Showing posts from 2014

A Boater's Christmas Wish List

The hottest gear with which to ring in 2015 With technology changing at lightning speed, it's hard to keep up with the latest advances that make sense in an extreme environment like blue water sailing. But I managed to compile my wish list of

Dingy Dinghy Blues – Bar Keeper's Friend to the rescue!

There once was a beautiful, shiny new dinghy. We sailed her and rowed her and motored her happily. Then, we towed her behind our bigger boat while on a week-long cruise. On the way back, we stowed her hull side up on deck for a longer passage. It was a beautiful sunny day. The next day, the shiny white dinghy had turned brown and yucky. We tried washing and scrubbing and all kinds of boat cleaners with no success. The poor little dinghy was now dingy and dull, and an embarrassment on the deck of our shiny big boat. We had the dingy dinghy blues.
We gave up trying to clean her and stowed her away in the garage for the next few seasons. But this year, we decided it wasn’t her fault and we should bring her out for some local fun. We took her out for a spin now and again. She did double duty as a ferry to our mooring. In fact she served us so well we decided to find a way to restore her to her true glory.

Give a man a fish...


Give him afishing lesson and  HE’LL SIT IN A  BOAT DRINKING BEER EVERY WEEKEND

© Copyright by Alex Blackwell,, 
All rights reserved.

Sailing into the Shannon River Estuary

Kilrush has so much potential
The River Shannon divides Clare from Kerry; it is Ireland’s longest and largest river. The mouth of the Shannon River is wide and inviting, stretching between Kerry Head on the South side and Loop Head on the North side. You really need time to be able to explore her lower reaches as there is little opportunity to find shelter before the town of Kilrush some 30 km up in County Clare on the North side of the River.

The Shannon is a powerboat paradise and a very popular tourist attraction for river boating. Consequently, there is a lot of information available about the River, especially from Limerick and beyond.

The lower Shannon has Ireland’s only pod of resident bottlenose dolphins. More than 100 dolphins have been identified using the Shannon estuary. The success rate of seeing dolphins here is reported to be better than 98%.

Farewell to Onyx

Onyx went to sleep and passed to the other side. Her pain is now gone, her frivolity magnified, I expect. Thank you, Killian, for your gentle kindness and generosity.

We buried her on one of her favourite beds - a nautical one that I had made specially for her, with all her favourite toys (squeaky mouse, bitty mouse, crunchy crab, and feather dusters) and favourite treats including shrimp, choicest grass, and fish jerky for the long road.  We covered her with a fleece blanket and one of Alex's dark T-shirts which she always loved to hide in. We laid a rose at her nose as she loved to sniff them and climbed on top of tables to get the best whiff.

RIP Onyx ~8 August 2000-29 September 2014

Onyx was a brave adventurous seafaring cat, crossing oceans to visit new lands, make new friends, and try new things - except when it came to food, as only seafood would do. 
Onyx was a great friend and companion and the ruler of the house and the clan. She loved her humans and they loved her. She will be sorely missed. 
Rest in Peace, Onyx.   

8 August 2000-29 September 2014

Love and hugs forever,
Your People, Daria and Alex

My heart is breaking for Onyx, the Cruising Kitty

Onyx is a very special cat. For one thing, she is all black except for one white hair, which Alex likes to pull out (mean Alex!). That makes her rather difficult to photograph. Of course I have photographed her more than any thing else in my life. You see, Onyx originally came to me in a dream. I sat up in bed one night and shook Alex awake, "Alex, I dreamt we had a cat and she was all black and her name was Onyx."  "Yeah, yeah, go back to sleep," was Alex's response.

Ordinary people doing extraordinary things

Meeting up with like-minded people
There is an interesting thing that happens when sailors meet while cruising. Because they start out with so much in common, they tend to form instant bonds. Not always. Sometimes you run across people you want to have nothing to do with - but that's a matter of personality. More often you meet like-minded individuals who have lots of stories to tell and lots of advice to share because they haven't been sitting in their armchairs, noooooo, they've been out there doing things. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things out on the world's oceans and their shores.

If you are sailing a circuit, chances are you will meet up with the same people over and over as generally everyone is heading in the same direction

Valentia Island - easy stopover in the Kingdom of Kerry on the Southeast Coast of Ireland

Convenient pontoon and oldest evidence of life on earth
When transiting the west coast of Ireland, it is prudent to know where to hole up for the night should the weather turn sour, which it can do so very quickly. Lying off the Iveragh Peninsula in the southwest of County Kerry, Valentia Island (Dairhbre; the island of the oak forest) offers such refuge.  Just past the remarkable Skelligs rising up from the ocean’s depths to dizzying heights, this is a place that’s easy to tuck into, except in a NW gale.

There are at least five things that distinguish Valentia Island as a stopover while transiting the West Coast of Ireland:
Knightstown is unlike most Irish villages by the sea in that it appears more Victorian English in architectural styleIt is geologically distinct and has a famous fossilIt has a rich place in modern history as the place where the transatlantic telegraph cable crossed the pondIt has a marina - sort of - and it provides exception shelter from the fierce Atlantic It i…

Sacred Caher Island

Mystical historical treasure 
Just off the coast of Inishturk, between there and Clew Bay, lies a small 128-acre uninhabited island, one of many that at one time were the salvation of holy men of great renown. These monks established bases on many of the islands off the coasts of Ireland and Scotland, creating a trade route of connected safe havens where they took refuge from persecution. They set up scriptoriums and preserved the ancient texts that would have likely been lost for all time.  It is where it is conjectured that "civilization was saved". They lived in simple stone huts and built crude churches, travelling the coastal waters in their hide-covered currachs. They erected massive stone crosses and carved elaborate burial slabs. They left behind evidence of a mysterious existence in isolation. Their names - Colmcille or St. Columba, St. Brendan the Voyager, St. Brigid - were etched in history and shrouded in mystery.

Dealing with garbage at sea

No more messages in a bottle
For generations, blue water cruisers have separated out garbage underway to dispose of  the "degradable" items from garbage into the sea.  Food scraps were definitely in that category, as was paper and glass. Metal tins were often considered degradable as well, given how quickly things rust away if left on their own.  But no more. MARPOL Annex V adopted for international waters as of January 2013 delineates that discharge is prohibited of plastics, synthetic ropes, fishing gear, plastic garbage bags, cooking oil, lining and packing materials, paper, rags, glass, metal, and bottles. 

Alternative energy proposals wreak havoc with boating traffic

Crown Estate approves new wave and tidal installations   Last week, two separate proposals from opposite sides of the Atlantic drew the attention of groups that represent the interests of boaters.  Although very different issues, they illustrate what happens when a body makes decisions in the absence of input from all affected parties.

A case in point is the Crown Estate's eager approval of proposals by commercial ventures to explore wave and tidal energy installations. This is not a go-ahead but it is a nod in favour of continued development. What they failed to take into account is the precarious navigation in some of the chosen locations. The RYA, rightly so, and the ICC on behalf of Irish cruisers, are preparing arguments against such development.

Sailing the West Coast of Ireland

Remote and Wild 
by Daria Blackwell
s/v Aleria
Co-author of Happy Hooking The Art of Anchoring.

We emerged from the shelter of the inner islands only to find a furious chop in the bay. It was supposed to be fairly benign conditions today, but the wind was howling in from the West whipping up the seas against the outgoing tide.  There was a huge swell coming in from the Atlantic, which we had expected behind the retreating gale from the day before, but we had not expected this maelstrom given the Met Eireann forecast early this morning. But that's the west coast of Ireland. Unpredictable. Majestic. And many days formidable.

Hard aground with the tide going out

Poor little yacht stranded on a falling tide
Kedging for your life
While out on one of the islands ready to enjoy a picnic on a beautiful day, we came upon a sailboat hard aground with the tide still running out. Our friend Philip, casually said, "Hey, there's a sailboat aground."  We all ran to peer over the dunes to see what we could see. Indeed there was a lovely little boat hard aground on the rocky shore. And the tide was only about 3/4 out.  Our hearts dropped as we imagined the circumstances. This is one of the possibilities all sailors dread. Questions popped into all our minds unspoken, "I wonder if there is anyone onboard and if they are okay?"

Philip discussing strategy with the skipper. 

Reflections on turning 60

What age are you inside?

This past weekend, Aleria stayed calmly on her mooring while her crew pursued shore side pursuits. Specifically, we bought two-day tickets to the Westport Festival of Music and Food.  Westport happens to be on Clew Bay along the Wild Atlantic Way so I feel justified in spending time writing about my home town. Alex grew up here but I'm a recent transplant. Every day I feel fortunate to be allowed to live in such a beautiful and welcoming place. I look out the window on the water and gaze toward Croagh Patrick and thank the Lord for my good fortune.

Visiting the wild Inishkea Islands in Ireland

Islands with a checkered history
The Inishkea Islands (Goose Islands, Irish: Inis Gé)  are situated off the Mullet peninsula in Erris, which was recently voted as the best place to go wild in Ireland. We wholeheartedly concur. It was our first visit of many more already planned. The Inishkeas were abandoned in the 1930s along with many other islands on this inhospitable coast. They are slowly returning to their wild state. Having gone ashore and felt the spirituality of this place, I am certain its residents over the millenia were one with the sea as we, too, hoped to experience.

There are two main islands - Inishkea North and Inishkea South. A small third island called Rusheen lies just off the main village on Inishkea South, and several smaller islets trail from its tail.  The islands are just off the mainland coast along the Wild Atlantic Way and offer some protection to the Mullet from the power of the wild Atlantic waters. They are now home to a large number of bird species, gre…

Loss of steering along a rocky shore

Saved by luck and a bit of ingenuity
What do you do when you've just raised anchor, you engage the engine to head out, and the wheel just spins freely in your hands without turning the boat?  PANIC! No. Do not panic. Think, and fast.

We've lost steering twice before, both times in the middle of an ocean where there is nothing to run into and where Aleria steers herself very nicely with sail trim alone.  Out there, there is plenty of room to think things through and work on the problem to resolve it. Not this time. No, this time, the wind grabbed the bow and swung us around toward shore. Not just a sandy shore but a rocky promontory.  We reversed the engine but that caused us to head out to sea. What we needed to do was get back into the harbour where we could re-anchor. The dinghy was on deck and there was no time to launch it.  We had to find a way to steer.

An autopilot with a mind of its own

Fixing the Raymarine
BOAT: Break Out Another Thousand is Alex's theory of boat ownership. My theory is that Alex is conservative. The truth is that the BOAT theory is directly proportional to the size of the vessel multiplied by the number of gadgets it can fit.  Naturally, a bigger boat can hold more gadgets. In addition, everything is bigger and heavier and, therefore, costlier.  Aleria is 57 feet LOA.

Mayo Sailing Club Gets Out There

To Clare Island and into the Wild Atlantic Waters

The race action around Clare Island on the Sunday of the June bank holiday weekend had all the intrigue of a world class sailing race. Wind out of the SE holding steady at 20 knots at the start but gusting over 40 knots on the North side of the island. Fog, mist, rain.  An MOB (man overboard) successfully recovered in textbook style within about 3 minutes attesting to the fine seamanship of the skipper and crew. Gear failure. Seasickness. The makings of many stories.  Two boats retired.  Six over the finish line with the faces of experience on board. Awards won by sailors sporting broad smiles knowing they had lived up to the challenges.  Characters from every walk of life, both young and old, had set their sails against one another for the prestige of winning the Kay O’Grady Memorial Trophy.

A weekend on Inishturk

The island of the wild boar
Mayo Sailing Club near Westport in County Mayo Ireland is fortunate to have access to several remarkable islands off the coast within a day's sail out of Clew Bay. There is Clare Island guarding the entrance to Clew Bay, Inishturk just to the South and the uninhabited Inishkeas just to the North. Every bank holiday in the summer, the Club organizes cruises in company to the islands or to Killary Harbour, also within easy reach. This time, for the May Bank Holiday, we were off to Inishturk. Inishturk is inhabited by a small year round population. It is not a touristy island but rather a place where real people live. That makes it truly special.

Back on the water again

After a terrible winter of storms passed through the west of Ireland at an unprecedented rate, we managed to squeeze in a few days of work on board. We had expected to have a nice condo in Galway, one of the great small cities of the world. We'd work by date and eat and play by night. But that was not to be as what seemed like an unrelenting twice weekly procession of very strong storms, several of which were hurricane strength.

Women at the Helm

In a  two-part series on why it's important for women to take the helm of sailboats just published on Women & Cruising, I talk about my journey towards taking that wheel in critical situations. I wrote the article because I struggled with the process, oddly when I could run companies but couldn't take the helm. I had given it a lot of thought and talked to so many women who were "in the same boat".   Here's the result. I hope you enjoy it. Please let me know if it speaks to you.

Click here to read the article Why it is better for women to take the helm Part 1 on Women & Cruising.

Storm toll at Bertra Strand near Westport, Co. Mayo, Ireland

We finally managed to get out for a walk in between storms today. It was blustery and cold yet we decided to visit Bertra Strand one of our favourite beaches to walk in Ireland.  It has spectacular views of Croagh Patrick and the most amazing sand dunes I've ever had the pleasure to walk. The views across Clew Bay are magnificent too, and the beach is littered with lucky weather stones and fossils. We'd heard that the Strand had been hit hard by the recent procession of storms and wanted to see for ourselves.

Plastics thrown back from the sea - the gods must be crazy!

Nature has her way of getting things done that really need doing. We, the people, have polluted the oceans for generations, and now the oceans are giving back. With the invention of plastics, things got seriously worse out there. Who can forget that line from The Graduate: Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Benjamin: Yes, sir. Mr. McGuire: Are you listening? Benjamin: Yes, I am. Mr. McGuire: Plastics. Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?

St. Brigid and the coming of spring

In this part of the world, the beginning of February marks the coming of Spring. Now, the Americans have Punxsutawney Phil, who this week saw his shadow and predicted 6 more weeks of winter for America (3 Feb).  We, in Ireland, on the other hand have St. Brigid of Kildare (Naomh Bríd in Irish or Brigit, Bride, Bree, Bridget).   Brigid was the daughter of Dubhthach, pagan Scottish king of Leinster, and Brocca (Broicsech), a Christian Pictish slave who had been baptized by Saint Patrick.

A SEAsoned Irish Weather Station

We are wintering in the west of Ireland this year. Our boat is in Galway in the marina within the locked harbour. Thankfully we have not had to worry too much about the strong storms and tide surges we've had this winter.  Storm after strong storm, gale after gale, we've had nonstop blowing going on. And the rain - pelting, driving, and filling our rain gauge daily. Now weather has always been a subject of discussion here, and when I heard about Fifty Shades of Grey I thought it was about the Irish weather. But this year is really extraordinary. We had a wonderful summer for a change and now we are paying for it in spades.

EU Directives for Recreational Craft Are Set to Change

Man has this propensity to make and change laws. It's a necessity when you have more than 7 billion people trying to occupy this little bit of land mass that is shrinking. I thought things were complicated in the United States of America. Then I moved to Ireland and started to understand what complexity is all about. Millenia of law, altered by invaders and foreign rulers, with precedent upon precedent being reversed, challenged, and rewritten, until no one can tell what's what. Makes it easy to understand how people can evolve into sidestepping behaviors.

70.8% - One Big Ocean!

70.8% is the percentage of ocean covering the earth's surface relative to landmass. So it makes sense that some of us think about going to sea to see the world. It's an expeditious way to do so.  You can get from here to there with all your favorite things and without having to pack and repack all the time. Cruising by boat really is a great way to see the world. And at an average of 6 knots, you actually get to see literally everything and experience the journey without getting jet lagged.

Motion sickness remedies - including an interesting new approach

I am blessed in only getting slight seasickness on very rare occasions. Usually when I am below decks cooking in confused seas is when I start to feel it coming on. If I go back on deck and take the helm, that usually does the trick in getting the queasiness to subside. I can even read sitting in the back of a car without a problem. Lucky me.

Others are not so fortunate. My husband, Alex is one of those people. It takes a few days at sea for him to feel completely free of seasickness, and even then a confused sea can send him into a downward spiral. He's learned to control it with a number of different options, but the one most effective for him is to take a motion sickness tablet, Bonine, at the first thought of upset.

Happy Hooking webinar a fun success!

On Saturday the 11th January we conducted a Happy Hooking seminar on  boat anchoring on behalf of the Great Lakes Cruising Club. We had 17 people strewn all over the United States tuning in to us in Ireland. Lucky for us that day the weather cooperated so our wireless internet connection held true. Sometimes, the gales here in the west of Ireland blow the antenna just enough off course to lose signal.  Half way through, nevertheless, the connection to the "webinar room" just shut down.

Joining a sailing club -- what's in it for me?

What a lovely time we had meeting up with now old friends from the Irish Cruising Club (ICC) in Oranmore near Galway just before Christmas.  Not only was it a nice venue for lunch, we are beginning to actually know some of the people. And one of our favourite members, Jarlath Cunnane, of Northabout fame, sat next to me at lunch and traveled home with us on the return trip.  Kay and Fergus Quinlan were at our table too so we felt right at home catching up with everyone.
It's an interesting thing when you join a social club. The first year, you are feeling things out: the people, the politics, the etiquette, and the expectations. The second year, you begin to recognize people's faces and sometimes even their names. By the third year, you're a regular, contributing to the newsletter and annual, joining in on events, getting together with members informally, and so on.  At least that's how it has gone for us.