Monday, 16 June 2008

Saturday 14th June Gosport to Poole

We drove down on Friday evening to Gosport to meet Robert and Caroline in preparation for an early start the next morning. We arrived at Haslar Marina at 9pm and parked our bag on Aragorn before having a lovely dinner at Landers. We initially started in the bar, which was pretty full with lots of charter folk busy getting their weekend under way. Eventually we managed to enlarge our space at the bar. The friendly bar owner invited us to eat in the restaurant which was a bit quieter.

We were given a quick tour of Robert's boat, a British Hunter Mystery 35, and we were quite impressed. It was a bit different to the boats we had previously been on with much more of a traditional feel. It is quite a slender design which Robert assured us was fast through the water.

The next morning it was up a 7am to start preparation for the race start at 8.30am. Chris Freeman arrived soon after and we were off out into the Solent. On the way out we passed 2 more rather impressive vessels Alex Thomson's Hugo Boss and Pindar.

The idea was that we would have plenty of time to get familiar with the basics. Robert and Caroline already had a plan for the race. Once we were out in open water we had breakfast of bacon and mushroom butties and a mug of tea. The start all seemed a bit of a blur, to us novices anyway. With the wind variable at 4-8 knots from the north west the spinnaker was soon up as we headed towards Bembridge Ledge. Two or three of the eight participating boats had a somewhat different strategy from the start. Initially there were concerns that we had omitted a mark as those boats headed out east. All too soon their strategy became clear as the outgoing tide swept Gilkin and Get Cool into a lead. There was some head scratching as the tidal charts didn't seem to suggest that there would be an advantage in taking such a route. In the meantime I was in charge of feathering the spinnaker to get the optimum performance out of the sail.

After Bembridge Ledge it was off to West Princessa. The change in course dictating the lowering of the spinnaker and the hoisting of the cruising shute. After a little while Robert and Caroline determined that the cruising shute wasn't giving an advantage and it was back to 'white sails'. After some pronounced zigzagging behind us the faster Jambo finally passed us and pulled away. We passed Caroline's sister Hilary and her husband Mike on Champers who were having a cruise to Poole.

As we passed Sandown and Shanklin the winds seemed particularly problematic for us as boats in front seemed to pull further away and others behind seemed to be catching, Pell Mell in particular coming up behind. Finally as we approached Dunnose Point on a starboard tack the winds seemed to favour us. To help things us crew were invited to sit out on the rail to help flatten the boat, this also seemed to give an improvement and Robert pronounced that Aragorn felt much better with us out there. We were glad to be of some assistance. We kept on the starboard tack for quite a time after the others had tacked. It was only after we we some 4-5 miles off St Catherine's point that we tacked ourselves and us crew were allowed to sit on the sunny side of the boat. Robert was a hard task master but it was to pay off in the end.

We were on this same port tack for some 4 hours so there wasn't a great deal for us crew to do. We had a lunch of pasties with brown sauce and quiche (for Wendy) and a few mugs of tea. Tea making takes on a new dimension when healed over. Some of us had the odd 40 winks (39) and all of us got wet bottoms as the wind rose to 13 knots (true). The course seemed to work out perfectly as the tide took us to the north.

Eventually the wreck buoy was spotted ahead and then beyond it the finish point at the Southhook cardinal buoy. By now we were second on the water with only the fast Jambo ahead of us. Robert felt we were likely in fourth after the handicaps were applied.

We sailed up the north channel into our berth at the Parkstone Marina. We tidied up the sheets, got the mainsail properly flaked and covered, and cleaned up Aragorn. As we enjoyed a cool glass of Chardonnay we waved to the crew of the arriving yachts.

As the glasses were quaffed discussions over tactics took place. It turned out that the more westerly route from the start was likely based on a false premise though one that proved to be a success.

After a hot shower we arrived clean and refreshed for dinner at 8pm. It was very good value at £10 for a carvery main course, crumble dessert and coffee. After the main course the results were announced by organiser John Kirby. We all held our breath. After all Robert's concern we very happy to hear that Aragorn finished second once handicaps were applied, although we as novices had made only a small contribution we felt very proud to be part of a successful team.

It was to be an early start the next morning as the window for the tides at Hurst Point closed at 10am, until 2pm. So after a night cap it was off to hit the sleeping bag. Hilary and Mike very kindly put us up on Champers so we enjoyed our own cabin that night. Wendy's alarm went off a full hour early on Sunday morning at 4.55am! Eventually we arose at the appointed time of 5.55am to get underway. Champers and Aragorn were joined by Pell Mell for this early departure.

It was a lovely morning though without much wind so it was really a case of motoring back up the Solent to Gosport.

Many thanks to Caroline and Robert for a most enjoyable weekend and great introduction to racing. Also to Chris (great cake) and Hilary and Mike for the luxury accommodation (sorry about the early alarm). We can't wait to do it again.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Saturday 12 January: San Jose - Newark - Gatwick

The next morning we had a leisurely start before heading of to the airport. We bid farewell to our traveling companions, except Dan and Tanya who had already left at 5.00am!!. We did a final trawl for souvenirs in the hotel gift shop, purchasing several.

At the airport we were surprised to se that Paul’s company had diversified to a greater degree than previously suspected. The snack and drinks kiosk bearing a suspiciously familiar logo………

Which is the real one?

The flight home was uneventful, though the food on the second leg was awful, even by the standards of airline food. We landed at Gatwick at 10.00 the next morning. It was grey and overcast but it had been quite a trip. We had hundreds of photos to look through.

Friday 11 January

Our last adventure of the holiday jet skiing. It turned to be quite a trip. We hadn’t been going that long when suddenly 2 humpback whales surfaced within about 200m. it was quite a surprise and apparently we were quite lucky to see them. They were a mother with her calf. We stayed well clear as they repeatedly came to the surface over 20mins or so. We also saw dolphins again as well as many types of birds.

Bracing? Who needs bracing?

After lunch it was the start of our journey home. The 1st leg being back to San Jose. After leaving the coast the road wound up into the mountains. We climbed into the clouds before descending back into sunshine. Our leader,Erick, had already been assigned his next tour in Nicaragua so he left us at the airport. We were driven into San Jose during the Friday afternoon rush hour, it was pretty heavy.

As it was our last night we felt we should make the most of it. Before leaving our Erick had recommended a restaurant L’ Monastre. It turned out to be a great place to spend our last evening in Costa Rica. The food was marvelous, a little pricey by Costa Rican standards but quite reasonable with sterling exchange rate. It was perched on top of a hill with the lights of San Jose spread out below us. They had one of those auto-pianos with a mannequin dressed as a monk. OK, a little tacky but the rest could not be faulted. The waiters were very attentive and it had a chapel by the restrooms. Apparently it hadn’t actually been a monastery but it had been a large private house.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Thursday 10 January

After breakfast we caught the local bus the few miles to the national park. It wasn’t long before we found wildlife. We walked past the beach where the previous day we had had our very brief swim. We walked up and around the headland with views to the small offshore islands. The paths were very muddy and treacherous in places but we made it. As we walked along a second beach we met Sal and Dana who were just arriving. We had a swim then settled down and watched the wildlife attempt and in some case succeed in pinching the food from picnickers on the beach. It’s actually quite bad for the animals as normally they would forage for food over quite a large area.

After the national park we caught the bus back down the road to a restaurant called El Avion. Essentially its called this because it has an ex-Contra Fairchild C123 parked in the middle of it. Indeed the bar is in the body of the aircraft. The plane was funded by the CIA from the profits from selling arms to Iran. More details can be found here;

We watched the spectacular sunset before having dinner and the odd drink or three.

Wednesday 9 January

After breakfast it was down to the harbour for a trip on a catamaran. There were quite a few folk on the jetty. We admired the four masted sailing cruise type ship and the construction of the new marina. Luckily our party of nine got a boat to ourselves with just 2 others on board. In no time we were off and headed for a beach in the Manuel Antonio park. The skipper said that it was time for a swim, but not to go ashore to the National Park. Most of us just barely had time to jump in the water when the skipper announced that dolphins had been spotted and that we were off. We did manage to see dolphins but they were rather tricky to photograph, so no photos (sorry). But you could try here

Not our boat.

But this

After that it was a spot of snorkeling, the fish were spectacular lots of bright yellow ones. But we didn’t have an underwater camera, so no pictures (sorry). We had some salt biscuits which they were very keen on. Elsewhere we had strict instructions not to feed the wildlife (more on that later) but we guess that feeding fish isn’t a problem. Once we had surfaced we set sail (literally sailing albeit quite sedately at around 2-3 knots). Lunch on board was white marlin which we enjoyed while cruising along with a beer or 2.

It all ended too soon and we went back to the hotel to await our next adventure. We sat by the pool for a while and this little fellow kept coming around to see what we doing by his pool. He's a 'Great Kiskadee'.

Around 2pm we were picked up for the surfing lesson. Paul photographed while Dan, Tanya, Sal, Dana and Wendy were taught the rudiments of surfing. Initially on dry land to get the right poise (particularly important in surfing).

Er, this isn't it

Nor this

All too soon it was on to the water. All made valiant efforts and all made a stand. It was exhausting just watching from the beach.
This almost it..

When we got back to the hotel and making our way back to our rooms Wendy heard Dana shouting. Wondering what could be the issue we dashed around to find that we were being invaded by… monkeys. There were around 20 or so of them. It was almost sunset and they were extremely difficult to photograph, they didn’t stay still for very long and when they moved they moved fast.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Tuesday 8 January

We left Monteverde at 7.30 and stopped for breakfast about 1.5 hours later, after the road had finally turned to tarmac. Even at breakfast we were able to admire the wildlife.

Later we stopped at a road bridge over a river to look at the crocodiles.

We arrived in Quepos on the Pacific coast, the town not immediately appealing. Our accommodation was the Blue Monkey hotel, a little way out of the town. After lunch we walked down a back road to the town. We passed a shop that sold made-to-measure bikinis and a second hand bookshop/ internet shop. We had a smoothie in town before heading back via the seafront (stopping to admire the Xmas decorations) and past the casino back to the hotel.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Monday 7 January: Monteverde

Sal, Dana, Elaine, Dan, Tanya and ourselves were picked up at 10.00 for a zip lining trip to Extremo. This promised to be exciting and we weren’t disappointed. We had a short safety briefing before we headed up to the 1st zip line. After a couple of short runs it was time for a longer 425m run across the valley. For this one Wendy and I were put together, this turned out to be easier as there was less tendency to be turned around in the wind.
Two more short runs and we headed back across the valley on a 600m run and back for the third time on a 465m line.

2 more short ones and a bit of walking and we arrived at the 30m vertical rappel. This turned out to be rather tame as the rate of descent was controlled by the guides. The Tarzan swing got the adrenalin flowing, for half a second it seemed like you just dropped before swinging out and up with a good view back across the valley. After swinging backwards and forward 2 or 3 times the guides brought you to a halt. After that it was just 3 more short runs before the final 750m run back once more across the valley.
In the afternoon 5 of us headed up to the tree top walkways at Selvatura Park. It took quite a while to get out there and we hadn’t had any lunch and we were getting a little hungry. We managed to get sandwiches to go and we set off on the walkways eating as we walked. The trees were lovely but apart from the occasional bird we didn’t see any animals. We just managed to make the last shuttle bus back into town.

After we were dropped off at the hotel we decided to go visit the frogs at Ranario just down the road. These included the Red-Eyed Tree frog, star of the cover of Lonely planet guide.