So, our land travels in Morocco turned out to be the most enjoyable of epic trips. I adore my sisters and having us together while visiting a spectacularly wonderful country was pure magic. Add to them Maryly, Maddy, Helen, cousin Will, his fiancé Cassie and my girls’ friend Shea, we had a fabulous time! Uncle Pete’s absence was noted everyday with some aspect of the trip that he would have loved or that he would have been able to explain to the rest of us. Damn, we missed him. I was concerned about the size of the group when we were setting this up (visions of herding Cats….). But I need not have worried, it was effortless. Each brought their own personality AND their own Facebook account. There is no doubt that this was, by any measure, an extremely well documented trip. I hesitate to add anything to the dozens of posted photos and written entries except to say that this trip exceeded all expectations with the general Love and Affection that prevailed. Thank you all!!
On August 2 it was back to Heldeleine for the immediate family of me, Mars, Maddy and Helen. After a long travel day back to Marina Smir, we had a relaxing dinner and a movie aboard. The next day started with immigration, customs and some cheap fuel. All these things where accomplished with tremendous ease right at the main dock, 50 feet from our berth. The whole experience at Marina Smir was excellent. Very easy clearing in and clearing out. Hasan at the main office kindly and professionally handled the clearance of Heldeleine into the country AFTER Laurie and I had left for Marrakech. Though there were no “tips” demanded (since the King’s nautical toys are here there is no question of funny business) I felt free to tip as I would at any marina the world over. A bit for the fuel dock guy, a bit for the office and a bit to the friendly security officer nearby. But no officials would except any gifts. Though there were no gates between the quay and the dock space there WAS security posted 24/7 near our boat and and the overall feeling was relaxed and extremely safe and friendly. After refueling, it was overnight to Cadiz, Spain, through the Strait of Gibraltar. Things started very calmly until we made the corner around Ceuta and headed west into the Strait. The projected light (2-5 knot) winds became 20-25 knots on the freakin’ nose and I became a very pissed off Captain. WTF!!!! Is the freakin’ forecast ever right in this stretch of water? Apparently not. After bashing through this shit for 4 hours and beginning to fight an adverse eddy that slowed us to 2 knots made good, we bailed and turned right to cross the actual Strait traffic separation scheme perpendicularly (required by maritime law in order to minimize our time and exposure to the large ships) and dodged the giant leviathans that never stop passing through this narrow opening to the Mediterranean. We timed things well. It helped that it was daylight and things are always better with a little depth perception that you do not get at night. Once on the north side of the Strait we were able to sail in a veering north wind. We made the Tarifa corner and sailed most of the night up to Cadiz. Unfortunately we got there way too early and had to motor circles to kill time (you don’t just stop when there are ANY waves, it tends to break the crockery…). Into Cadiz and the Marina America (yup, getting closer to home!). Cadiz was Heldeleine’s first port of call after the transatlantic in 2015. The crew enjoyed it then and the latest crew loved it. Old world charm with great shopping….I’ll let the photos tell the tale.
Next installment: Heldeleine does not wish to be put away and tries to stop us with an engine failure in no wind and very lumpy seas.
HELLOOOOO WORLD!!!! Or at least the 15 humans who read these posts. This is Helen Julia culpepper the 2nd reporting for blog duty, so settle down because stuff happened.
So as you probably know we went to Marrakech, which is a lot harder to spell than you would think, literally it took me the last five minutes of precious time I could spend doing nothing. So there’s not a lot to say that hasn’t been said about Marrakech but I’ll fill in some blanks. First the staff at our Riad absolutely ROCKED and were so kind to the point where it got ridiculous, with little Attica insisting on carrying our hundred pound suitcases up two flights of stairs. Besides Attica there was Frauda the motorcyclist so obviously the coolest, Selma who could be a model, and M-something who did our henna, oh god, I totally forgot the rest of her name… moving on from my stupidity let’s address the heat in Morocco, which is totally relative. For instance, when we first came to Marrakech it was oppressive and then after the desert the 88 degree Atlas Mountains were downright chilly. Speaking of the desert that was the next place we went after Marrakech (thank god I don’t have to use this city name anywhere else in this post because it’s annoyed me so much I refuse to learn how to spell it without auto-correct) was the Sahara desert, which is One of the hottest places on earth and one of the greatest places on earth to brag to your friends that you’ve been. Entering the desert saw the return of our favorite Moroccan, Aziz. He just left us about two hours ago and watching him in the rear view mirror become smaller and smaller as we drove off stung my eyes. He’s like a Moroccan big brother teasing and pushing me but really concerned when I’m hurt, like when I got sick on the way to the desert and he would ask me every hour how I was doing. But I’m not one bit worried for him. He knows seven languages and has not had a day of school, so I expect we’ll be seeing him soon heading some multi billion dollar corporation.
Moving on from the sappy stuff, last night, our last night in the desert, we and the staff had a TOTAL jam session! It started when I played monarch on the harp while they beat a drum beat to it. Later I joined in with the drums which took more concentration than trigonometry. Next Maddy sang us a song and then to the drums I joined in with her for our family’s traditional songs on my mom’s side, taking turns with the harmonies. Next the whole gang was up dancing, and Shea finally showed us that she could spin like a boss.
So any desert trip is not complete without camels and there were even some familiar faces from last time like Ziggy, who looks like an old racing camel, Baby, a little white camel, and Romeo, the living walking bladder. I rode a new one named Yuoften who liked to ride up behind the other camels and stare at them with complete indifference as if to assert that their existence was less than dirt. I liked his sass. Later I rode Ziggy which was a nice blast from two years ago.
Now speaking of animals of the desert, sadly I did not see any cool bugs but we did get quite attached to the kitties. There was a black and white small cat and then our personal cat comedian we named Prego, as she is an absolutely TINY and skinny pregnant tabby cat. She would jump in and out of our tents looking for places to have kittens when the time came but she would get into the stupidest predicaments ever, like balancing on a steel rail on top of a bed giving us all a heart attack when she slipped. Luckily Shea caught her and like the hilarious cat she is she promptly did it again.
So anyways lastly I wanted to talk about , my favorite part of this trip and in fact the last two years’ trips all together. It was when we went to the Amazigh family’s home out on the plateau. The Amazigh, Tamazigh for women, is the actual name for the Berber peoples that doesn’t mean barbarian by the way. This family has two wives and we were lucky enough to see the second wife and all the children that morning. We sat down in a tent for some tea made graciously by the mother. All the kids eventually swarmed us, eager for some new entertainment besides their normal games. There were about eight or ten of them, all never went to school like Aziz and never had fancy tech like iPhones or laptops in their little nomadic tent village. They quickly took to the phones, my aunts showed them though, so they were atleast a bit familiar with their workings. It was incredible to see them figure out how to operate the phones in just minutes. The special moment of the day came when I wanted to remember the kids who were SO CUTE, so I started taking Polaroid pictures of them with my trusty camera and in the matter of seconds POOF, all my film was gone. I simply couldn’t help myself! As soon as the kids saw the little white photograph inch out of the camera I gave it to them and they were absolutely hooked. One even figured out how to shake the photo and showed all the others how as they eagerly awaited round my camera for their own photo, pushing each other to proudly show their brothers and sisters their new treasures. I hope they’ll keep the photos to look back on years from now. As we bumped away in the four by four, my face hurt from smiling at them in the distance still glued to their own images magically appearing. Taught me how many little miracles we enjoy day to day, like a little white slip of paper emerging from a blue contraption that mimics a memory you believe was precious enough to keep.
See you in a few,
Our plan to sail west along the southern coast of Spain worked very well for the first 100 miles. As we approached the point where we needed to turn south towards Gibraltar and the Strait the seas started to get a bit choppy and we raised the sail to steady to boat. Heading south towards the Strait we prepared for the crossing with all hands on deck. We sailed with only the mainsail to give us full visibility forward. Visibility… well, it was around 1am in the morning as we began the 2-3 hour crossing and pretty damn dark at the time but seeing navigation lights is critical for knowing which way these 800 foot long monsters are traveling. A word about the technology aboard that helped us pilot our way across. First, the CHARTPLOTTER. This basically tells us WHERE we are and WHERE the land is. Also where the navigational buoys might be and traffic lanes for the big ships. This is NOT live information. Our location is live but everything else on the chartplotter is stored data. It could be wrong. Next up is RADAR. Radar tells us what is actually out there. Live information. The radar reflects off of Ships, Land and other objects around us. Radar is wonderful but at night, with many targets and a rocking boat, it can feel like the radar blobs are all moving towards your certain destruction. Enter now our secret weapon. Ladies and gentlemen may I present the A.I.S. (Automated identification System). This is a game changer and the only reason I would be stupid enough to cross one on the busiest bodies of water at night. The device aboard Heldeleine is a Transceiver unit that receives data from other ships and broadcasts our data to those same ships. It uses radio frequencies and a computer to track speed, distance and direction of all big ships and many smaller vessels. It also identifies the ship by name, type, destination, length, width, depth, etc. So, the A.I.S. processes this data and lets us know the potential for a collision. With the Closest Point of Approach (CPA) we instantly know if a particular ship will pass 1.4 miles ahead of us (good) or .034 miles behind us (too damn close!!) as long as we hold a steady course. When we change course all the variables change also. Including CPAs. Now for the Teamwork. With Laurie on the A.I.S. unit and me manning the radar, chartplotter and the binoculars to identify every ship in our path…. off we went. Constant interaction between the two of us as we sailed our line in the nautical version of Frogger. Identify, verify, CPA, adjust our course or speed, CPA….CPA…..Here is an A.I.S. photo showing 143 targets (most,thankfully, anchored at Gibraltar but enough to keep us awake).
With the sunrise we had exited the Strait and we were approaching Morocco. AFRICA! We were soon greeted by a call from the Moroccan Coast Guard who asked where we were from and when we answered they thanked us for coming to their country. They asked us to please not just visit the marina, saying that Morocco had many beautiful places to visit inland and to please enjoy all that Morocco has to offer. We assured them that we intended to do just that.
A wave to the Moroccan Coast Guard
It was a truly moving experience. My sister and I shoulder to shoulder gazing ahead at Morocco. 1078 miles since Italy with just enough challenges to make it a memorable passage. A word or two about my sister Laurie…On my off watches below I slept like a baby because she was always there. Her strength, grit, smarts and total reliability are second only to her warmth, humor and pure loving nature. I could not conceive of a better companion for this or any other voyage. She always had my back and will always have my love. Thanks Kiddo!
The rest was simple. Docked and prepped the boat. Taxied to Tetuan, Morocco and hopped a bus for an 11 1/2 hour trip to Marrakech by way of Rabat and Casablanca where we arrived at 2 am the next day. Joined family to begin….. the rest of the story.
After getting our asses kicked twice, Laurie and I are hoping that the third time is the charm. Here’s the plan:
We will depart tomorrow morning at 0500. We will travel at least 100 miles west along the southern coast of Spain until we feel that the wind angle will be good to make the crossing.
It is usually better to SAIL, if you can, in these conditions as the boat is doing what it was designed to do and not trying to be a motorboat bashing into waves. Also, Heldeleine’s hull’s shape is wonderfully fast in most situations but motoring into large waves tends to expose the flat forward part of the hull and this results in crushing shocks that beat up the boat, rigging and crew’s guts.
Laurie and I will avoid that at all costs.
If all goes well we will arrive at Marina Smir, Morocco by noon on Sunday. We will try to update, if possible, along the way.
Sunset at Almerimar
After arriving here in Alicante yesterday I was able to communicate better with my family (Maryly in CA and the girls in CT) and help where I could. We have become so accustomed to being in immediate contact that when we are off the grid and people need you, it can be extraordinarily frustrating. I love the freedom and peace of the sea but at times like this that freedom comes at a high cost. Maryly, her sisters, the cousins, our daughters, her caregiver Janet and all who loved Suzanne have been tremendously supportive of each other through this sad time. Family.
Suzanne and the grandchildren
Alicante has been a fantastic stop for us.
Heldeleine secure at Alicante Marina
We went to the top of the Castle. We then walked to the Bull fighting Arena (I hope you all remember my feelings about the abuse of Bulls from the Azores last year) . The Bullring was thankfully being using for concerts this week. Let’s not forget the food!
So, the plan:
Tomorrow we try to make a 3 day push to Morocco (300 miles). It should be a pleasant trip to start with and then a tough go for the last 100miles with heavy winds forecast to be blowing into the Med through the Strait of Gibraltar presenting a challenge for us going West. The plan will be to sail the east wind as long as possible and then hug the Spanish southern coast and try to time the crossing to Morocco with the least amount of damage. Check the map and see how we do. Note: when you see our track zig zagging it is not because Laurie and I have broken out the rum and are partying. Though it has been tempting at times. We are on a sailboat and as such we are not able to sail directly into the wind and must steer an angle from 35-60 degrees off the wind. Zig Zag. Regards to all!
Well, plans change. Laurie and I were expecting to go to the island of Ponza on Sunday. We left and the trip became a motorboat voyage. I really dislike motoring on my SAILboat, So, two hours into the putt putt trip we turned the boat 30% to port and Ahhhhh, turned off the beast and had a very pleasant SAIL to Ventotene. Once in town we met a couple of American sailors which is unusual. Mark and Laura have been circumnavigating for the past 11 1/2 years! They kindly invited us to dinner to watch the sunset and the moon rise. It was a wonderful evening with an adventurous, experienced and fun couple. Thank you again Laura and Mark (Sabbatical 3 blog) for sharing your evening.
So, off to Sardinia. It was a very comfortable leg. Laurie and quickly fell into the zen-like routine of watch-watch off. I must say the during the past few days at sea I have easily doubled the amount of sleep I usual get at home. I can do this on the boat because I trust Laurie with my life. If something comes up (rarely) she does not hesitate to wake me. She is the perfect traveling companion. And damn good at doing this!
After motoring way too much for 240 mile we arrived at Malfatano at the southern tip of Sardinia. After anchoring for a couple hours the wind really freshened and caused whitecaps in the anchorage and was pressing us onto a Lee shore. I elected to up anchor and move on to our big leg to Spain. Out we went and after getting our asses kicked with 25-30 knot wind on the nose and chunky seas (No, not the Gibraltar Strait again!!) we returned with our tells between our legs to Malfatano to find the anchorage we had just left 2 hours before……calm as a mill pond. WTF….We were up early the next day for our 500 mile jaunt to Spain. What a sail we had! Broad reaching in 15-20 knots for most of the trip. We only turned the engine on for the last night into Alicante, Spain. But we needed to get there. Fast. We were out of contact just when we needed to be there for people.
We had received news that my mother-in-law Suzanne Culley was within a couple days of dying. With the satellite text not functioning well, no cell service at sea and the need to connect with Maryly and the kids at this critical time, we elected to pull into Alicante, Spain. Well before then we received a text that Suzanne had passed away. Maryly had just arrived in California and 2 hours later she cradled her mother to the end. Suzanne was a uniquely wonderful Lady. Whether it was playing the violin, painting watercolors or skiing, she always did it with Zest! She was the “Grande Dame” of any party. She will be missed. She remains in the hearts of the many people who were fortunate enough to share her life.
It has been a busy and emotional past week here in Italy. Both aboard and ashore. Last Friday, while walking in Rome with his son Will, my uncle Pete fell and broke his hip. Being made of grit, Pete realized the severity of his situation only after getting up, getting in a cab, returning to the convent (where they were staying), then hailing another cab and going to the hospital. He had a full hip replacement surgery the next morning and is recovering. Plans are still in flux as to what he will do. My sister Laurie had already arrived on Heldeleine and went up and back to Rome on Saturday to be there with Will and Pete. Please send loving thoughts to Pete for a quick recovery!
On the Heldeleine front, I was picked up at the airport last Monday by Antonio. He drove me to his house for lunch and then on to Gaeta. It was a wonderful and generous thing to do. Thank you Antonio! Things proceeded fine for the rest of the week with the launch and the reassembling of the boat. Some repairs and tweakings were done and Heldeleine eventually moved from the marina to the dock in downtown Gaeta courtesy of the Italian Coast Guard. Thank you!
There was an Italian Appreciation Party aboard on Saturday night.
It it was a sad goodbye as we left Gaeta yesterday. We have made firm and lasting friendships and I can not thank Tony and Anastasia enough for adopting me into their family of incredible friends. Se ho parlato italiano, direi che siamo amici per sempre.
We are currently off Ventotene island. In a couple of hours we will leave for Sardinia and then Morocco. When I say we, I mean Laurie and me. With Pete recovering and Will where he should be by his side, we are now a double handed crew. We will alter our plans a bit by stopping in Sardinia and perhaps Spain. We will see. Laurie is a veteran of the Azores to Gibraltar leg and the best companion I could ask for. Next, from here, is Sardinia at 250 miles down the road. It should take us the better part of 2 days to get there, arriving on Wednesday. Track us and send us a text if you wish. Especially the late time ones to keep us awake. We are excited and ready to go. Let’s do this!
Hello Family and Friends,
Once again it will soon be that most joyous time of the year for me. I will return to Italy and Heldeleine to resume sailing in the Mediterranean Sea. This summer’s plans are part of a grand plan to return Heldeleine to the USA over the next year or so. During the last couple years the family has missed not having Heldeleine nearby. A long weekend to Northport, a week to Martha’s Vineyard or a month to Nova Scotia. We have missed the spontaneity of having the boat at home. With Maddy going to college (at Barnard in NYC) and Helen still in high school, the idea of having Heldeleine close for a weekend here and there is compelling. I, particularly, have missed the chance to fix crap (literally at times!). Yup, I thoroughly enjoy working a problem and finding a solution. Sure it can be a pain in the ass but a life without challenges sounds pretty damn boring. But I must say that cruising last summer in Italy was simply perfect. The friends who shared so generously and the places we visited are etched in all our minds. We are so thankful. So, this summer, the PLAN….
Leg 1- I will fly first to Rome and then arrive in Gaeta, Italy on July 3rd to make Heldeleine into a voyaging, sailing vessel again. Over the next several days I will be joined first by my sister Laurie then by Uncle Pete and his son, my cousin, Will. With the boat primped and prepped the 4 of us will depart Gaeta on July 10 bound for….wait for it….Marina Smir, Morocco. The sail is basically due west 1,000 miles across the Mediterranean. We might stop at Ventotene or Ischia or the southern tip of Sardinia on the way but we shall see. The trip should take 7-10 days and will be challenging with many vessels afloat in our path. With Radar, AIS, 2 independent Chartplotters and 4 attentively motivated crew aboard, things should proceed as planned. We will watch the weather fronts carefully and try to catch some fish (Hey, hope springs eternal!). We will dock Heldeleine at Marina Smir for 10 days as we move on to:
Leg 2- From Heldeleine we 4 will travel overland across Morocco and meet up with 7 additional Family members in Marrakech for 10 days of Riads, Medinas, Fantastic scenery and, of course, the 11 Camel Culpepper Caravan to the Erg Chebbi dunes. Watch for more details to come.
Leg 3- After the land fun, 6 will fly home and the immediate family including Uncle Pete will return to Heldeleine and travel through the Strait of Gibraltar to Cadiz, Spain and then on to Lagos, Portugal. Lagos will be Heldeleine’s winter home and the departure port for next year’s trip to the Azores and the return to the USA.
I am sure there will be many updates and tracking points along the way so, follow us or just check in to share the adventure. I can’t freakin’ wait!
Well, it’s that sad time again. Heldeleine was hauled out of the water on Tuesday morning and within the hour was safely ashore where she began her 10 month wait for my return next June. It was a busy past couple of days taking many things apart and sealing soft stuff (pillows, sheets, cushions, clothes etc) into plastic bags. Shutting down systems (toilets, holding tanks, refrigerator, freezer, engine, generator, a/c units..blah, blah..). Also the paperwork (marina, scheduling jobs to be done, bonding the boat while on land). Many thanks to Tony and the Italian Coast Guard for accommodations on their dock which helped immensely removing the Genoa.
Tony helping flake the Genoa at the pier in Gaeta.
A quick word about Tony and Anastasia. There are some people we meet in life who are uniquely wonderful. Tony and Anastasia fit that category and I can not thank them enough for buying me many meals and hosting me in their apartment my last night. If you speak italian I encourage you to read Tony’s real-life story about being shot and nearly dying at the hands of another colleague. This was not friendly fire. I feel very fortunate and honored to meet people like this on our travels.
The flight home was uneventful and now I must resume being a Horn player (“Music’s my Life”, right Richie??).
For me Heldeleine is more than just a boat. Heldeleine represents a state of mind. A place where we can share experiences Together. When the chill winds come this winter my mind will have a place to go that is filled with the warmth of family, friends, beautiful ports, soft water and immense contentment.
My love and thanks to all the crew this summer. YOU are what this is all about and I look forward to next year’s plans. Stay tuned, life is an adventure!
For my last night afloat I am in a pretty sweet location. I am the only boat tied up to the town pier (Thank you Tony and the Italian Coast Guard!). Though I am a bit of a fish in a fishbowl (many Hellos and many photos taken) it is a lovely, cool evening and life is calm and wonderful. I can hear the bugle call from the American Ship Mount Whitney bringing down the flag and I am remembering AF Basic training when I was assigned to play the damn bugle calls and bearly survived the ordeal. Who the hell would’ve thought the bugle was so tough after playing the Horn…..