of Friends

This is a post that has taken far too long to write, but given the enduring nature of events it is just as relevant now as when I meant to write it  over a week ago.

One of the most heartwarming experiences of our expedition was the overwhelming hospitality and generosity of the very many people we came across along the way. So many people helped us out, took us in for a night, fed us, replaced broken kit, bought us a drink, gave us advice or just stopped to say hello that we both felt unbelievably humbled by the kindness. We also know that these experiences were not exclusive to our expedition but are a welcoming respite of explorers and travellers visiting new communities across the world.

We experienced great acts of kindness from start to finish, but in particular in St Martin and the BVIs. Sadly, in the past week these beautiful islands have been devastated by Hurricane Irma. Our thoughts go out to every single person on all of the islands that have been hit, The power of a category 5 hurricane is like nothing any of us can image and the destruction even more so...

There is something special about the island communities. The 'Island Factor' is very real and very strong. For example, after kayaking 50nm (casting off at 1am) from the Turks and Caicos through a rather breezy stretch we landed on the Family Island of Mayaguana - our port of entry into the Bahamas. After checking in at the customs office we made our way back down to the beach to start setting up our hammocks for the night. Soon after, a local walking along the beach asked what we were up to and after we had finished explaining insisted we could not possibly stay on the beach - "yeel be eaton alive mon" - and took us in, gave us dinner, a bed and sent us off with breakfast in the morning. He lived in a one bedroom bungalow with very little income but did not think twice about pulling us off the beach and ensuring we were well taken care of.

So many friends lives have been devastated by the storm...

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The Bitter End, who very kindly let us stay after crossing the Anegada Passage, was devastated by Hurricane Irma.

Nanny Cay, who took very good care of us in the BVIs as well as replacing lots of our damaged and lost kit, despite suffering a lot of damage, have now taken in the HQ for the British Forces who have delployed to the islands to help with the relief effort and maintain order through this difficult time. 

As Hurricane Maria develops and develops into another Category 5 storm, our thoughts are with you all.

 

 

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Homeward Bound

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Homeward Bound

Well it certainly doesn't feel like 5 months ago today we were just 10 days from reaching the such keenly anticipated endpoint, Fort Lauderdale. Life has certainly moved on, Will has started at RMA Sandhurst and George is finishing off the final stages of his year abroad. Fortunately, we have been kept busy over the last few months, working hard and catching up with friends and family. Although there are times we both wish we were back bobbing around in the vast expanse of the ocean, I think it is fair to say we are enjoying being back on dry land. Watching over our GoPro and drone footage has kept us thoroughly entertained, if not a little scared! 

27th December 2016 - Success! 

27th December 2016 - Success! 

With the expedition wrapped up the only thing left behind in Fort Lauderdale was our beloved kayak, Mathilda. It is now with huge excitement that we can reveal she is on her way home! Kindly sponsored by Southampton based Peters and May, a world leading global boat transport and marine logistics company, Mathilda is travelling home aboard HHL New York. Passing through the USVI, Antigua and finally home to Southampton, with an expected arrival between the 8th and 11th of June! If you were a keen follower of our tracker throughout the expedition and you're desperate to track something else then you're in luck, you can follow HHL New York here:

https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:366252/mmsi:305795000/vessel:HHL%20NEW%20YORK

A very large ship for a rather small kayak! 

A very large ship for a rather small kayak! 

As ever, loading the kayak has not come without it's troubles. We were calling on everyone and anyone on Sunday, desperately trying to find someone to transport the kayak from the Anglers Avenue Marine Centre, where it was helpfully being stored by Dave Hoffman, to Port Everglades. After amounting a rather large phone bill in calls to America our saviour came from Jeanette Osgood, a fellow paddler and member of a Miami kayaking group. Without hesitation she incredibly jumped to our aid and strapped the kayak to her trusty 4x4 to drive it down to the port. 

Safely secured on the roof of Jeanette's car! 

Safely secured on the roof of Jeanette's car! 

It's definitely fair to say that we would have been in a rather sticky situation if Jeanette had not so kindly helped us. Similarly we are incredibly grateful that Peters and May are bringing the kayak home for us which gives you all the opportunity to meet her. A big thank you to all! 

With the last piece of the puzzle on it's way home we hope you are just as excited as us for the fast approaching summer. The film is nearing its completion and we hope to see you all at the adventure festivals, talks or dinners we will be attending and hosting throughout summer.

We will keep you updated on everything's progress! 

Get Exploring Trust
What will your next adventure be? 

Puzzling over the boat! 

Puzzling over the boat! 

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The last leg

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The last leg

Well, you haven't heard from us in a while and we hope you can probably understand why! It is now time, however, to go back to the final crossing and let you know what happened in the final couple of days. 

We were positioned on Cat Cay, 8 miles South of Bimini in order to give us a fighting chance against the infamous Gulf Stream. A mass of water greater than all the worlds rivers combined flowing North at between 1-6kts (although some people advised us it may reach 8kts).

After a 60 mile crossing from our uninhabited island off the North coast of Andros Island to reach Cat Cay on Christmas eve our plan was to rest up Christmas Day and set off at around midnight for our final crossing. Fully packed and ready to go we were just 2 hours from departure when the bombardment of messages came through. Will's dad back home had been on the phone to the US Coastguard explaining our planned crossing. This was routine procedure, despite the fact that the coastguard was non existent in many of the islands, we would always try and alert them to the two crazy guys paddling their way in a kayak .

The Americans took this slightly more seriously than all the other coastguards. We were strongly advised not to set off that night, alerting us to the daunting fact that by the time they reach the approximate location of a distress call their search area is the size of a US state. This was the general rule for a yacht/ pleasure cruiser. Searching for a small kayak bobbing in the waves at night would be next to impossible to locate. On top of this a small craft advisory warning was in place.

'Issued when winds have reached, or are expected to reach within 12 hours, a speed marginally less than gale force'.

There were plenty of scare stories about the Gulf Stream.. we didn't want to end up having to call these guys out! (photo at: www.uscg.mil)

There were plenty of scare stories about the Gulf Stream.. we didn't want to end up having to call these guys out! (photo at: www.uscg.mil)

Although incredibly frustrating, with the weather updates coming in and the information from the Coastguard, the decision not to cross became a no brainer. So we turned our hopes to boxing day night. The pristine beaches and glistening water were no longer a relaxing sight. After 3 months of longing for the next rest day (admin day) we were now utterly sick of being stuck on land. The weather wasn't letting up and the small craft advisory was still in place until the morning of the 27th. 

We spent every 10 minutes of boxing day checking our list of weather stations. Lengthy discussions with the US Coastguard ensued and finally we were given a slight approval to cross.  They advised us to wait until daylight but this was impossible given the length of the crossing. The small craft advisory warning would stay in place but we knew we had paddled in worse weather than what we would face. We sat down for our final dinner, the wind was blowing and the nerves were building. The concerning factor was the countless captains and yachtsmen we met that night. We had heard so many stories of the Gulf Stream along the way, strong winds mixing with the incredibly strong current causing 'monster' waves.

At dinner we met a couple of families who were intrigued by our story. Learning of our plans they were adamant we should not go that night.  Two captains of a boat in Cat Cay had also heard of our plans and came to have a chat with us. Having flown across from Miami that day they stated that they wouldn't even cross in these conditions. It's fair to say we weren't overly pleased hearing these words. Personally and I think for Will as well the overriding emotion was immense frustration. The weather forecast was absolutely fine but we just had no idea what these 'crazy' Gulf Stream conditions everyone loved to tell us about would be like. We had spent extra money on charts, received all forecasts possible and still we were utterly clueless as to what we would face.  

As Midnight approached we checked any last messages, completed our final weather check and sat down to make the decision. The weather had not improved, the coastguard had left the small boat advisory warning in place until the morning yet all our weather forecasts were adding up to manageable conditions. As T.S. Eliot said 'Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go'. We went. 

1am arrived and at last we were climbing into the boat to face the closing stages of the expedition. If there was ever a sign not to go we probably had it as soon as we set off. In total darkness and fortunately in the shelter of the marina the rudder started to play up. On the opposite side to where the rudder cable had snapped a couple of weeks earlier we were strangely barely able to turn left. Continuing on we next realised we had left our prized GB flag in one of the hatches. Unused for 3 months and waiting for our arrival in Miami we simply had to stop to get the flag out. Having only just left the marina we scanned the tip of Cat Cay with our torch to find a suitable place to land. Once landed we quickly unpacked the flag, had a play with the rudder and all was good. 5 minutes later and we were back on the water, heading into the frantic shipping lanes in the Gulf Stream. 

Our photos didn't come out after the waterproof camera decided it didn't want to be waterproof anymore.... this is from pinterest: https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/384213411943040499/

Our photos didn't come out after the waterproof camera decided it didn't want to be waterproof anymore.... this is from pinterest: https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/384213411943040499/

10 miles out to sea and the first ominous lights appeared about 8 miles to our South West. Briefly visible as we reached the crest of a wave before disappearing as we were plunged into the trough. Unlike pleasure cruisers which have a green light on their starboard side (right), red light on their port side (left) and a white stern light. Oil tankers and container ships are slightly more problematic. I'm actually not familiar with the lights they are meant to display but the only lights we could see were two white dots. Totally clueless, Will thankfully knew that the white light at the stern should be raised higher than the white light at the bow. This gave us a slight upper hand on the direction of the ship but lights tend to be incredibly deceptive at night. It was virtually impossible to tell how close or far away these boats were. In the knowledge that container ships average around 20 knots and oil tankers at around 16 knots we really had to make sure our decision to slow down or speed up to get out the way would be correct. This is where I attempt to do some maths. The furthest we could spot these ships was from 10 nautical miles. We travel at around 3 knots. If we assume the vessel chasing us down is a container ship travelling at 20 knots then it gives us half an hour to get a mile out the way. A mile takes us 20 minutes .... 

Container ships appearing out the dark

Container ships appearing out the dark

We spent the next 6 hours of darkness constantly looking over our shoulder. Fearful that one of these vessels would appear at any minute directly behind us. At this point I realise I've failed to mention anything about the weather everyone was so concerned about. If we're perfectly honest the waves weren't anything like what we had been expecting. Their size not as big as let on and the wave pattern predictable. There's no doubt the Gulf Stream in the wrong conditions becomes pretty perilous but the concern over the conditions we faced was not necessary. With our weather concerns subsiding our attention turned to the power of the Gulf Stream. Having struggled to predict how far up the coast of Florida we would be pushed we had a number of potential landing points. Fort Lauderdale being the most Southerly point and West Palm Beach hopefully being the most northerly. The power of the Gulf Stream certainly shouldn't be underestimated. Looking back on our tracker we were averaging around 6/7 knots in the middle of the stream. Consequently we made seriously quick progress. Setting off at 1am we arrived in Fort Lauderdale at 2pm on the 27th of December.  

Overriding emotions were probably of sheer relief. Relief that the countless dangers have finally disappeared for the last time. Sharks, thunder and lighting, squalls, dehydration, weather concerns and reefs were no longer. The strangest feeling of all, we wouldn't have to go through the daily routine we had experienced for 3 months.  

So where does this leave us?

Well it would be fair to say that none of this would have been possible without so much help from so many people. The list is genuinely endless but a few very special mentions must be said. David McCreadie (Will's father) was simply fantastic, always keeping a watchful eye on our progress, alerting us of any ships in our area, supplying weather updates, keeping coastguards informed of our location and handling any enquiries back home. We're extremely grateful for all our financial sponsors, equipment sponsors and accommodation sponsors. Vital in every aspect of the trip. Lastly a huge thank you to everyone who has donated. Although the trip has finished work with the Get Exploring Trust has just begun and we're extremely keen for people to keep donating, promoting the charity and now choosing our charity in your fundraising activities! 

Please share our page and pass it on to friends and family to donate: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/goldenarcexpedition

The future? 

Life following the blue dot tracker may have ended for now but there will be so much for everyone to get involved with now we are back home. Keep an eye out for news on our talks, fundraising dinners and the premier of the film! We would love to see you all there! 

 

 

 

 

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'Not All Who Wander Are Lost'

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'Not All Who Wander Are Lost'

Will and George landed at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea at 14:04hrs local time.

the last yards.........

the last yards.........

Well done! What an extraordinary achievement. We're all very proud. Go and get that cold beer.

The Welcome Committee!

The Welcome Committee!

Local news!

Local news!

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The Final Push

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The Final Push

(Picture taken on an earlier departure from Nassau)

(Picture taken on an earlier departure from Nassau)

Short update from the UK.

Should you be finally putting your feet up for a rest day after a hectic Christmas spare a thought for Will and George who kicked off at around 01:15hrs this morning to start their final leg from Cat Cay to the Florida Coast on what is Day 90 of their epic expedition. 2,000 miles in a 22 foot kayak with only a few millimetres of fibre glass between them and bad things, a mini sail the size of a tea towel and a strong sense of humour have seen them pass through 21 countries with sea and weather conditions which would test the most experienced sailors. 

You can follow their progress throughout the day here and their arrival in Florida sometime this afternoon where the redoubtable Gillian Trowbridge and her family are on standby to sweep the guys up and help and assist sort themselves out on the US side. Karl and Gillian have been good friends to the expedition and have kindly been on standby for many days now to drop everything to help out which is very much appreciated by all.

This leg was planned to start on Christmas Day but was delayed on advice from the US Coastguard who have been very helpful and free with their advice. At the moment the boys have a following wind and are cracking along at a fair old lick, (7.47 km/h). As they get closer to the coast the northerly current will strengthen and should start to push them north, perhaps as much as 30-40 miles. They are aiming for Fort Lauderdale but frankly, anywhere safely will do from where I'm sitting. Shipping density will also increase as they move into very busy shipping lanes

I am still trying to source a friendly face with a drone who might be kind enough to film them coming in. If anyone knows anyone....... don't be shy!

Thank you again for all the messages of support which I pass on to Will and George over the Batphone satellite texting thing. In the dark of the night with just the pair of them and an awful lot of water I know they appreciate your good thoughts.

Anyone wishing to bolster the boy's fundraising can do so here or by texting GETX44 £10 to 70070.

I will post again on their safe arrival.

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Reflections from the Home Front

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Reflections from the Home Front

The Last Leg

The Last Leg

As the Golden Arc rolls to its conclusion I wanted to write a few reflections on what has been a long journey for all of us left at home, friends, family and supporters alike.

Will and George incidentally have just landed at the Cat Cay Yacht Club after a terrific 14 hour overnight effort. The Club have kindly welcomed them as guests for the night. I’m sure they will be grateful for the hospitality.

That leaves the final leg to the Florida Coast. The plan is to kick off late tomorrow afternoon and arrive sometime on Boxing Day. They will be aiming for Fort Lauderdale but strong northerly currents could see them land as far north as West Palm Beach, further up the coast. The leg is further complicated by going into much busier shipping lanes than they have so far experienced and stronger winds forecast for the period, gusting up to 23 kts which puts a question mark over the timing. Notwithstanding that, the end is in sight.

Final preperations 

Final preperations 

When they first dreamt up this enterprise I thought it was mad. I still do. It was though, the least barmy of all their options, one of which was to traverse the East Africa coast in a dug-out canoe. It almost makes the Golden Arc seem sensible. The motto of the old parachute school is ‘Knowledge Dispels Fear,’ and it became apparent to me through the months of preparation and planning by the boys, interspersed with the odd bit of university study, that the expedition was a real runner. The last few weeks were very hectic with kit arriving with almost every postal delivery and a heightened sense of tension and anticipation at home. So just before the expedition start date Will went on a climbing expedition to California for two weeks, (What else would you do?) leaving George to fly to Grenada with all the kit, (I think they parachuted less equipment into Arnhem). So, it began.

His brother has a point...

His brother has a point...

Having sat here for 3 months closely monitoring their progress day by day one does of course experience a huge range of emotions. Fear, pride, concern, envy and frustration spring to mind but most of all I’ve felt a deep respect for what they’ve done. The thing that separates expeditions from other activities is the need for self-discipline, endurance and tenacity. That is, the will to get up every morning and do it all over again over a prolonged period. To deal with problems and frustrations with kit, the weather and with local bureaucracy in a practical and unemotional way and to maintain the ability to make level headed and pragmatic decisions. That they’ve done it in good spirit and humour throughout is impressive.

However, the expedition would simply not have been viable without the many kindnesses and warm hospitality on all the islands that Will and George have experienced right from the day they landed in Grenada back in September. That, for us at home, has been heart-warming. Is it because people on the islands have a more visceral connection with the sea and seaman, one that many of us on these islands have lost when once it was a part of our way of life? Perhaps it is something as simple as a deep-rooted willingness in the DNA to help the traveller, to help the Pilgrim on his way. We are all looking forward to hearing more on their return but to anyone reading on the islands may I offer a genuine thank you from us all here. 

a not untypical message from a friend, this one from early October.

a not untypical message from a friend, this one from early October.

Monitoring the expedition has not been at all a solitary task. Many others have been drawn in and keep an eye on the ‘blue dots,’ and your warm support has been most welcome. I won't miss it. I'm not sure what practical value I added anyway but it made me feel kind of useful which I guess is half the game! The worst moments were when the Delorme satellite tracker occasionally wouldn't update for an hour or two..... that's when the messages would start coming in, especially in the early days. Stress was somewhat mitigated when Will later explained, 'oh.... the dry bag ripped so I used a sandwich bag. When it was silver foil side up in my pocket it obviously blocked transmissions.' That's ok then...... 

Looking forward to switching these off.... just one more night and day of gut wrenching blue dot watching

Looking forward to switching these off.... just one more night and day of gut wrenching blue dot watching

It is rather an inconvenience that the weather delays in the Dominican Republic mean they won't be back for Christmas. When I mentioned to Will's mother a month ago that I thought it doubtful they would make their flights, if I'd said the house had just burnt down it couldn't have cast a bigger cloud of gloom over the weekend. I take a more utilitarian view of events, the expedition comes first and arriving safely has priority over some festive jollity over a piece of turkey. For those though, who find themselves helplessly drawn into a weepy eyed moment of sentimentality, here's a clip to help you get there. Grab a tissue.

Merry Christmas lads; proud of you both and stay safe.

Elvis sings Blue Christmas and with the help of some modern video witchcraft is joined by Martina McBride

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Moving in Circles

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Moving in Circles

Last Phase

Last Phase

We left you last as we arrived into George Town, the capital of the Exuma Islands. We were kindly hosted by Lumina Point Resort during our rest day and made full use of the time we had to resupply and sort our rather dirty and smelly camping gear! 

Carlton, the manager at Lumina Point, was incredibly welcoming and we have nothing but praise for the fantastic resort. The cost of supermarket products in the Bahamas are, as you can imagine, extremely high! With 4 nights of camping ahead we approached the supermarket with slight unease. To our surprise it turned out to be one of our best supermarket shopping experiences (For us to enjoy the supermarket is really something special!). A huge thank you must go to Kevin (our aforementioned hero from Long Island) for his massive support and Basil Cartwright and Exuma Markets for sponsoring our food shop! Running around like over-excited puppies we grabbed so much food that we had to take a trolley back to the boat to carry it all! Needless to say at 4am the next morning we had some real difficulty packing the boat. With bags of food stuffed between our legs and dry hatches overflowing we began our journey (very very slowly) up the famous Exuma chain! 

How close is too close to a cruise ship?

How close is too close to a cruise ship?

It was brilliant to be able to escape the rough seas we've experienced so far. With the islands sheltering us from the Atlantic to our East we were able to make good progress across the calm seas. The only downside was the sweltering heat and the lack of wind, made worse by the fact that we had plastic food bags between our legs making us hotter and hotter! So we had a new challenge. Not only did we have to make good mileage each day but we also had to eat. A lot. In principle this sounds wonderful. Two guys who have spent the majority of the time starving over the last 3 months now have too much food! Unfortunately our stomachs have shrunk and trying to eat and paddle doesn't make for a particularly comfortable day. That said, we found an amazing camping spot on Lee Stocking Island that night and cooked an absolute feast! It was the first time we went to bed feeling full.

No luck diving for conch.... just a massive hermit crab

No luck diving for conch.... just a massive hermit crab

We soon realised we had finally entered the land of friendly yachties cruising the Bahamas. As we climbed into our hammocks that night to escape the bugs we heard the hum of an engine approaching. We both rolled our eyes and prayed it wasn't the police kindly telling us that no camping was allowed. Fortunately it was Diego and Marina, two lovely sailors we had met earlier in the day who had their boat anchored just offshore. They supplied us with a couple of beers and some brilliant snacks. Ironically replacing all the food we'd tried so hard to eat during the day to reduce our weight! A huge thank you though to Diego and Marina and thank you also for donating to our charity! 

If you want to be like Diego and Marina, you can donate too by clicking here

Campsite on Lee Stocking Island

Campsite on Lee Stocking Island

From Lee Stocking island we carried on to Staniel Cay Yacht Club. A good mornings paddle was followed by a knackering afternoon. Some very strong headwinds set in just after lunchtime which left us fighting to move forward. 5 hours later and we arrived in Staniel Cay Yacht Club. Such a friendly community with some great accommodation where we were kindly placed for the night! Staniel Cay showed us a side to the Bahamas we were yet to experience. The land of super yachts and celebrities, spending their time down in the stunning Bahamian water for Christmas and New Year. We were quick to meet Steve and Jay who showed us a brilliant time. Steve, with a stunning house on the island, loved the sound of our trip and invited us back to his house to learn more about what we have been up to. After sharing our stories Steve and Jay shared their great knowledge about the difficult currents and tides of the Exumas which we had struggled with the day before. As we said our goodbyes and headed back to our accommodation Steve decided to go out his way once more. Having two jet skis at his house he suggested that before we set off the next morning the 4 of us take the jet skis out and plan our route for the day ahead. Neither of us having been on a jet ski before (and of course to gain more knowledge about the currents of the islands) we jumped at his suggestion and had great fun on them the next morning! Returning back to the boat and paddling at 3 knots as opposed to 30 knots wasn't as fun. 

   

Field repairs on an Exuma Island.

Field repairs on an Exuma Island.

After speeding around in the morning our spirits were high but progress on the boat was slow. We were about 4 miles from our planned camping spot for the night when disaster struck. Will tapped his foot pedal to turn the kayak right when we both heard a twang. Shit. A lighthearted conversation two days prior had turned reality. We had snapped a rudder cable and now only had the ability to turn left. On a long open water crossing this would have caused some serious panic but fortunately we were in the lovely Exumas. Our first attempt at tying a piece of string to the rudder which Will could pull to turn right failed and so we limped to the first island we could see (the first island we could see that was on our left).

After a long think we attached some rope to the snapped rudder cable and hoped it would hold until we reached our end point for the day. Fortunately our patchwork was so good that we haven't had to fiddle with it anymore. Duck tape does wonderful things! To our joy we were welcomed in by the Park Rangers for the night and they let us crash on their sofa out the wind and rain. The drama had however not finished for the evening. One of the bolts in the mast of the sail had sheared off when we were tightening the mast that night and we were seriously worried this could be a big problem. In turned out we had arrived in no better place. Early the next morning the Park Rangers opened their tool shed and we were able to drill and new hole in the base of the mast and fix the sail. We must say a huge thank you to Patrick, the president of Falcon Sails, for such a rapid response that night (even whilst being in the theatre) and giving us the much needed solutions! 

Trouble with the mast!  

Trouble with the mast!  

At this stage we had one day left in the Exumas. The islands certainly live up to their reputation. The water is incredible, there's so much wildlife and like the rest of the Bahamas everyone is so friendly. So we continued onwards to our crossing point at Highbourne Cay. Kevin and his wife who are the managers of the island generously gave us a bed for the night in their house and supplied us with some much needed grub. An early night was had before the 4am start to head over to Nassau.

Kevin and Carol at Highbourne Cay  

Kevin and Carol at Highbourne Cay  

An extremely windy and rather rough crossing but rather speedy at the same time. With half our mind on the rudder cable and the other half on life the world and everything we failed to realise that the wind, which was directly on our backs, was shunting us along at an incredible speed. We were able to arrive in Nassau just after lunchtime which is definitely a first! We are being looked after amazingly in Nassau and are preparing everything for the final stages of the trip. 

Carey and Bullock from the Royal Bahama Defence force wishing the Golden Arc team good luck.

Carey and Bullock from the Royal Bahama Defence force wishing the Golden Arc team good luck.

Although anything can happen at any stage of any day on the water, we have 2 'major' crossings left. From Nassau we head to Andros where we spend a day traversing the north side of the island. From here we will be crossing 65 miles to Cat Cay which will be the longest crossing of the trip (over 24 hours of paddling). Here we plan to get a good nights sleep before crossing 55 miles the next day to Miami! It's fair to say that we don't exactly have an easy ride to finish the trip but spirits are high and the end is potentially (weather permitting) nearly in sight! 

Feeling small.

Feeling small.

Feeling very small.

Feeling very small.

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376 miles in 11 days

Well we've reached George Town! After an arduous 11 days of paddling it's fair to say we're more than excited to have a rest day scheduled! Although a rest day never turns out to be a rest day the prospect of not having to wake up at 4am and prepare for another long day kayaking is certainly a great feeling.

Looking back on the last 11 days we've experienced so much. A variety of marine life, some absolutely stunning uninhabited islands and we've continued to be utterly overwhelmed by people's generosity. Leaving Grand Turk feeling fully rested and itching to get back on the water we blasted down to South Caicos. The East Bay Resort were so welcoming. We were well fed, fixed up with some food for the boat and managed to grab a few hours sleep before waking at 1am to make it all the way to Provo.

Having been shown a picture of a 12 foot tiger shark the night before that was 'lurking' in the area we were certainly fully conscious of every splash as we left in total darkness. 15 minutes after passing through Shark Alley we felt our paddles touching something beneath the boat. A shark? A whale? Were we imagining it? 5 minutes later and we were no longer moving. We had successfully ran aground on a sandbank at 2am just half a mile from Shark Alley.

Just a starfish looking dandy

Just a starfish looking dandy

The only real option was to laugh and after seeing the comical side of our situation we jumped out of the boat and began to drag the kayak  out to sea. An incredibly disconcerting and slightly strange feeling. When we signed up for this we didn't picture ourselves walking in the middle of the ocean in total darkness and dragging our kayak! An uneventful hour later we had reached deep enough water to get back into the boat and carry on to Provo! Darkness turned to light and the day continued without drama. As Provo grew larger and we reached about 4 miles from land we both spotted two large, dark and fast moving objects speeding towards our boat in the crystal clear water. The rest of that story can be saved for another day.

A fantastic welcome from the Big Blue dive centre and Tanya sorted us a great place to store the boat for the night. Ben, our host, was brilliant in aiding all our needs. He took us for a great meal, made us very welcome at his home and introduced us to Dr Sam, who runs the local clinic and assisted us with replenishing medical supplies, and Tim, a man of fantastic knowledge who built his own catermeran Beluga before sailing it down to T&Cs. Both have been vital to the course of the next stages of our expedition. A huge thank you to everyone from Provo!

Arriving at Big Blue after setting off at 1am

Arriving at Big Blue after setting off at 1am

The next day was an exciting prospect. Despite the long 45 miles ahead we would be entering the Bahamas! Mayaguana was our destination and we once more set out in the early hours to commence the crossing. We faced some strong winds but all in all made good time and managed to arrive in Mayaguana in time to be charged the extortionate Bahamian yacht cruising fee... for our 22 foot kayak...

After staying with Murphy it was back to the hammocks, this time set up between the posts of a beach shack

After staying with Murphy it was back to the hammocks, this time set up between the posts of a beach shack

Fully set to bed down for the night in our hammocks a local Bahamian, Murphy, was adamant that we shouldn't sleep amongst the savage sand flies on the beach. He welcomed us like nothing we've experienced before. Having known these two salty, smelly Brits for the best part of just an hour he gave us his personal bed in his home for the night and made sure we were fed in the morning. Incredibly kind! Similarly on the north side of the island the owners of Baycaner Beach Resort found us all nestled into our hammocks and brought us a couple of dinners and some snacks for the next day! Even the local policemen came down to see how were were and offer any help. We were certainly very content going to sleep that night!

The next couple of days saw us continue through the Bahamian islands at some speed. Camping on some stunning uninhabited islands and watching the sun go down as we cooked up our dinner. As the sun sets around 1730 we were nicely tucked up in bed by 1800 on these nights!

Cooking dinner before darkness descends  

Cooking dinner before darkness descends  

The paddle over to Crooked Island was as enjoyable as the last few days. Having a look at the map we decided to cut through the sand flats. Amusingly as we approached the shallows Will mentioned the prospect that this could be good shark territory. I quickly dismissed the idea claiming that the water would be far too shallow. 2 minutes later and two dark 6 foot finned shadows glide past the kayak. Turning to briefly catch a glimpse of the yum yum yellow kayak and then continuing on their way. Nerves were high.

The water once again became shallower and shallower and soon we found ourselves once more playing drag the kayak. Having seen numerous sting rays we were conscious of the hazards lurking around our feet as we powered on to find deeper water. After a good half hour walking we spotted a fast moving shadow heading towards the kayak. The water so clear and shallow that it was perfectly easy to make out the distinctive fin. We threw ourselves into the boat and watched cautiously as a smaller 3 foot shark charged past. It was fair to say we didn't much fancy getting back out to drag the boat but we soon found deeper water and all was well. We were able to get back into the sea and find another great place to camp for the night.

Always fresh as a daisy...

Always fresh as a daisy...

On Crooked Island we were kindly hosted by Sonya at Blue Horizon and Willie from Gibson's Restaurant. Here we had a great dinner with Griff and Andy. Two friends on a fishing holiday who had some wonderful stories to share. Chris from Crooked Island Lodge was so generous in assisting us and we would like to extend a huge thank you to David for his very kind support... we hope you are reading! 

From Crooked Island we travelled to Long Island. A slightly choppy crossing slowed our progress but we were able to reach our desired camping spot prepared to set up for the night. Here we ran into an American family just going for an evening swim in the sea. Assistance was once again right on our doorstep. They so kindly gave us a delicious meal and a much needed shower to wash off the salt and nurse the salt rashes!

Long Island is, as you would imagine, rather Long. With a cold front sweeping the island we to had to battle strong headwinds the next day to make good progress up the island. 20-25 knot winds were forecast and they certainly didn't feel any weaker than that. Good distance was however covered and after a kind local allowed us to sleep in one of the huts we were all set for the night!

Our home for the night on Long Island

Our home for the night on Long Island

At this point we made contact with Kevin and Audrey, two  of the most amazingly friendly and kind people in the world and they provided the perfect TLC we needed after a the past ten long days. They treated us to copious amounts of food, hospitality, great company and snacks for the coming days. It was just amazing. Kevin and Audrey then revealed another brilliant surprise... the hot tub located just around the back of the house was the perfect relaxation before being dropped back at our camping spot. Fighting the tale end of the cold front yesterday we managed to jump across to the Exumas.

It's not all bad!

It's not all bad!

Here we are. With not too long to go now we'd like to say a huge thank you to all the donations so far and please could everyone keep donating and spreading the word.

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Shadows

What amazingly coloured water!

What amazingly coloured water!

Well, everything has started going pretty quickly since we left Grand Turk. We made our way across the T&Cs via South Caicos and Provo before making the cheeky crossing across the 30 mile passage to the Bahamas. The aches and pains are already back and after four long days and three nights camping in the sand since our last shower the salt rashes have started to develop and our bodies are slowly wearing down.

After a quick pit stop in Landrail Point, Crooked Island, where we have received unbelievable hospitality, we will be back making use of our Hennessy Hammocks in the mangroves until we reach Georgetown in a few days time. Fleeting wifi this evening has allowed us just a quick update so we will write properly when we reach Georgetown where George has promised me a rest day. Yay!

That said... this was exciting...

The night before leaving South Caicos we were shown a video of a 12 foot tiger shark swimming in the water just a couple of miles up from where we landed. You can imagine this meant we were quite apprehensive when we left at 2am the next morning and kayaked in the dark through a small channel of water affectionately named Shark Alley. This was just around the corner from Shark Bay. You get the theme. It was a dark night, no moonlight, so we could only see a couple of feet around us and the dark water glistened ominously back at us. 

It was a long, tense five hours before the sun finally came up and meant we could see what was happening around us. The day was long and mostly uneventful but we stayed on edge and couldn't help but constantly scan the water looking for sharks...

Despite having been tense in anticipation for the last twelve hours it still sent one hell of an adrenaline buzz when we saw a fin circling for the first time. Moments later two big shadows appeared behind us. I immediately reached for the GoPro... George gently reminded me my paddle might be better defence.

But you'll have to wait for our movie for the rest of this story...!

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Moving Again!

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Moving Again!

Well the last few weeks haven't exactly gone as planned.

After realising we were not going to be able to leave from Villa Serena the next day (see end of this post), hotel manager Marina very generously welcomed us into her own home and offered us a bed for "as long as we needed". Although I am sure she did not anticipate us sticking around for the next 12 days, we did and we are eternally grateful! Unfortunately the days went on by and the bad weather kept rolling on in. The wind was a consistent 20-25 kts, gusting much stronger, which aside from literally blowing us backwards was creating huge swells that would crush us against the Dominican Republic's hostile North coast. 

Will's 'the weather sucks' face

Will's 'the weather sucks' face

We spent days on end checking and rechecking the weather forecasts, so much so I even wrote a blog on it. How dull I hear you say. And you'd be right, but it was the most entertaining thing I had to do. We ate well, slept well and waited. All the time we thought we were only a couple of days away from leaving but then we would wake up the next morning and the forecast would have worsened.

So a big shout out to Marina and the Villa Serena team for taking care of us and letting us stay after initially thinking we were just coming for a single night. The hotel itself is absolutely beautiful. If you are heading to the DR and want to avoid the tourist filled package holiday hotels of Punta Cana, Villa Serena is definitely worth a visit. The facilities include a large garden, beach, swimming pool (perfect for practicing kayak rolls), a restaurant and incredibly welcoming staff.

Practicing rolling. At least we nailed the capsize part...

Practicing rolling. At least we nailed the capsize part...

After waiting around for almost two weeks and with no sign of the weather improving motivation was at a critically low level. More importantly, though, we were running out of time to complete the rest of the expedition as we have to be home in January. We had two options,

1. Continue when the weather breaks and when we run out of time fly home and try to return next year to complete the route. 

2. Get a lift forward so when the weather breaks we still have time to complete the expedition. 

It was very disheartening when we loaded the kayak onto the truck to drive along the North coast of DR in the hope that when we got to Puerto Plata we would have a good weather window to kayak the crossing to the T&Cs.  This cut out three days of paddling, but we hoped it would save the rest of the expedition and prevent us from taking a ridiculous risk of trying to kayak in unsuitable conditions. 

Looks secure enough...

Looks secure enough...

Catching up on the old book while bouncing in the back of the truck.

Catching up on the old book while bouncing in the back of the truck.

We were fortunate to be given a place to stay at Ocean World Marina to get ready for the crossing. However, of course it was not to be and the window literally closed in front of us as we watched the forecast get worse and worse. We agonised over whether to attempt the 90 mile crossing or not. Having been stationary for so long we were desperate to be moving again. We decided not to cross. It was the right call.  We sat that night watching the pelting rain and lightening out to sea and I was pretty glad we were not underneath it. Two yachts were subsequently towed in having lost their engines to the weather.

And to think we had wanted to cross on Saturday/Sunday

And to think we had wanted to cross on Saturday/Sunday

We soon came to the realisation that with no change in weather forecast in the next couple of weeks our best bet would be to try and hitch a lift across on a yacht or cargo ship and continue the expedition from the T&Cs. This led us into the most dangerous experience of the trip so far.... a motoconcho (motobike taxi) ride to the yacht haven of Luperon - where we failed to find a boat heading North - and back. It was a necessary evil but neither of us have any wish to ever find ourselves on the back of a motorbike again, especially not in a country in which driving safety is less than an idle afterthought to say the least.

3 on a bike wizzing to Luperon from Puerto Plata

3 on a bike wizzing to Luperon from Puerto Plata

Anyone who spoke to us around now would know we were feeling pretty low and restless. We just wanted to be rid kf the DR and all it's troubles. After a couple of days the marina manager, Jorge, managed to put us in touch with the owner of a cargo boat that works between the DR and Grand Turk. Two days after that - and only after unimaginable hastle with the navy, immigration and customs - we found ourselves steaming into wind and waves finally on our way North. 

When we were told cargo ship.... we were thinking of something like this...

Instead we got this...

Randy B. was not exactly comfortable. In fact I spent most of the time wishing I was in the kayak instead. The weather was bad and the water was choppy to the extent that the crossing took double the expected time. Of course we experienced no such luxuries as a bed... no no, they were all taken by the crew and so we were relegated to spending the night out on the metal floor of the top deck, slumped against our kayak and some other cargo. It was a bit grim. 

Still, we were very very happy to finally be out of the DR and it gave us a big boost to unload the kayak onto Grand Turk, where we were looked after by Nate of Oasis Dive shop. We ate, slept and prepared oursleves to kayak again.

We set off this morning in good spirits, we are in the Turks and Caicos after all! The wind was behind us, the current was slight, waves not too choppy and we made amazing progress. It was hard work, very hot and the old aches quickly started to resurface to remind us what we had missed. Nonetheless if the rest of the expedition is like this we will be happy men indeed. 

George feeling happy...

George feeling happy...

We made it this afternoon to East Bay Resort who have very kindly put us up for the night and are feeding us before we set off for a monster 40 natutical mile day tomorrow over to Provo. If there was ever a place to relax after a hard day kayaking (or any day in fact), this is the place to be. It is great to be amongst English speaking folk again, we have just had an amazing late lunch - best burger in the Caribbean - and are now using the space on the beach to sort our kit for the crossing tomorrow. 

East Bay Resort, South Caicos

East Bay Resort, South Caicos

 

 

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Weather Forecasting

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Weather Forecasting

Storm closing in off the coast of Dominican Republic

Storm closing in off the coast of Dominican Republic

So we are sat here in the DR waiting for a weather window to carry on kayaking. There are two things we are looking at at the moment... a break in the forecasted thunderstorms to continue along the North coast without risk of being blasted out the water by lightning, and a weather window to complete our 90 nautical mile crossing to the Turks and Caicos.

We have been on the expedition for almost seven weeks now and in that time have accumulated a rather comprehensive catalogue of websites and other resources for creating our 'best guess' of what weather we are likely to encounter. I say 'best guess' because you always have to be prepared for weather that is not forecasted, like lightening when no storms are predicted or strong winds when you expect just a breeze (and vice versa). We have experienced both of these... and everything in between...

Things are almost easier when we have no access to wifi. In these cases we have to go off the limited information we have available to us. On the Golden Arc Expedition we are supported by Karell at Kayak Weather who provides us with weather updates to our satellite phone twice a day. These are basic but provide the essential information of wind speed, wind direction, wave height and wave direction. On knowing these variables we can decide whether we need to seek quick refuge, stay put or can continue paddling without worry.

When we have access to wifi we like to do the job ourselves and as well as getting an immediate forecast get an idea of how conditions will develop into the near and more distant future. This can be a thankless task and different forecasters will often offer conflicting predictions. In this case it is difficult to avoid the trap of picking the forecast that is kindest to what you want to do. Most importantly, at the end of the day you have to act on the best information available to you and ultimately take responsibility for your decisions. 

So, if you find yourself in need of a few weather forecasting tools, if you're just interested and want to see what we're looking at or you're bored in the library and want any excuse to avoid doing what you are meant to be doing, here is what we look at.

1. Wind Guru

Our Go-To website. If we can only check one thing it will be here. However, many of the spots are 'unofficial' i.e. created by members of the public so we like to back up Wind Guru predictions with other resources when possible.

2. National Hurricane Centre- Offshore Waters Forecast 

The same information we are sent by Karel at Kayak Weather. We have found the National Hurricane Centre provides very reliable forecasts.

3. WindyTV

A cool website, also available as an app, most useful for wind direction and strength. You can click anywhere on the map to get a detailed weather forecast at that location.

4. Passage Weather 

Similar to WindyTV but better for surface pressure, wave height and direction.  Provides a seven day forecast, most useful for passage planning.

5. NHC Five Day Graphical Tropical Weather Outlook 

You have to look ahead and keep an eye on any systems that might be developing so you do not get caught off guard later on. Two day and five day tropical weather outlook available on the NHC website.

6. Other websites:

We do not use these on their own, but they are essential to build the picture of what wewther we are expecting, especially in relation to precipitation and the risk of thunderstorms.

Yr.no

Weather Underground

Goes to the top of the list when we are looking at how a potentially threatening weather system might develop. In particular, Dr. Jeff Masters provides fantastic analysis and predictions in his blog here.

So, this is not a complete list and we are the first to admit we a definitely no experts in the subject of weather forecasting. This page may, though, provide a useful - or perhaps just interesting - list of resources for water goers wanting to get a better picture of the weather outlook. 

If you think we have missed something important or have a suggestion for an addition please send it over to us! For example, we have so far been unable to find any surface pressure charts showing pressure weather fronts etc. for the Caribbean area. For the UK and Europe, see here.

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The DR So Far

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The DR So Far

The DR has been a rollercoaster. A difficult one. Only made bearable by the kind people we have met and have supported us along the way.

We were feeling good after completing the Mona Pasage. Although physically knackered, even after a superb night sleep in our complimentary suite at Eden Rock, were were happy with the last couple of days and ready to take on the DR and any challenges it may have. Little did we know they would come thick and fast!

Lightening fills the night sky like a fireball (screenshot from GoPro footage)

Lightening fills the night sky like a fireball (screenshot from GoPro footage)

The whole of the peninsular on which we landed is privately owned by Cap Cana and at the far end from where we landed is the Cap Cana Marina. Strictly, we should have gone straight there when were reached the DR coast as it is illegal to step foot on land without clearing customs at one off the nominated ports of entry.

With a storm closing in we were forced to go straight to Eden Rock, which was dramatic enough in itself as outlined in our last post. Thus today our first job was to get to the marina and clear in. Luckily, we had been given our own golf cart to get around the impressive Eden Rock estate and the receptionist said this was the best way to get to the marina.

She assured us we would have enough battery to get there and back...

Thanks Maurizio!

Thanks Maurizio!


It was a fun experience cruising down the road at 3 and a bit mph and within 25 minutes we had covered the 10km to the marina. I think they were a bit confused when we turned up in the car park requesting to charge our buggy (the battery was already in the red) and to clear in. Fortunately for us the Cap Cana marina is high end and fully geared towards customer service.

The Dock Master, Frank, was superb and very soon (1 hour is considered pretty quick here) 5 different officials had turned up to clear us in. We think Frank did us a big favour by sitting them all down and explaining our situation - most find it pretty hard to comprehend what we are doing in a kayak and hardly anyone will believe that we crossed the Mona Passage!

They would not clear us in without seeing the kayak so a few (Caribbean) moments later all 9 of us were piled into two small cars and driving back down the road we had just negotiated in the buggy to the little beach down a muddy track off the golf club where we had left the kayak.  I think the local with whom we left the kayak got a bit of a shock when the two cars rolled in and all these officials jumped out.

Alas everyone seemed to be content, our passports were stamped, and we were soon on our way again back to the marina to pick up the buggy, which had been charging, and head back to the hotel for some lunch and to get ready to continue our journey.

Eden Rock really is an incredible place and we were very well looked after by all the staff and are immensely grateful for their generosity in letting us stay after the Mona Passage. If you are heavy heading to the DR, make sure you pay them a visit!


The next morning it was back to the kayak after a speedy breakfast in the hotel. We got to the beach, packed the kayak, set off, returned to the beach, packed the stuff we'd left on the beach, set off again and were on our way. The 3.5 NM up the coast to the marina was slow against the current. We had to return to get a 'despacho' - naval permission to travel on the water, which is part of the DRs solution to battling drug and people trafficking. For cruisers and kayak expeditions it is a complete nightmare!

After radioing Cap Cana we waited 90 minutes before Frank was able to get out to us to take us to the marine police station next door, 40 minutes later and we were in a difficult situation. With it being 12:30 already and a long stretch ahead to clear all the private beaches of Punta Cana we were forced to accept Frank's kind offer to stay at the marina - in his apartment in fact - and set off early the next morning. We were treated to a fantastic home cooked pasta dinner and a tour of inner Cap Cana, including a visit to the most expensive supermarket ever! (Unofficial award)

Thank you Frank for taking us in and offering a fantastic dinner!

Thank you Frank for taking us in and offering a fantastic dinner!

Departure from Cap Cana lasted the best part of 10 miles. The Dominican Republic run a system whereby we must check in and check out every morning and evening with the military at their relative check points. As you can imagine, leaving at times between 1am and 6am depending on the days distance means obtaining our 'despacho' from the military is pretty much impossible. Add to that the incredibly slow speed at which anything gets done around here and we can barely move down the coast each day.

Always take photos with officials, preferrably showing their name and rank, as proof for later on.

Always take photos with officials, preferrably showing their name and rank, as proof for later on.

So after a day's delay in Cap Cana we set off for Bavaro. Lela our host was fantastic, on arrival she sorted a safe storage place for the kayak and we then drove into the local town to begin the next fiasco with the military. Two hours later and we had our departure documents for the next day to move another 40 miles down the coast. A day that started with navigating a hugely treacherous reef in total darkness and then filled again with lightening and the ever growing realisation that we have probably used more than our 9 lives.

From Lela we arrived in Miches where we moored the kayak up on Julbo's private dock and were kindly given a place to sleep and a meal for the night. Exhausted and hungry our first point of call was again the Miches military outpost. An hour later and still with no departure documents, we were told to return at 8am the next morning to collect them. Trying to explain that we can't leave as late as 8am to the military goes absolutely nowhere. Consequently we bunked down for the night and made our way over to the military in the morning. After a good hour of waiting we finally had our documents and rushed down to the boat to get out on the water.

Heading to the commendancia with Julbo

Heading to the commendancia with Julbo

Frustrated, tired and feeling pretty down we decided to crack on and arrive in Las Galeras before darkness. The day started well, we paddled hard for the first 10 miles aware of the line of rain clouds to our right. The forecast predicted no thunderstorms. The forecast was wrong. When we were half way through the crossing the clouds suddenly grew more ominous, but with no option other than to continue we carried on hoping to duck behind them.

Storm rumbling towards us...

Storm rumbling towards us...

A couple of miles later and a crazy bright flash of lightening filled the air immediately followed by a huge crash and rumble. It was directly above us. We've all too regularly mentioned thunderstorms crossing our paths in the last couple of weeks but it's fair to say this was a completely different story. I'd highly recommend checking out our following post on lightning storms to see the full dangers and recommended procedures.

This time there was no option but to go into survival mode. We sent a warning satellite message to Exped HQ in case we were later incapacitated, placed our kayak paddles (essentially carbon fibre lightning conductors) in the water as far away as possible, got as low into the boat as we could, covered our ears with our hands and frankly hoped that it would pass over as quickly as possible. About an hour later and it had continued west. Shaken and pretty damn terrified we carried on with more clouds looming to our east. Zigzagging across the sea trying to dodge storms that are impossible to outrun or predict made for an exhausting and scary rest of the day.

'Survival mode'... what are your options!?

We luckily made it to land at around 5pm, incredibly thankful nothing bad had happened.

 

We're currently kindly being hosted by Marina, manager of the Villa Serena Hotel, in her house as our biggest set back to date has set in. With these storms forecast for at least the next 8 days we are running through all the possible options. We plan to let you know our plan of action as soon as possible!

Forecast for the next few days. We cannot go on the water when thunderstorms are predicted... hmmm...

Forecast for the next few days. We cannot go on the water when thunderstorms are predicted... hmmm...

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Mona Passage

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Mona Passage

Mona Passage

Mona Passage

So, since our last post we have kayaked through a minefield of thunderstorms, been robbed, crossed 'Shark Alley', battled through a number of reefs and found out that George achieved his Grade 2 ballet (!) when he was seven years old.

After making it just north of Mayaguez we were warmly welcomed in by Carlos. His Blue Whale Apartments ended up being our home for the next four nights as we rested our bodies before the ominous Mona Passage. We've touched on people's amazing generosity in the past and Carlos was no different. After settling us in he made sure we had a fantastic breakfast the next day, kindly drove us into Mayaguez to process through customs and gave us a wonderful tour of his great town Anasco and the surf village of Rincon!

Carlos; One of life's good guys.

Carlos; One of life's good guys.

We were able to make sure the boat was as prepared as possible for the countless terrible tales of the Mona passage we had read about and had a very early night. Unfortunately, the weather was not looking good. We woke up at midnight fully prepared to get going but after a quick weather check it was apparent we were going nowhere. Gusting winds of 17/18 knots against the current would have caused extremely difficult swells. On top of that, fighting the unpredictable current and potentially battling into the wind made the decision to stay a no brainier.

We delayed to the next day and without hesitation Carlos jumped to our rescue. Offering another night and support if we needed to go anywhere, the supermarket, pharmacy or just to get out the house. After a day of frustrated waiting and killing time we were ready and set to go again. Midnight. We woke again and had our final weather check. No good, the weather had closed in again and the same conditions were present. We just couldn't risk it and on reflection we definitely made the right decision. With the prospect of another days delay looming we made contact with Carlos again.

 

Again he jumped to our rescue. Sensing our frustrated mood he decided to take us in the morning with his wife to get a brilliant breakfast. After that we headed to the farmers market in Rincon and were treated to some great local foods and gifts. Their hospitality was just incredible. We were dropped back home and eagerly checked the most recent weather updates. At last. It looked like we had a weather window to set off at midnight. Carlos treated us to a brilliant final dinner and we were tucked up in bed to get our 4 hours sleep in. It's fair to say the nerves were building but they were overrun by itchy feet and the excitement to get moving again.

At midnight, after just 3 1/2 hrs sleep we were up and ready to go. Almost everything had been prepared the night before so we just had to pack the last few things into the bags, carry them and the kayak onto the beach (the boat is too heavy to lift when loaded), pack it and leave.

This we did. Unfortunately, though, we soon found out that some other people had taken concern over how heavy our kayak was and had thoughtfully relieved us of some of the weight... unfortunately, they included some of our most crucial kit.

Total of items stolen: 

   - A cyalume glow stick :( 

   - Pair of gloves (Will's)

   - A spoon (George's)

   - Our emergency grab bag with flares and spare radio.

Clearly the last item was the high value and most important loss for us and left us with a difficult decision as to whether to embark on the passage or not. We decided to go. We still had a VHF radio we could keep turned off to maintain battery, strobes to use to identify our location and a good weather window to complete the crossing. After our two day delay we were in no mood to be set back again.

So off we went. 

Now, what does "scattered thunderstorms" (NoAA Marine Forecast) mean to you? Well as you may have gathered from previous posts we are becoming more and more knowledgeable and accustomed to thunder and lightening and our experiences took another leap when we found out exactly what "scattered thunderstorms" are.

They essentially turn the passage into a huge minefield. The mines are visible - as massive black clouds over towers of slashing rain that now and again light up as lightening strikes threateningly around them - and the mines are also moving... much faster than we can... but their direction is very hard to determine when it is dark.

After our disappointment first thing in the morning and a couple of hours of feeling sorry for ourselves during which we actually made pretty good progress we were starting to feel a little better. Then the lightening flared up. The next thing we knew we were sat in the middle of the minefield with thunderstorms to our left, thunderstorms to our right and and a thunderstorm to our front.  

It was shit scary. 

We waited for a nerve-wracking half an hour before we were confident enough that we were not going to kayak into the path of any of them and then continued on. But progress was much slower than before. It got light a hour later and the wind started to pick up, not coming from the East as forecast, but from the South i.e. against us. We also had a bit of a tango with the currents but overall managed to keep a steady, albeit slow, course towards Isla Mona.

upload.jpg

You can see we were heading south west until we were in line with Isla Mona and then turned Westward in order to avoid the crazy northerly currents on the East coast of the island.

The crossing was long and hard. There's not much more to it... it was a slog... and for a long time in the middle there was no land in sight.

At long last Mona island changed from being a dot that never grew bigger to the beach we planned to land on. We paddled closer and saw a reef that stretched down the whole beach. With no clear entry to land and only an hour of daylight left we weren't overly pleased by the situation that faced us. Before deciding to paddle onwards Will luckily spotted two signs to guide us through a narrow channel into shore. We squeezed through the channel with breaking waves either side of us and finally made land. 16 hours in the boat and we were more than ready to stretch our legs.

Cliffs of Mona Island

Cliffs of Mona Island

We jumped out and began unloading. Mona being an uninhabited island we expect nothing but a small hut was visible in the distance and we decided to check it out. After unloading the boat the quiet hum of an engine approaching caught our attention. The one ranger on the island appeared in his buggy with the one police sergeant. They began to interrogate us in Spanish, looking both confused by the fact we were saying we had crossed half the Mona passage and excited by our arrival. After verifying our documents they chopped us some coconuts, said we were more than welcome to sleep in the hut, wished us luck for the next day, took some pictures with us and disappeared into the distance. With darkness now just minutes away we quickly cooked some dinner and climbed into our hammocks. 3 hours later and alarms were ringing and we were up and ready to go again.

 No photos of any of this.. we were too tired.

We loaded up the boat, found the glow sticks we had placed on the signs guiding us through the reef and took a deep breath. Too far right or too far left and we would end up on the reef, jagged rocks and huge breaking waves. In total darkness we had to trust the glow sticks we had positioned on the beach. 10 minutes later and we had made it through the reef. Such a overwhelming feeling of relief was quickly replaced by three looming thunderstorms. After 30 minutes we decided they were far enough away and paddled on. Just 5 minutes later and our next problem arrived. We spotted some breaking waves, just a couple of metres from where we were. We pointed our powerful dive torch into the darkness and barely a metre from us was a lump of rock lurking just beneath the surface. We sharply turned the boat and headed far out from Mona Island. An island that looks like paradise, but one that is riddled with hidden dangers.

Continuing until sunlight was uneventful. Our bodies ached badly after the hard paddle the day before and the prospect of another 17 hours in the boat was not doing much for our moods. The day passed slowly and uneventfully apart from a few oil tankers in different directions. The Mona Passage, also known as shark alley, was fortunately not living up to its reputation.

16 hours later and we were nearing the Dominican Republic. We had fortunately been offered accommodation at the last minute and were pleased to have a place to stay. Unfortunately we hadn't marked it properly on the map, after heading to the Cap Cana marina we received a message on the satellite phone from HQ letting us know we were heading in the wrong direction. Under the assumption we were just a mile from shore it did not come as happy news that we were in fact 4 miles east of where we needed to be. We changed bearing and started heading west along the coast. More reefs and rapidly fading light created a stressful situation.

We continued along the shore, stopping frequently to ask for directions. No one really knew which direction to point us. Continuing down the coast the hospitable beaches were turning to rocky shores, huge dark clouds appeared and the sun was preparing to set. The wind suddenly rapidly picked up from the storm approaching and we had nowhere to land. We rounded a headland with fingers and toes crossed that there might be a beach. We were in luck, a tiny beach appeared in front of us and we sighed with relief. We were, however, naive to think the day was done. The wind had kicked up some aggressive breaking waves crashing into the beach that made the landing a serious concern. With no other option we counted the sets of waves and went for it. Spray decks up and ready to jump out the boat and drag it up the beach when we landed we managed to just escape being rolled by the wave that took us to shore.

Desperation struck when this was clearly not where we were meant to be. The beach was over grown by jungle and it was now dark. Spotting a small hut in the jungle we went to speak with a couple of the locals. They told us we need to be another couple of miles down the shore for our accommodation. Quickly surveying the state of the sea and darkness we decided we weren't going anywhere. It was now time to put all our faith in the local Dominicans. Trust them or not we didn't have much of a choice. They kindly said we could leave the kayak outside their hut and pointed us up a dirt track to where the road was located. Unloading all valuables they escorted us with machetes and torches up the dirt track to the main road. They halted a passing car which took us 10 minutes down the road to our accommodation. Such relief after an incredibly long and eventful few days!

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Short Update; Mona Passage 7th Nov 2016

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Short Update; Mona Passage 7th Nov 2016

Short Update; Expedition HQ in the UK, 7th Nov 2016

Will and George have made landfall on the small island of Mona in the middle of the Mona Passage, having paddled for 15 and a half hours covering something over 50 miles. The ’50 miles,’ though is figurative given it doesn’t take account of the unpredictable currents and winds that torment sailors in this perilous passage where the Atlantic rushes in to meet the Caribbean Sea. It is in fact, as treacherous a piece of water as you will find anywhere. 

When Will and George write their blog posts they are necessarily sanitised. This is though, after some hard yards hacking up the Puerto Rican coast, the really tough stretch on which the success of the whole expedition rests. While a bad thing can happen at any moment during the three months, this phase is especially spicy. If the Anegada Passage was the Khumba Icefall of the expedition then the Mona Passage is the Hillary Step. After today they have another gruelling crossing to the Dominican Republic followed by many days paddling to traverse the north coast to their jumping off point for the 120 mile 36 hour leg to the Turks & Caicos. On reaching the T&C they will have broken the back of the expedition by being more than half way to Miami. 

I have chewed through my mouse today and will probably start on the keyboard tomorrow.

Thank you again for all your messages of support, all of which are passed to the boys when internet access allows.

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Puerto Rico - On and On...

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Puerto Rico - On and On...

Well, since our last post we have made it into Puerto Rico, along it's South coast, up the West and made two failed attempts to leave - 165 nautical miles (192 miles) in total in the past week. We have slept on a driveway, in an attic, and been given a room on four other happy occasions. We have fled to shore after being caught out in lightening storms, suffered sun burn and dehydration, been molested by vicious mosquitoes and managed to hitchhike 5 miles to a supermarket and back. In the last week of hard kayaking we have moved about half a centimetre across the world map.

850 miles down.

It is difficult to know what to write in these blog updates. We are sure many people probably think we are just bouncing up the Caribbean from one nice resort to another. Our experiences of finding places to stay and the hospitality we have received (and not received) are the interesting parts for us... it is nice to switch off from the pain and misery of the kayaking... and so this is what we tend to write about. It is, of course, not the whole story.

Hitchiking back from the supermarket.

Hitchiking back from the supermarket.

Apparently, it is the kayaking (or our pain and misery to be more specific) that people reading want to actually hear about. We'll try and get a balance.

The newest addition to our kayaking knowledge is that of thunderstorms. Lightening is a hugely exciting phenomenon and of course is nothing new to us. We have seen many a storm while at home, driving along a motorway or in the mountains. The chance of getting struck by lightening is usually miniscule. However, when you are the only object sat above the surface in a massive expanse of water, the odds suddenly become somewhat less favourable.

In fact, being 2 miles out to sea (relatively close to shore thankfully), having a thunderstorm charging over the mountains towards you is terrifying. Absolutely terrifying.

This was the case on a couple of occasions during our days kayaking down Puerto Rico's South coast. At this point we hadn't researched much into thunderstorms or the advice for kayakers. It is not like being in a yacht, where the mast is a lightening conductor and will ground any shock to the sea. For us, the tallest point for miles around is the top of our heads... and we're holding carbon fibre paddles (conduct electricity brilliantly).

Rain heading for us. Just a light shower this time...

Rain heading for us. Just a light shower this time...

When you are fatigued, hungry and have a target mileage for the day the obvious decision - i.e. get off the water as soon as you hear thunder - suddenly becomes a difficult one to take. You can imagine us tired, hungry and getting pelted by rain watching this big cloud from 30 miles off.... 20 miles off... 10 miles off... wondering whether to keep paddling or not. What are the chances of it going wrong anyway? Eventually, on each occasion we decided to seek refuge on land. It was the right call every time.

Puerto Rico is different to the other islands we have moved along so far because of its size and its mountains. These mountains create two problems for us. The first is storms with the rain (miserable) and lightening (scary) they bring. The second is variable winds that can offset and often reverse the forecasted wind. If you have no interest in wind, skip the next paragraph.

There are two wind effects that affect us each day: 

1. Anabatic - As the sun comes up in the morning it starts to heat the cool sea air. As it warms up it becomes less dense and rises from sea level towards and up the mountains. This creates an on-shore wind which is a pain because we are usually trying to head away from land in the mornings and thus into wind.

2. Katabatibc - The opposite occurs as the sun goes down. The air starts to cool, becoming less dense and falls off the mountains creating an offshore wind i.e. straight into our faces as we are trying to get into land in the evenings. 

It is hard to offer what a typical day looks like for us at the moment. Back in the Caribbean islands our program tended to follow a cyclical pattern, starting with arriving on the South coast of an island. One day paddling up the West coast. Leave at 1am to get to the North coast, have a leg stretch and breakfast on the North coast, then relaunch at 5.30am (first light) to start the crossing to the next island. Then repeat.

Kayaking around a marina looking for a place to stay.

Kayaking around a marina looking for a place to stay.

Now we always try to finish our days at around 4pm, so we have time to find accomodation or a camping spot before it gets dark. This means starting our day at any time between 1am and 8am depending on the distance we intend to cover, normally dictated by the next available accomodaton. 

On crossing from the Beachcomber Hotel, USVIs to Culebra - a little island that is part of Puerto Rico - we had nowhere organised to stay and little opportunity to camp close enough to the town where we could pick up the supplies we needed. Fortunately, as we were paddling down the big bay we came alongside a boat on a private dock to ask where we might be able to leave the kayak while we head to customs. The kind landlord, Luis, allowed us to tie up on his pontoon and what's more kindly offered for us to sleep on his drive.

We had an easy (ish) time getting through U.S. customs and immigration at the airport, found a small supermarket to restock, then had an entertaining evening as we tried to get to sleep on the drive... in full anti-zika attire... while the residents had a Friday evening celebration. I guess we chose the wrong drive.

Full anti-zika measures... going to sleep on Luis driveway.

Full anti-zika measures... going to sleep on Luis driveway.

The following day we made the crossing from Culebra to mainland Puerto Rico and down to Palmas del mar where we had been advised we would find a safe place to camp. Something definitely got lost in translation  because Palmas turned out to be a rather fancy and exclusive marina and plaza. While the marina offered us a complimentary 'berth' for the night inbetween two superyachts we had a very hard time finding somewhere to sleep.... as you can see...

Struggles.

Struggles.

Amazingly though, just as we were about to bed down in the marina loos to shelter from the rain we got talking to someone and through a couple of connections who must all remain nameless to protect their identities (and their jobs) got us a shower and a couple of beds right by the marina. Guys, if you read this, thank you!!

So after a quick snooze we were back on the water for 3am and making our way down the South coast towards Salinas. It was a llong and hot day with very little breeze, but we were accompanied most of the way by a small fish of some sort. You can imagine how I jumped when I put my feet in to cool off and it whipped out from under the boat to have a nibble!!

Gilbert in action.

Gilbert in action.

However, it turned out we hadn't picked the wrong drive to sleep on back in Culebra. Luis, the owner, also happened to own a restaurant in Salinas with a couple of rooms where he allowed us to stay and eat. El Dorado is a fantastic venue and well worth a stop over if you are passing by.. or even if you are not! We were taken care of fabulously by Alex, who brought us plate after plate of food and even sorted us a lift to the supermarket.

A real treat... our budget doesn't normally stretch to such delights.

A real treat... our budget doesn't normally stretch to such delights.

Carrying on along the South coast we soon had our mad dash to shore as our first thundrstorm came over. We sheltered in the mangroves for half an hour - well, George lasted about 5 minutes before deciding to risk the lightening over zika as the mosquitos came out to play - before continuing on to Cobada Beach House. Jorge, our host, kayaked out to guide us through the reef lining the beach, for which we were very grateful given our previous experiences with reefs and kindly sorted us out with dinner, breakfast and snacks for our next day! 

And more rain... bit of a theme for Puerto Rico so far.

And more rain... bit of a theme for Puerto Rico so far.

It was certainly a flying visit, and we were off again. However it was not long before more thunderstorms brewed and we were forced to sprint 2 miles into shore. We must have looked quite a state when we walked into the reception of Copamarina Beach Resort asking for them to sponsor us a night. Very fortunately some nice manager took pity on us and set us up with a room for the night. It seems odd walking into a nice hotel room but being upset we were not in a miserable campsite if it meant being 10 miles further down the coast.

We left early the next morning and kayaked again. Monotonous is the best word to describe the hours between 8am-4pm each day and there is really very little to write about. We will though follow up over the next couple of weeks with a series of 'how are we prepared' videos/posts to show you how we are dealing with some of the challenges such as navigation, the sun, sharks, eating, weather forecasting etc.

"But they said my arms would get bigger!..."

"But they said my arms would get bigger!..."

On the evening of the 3rd November after a night in a mosquito filled hell hole and a brutal kayak up the coast into wind and tide - one of our hardest yet! - we made it up to Rincon, where we have been accommodated by the wonderful and hospitable Carlos in his Blue Whale Beach Apartment (listed on AirBNB). We are now here, enjoying a rest day preparing for the "murderous" Mona Passage! 

Sounds exciting...

Storms coming over off the mountains.

Storms coming over off the mountains.

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Tortola; Kind Hearts on Golden Cays

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Tortola; Kind Hearts on Golden Cays

Arriving at Nanny Cay

We were very grateful for the kind welcome at Nanny Cay and the hospitality we received there. Still shattered from the previous 36 hours it was a relief not to be straddling our hammocks but to be set up with a hotel room and a bar tab! I fear we were too tired to make the most of the latter... another time maybe.

The next morning we had a rather important errand that the rest of the trip now hinged on. It might seem an obvious part of the planning phase to check, double check, and check again that we met all the visa requirements for each country (and we're visiting 18!) you plan to visit.

We didn't. 

We turned up with ESTAs, part of the visa waiver programme which entitles you to enter America or its territories for 90 days without a visa. The catch is it is only valid on certain official carriers i.e. airlines and ferries. Private planes and vessels, including kayaks, do not count.

It was an unpleasant night back in Carriacou when we found this out. ..

Luckily there is a simple back door! Get an official carrier to the United States,  clear through homeland security with your ESTA, then you have 90 days to come and go from the U.S. 

We were very lucky to run into our new friend Marcie, who after hearing about our exploits offered to sponsor us by taking us from the marina to the ferry terminal (and back) and pay for our ferry tickets. Suddenly life went from difficult to alright and Marcie kindly saved us a massive hole in our budget. 

So we spent the first half of the day travelling to St. John's, US Virgin Islands and back so we could get the little stamp in our passports allowing us to re-enter by kayak. It was a great trip.

When we got back to Nanny Cay we were privileged to meet the General Manager, Miles, who was kind enough to sort us out with lunch and an incredibly generous credit at the marina store where we were able to replace much of our broken kit, walking away with new dry bags, repair kit (duct tape), and two shiny Leatherman's to replace our rusty Gill marine knives. Thank you Miles!

Hearty welcome at Frenchmans Cay

Ready to carry on but with only a couple of hours left of daylight we set off and kayaked four miles down the coast to Frenchmans Cay where we have been put up for two nights while we get ready for the next leg.

New friends at Frenchman's Cay.

Update from Expedition HQ; Sun Oct 30th

Will and George have now left the US Virgin Islands and are currently transiting the south coast of Puerto Rico having set out this morning at 4am and are heading for the town of Salinas. Then, over the next couple of days, they will make their way to Mayaguez on the West coast which will be their jumping off point for the crossing to the Dominican Republic. Optically, it may appear quicker to transit over the north coast but given the Atlantic breakers would probably result in tragedy the southern route, although longer, is the more pragmatic.

Overall the expedition is going well. They are on schedule and the two most important components of the expedition, their bodies and the boat, are holding up well. They have suffered a litany of broken kit issues which is to be expected on a journey of this magnitude and with grateful thanks to Miles at Nanny Cay, much of the BAR (beyond all repair), kit has been replaced. It is perhaps worth bearing in mind that there are few expeditions of any type these days of this duration and a lot of manufactured kit is just not made to the extreme specs required for something like this, or certainly not within their funding limits.

While there have been some hairy moments, which they have decided not to share with us until the end of the expedition, the months of planning and preparation have so far at least, been vindicated. Without though, the kind hospitality and support that they have experienced across the islands, and freely offered advice, it is unlikely they would have made such good progress. Certainly, their limited budget would be under some duress at this point and that's putting it mildly.                                                                                                                                         

While one never wants to tempt fate the navigation has been bang on throughout which is a heck of an achievement in its own right. I'm going to ask them to expand on the subject a little more when time allows because I think it will be of interest to future kayaking expeditions in the area. Of particular interest will be the explanation as to what happened here...... couldn't find your way out of the marina lads?      

'why don't you stop and ask someone....'

In front of them they have the hop to the Dominican Republic and then a long and arduous leg to the Turks & Caicos which will easily be the longest to date. From there to the Bahamas and then Miami. They are struggling for accommodation offers in the T&C and Bahamas. If you have any contacts, please do get in touch, goldenarcexpedition@gmail.com You may be unaware but on some islands, camping is very much frowned upon, if not illegal, and their primary consideration is always the security of the boat so safe havens are important to the success of the expedition.

Finally, thank you again to all kind supporters for both your charitable donations and messages of support. I know Will and George would like to spend more time thanking people individually but with a small Samsung tablet and sporadic wifi it isn't always possible. I am sure they will on their return.

Chuck who?

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Anegada

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Anegada

We had a fantastic stay in St Maarten at The Crew House where we were warmly welcomed by Riselle screeching to a halt on the road, beeping the horn, waving and shouting directions as we paddled past. We continued on and reached the hostel`s own slipway where we were meeted and greeted with a cold beer and some much needed rest. We had a great dinner with Jamie and Riselle, the famous Travelling Island Girl, at a bar overlooking Maho beach, and a very early night. We took a day to restock supplies, replace broken kit and do some maintenance on the kayak - thank you so much Riselle for running us around and for all your help! - and we checked the weather. Then we checked it again. And some more...

Our next leg was the daunting task of the Anegada Passage - appropriately nicknamed the OhMyGodAhhh! Passage by sailors - famous for yachts turning around and returning to shore mid crossing due to the rough swells. We are getting used to this... but the distance, 64 nautical miles, was a new ball for us!

We left St. Maarten early on Friday morning setting a course for the southern point of Anguilla and on to Dog Island beyond it. Dog Island is small and uninhabited aside from iguanas and goats and has just two beaches. We landed on one and made camp in the mangroves, stringing up our hammocks and preparing oursleves for the wait before we would set out for the BVIs. We waited the whole of the next day, cowering in the shade of our ponchos as the sun rose over our own paradise island.

I'm not going to lie - we were nervous.

We set off just after 4pm, we had a couple of hours of sunlight left and were adamant to make good progress before it disappeared into the sea. We did well. And then it rained. It stopped, it got dark, then it rained some more. The first few hours were pretty miserable as we were hit by band after band of rain. Each one lasted no more than 15 minutes but it was cold Atlantic rain and for the first time in the month we have been going we were almost chilly! When each band let up the heat would overwhelm us again and sweat would pour down our faces before the next one hit.

Rain... lots of rain.

Rain... lots of rain.

But we made steady progress through the night. The hardest part was staying awake through the monotony of paddling in complete darkness with nothing but the small glow of our stern light, our hopefull warning to other boats not to plough into us. It is only two feet off the water so we do wonder if anyone can even see it!? We were lucky, though, with the conditions - no towering breaking waves threatening to capsize us with every stroke, just some bouncy rollers that did seem to be hitting us from 6 different directions, a result of the abnormal current, depths and wind.

Morale picked up as dawn broke and we were able to speed up considerably. Unfortunately the wind that had thrashed us about during the night decided to dissipate as it got light so we were unable to use the sail at all to help us along. In total we were paddling for 23 hours 40 minutes... a long time to be sat in a kayak. But we made it across all safe and well, if maybe a little tired.

With the crew from The Bitter End after a mid kayak break.

With the crew from The Bitter End after a mid kayak break.

As goes with all well planned expedition, we had organized nowhere to stay for when we got to Virgin Gorda at 4pm Sunday evening. Fortunately, the first place we pulled up to was the Bitter End Yacht Club, an incredible location just on the North Side of VG. We hooked up to the dinghy dock and were immediately chatting to boat loads of guests about our journey. Water Sports manager Jerome welcomed us into the fold and introduced us to the management who very kindly found us a couple of spare beds for the night. We had a wonderful dinner with Ron and co. who were taking part in the pro-am yacht race week and then passed out and slept.

A rest day would have been nice at this point.

But no.

30 miles on through the BVIs. We managed to snatch a swim at The Baths, an incredible array of massive boulders spread over shore and water on the South West tip of VG and the Pro-Am race members welcomed us on board for a quick lunch before we set off again. We were very grateful not to be eating cold tinned ravioli on the water again! Then we set off for the 11 nautical miles to Nanny Cay, where we hoped they might be expecting us but had had no contact over the past few days. 

And then a sickening dose of boat envy...

Boat envy in the BVIs

Boat envy in the BVIs

It started to get rather late... we would probably get in just after 6pm when it was just about dark and so we were preparing ourselves to sneak into the marina and pitch up on the dock or a beach. We were thus slightly surprised when a drone appeared over our heads and guided us all the way into the marina to a fantastic welcome on the beach from staff and guests! We were set up with a room and dinner and all was good. Until Roan, a chap who introduced himself at the bar, suggestd another drink in town.

And just like that we were on another boat... slightly nicer than our own... travelling at 32 knots (our average speed is 3kts) over to Road Town and then onto the Famous Willy T bar. It was just what we needed to recover from our 24 hour crossing... we took it as a little celebration that 700 miles into our trip we are still alive and well.

A few shots from the aerial footage - All credits to Alastair, Nanny Cay.

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Water is life

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Water is life

The last couple of weeks have certainly been hectic and we're extremely pleased with the distance we've covered in the short time period. We do, though, apologise for the shocking lack of contact and updares we have been able to post - a lot has happened in the meantime! This post was written to be published a week ago... wifi signal has not been kind and alas here we are. A post covering the more recent events will follow!

 

We left Saint Lucia in the early hours of the 8th, a 35 nautical mile crossing that led us to Martinique and our fantastic host Karl Gruand and his family. Martinique being our first French speaking island we were fully aware of the language barrier we were about to encounter. Our GCSE French skills having now stooped to an embarrassing 'Bonjour', 'Je voudrais followed by a hand gesture' and 'Merci'.

 

So after an uneventful crossing we pulled into the beach at Anse Mitan. Our worst fears were confirmed. No one spoke a single word of English. We needed a safe home for our beloved kayak and luckily stumbled across a water sports shop. After frantic hand gestures to and from the boat, a lot of oooooo la la's and a fair bit of 'Crazy Crazy' we thought our boat had a home for the night.

 

Mistaken.

 

10 minutes later another French man appeared with far more frantic aggressive hand gesturing. The type of man that doesn't care if you say you're English and don't speak French. He jabbered at us and ended with 'Kayak, here, NO!'  With the sun setting our host, Karl, luckily came to the rescue and found a great home for our boat at the very accommodating Cayanou hotel around the corner!

Kayak transportation at its finest  

Kayak transportation at its finest  

 

From Martinique we continued to make good progress, shooting up to the north side of the island and tackling another hard crossing to Dominica. It was looking like it might become our first calm crossing as we came around the North point and set off into the channel. What a great day we thought to ourselves!

 

NEVER.

 

Never ever again will I think that to myself. We're still unsure if it was an extended squall or if our multiple sources of weather reports were entirely wrong but a couple of hours into the crossing and we were being blasted by at least 10 ft waves (That's like my height, 6ft, plus Amber Haas for those that know her). The horizon was visible one second and gone the next as we were plunged from the peaks to the troughs of these waves. They were also coming from behind us which meant the boat would swerve frustratingly and dangerously to the right each time the wave passed over us. Incredibly hard for Will to keep the boat on our bearing to Dominica. Being drowned by waves and having to stay so mentally alert for the next 5/6 hours was knackering and we were extremely pleased when the wind and waves began to die down. Onwards through Dominica was much calmer and we quickly crossed to Guadeloupe.  

 

Here we had planned to camp on the mariner dock and set off for north Guadeloupe early in the mañana. Unexpectedly a great French ex news cameraman welcomed us onto his yacht for the night. Arriving dehydrated and tired after a long crossing this was ideal. Unfortunately he was so welcoming that many beers were suddenly brought to the deck.  Having not drunk alcohol for quite a few months you can imagine our head space an hour later. I wouldn't be surprised if we asked to take his yacht to Miami and drag the kayak behind it! Anyway the next thing we knew it was 5am, our alarms were ringing and it was time to get back out to sea. Urgh. Sore bodies, sore heads and a day that turned out to have 0 breeze.

 

If anyone fancies giving it a go (we take no responsibility if anyone actually decides to try this) but maybe enjoy a night out on the town, try getting into a Sauna in the morning, drag a rowing machine into the Sauna, set the temp to 32 degrees and row for 12 hours. That was our day. We ended up making it 25 miles to north Guadeloupe after a real struggle of a day. Fortunately the unbearable heat allowed us both to forget about the engineless lifeboat we passed that morning when leaving the mariner.

At least it looks nice ….  

At least it looks nice ….  

 

Onwards to Montserrat, yes the home of everyone's geography GCSE volcano. A marathon 40 nautical mile crossing nailed and a huge thank you to Ceinwen and Jacquie for hosting us at the beautiful Sea Song Villa They also provided a great dinner for us at Watermelon Cottage, thank you so much to Jacquie, Trevor and Joe for all your support. More info on how they helped us here - more photos going up soon! The Montserrat crossing itself was a strong day of paddling, our arrival at the beach on Monsterrat is an event that we plan to keep undisclosed until our film/documentary is released. All we can share with you now is that the rudder was bent 90 degrees and we count ourselves incredibly lucky.

IMG_4143.JPG

 

A good crossing to Nevis and here we are. From here we plan to head to Saint Kitts, Saint Barts, Saint Martin and then our longest crossing yet to the BVI (60 miles +). Thank you so much to everyone for your messages of support and your donations. We both think we've nearly thought through our whole lives whilst out paddling so keep the messages of support and donations coming please!

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Update; Anegade Passage, Sun 23rd Oct 2016

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Update; Anegade Passage, Sun 23rd Oct 2016

Update from Expedition HQ in the UK.

Will and George set off from the uninhabited Dog Island, just to the West of Anguilla, late last night and have been paddling throughout the night across the formidable Anegade Passage, (don't bother Googling it, there is nothing good to be found). Suffice to say, more people have probably climbed Everest than have kayaked this piece of water. Everything they have done over the past four weeks has been leading up to this 80 mile crossing which is a genuine test of endurance, tenacity and seamanship.

They are currently around, or just past, the half way point with, (my calculation, approximately 42 miles to go), which they should crack in 10-12 hours. You can follow them here.

As you can imagine, they'll be hurting a bit. Sore knees, cramped legs, aching arms and shoulders but with 7,500 feet of water below them it's not a place to get out and stretch your legs. The sun though will have just risen which will be a morale boost and the knowledge that they've broken the back of the leg will strengthen the spirit.

On the plus side the weather, sitting here at least, appears as benign as it could be. Broadly speaking the wind is at their backs, as is the wave direction and the wave height doesn't appear too troublesome. We'll hear more about conditions when they land and are rested.

Marine traffic

Marine traffic

There hasn't been much shipping in their area overnight, (using available resources here), which is both a good and a bad thing, No doubt there will be more as they close in on land.

In summary, 12 hours done with possibly the same in front of them depending on conditions. The challenge at this point will be staying hydrated and staying focused in an unforgiving environment. Then, making land safely. As they've already found, the last 1/4 of a mile is often the trickiest.

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How would you feel?

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How would you feel?

With apologies for the rudimentary editing and any foul language, we have put together a small selection of our thoughts as we reach 21 days and over 400 miles into our expedition. Enjoy !

 

 

Do keep sending us your questions about our trip. You can post them on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/goldenarcexpedition or email us at goldenarcexpedition@gmail.com.

 

 

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