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Gary Pearce writes from aboard "Zazen" in St. Lucia in the Carribean.

sailingthumbnail Zazen Click on image to enlarge.

Well, they say the hardest part of any journey is setting off and we finally managed to leave Gosport on August 16th and start our journey to Australia. The final few days were chaos and even when we left we still had a lot to sort out on the boat but we knew that with the tools we had on board the jobs could be done en route. We did not linger long in the UK but having celebrated my parents Golden Wedding in Bristol at the end of August we set off for the first major part of the voyage to cross the Bay of Biscay. The Shuttle 40 "Zazen" can be seen at "Biscay trip photos."

All the books tell you to cross the bay before the middle of September and we left Falmouth on August 30th but we did not face any problems. No gales, no rough seas in fact calm days, dolphins and even some sea fog. We travelled straight to Spain and spent 3 weeks in Galicia, cruising the rias between La Coruna and Bayonna which was lovely. Hardly any tourists in this part of Spain and mixing with the locals and the fishermen was fun. The drive to keep going south was always there and by this time we had already met up with two boats who were also doing the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) with children and so we kept reminding each other that we had to keep on the move.

Crossing into Portugal we stopped to spend time in Oporto and Lisbon and in both cities we were able to admire the sights and catch up with friends in Sony Portugal where they gave us a great welcome. The final stop in mainland Europe was in the Algarve in a fishing village called Alvor where we parked Zazen on a sand bank for 2 weeks to sort out the boat. At the end of October we were joined by friends Peter and Toni who came with us to the Canary Islands. We stopped on the way to stay at Porto Santo and Madeira and we loved the dramatic lush landscale in Madeira. By mid November we were in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria and here we met up with the other 220 boats doing the ARC.

The ARC kids had been in contact with each other by email for most of the summer and at last they all go to be together. School was suspended while they met each other and compared stories so far, went swimming, played music, visited museums and generally had a pretty amazing time. Gary and I were like all other boat owners doing last minute boat jobs, checking the safety of the boat systems and buying enough food to last the passage across the Atlantic. And how long would the crossing take - well most cruising boats do it in between 18 and 25 days depending on the weather.

We were joined in Las Palmas by my parents and my aunt and uncle and my uncle was our third adult crew member for the crossing. All too soon, the parties were over, and we were off - waving good bye to loads of well wishers and managing to spot my parents in the crowd on the breakwater. And 18 days, 10 hours and 38 seconds later we arrived in St Lucia.

The Atlantic Crossing lived up to my expectations - those expecting a gin and tonic cruise had a nasty shock. I expected us to be challenged and for it to be a test of endurance and stamina and it was but there were also moments of great fun. Catching a 1 metre long Dorado and preparing it for cooking and freezing, organising a fancy dress party for half way day, keeping the crew fed and watered with interesting food ( including prunes and custard) - all these activities kept us amused and away from boredom. And the weather......... well a near gale the first night out from Gran Canaria was tough and got us all very wet and a torn sail! After that the sea state was pretty bad for the majority of the crossing due to low pressure systems forming and a tropical storm in the middle of the Atlantic just behind our position which we managed to avoid the worst of in terms of wind speeds. As we got closer to the Caribbean the weather did calm down and the seas got flatter but then we got the squalls which tend to come at night so we were constantly monitoring the cloud formations to see if it was a squall or not. But after 18 days at sea we hard the cry of Land Ahoy and there in front of us was St Lucia - or was it Martinique?!?!?!?!?

We crossed the finish line at 19.15 local time in the dark and went into another 10 days of parties, celebrations, going out in the dinghy to welcome friends and swapping ARC stories. Of course - the waves got higher, the boat speeds got faster and the fish got bigger and then last night was the final party and prize giving and we are on our own again.

Not quite - many of the ARC boats- especially those with kids are staying in St Lucia for Christmas and we have already planned the BBQ on the beach and the carol service around the beach fire for the 24th. It is 30 degrees C here most days but the shops still have snow on the windows and the cards still show the village scenes with snow and children making snowmen. It will be a strange and different Christmas especially since we will be missing friends and family and missing the news of all of you. We will raise our glass of rum punch and drink a toast to all of you and wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

And where to next - well for those who have already turned green I suggest you stop reading now but for those who like more punishment we plan to spend the next 3 months here in the Caribbean and then transit the Panama canal in early April. We will cross the Pacific in April and May and then start to cruise the islands of the Pacific before heading down to Sydney and our new home - arriving there in late October next year.

So far the trip has been great - not as much time to relax as we imagined - cruising can be hard work but fun and we have no regrets. The adventures often come when you least expect them and the magic moments with the family when they have not been planned - the experience we wanted.

Please keep in touch whatever the distance between us and please forward this to others who may be interested in our travels - one day we may get our web site populated with photos and articles but for the time being we are too busy having fun!

All the best for 2003, Gary and Jane, Alix and Lorin