Will and George landed at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea at 14:04hrs local time.
Well done! What an extraordinary achievement. We're all very proud. Go and get that cold beer.
Will and George landed at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea at 14:04hrs local time.
Well done! What an extraordinary achievement. We're all very proud. Go and get that cold beer.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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......
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
The same information we are sent by Karel at Kayak Weather. We have found the National Hurricane Centre provides very reliable forecasts.
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.
Similar to WindyTV but better for surface pressure, wave height and direction. Provides a seven day forecast, most useful for passage planning.
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.
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.
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!
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...
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)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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...
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!!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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 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!
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.
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?
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, firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.
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.
After making good progress in recent days, having caught up on the delay due to Matthew, we were unable to leave this morning due to an unexpected storm. Just a little one, but enough to create 21 knot gusts and 2m high waves that would be hitting us side-on as we attempt to cross to Martinique. While we struggle with our little delay our thoughts go out to everyone who has been so severely impacted by Hurricane Matthew since it developed after nudging us nine days ago.
We have though, been somewhat well looked over the past two nights. Our eternal thanks go out to everyone at the Capella Marigot Bay Resort and Marina. After a difficult day (another supposed rest day that turned incredibly tough) where we capsized early on - see George's account below - and spent the next 15 miles battling against wind and current, it was a huge relief to kayak into the sheltered Marigot Bay and paddle straight into the Resort's marina where we berthed the kayak and where overwhelmed by the frozen flannel and arrival cocktail presented to us.
Marigot is one of the most beautiful bays in the Caribbean. The high hills surrounding the water make it incredibly sheltered; many ships use it as a hurricane shelter, and it has been known to be a getaway hideout for escaping pirates, who would sail into the bay and hide their ship behind the palm-studded sand spit of the bay. With sails dropped, the ship would become virtually inconspicuous. More info here.
We felt like we were escaping from the seas too after the morning escapade......
The Capella Marigot Bay Resort is incredible. Everything is presented with stylish precision and the customer service is 100%. They have everything and anything that is not to hand your personal assistant will sort for you. It seemed like within moments the whole staff team knew our names all have taken a huge interest in our expedition. We are staying in one of the fantastic Resort View Rooms (with a hot tub), which has all the bells and whistles including big TV and dvd player, expresso machine, complimentary minibar restocked daily, aircon (most important), and great free high speed wifi. Check out the different accommodation options here.
We would thouroughly recommend the all inclusive package - what more could you want!? The resort has four different restaurants and bars to eat at, including a swim up bar next to the pool, and the options of private and in-room dining. The food is fantastic and waiting staff, again, generous in their service They even presented George with a belated birthday cake at dinner!
Perhaps the greatest attraction is that there is so much to do in the local area. Unfortunately we have not had the time to try the spa and fitness centre, the rum tasting, sport fishing, sailjng, diving, tours or any of the other fantastic activities and attractions on offer. Luckily we have our own adventurous activity to contend with.
Staying at Marigot Bay has given us the opportunity to get our kayak repaired after a crack formed in the foredeck, right above the forward 'watertight' hatch that keeps it afloat. Imbert, local handyman, has done a fantastic job for us not only patching up the crack but also reinforcing the foredeck so hopefully it will not happen again! If you are ever local and in need of a job doing the Marina Office will put you in touch.
So there we are. One day behind but the weather is looking like we might be able to set off first thjng in the morning. We've still got a very long way to go and more challenges and discomfort lie ahead. Have a look at this map... after 10 days of hard paddling it looks as if we haven't even started...
A brief Saturday update from the UK.
The guys are currently paddling through the Grenadines from Canouan toward St Vincent on a 30 mile hop. Right now, Mustique lies about 15 miles to their East and they will pass Bequia, (what a great island that is), also on their starboard side. They are making very good time so far and are kicking on at a fair old lick. All being well should reach St Vincent mid to late afternoon.
No new photographs unfortunately. They have been out of touch, (apart from the Satellite texter), for 48 hours but hopefully we can expect an update from them later today if they can access wifi on arrival in St Vincent. In the meantime the live map is updating every 10 mins or so and may be found here.
Meanwhile, back in the bosom of domestic bliss that is my life, I'm being dragged off later to see bloody Bridget Jones. I'd rather not, obviously, but Deepwater Horizon was a non starter given her little cherub is bobbing up and down in the ocean far away. Bloody Bridget Jones....... I can't help thinking it's all gone wrong somewhere. I'm with you in spirit though lads............
Will and George have started their epic adventure, (this brief update is coming from Exped HQ in the UK), and are currently on their second day of paddling, having traversed the West coast of Grenada yesterday, and are en route to Carricou to the north.
The decision to go or not today was the subject of some debate with a heavy storm rumbling in from the Atlantic but the latest satellite weather maps suggest the storm should just miss Grenada and Carricou although there will still be plenty of wind and rain from this evening onward.
The boys stayed last night with the delightful Philip and Annie Clift at the Petite Anse Hotel in the North of Grenada and who have kindly pinged photographs from this morning over. Local sponsors and supporters of the expedition are critical to it's success. When considering a holiday to Grenada do please bear Annie in mind! (email here).
Also, a big shout for the indefatigable Sally Stalker who has provided the guys with massive local support, helping unwind initial administrative problems and who helped them navigate their way through the local Customs process. Without her help they would probably still be in the Customs shed trying to figure out where the kayak was....... (and thank you for covering some of the expenses Sally... we do love you).
The team should arrive in Carricou at around 8-9pm UK time tonight. After they have squared away their kit, fed and watered I would expect them to add to the narrative and update us on the weather system. Worst case they'll have to rest up until the storm passes through, best case is they'll be able to crack on tomorrow if it completely misses the area. It is worth noting, although the worst of the storm may miss their planned route it will inevitably impact wave height locally which is a consideration in itself.
Donations continue to roll in and we're a shade under £7,500 currently so grateful thanks to all for your kindness and messages of support which are all warmly welcomed.