São Miguel (7th – 14th June 2013)

(Cally writes:)

Apologies for the delay in completing our sailing blog.  It is August now, and we are back home with boxes unpacked.  It has taken us a while to sort through our photos and find the time to finish the story.

So, back to mid-June.  We had a calm and uneventful overnight sail/motor straight from Faial to São Miguel with my parents on board.  It was a shame to bypass islands like Pico, Terceira and São Jorge, which we had hoped to visit.  But sailing straight to São Miguel enabled Rob to fly home to be with his mother (following the news of his father’s death) leaving all of us and Rafiki in the right place for our various journeys home.



With Rob home, my parents and I hired a car to tour the island with the children.  Once again we saw some wonderful scenery:

The scenery included a very beautiful spot called the Lake of the Seven Cities, which is filling in the caldera of a large extinct volcano.  According to legend, 7 cities are buried under these 2 interconnected lakes.  The lakes are very pretty, one being greener than the other, due to the different algae growing in them.   However there are several more imaginative explanations offered by various local legends, my favourite of which involves unfulfilled love between a princess and a shepherd.  She shed tears from her green eyes (hence the green lake) and he from his blue eyes (hence the blue lake).  I thought it might make a good assignment for the children to write their own legend about how this unusual scenery acquired its strange name, but we never quite got round to it.

We also came across a rather splendid religious festival.  We started to drive past various young bullocks, decorated with flowers.  As we approached one particular village, the road was cordoned off and there appeared to be a group of about 8 male singers dressed in cloaks made from thick red curtain material.  This was the festival before (!) the festival of John the Baptist and the singers were processing to particular houses in the village to thank the occupants for feeding up a bullock in the course of the last year.  Meanwhile, the bullocks were being rounded up, one by one, until there was large procession of animals moving along with the singers.  The following week there was to be a very large feast in which plenty of beef would be consumed…

The children and my parents flew home a couple of days before me, so I could prepare the boat for our friend Peter to sail Rafiki back to Falmouth for us.  I gave the boat a thorough clean, in between catching up with friends on Peat Smoke and Mad Fish.

Clean and tidy...

Clean and tidy…

Peter and his crew were delayed by a day, which gave me the chance to go on a professional whale-watching tour from Ponta Delgada.  Although we saw plenty of dolphins and a number of whales whilst sailing, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to go out with an experienced local guide and a marine biologist.  I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of seeing dolphins or whales in the wild and the Azores is one of the best places in the world to see them.

Finally, having handed the boat over to Peter, I flew home on 14th June to join the rest of the family at my parents’ house for a hectic 2-week spell at home before returning to the boat in Falmouth.

We didn’t quite have the family holiday we had planned in the Azores, but we had a good taster.  The scenery is stunning and Rob and I would love to return there one day with some sturdy walking boots.  Although the islands feel (and are) remote, the Azoreans speak fabulous English, are well used to international travellers passing through and certainly know a thing or two about ocean life!

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Faial, Azores (2nd – 6th June 2013)

After an overnight sail, we arrived in the town of Horta, on the island of Faial.  This time, there was a proper sailor’s landfall for Simon!  Horta is a real sailor’s Mecca, with Peter’s Café Sport being the centre of the action: a wonderful, atmospheric sailors’ bar full of hoary old seadogs with a good yarn to tell.  (Phil Messham and Andy Gissing, our crew across the Atlantic to Saint Lucia, would have LOVED it: “Last time I was crossing the Atlantic….”)

There was an atmosphere of all round relief amongst the yachtsmen in Horta: 5 or 6 weeks before, at least 3 French boats had been lost mid-Atlantic en route to the Azores in an unforeseen storm, including a strong crew of 3 particularly experienced yachtsmen.  A week or 2 before us, there had also been bad weather and many breakages.  There is a real sense that every year, it is getting more and more dangerous to be out on the ocean.  Climate change is having a very real effect.  This year, the weather has been more unpredictable than ever.  (But maybe they say that every year!)


In due course, we said goodbye to Simon and welcomed Cally’s parents on board for what was intended to be a mini Azores cruise.  However, it was while we were in Horta that we received the sad news of Rob’s father’s death.   So, after a couple of days of touring around the island of Faial by land, we sailed overnight straight to Ponta Delgada (missing out Pico, Terceira, Sao Jorge and other gorgeous-looking islands along the way).  This was so Rob could fly home and everyone (including Rafiki) would end up in the right place for onward travel.  So, we have much unfinished business in the Azores and must revisit them some day!

Here are some pictures of what we did manage to see on Faial:


Our most interesting visit was to the Capelinhos area:  This region, on the western edge of the island, includes an extra 2.4k of land which was entirely created by the eruption of the Capelinhos volcano in 1957-8.  A huge amount of ash was deposited on the existing land, including around the old lighthouse, which is now located a fair way inland!  They have converted the lighthouse into a fascinating museum, which we all enjoyed immensely, exhibiting a film (in English) and a hologram showing how this edge of the island was formed, displays on lighthouses in Portugal and the various landscapes on the different Azorean islands as well as a wonderful collection of volcanic rocks and crystals.

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Flores, Azores (30th May – 1st June 2013)

Our first landfall after nearly 14 days at sea was in Flores.  We all agreed that Flores was very pretty, although for Simon, arrival in Flores after a long voyage was a bit of an anti-climax.  True, the island was very quiet and we were a bit disappointed that our expectations of lots of glorious European food were not met.  However, the Burches have got very used to visiting small islands in the middle of nowhere. We were just pleased to make landfall and happy to make the most of whatever this island had to offer – which was beautiful scenery, and – more, beautiful scenery!






The non-buzzing “metropolis”:



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Sail from Bermuda to the Azores (16th May – 30th May 2013)

Here are photos taken at sea – mostly by Simon, with his superior camera and fresh eye for a photographic opportunity!

The ARC Europe rally leaving Bermuda for the Azores the day before we did

The ARC Europe rally leaving Bermuda for the Azores the day before we did

Sailing photos:

Life on board:

Catching fish:

Simon’s wedding anniversary (26th May):





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Reflections on a long journey (written on 14.6.13)

I have just taken off from Ponta Delgada in the Azores to fly home. I shed a tear as we fly over the marina and over Rafiki as I say goodbye to our wonderful home for the past year. So lovely to think of Peter and his marvellous crew taking good care of her for us. I am proud of how well she has looked after us and of what we’ve achieved, even though the A310 I am on took no time at all to ascend into the clouds and reduce the relatively large island of Sao Miguel into a distant splodge, far, far below us. How small our undertaking feels, when you can cross an ocean in a plane in just a few hours.

It is exciting to be returning home. There are sadnesses: Rob’s Dad’s funeral is on 26th June and then there is a mountain of admin and hassle to climb as we reclaim our car, our furniture and our house, start our job hunts and get the children settled back into school.

But then again, we feel well refreshed and energised. As our Norwegian friend Kristina, put it so succinctly: if you’re not looking forward to going home, then there is something seriously wrong in your life at home and you should fix it!

Fundamentally, there is nothing wrong in our life at home. We are so lucky to live surrounded by kind friends and loving family in a safe and comfortable home. We can complain all we like about the “wallpaper”, but in the end, that’s all it is: just “wallpaper”.

I feel so humbled. We met people in the Caribbean with almost nothing except the fragile shacks they called “home”, the clothes they were wearing and the laid back smiles on their faces. People who had lost everything in the random violence of one of the many hurricanes and had stoically got on with the job of rebuilding their lives from nothing. They showed no bitterness, just acceptance. In the face of that, how can we really moan about the traffic jam on the A31 on a Monday morning?

We will moan about it, I’m sure. I’ll probably also whinge again about our mediocre local Tescos – until I force myself to remember how brutally expensive and limited the choice of food was in the Caribbean islands.

So, beyond being more appreciative of what we have, what other resolutions have we made?

Rob and I are both keen to get back to work. We are selling Rafiki. It will be a wrench, because we love her, but her sale was always part of the plan. She was the perfect boat for what we did with her; she is not designed for Solent sailing. We loved our precious time away and we fully intend to buy another boat and go away again. But not yet – the children need to be back at school with their friends and we need to earn money, pay our taxes and put in some good, honest, solid work before gallivanting off into the sunset again (but, oh my, what sunsets there are out there!!) We will relish our dreams for the future while seeking to make the most of the present. There is a good 10-15 years of contributing to a normal life that we would like to make in the meantime.

We are seeking simpler lives than before. We don’t want to hurtle straight back into being stressed and frazzled. It might mean saying “no” a bit more often and making a few brutal choices. It will also entail stepping back from making commitments, in the hope of honouring those we do make to the best of our abilities. We cannot be all things to all men and if that earns us some disapproval along the way, then so be it. I can live with that. It has only recently occurred to me that perhaps the person whose disagrees with my opinion or decision may just happen to be wrong. Or maybe they’re right, but there’s scope for us both to be right. It is ok for me to stand up for my own opinions a little more, whilst respecting that others are entitled to theirs.

For us (alongside work) family and friends are what matter. We are so very fortunate to count our local community among our friends. A local community we value very highly and see as “family”. We had a surrogate family amongst the long-distance cruising community. We relied on each other and looked out for each other. We needed each other.

In the end there were things we could control and things that were out of our control and sometimes you just had to cling on and go with the roller coaster ride. In times of trouble, friends – sometimes unexpected people – generally tend to appear. Or else, you take a big swallow, have a long hard think and work your own way out of the trouble your in. It’s not the crisis that counts, it’s all about how you deal with it!

I think the expression “every cloud has a silver lining” must have nautical origins. Conditions at sea are never perfect. Unless you learn to make the best of what you have, you’ll go mad with frustration. We learnt that having no wind might be annoying on the sailing front, but turning on the engine meant hot water for showers – hooray! So much better to carry that attitude rather than: “grr, no wind!” or “so much for this good sailing, but when can I have a hot shower?” I am not saying we’re always perfect at maintaining this positive outlook, but we’re definitely better than we were!

The other lesson the ocean taught us was that things pass with time. Bad weather doesn’t last forever; life phases don’t last forever, so let’s make the very best of what we’re blessed with, here and now!!

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July 2013 – Catching up with Rafiki

Hello folks – once more, we are behind on our blog, but unfortunately with due cause.

Here is how we intend to catch you up with what we’ve been up to:
– this post will explain our news,
– the next is a piece that Cally wrote on her flight home, reflecting on our year off, and
– subsequent posts will contain mostly photographs from our time at sea and in the Azores.

Also, somewhere in the mix (if we remember to find it and post it!) is a fun poem written by Peat Smoke about us: Peat Smoke, you may remember, is a friendly Scottish boat who was sailing nearby as we left Bermuda and as we travelled through the Azores. The crew of Peat Smoke kept us thoroughly entertained with quizzes while we were at sea: each day 10 questions from us to them and 10 from them to us. They also gave us generous gifts of tots of whisky for the grown-ups and chocolate and T-shirts for the children.

And so, to our news.

Sadly, on 6th June Rob’s father died, after a recent diagnosis of an aggressive brain tumour. He had been in care with advancing dementia for 18 months, but the tumour diagnosis was new.

The timing of his sudden decline and of his death, while most unwelcome, could have been considerably worse from our point of view. We were lucky that Rob and the children had the opportunity to fly home from Bermuda to say their farewells. David then died while we were in the Azores. Rob stayed on board Rafiki in the Azores for long enough to allow necessary crew changes to happen and to enable Rafiki to be in the right port before he flew home.

It meant that the children and Rob didn’t see very much of Bermuda and Rob’s time in the Azores was curtailed, but that seemed a small price to pay. (Meanwhile, Cally was doing her best to raise a few eyebrows ashore in Bermuda and the Azores, being seen out and about with a succession of different men, none of whom was Rob: There was Andy, then she was eating out with Simon and Andy together, on the next night she was with Simon on his own, but they were visited late in the evening on board Rafiki by a friend of a friend she hadn’t met before called Richard. Finally, just before leaving the Azores she had one big night out being wined and dined by Peter, Mike, Matthew and Guy! Such hardship – but she was good about it!)

It was difficult being at sea over this time, especially on the long passages. We were so lucky and grateful to have consecutive sails with good friends and family as crew: first Andy to Bermuda, then Simon to the Azores and finally Cally’s parents in the Azores. Andy and Simon were both a huge help on the sailing front, but as important was the big boost it gave to our morale to have friends and family from home just when we needed them most!

We have not yet had the opportunity properly to thank Andy and Simon, especially, for their contribution to our return journey. Thanks, too, to their wives and families for sparing them – in particular to Dominy for allowing us to take Simon away from her over their first wedding anniversary! That is the mark of true friendship…

We have had the chance to thank Cally’s parents, in the form of a delicious pub lunch (their choice of venue) to celebrate Cally’s birthday, the day after she flew home from the Azores. For Cally it was a perfect birthday, spent exactly how she wanted it: starting with a long hot bath (joy!!), followed by strawberry-picking and the aforementioned pub lunch. Rob’s very newly widowed mother, Anne, also came: the first time Cally and Anne had seen each other since last October in Lisbon.

We are now back on board Rafiki in Falmouth after a hectic 2 weeks away from her. Thank goodness we had arranged for Peter and his crew to sail her back from the Azores to Falmouth for us!

Meanwhile, we had David’s funeral as well as a good friend’s wedding in Galicia in Spain, Cally’s cousin’s ordination in Southwark Cathedral and 2 new babies to meet! We alternated staying with Cally’s parents and Rob’s mother, all of which resulted in the whole family being no more than 2 or 3 nights in the same place. Just how did Rob also manage to fit in a trip up to London to meet 4 different people about finding a job when we’re back? We even managed to pick up our car from Cally’s brother’s barn in Suffolk and do a bit of gentle school for the children, in between bouts of fruit picking and making jam and elderflower cordial. The children and Rob have each taken 6 flights in the last month and a half (and 2 less for Cally). That blows the summer travel budget!

It is wonderful to be back on the boat. Our intention is now to do a small wind-down cruise, before we hang up our lifejackets and put Rafiki up for sale, as we ease ourselves (as quietly as possible) back into our old lives. As one friend put it recently: “After a marathon, it is good to do a 10k run, as your wind-down”. We just have to keep reminding ourselves that this “10k” involves tides!! A bit like driving on the continent and then returning home to England and forgetting to drive on the left, we fear we’ll have forgotten that we really MUST factor in the tides!

We will be sad to sell Rafiki: she has become our home as well as our trusted friend. (The word “Rafiki” is, in fact, Swahili for “friend”.) We share so many happy memories with her and we have been through so much together. But she lives on the ocean wave and soon we must inevitably return to our land home and our old lives, as planned.

So, for the month of July, we fully intend to make the most of her! We will go where the weather takes us, hoping that the prevailing westerlies will ultimately see us back into the Solent for the end of the month – hopefully via the Scillies and probably via France and the Channel Islands, but we’ll see…

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Eggs R Orf

Another poem from Peat Smoke:


How difficult could it really be
To boil some eggs whilst out at sea!
A simple task you would agree
So read further on, what happened to me!

I staggered to the galley to make us all some tea
Whilst over the boat was landing, gallons of the sea!
I also then decided, breakfast I would make
As boiling a few eggs would be a piece of cake!

In the pot I placed half a dozen eggs
And had it well supported with modern cooker pegs!
But as they started boiling, the sea began to soar
And a couple of the eggs jumped out on to the floor!

I quickly tried to catch them as they rolled towards the door
But from the pot also the water began to pour!
So as I tried to calm down my heart gave a terrible thump
As out of the pot another egg decided to ‘bloody’ jump!

Now I’m chasing three eggs on my hands and knees
Mad as hell I also am, the crew don’t disagree!
They find it very amusing to see me in a flap
But thankfully now I’ve got the eggs safely in my lap!

So now I have to clean up the liquid that did fall
Whilst in the pot the remaining eggs have no liquid left at all!
So EGGS are off the menu and also to be kind to me
Breakfast today will only be a bloody ‘cup of tea’!!!!!

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