Week 24 - Home Again, Home Again!
Thu 12th May (Day 162)
04:00 Hrs and 40 miles from Dakar, we were all woken by the noise of something striking the hull. Carlos, who sleeps in the forward cabin in the bow, thought it was the bow thruster being inadvertently activated. Paul who sleeps on the port side forward, and Iain, who sleeps on the port side aft, both sensed a noise coming down the side of the hull. Dan quickly reduced RPM and pitch to take any load and strain off the propeller, but quick checks revealed nothing and we were able to return to sea speed. We suspect it was large debris in the water and most likely a log. This is the perfect occasion to show where a 16mm ice breaking hull had its advantages for this largely Tropical trip!!
Fri 13 May (Day 163)
We had a 450 mile run between Dakar and Cap Blanc, which is a very windy headland in NW Africa, where those constant winds from Lanzarote blow towards!
The wave height built up to 3.5 metres and continued building to 5 metres by daybreak. However, it was an unusual experience as in the continual spray coming over the bow and deluging the bridge windows were flashes of bioluminescence, which looked like fireflies burning out for a split second and, in some cases, reaching the bridge window before the illumination disappeared. Not quite to the extent of the Star Ship Enterprise going into hyperdrive, when the stars take on a continual trail when viewed from the bridge, but none of us had ever seen bioluminescence being carried over the bow in waves and spray before - and it was quite an amazing thing to see!!! (apologies, not something you could photograph, not even with a swishy iPhone.... you had to be there!)
Sun 15 May (Day 165)
Excitement was building onboard as we were just 24 hrs from completion of our circumnavigation. The speed was adjusted to time our arrival back to Puerto Calero, Lanzarote at the declared point of Mid-day!
The weather began to ease up, partly due to our slowing down to time our arrival. At this point ASTRA was a hive of activity as we got thing 'ship-shape' up after our last 3,000 mile leg.
At the afternoon tea break, we realised it was just as well arrival was the next day as we are down to our last vacuum-packed teabags. While we did pick up emergency teabags in Australia, nothing is quite the same as Tetley!
On Sunday evening, with the boat prepped for the return to Lanzarote on monday, the crew began to relax after their Sunday roast dinner. After dishes were all washed up and stowed away, the off duty crew (Mikey, Dan, Carlos & Paul) settle down for a game of cards (UNO).
Just like on a larger merchant ship, after the watch change at 20:00 hrs, the off duty crew that are neither on watch or sleeping (Iain, Mikey & Paul), watch a DVD.
When ASTRA visited the Isle of Man in August 2021, we discovered that 2nd hand DVDs could be bought at a shop called Games Exchange (admittedly Iain thought it was only Playstation etc).
The crew went back to the boat and got the ‘old granny shopping trolley’ and went straight to the counter. The young man who was attending the shop asked if he could help and Iain asked “...were there any restrictions on the number of DVDs we could buy, as we were off a ship?”.
It’s kind of funny when you think back to your time at sea. In many ports, towns cities etc you visited, when a small group of non-natives (seafarers) went into a shop and asked for something not 'normal', there was a shrug and the explanation “... we are off a ship”. Generally this elicited an “ahhhh” sound from the shop assistant, as if coming from a ship is acceptable international code for the bizarre! (Uhuh....and your point is caller? ....Ed)
In this case the shop assistant considered and then said “I suppose 200 DVDs would be the number, as that is the maximum number of titles we can put through the checkout till”.
After 50 minutes in the aisles of the DVD section, we arrived back at the counter with about 190 DVDs. Iain reminded him “we are off a ship” ......and “ahhhh....Yes”.
Early on in the circumnavigation, one evening we watched a single episode DVD of ‘Inspector Frost’ starring David Jason (of ‘Only Fools and Horses’ fame) and were hooked. Therefore, when ship's spares were sent out at the various ports, one of the valuable items was the complete box set of Seasons 1-15 of Inspector Frost, which we only completed last Friday night.
The other two main viewing staples onboard were ‘Wallander’ (another police detective show and this one appropriately set in Sweden, given ASTRA’s heritage) and ‘Yes Minister’ & ‘Yes Prime Minister’, which are set in the private office of a British cabinet minister in the fictional Department of Administrative Affairs in Whitehall. Forty years on, still hilariously funny and as relevant in political terms today as it was then.
Like Inspector Frost, every Captain needs the support of good sergeants and ASTRA had a number of individuals ashore who assisted in keeping everything going behind the scenes:
Kat – DPA
Kat – the lady that Iain is lucky to be married to (his words, not mine.....Ed), has fulfilled the role of Designated Person Ashore (DPA) which is a requirement for professional ships and, along with Daniel, was one of the two main points of contact for the vessel, working quietly in the background to ensure everything ran smoothly and providing our 1st points of contact for any issue.
Here we can now share a couple of examples of the additional functions that Kat fulfilled in this role.
In the last week, while we were running dark off the coast of West Africa and our position was masked from the outside world for 72 hrs, Kat received a position update at the end of every watch to ensure there was always someone ashore who could pinpoint where we were at any time with an accuracy of +/- 1 mile. Woe betide any watch keeper who was a few minutes late with sending in their position update!
With a number of crew changes in far flung regions of the world, we were continually assessing the requirements for each port with reference to Covid, in case we quickly had to plan for a crew change. Kat probably amassed more knowledge late last year, and in the early months of 2022, about travel in the era of Covid than anyone outside of the travel industry!.
Iain says that you need the person you trust most to be supporting you and it helps if they are your best friend – he has both in his DPA! (Awwwwww, exit, stage left, sniffling....Ed)
Daniel Taylor – Commercial Manager
Daniel is our commercial manager at Andrew Weir Shipmanagement (AWS) /AW Yacht Management.
Iain came in to contact with Daniel in 2020 during the final stages of planning the circumnavigation while confirming whether his logistical calculations and planned stop-offs en-route were workable, particularly with so many locations off the beaten track. You can’t just turn up at an isolated island mid-ocean and demand 30,000 litres of diesel! That needs careful planning to ensure that it is booked and in place and that everyone is prepared, so that arrival and departure is swift and painless.
Every Captain wants to know that they have a good shipmanager behind them ashore, because they are your ‘go to’ person for most things regarding the vessel. When Iain met Daniel they hit it off as a team from the outset. Because of the nature of the circumnavigation, Iain knew that a conventional yacht manager who deals with vessels based mainly in the Mediterranean or Caribbean (or travelling between both, depending on the season) was not what he needed for this trip or for a vessel like ASTRA that is suited to routes off the beaten track!
AWS had a great history of experience of supporting and managing ships all over the world and particularly in far flung locations and when Iain gave Daniel his proposed list of ports around the world, in a matter of hours Daniel produced a list of the local representatives (agents) that he would recommend for each location and a summary of insights into each port. Daniel saw to appointing a local representative in each port and also worked with fuel oil bunker brokers to source the best deal for the highest quality fuel supply.
This early coordination also extended to the quantity of food stores required in every port. With these combined quantities of fuel and store, our demands were beyond the capacity of most marinas, except those who have superyacht facilities, so for every port we berthed in the commercial port and were scheduled in/out like any other merchant ship.
When your boat and voyage distances get larger, a competent ship/yacht manager is essential and any challenge that you experience for the 1st time, your shipmanager has seen before and already knows what to do and appears to move seamlessly.
Using a shipmanager (or yacht manager) provides access to a range of other necessary support services and Daniel was very ably supported by:
Denise (Purchasing Officer). Never underestimate the value and time saved in having a professional marine purchasing officer working on your behalf. They will already have access to an extensive network of suppliers with accounts already set-up and discounts established, such that spares can be sourced and dispatched to you asap.
Beccie (Accounts Payable). Working closely with Denise to ensure the flow of payments all proceed smoothly, which is critical as the last thing you want is to be stuck in a port and be delayed awaiting a payment to be made.
Danny (Technical Superintendent). On hand at any point to assist with engineering support.
Richard (AWS DPA). While Kat took the day-to-day role as required by our flag State (in our case the Marshall Islands, where ASTRA is registered) was covered, Richard ensured that we were supplied with all communiques that went out to the AWS fleet. Sometimes he would just drop a friendly email when he learned, from Daniel, about challenges we were up against, providing advice, thoughts or offers of support, which was always welcomed.
All in, once your motorboat starts getting that bit larger and becomes a fairly serious concern, the support of a good vessel manager is essential. In yacht management terms, they should be the wizard behind the curtain that ensures everything runs smoothly!
Mon 16 May (Day 166)
The day started with a lunar eclipse, when the moon passed through the shadow of the earth and we were able to observe it onboard just after 02:30 hrs. For us, full eclipse was at 04:30 hrs and the moon appeared to turn a coppery red.
This felt like an auspicious start to the morning of our eventual return, to our point of origin of Lanzarote!!
As the vessel came to life in the morning, mooring ropes and fenders were retrieved and prepared for our arrival.
When we left Saint Helena on 04 May 2022, Iain estimated there was a fair chance of returning to Puerto Calero on the evening of Sun 15th May. However, with the equatorial currents and the NW trade winds, there was every likelihood of our arrival slipping in to the hours of darkness. So, our arrival was timed for Mon 16 May at 12:00 hrs (UTC +1), equating to exactly 166 days to the hour, minute and second since we departed.
BUT.......We still had one family member, Caitlin, who was flying in to join the event and was now caught up with a delayed flight (no, she's not on that helicopter....Ed)
At 11:00 a small flotilla formed around us, involving: - The yacht of Queco the shipyard manager, with his trusted yard manager Fidel at the helm - Ruffina and Paco (local artist and sculptor) onboard their friend’s yacht - Wes, Roisin, Shay & Sabrina on a RIB - Catlanza VII providing a ‘fly by’, much to the delight of a boatload of about 90 day trippers who got to witness our arrival close-up.
And finally, talking of fly-bys, a helicopter came on station and circled around us to acknowledge our arrival. We thought it was a patrol helicopter coming to check what all the fuss was about, until we saw the occupants waving wildly at us. It later turned out that they were friends of the Calero family, who own the marina and who the port is named after.
ASTRA arrived 700 metres off the port at 11:30 and had pre-arranged with the port and rescue authorities that we would release a number of rocket parachute flares at one minute intervals to announce our arrival and then release hand flares combined with our water cannon
Part way through the release of our pyrotechnics, Caitlin was able to contact from the coast road that both she and Mum (Kat), were able to enjoy the flares being released as they drove in and they would arrive 20 minutes before we would berth (Phew....Ed)
On our arrival into the marina, a family friend Freddy Galant, who had released the last rope 5.5 months ago, was given the honour of catching the 1st rope that we would send ashore as the clock approached 12:00 hrs
The most most amazing reception by friends and family who were waiting on the quayside took place and in addition to the photographs below, you can see a 60 second mini-movie of our arrival: https://youtu.be/iNjFfIS-PEc
On stepping ashore, and after a much-needed hug from Kat and Caitlin, Iain said: “At the outset, I was only looking to get round Cape Horn and then I realised that a complete circumnavigation of all of the Capes in the Southern Hemisphere had never been completed on a motor vessel of less than 24 metres... and so the chase was on!
Five and a half months, 31,500 miles, big seas, watches all around the clock, 5 people and a boat originally designed to break ice and go out on short rescue trips in the Baltic Sea... I'd call that a challenge and I am very glad to have gotten myself and my crew home safely to such a brilliant welcome".
ASTRA’s Circumnavigation statistics:
Departed Lanzarote: 01 December 2021 at 11:00 Hrs UTC Returned Lanzarote: 16 May 2022 at 11:00 Hrs UTC
Distance travelled: 31,500 nautical miles
Days at sea: 151 Days in port: 7.5 Days at anchor: 7.5
Dates of Rounding each of the Capes:
Cape Horn, Tierra del Fuego, Chile 19/01/2022
South Cape, Stewart Is. New Zealand 20/03/2022
SE Cape, Tasmania, Australia 26/03/2022
Cape Leeuwin, SW Australia 01/04/2022
Cape of Good Hope, South Africa 26/04/2022.
...... to all who have followed the journey and to our Families, Friends and New Friends we have made through this website - we would love to see your comments below - let us know your favourite moment, your favourite picture or your thoughts in general. We will leave this page up and this website will be available for quite a while and will provide some information about the shipyard work Astra needed after the trip (Sorry...... the nerdy bits are just irrepressible , Ed!!)