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 Gerard Coulson | Home Next 15 | Show all 


Welcome to Gerard and Monica´s website of pictures of our family´s travels on our Camper and Nicholson 35, "Clarabella". We left the UK in July 2005 and arrived in New Zealand in November 2007 having sailed 16,864 nautical miles.

CURRENT POSITION: Currently (as at April '08) we´re in Christchurch, New Zealand, and Clarabella is up in Auckland. We are now settling back into a land-based lifestyle and I'll be updating this website with more pictures in the coming weeks. (click here to see our position on a map).

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1. Palmerston Atoll  (August / September 2007)
After a pleasant enough 4 day sail from Bora Bora the Palmerston Atoll made its appearance on schedule on the horizon and as we closed land so we were contacted by Simon, our host for our time on Palmerston.  It was an amazing experience: Palmerston Island is populated by the descendants of William Marsters who arrived here in 1777 (three years after Cook discovered the place), took 3 wives and got to work. Eddie and Simon Marsters were our hosts, taking us to and from shore each day (the pass through the reef was not do-able by dinghy), feeding us lunch and making sure we did not contact either of the other two families on the island; the three Masters offshoots do not get on well together despite the 70 or so of them sharing a 1 square-mile island.  Whilst we were there we rode out a gale in the lee of the island, watched the quarterly supply ship fail to deliver the supplies that it should have loaded on Rarotonga and we made good friends with Bob Marsters and his family, one of the other families!  Palmerston was incredible: the locals barely need to lift a finger to exist; they fish intensively for two weeks before each supply ship comes and buy their supplies with the proceeds.  Their generator runs twice a day for a few hours to give them light, music and power to run a DVD player and a TV.  There is one phone and one computer on the island, these are available sporadically for the locals.  It was a totally unique experience for us.
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Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora
2. Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora  (August 2007)
The two islands of Raiatea and Tahaa are surrounded by fringing reef and one can cruise round these two beautiful islands without having to leave the reef’s protection.  We arrived through a gap in the reef on the SE side of Raiatea after spending a couple of days in Huahine.  Raiatea and Tahaa are very picturesque, unspoilt, verdant islands French Polynesia and although Raiatea is the base for charter yachts in Polynesia it was possible to find stunning anchorages away from other boats.
Bora Bora was a real disappointment.  We found it awfully built-up and commercialised, geared towards relieving tourists of their cash and areas that would have been picture postcard perfect have been ruined by beach hotels.  Habitats for many fish species including large manta rays have been destroyed in the process.  We changed the boat’s batteries in Bora Bora and spent a few lovely days in an anchorage tucked away from the bustle ashore.  Here we also said a very sad goodbye to Eric and Jeniya on Meta, they had become very good friends since we met them in Cartagena.
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Tahiti and Moorea
3. Tahiti and Moorea  (July 2007)
Tahiti, after the wide-open lagoons and turquoise colours of the Tuamotus, was a shock.  Papeete, the capital city of the Society islands, was a mass of roaring traffic and pollution so after spending a couple of pricey nights tied alongside the once busy town quay near the busy road we snuck off round the corner and once again found beauty, peace and quiet and those lovely turquoise anchorages.  Being a part of France we had good access to a Carrefour Supermarche which was heaven, almost literally, after having no real access to decent food shops since February!  Fresh French bread, brie and wine: bliss.  Oh, but you pay about double the supermarket prices in the UK.

From Tahiti we sailed to Moorea, an absolutely stunning island, which we were expecting to be overrun by tourists: not so.  Our first anchorage on the east side of the island was deserted and we anchored in water so clear that we could see our anchor and chain on the sand in the moonlight.  We spent subsequent days in Cook’s Bay and Oponahu Bay where we again found total solitude and scenery that is simply stunning.  In Moorea I did three dives beyond the protective reef that surrounds the island, diving with Black-tip and Lemon sharks amongst pristine coral; I even saw clown fish (you know, Nemo)  hiding in an anemone, a long term want for me.  As a family we swam amongst sting-rays that would literally eat out of your hand!  With the people being amongst the friendliest we have ever met we loved Moorea.
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The Tuamotus
4. The Tuamotus  (July 2007)
600 miles to the WSW of the Marquesas lie the coral atolls that form the large Tuamotu archipelago.  The slow journey took us a week, during which we celebrated my birthday! Atolls are a circle of small islands that form an enclosed lagoon, entered by a pass.  The timing in the passes is critical if one is to avoid strong currents are awfully rough seas.  We visited 2 atolls.  Ahe was a small atoll with one village.  After the Marquesas where we constantly rolled at anchor in the exposed bays Ahe was a lovely change.  The village was small and the people friendly but we felt that one day was enough here so we sailed on to Rangiroa, the worlds’ 2nd largest atoll.  Here I did some spectacular dives into schools of sharks, barracuda, turtles and rays.  The water is exceptionally clear.  Again the friendliness of the locals was overwhelming, we travelled by hitching lifts and the local storekeeper kept giving us many gifts.
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The Marquesas
5. The Marquesas  (June and July 2007)
Les Isles Marquises are the first of the French Polynesian islands on our route through the Pacific.  Arriving at Fatu Hiva after 23 days at sea was amazing; the anchorage was stunningly beautiful, and the people ashore gave us our first glimpse at how friendly the Polynesians can be.  On Fatu Hiva the small community of 200 people welcomed us and were generous with their hospitality, inviting us to a Fathers’ day celebration after church.  In church we became hooked on the Polynesian singing, which has to be heard to be believed.

After Fatu Hiva we sailed north to Hiva Oa, where we cleared in, re-provisioned (French bread and croissants being a real treat) and hired a 4WD car to travel to the north of the island over progressively bad roads to the small village of Puamau where we saw a famous Tiki site (ancient stone statues carved by the first settlers of the islands) and where again we were invited to take part in a local lunch celebration.

From Hiva Oa we sailed south-west to Tahuata and enjoyed 3 anchorages although the swell in each made going ashore a perilous affair.  The highlight of the frist anchorage was spending a lazy hour snorkelling with a school of manta rays.  Again in the village of Vaitahu we were overwhelmed by the generosity of the locals, and by the beauty of the surroundings.  Lovely, lovely islands.
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Pacific Ocean
6. Pacific Ocean  (May and June 2007)
The Pacific Ocean is vast, the world’s largest ocean by a huge margin.  To say that we’ve crossed it is overstating the case, but we’ve completed the longest leg across this ocean, from the Galapagos Islands to the Isles Marquises (the Marquesas) in French Polynesia.

We sailed just over 3000 nautical miles in 23 days and experienced a variety of conditions at sea, from flat calms to winds requiring a couple of reefs.  On the whole the winds were light and the seas lumpy, which left us often with sails that filled first from one side and then the other with a bang; this is damaging to sails, rig and nerves!

The pictures here are snapshots from our life at sea, which on a 35 foot boat is not always thrilling but these pictures reflect the timeless life that is passage-making.
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Galapagos 2
7. Galapagos 2  (May 2007)
From San Cristobal we motored, nursing a failing water pump on the engine, to Santa Cruz, the main centre in the islands.  Here we have divided our time between walking to local beaches across arid, cactus strewn landscapes and trying to arrange for the shipment and fitting of water pump parts.  We’ve also seen tortoises in the wild here and been underground in lava tubes, tunnels formed by lava from the volcanoes that have formed these islands.  From here we move to the very tranquil island of Isabela.  Here, whilst not helping boats that have dragged onto the beach, we took a horseback trip up a volcano that erupted in the late 70’s to see tremendous lavascapes and more locally to the anchorage we saw the endemic penguins and some white-tip sharks.  Isabela was a beautiful, peaceful place from which to prepare for our Pacific crossing, but we left the Galapagos with very happy memories of these very special wildlife-rich islands.
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Galapagos 1
8. Galapagos 1  (April and May 2007)
Our trip from mainland Ecuador to the Galapagos islands was beset by little wind, and we had to motor for 2½ days of the 5 that we were at sea to cover the 600 miles to these remote, amazing islands.  Yachts are generally not encouraged to stay and are usually only granted permission to stay 10 days or so on one island only.  Having hired an agent through whom we arranged a cruising permit we enjoy more freedom and have visited the three main islands.  San Cristobal, our first island, had a beautiful calm anchorage with hundreds of sea-lions swimming around, and lounging around on the decks of the local fishing boats.  On this island we took a tour to see some of the famous Galapagos tortoises in a nature reserve and some marine iguanas on a local beach.  We also took a boat trip to the west side of the island where, whilst diving and snorkelling we swam with sharks and rays, and later swam with a huge turtle and a very playful and inquisitive group of sea-lions who would swim right up to you, blow a jet of bubbles and race off!
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Inland Ecuador
9. Inland Ecuador  (March 2007)
Whilst work progressed on Clarabella we went travelling the length of Ecuador.  Transport on buses was excellent and cheap throughout and our travels took us first to the northern Andean towns which have specialist craft markets.  Quito, the capital, was superb, the old town was crammed with superb old churches and colonial architecture.  We moved south through the tourist-centred town of Banos down to the  most important Inca sun temple after Machu Pichu.  The Ecuadorian people are unfailingly friendly and helpful, and we particularly enjoyed seeing the native Indians, but we must push on now and the Galapagos Islands beckon.
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Crossing the Line - Panama to Ecuador
10. Crossing the Line - Panama to Ecuador  (March 2007)
After we celebrated Rebcca’s 3rd birthday in Panama we spent a week cruising the Las Perlas islands south of Panama before leaving for the 600 mile journey to mainland Ecuador.  En route we celebrated crossing the Equator, having woken all three kids at 2300, with bubbly and chocolate brownie!  The trip was uneventful and quiet, a pleasant change after the western Caribbean, and we made landfall at Las Platas island, a bird sanctuary off the Ecuadorian coast.

We hauled Clarabella at the Puerto Lucia Yacht Club on the mainland, where we anitfouled and had the rudder withdrawn for maintenance.  The exclusive yacht club, where we enjoyed free use of the pools and facilities, was a good place to leave the boat to travel inland.
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Our Panama Canal Transit
11. Our Panama Canal Transit  (February 2007)
At last the preparations for our transit are complete.  We have completed the mountain of paperwork, been visited by officials, been officially measured, procured long lines, masses of tires as fenders and we’re ready to transit the Panama Canal, a real landmark in every respect for ocean sailors as it takes us from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans.  We were in company with friends on Myrdinn and Meta, and more friends line-handling for us.  Having taken on our pilot, we head for the Gatun locks, where we rise 85 feet in a raft of 3 yachts, tucked behind a freighter.  We spend a night on the beautiful Gatun Lake and spend half of the next day motoring across the lake towards the Miraflores locks.  Passing through the Gaillard Cut we feel humbled as we consider the tens of thousands of lives that were lost to create this amazing feat of engineering but all too soon we’re in the Miraflores lock, waving to webcams as we drop down to the Pacific ocean and as we pass under the Bridges of the Americas we’ve arrived in the Pacific.  I felt a sense of anticlimax, and relief as we do not experience any of the damage that so many cruising folk love to talk about.  8,000 miles to go to NZ!
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Rio Chagres
12. Rio Chagres  (February 2007)
The Chagres was a short hop round from the hussle and bussle of Panama.  It is a stunningly beautiful rain-forest river and here we enjoyed a few days peace and quiet where we gathered ourselves amidst the preparations for our Canal transit.  Each day we awoke to the sounds of parrots and toucans screeching overhead.  From here it was back to Colon, Panama and the long-awaited Panama Canal transit.
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13. Panama  (February 2007)
All good things must come to an end and the Panama Canal and the Pacific beckon so we enjoyed a good sail from the San Blas to Isla Linton (where we were almost attacked by monkeys ashore) and thence to Portobello, main hub of the transportation of treasure from the Spanish Main and so attacked by Drake, Henry Morgan and Adm Vernon among others.  Here we saw lovely old forts in various states of disrepair but with all their original cannon.

The Panama canal was a 20 mile motoring job from Portobello, and here we prepare for our transit through one of the engineering marvels of the world in the building of which 20,000 died of malaria and yellow fever.  Stanley, our ship-agent, has taken care of the reams of paperwork and hours of offialdom required to transit the canal allowing me to finally bring the website up to date!  We transit the Canal on Monday 26 Feb, a real milestone date in our cruise so far.  We lock up through the Gatun locks, spend the night in the Gatun lake, make our way across 30 miles of lake to the Miraflores locks where we lock down in the morning of the 27th.  See the Miraflores webcam here.
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San Blas 2
14. San Blas 2  (January - February 2007)
From Carti we went to the amazing island of Acuadup.  This is a smallish, inhabited island that few yachts seem to visit, being off the beaten track. (Yachts are the only viable way of seeing the San Blas).  We were befriended by two families who took us to their grass huts ashore (once we'd obtained permission from the island's chief of course) and fed us.  We in turn fixed 2 small kids bikes and an outboard motor.  We'd often hear a thump on the side of the hull and a cry of 'hola' and we'd have an 'ulu' (dugout) alongside, with an inquisitive family out for a stroll (they go everywhere in their canoes) to have a look at us!

During our time in the San Blas we were visited many times by Kunas selling molas, local fruit and veg, bread that went mouldy after 24 hours but was gorgeous fresh, fish and lobsters.  The boys were very popular, and spent hours ashore running around or playing football but Rebecca was the real hit, everyone tried to pick her up, kiss her, tweak her cheeks etc – she did not always enjoy the attention!

The San Blas has been the high point, for me, of our travels so far and I feel privileged to have seen them.
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San Blas 1
15. San Blas 1  (January 2007)
The sail from Colombia was good, lightish winds and a lumpy sea made it uncomfortable at times but we made good time and were rewarded with our first views of the San Blas at around lunchtime.  And what views!  The San Blas islands are home to the Kuna Indians; you'd be forgiven for not having heard of them, being a small group of islands belonging to the Rep of Panama, but nevertheless the Kunas are fiercely independent and shunning the western way of life.

The islands are small (often football-field size), made of sand, crammed with tall, swaying palm trees and set in azur water behind a barrier reef that prevents them being washed away.  On some of these islands live the indians, in grass huts in clearings in the trees.  Most of the islands do not have fresh water or electricity; all water and food is brought in by ulus which are hand-hewn dugout canoes.  These indians are some of the last 'unspoilt' people on earth and their happiness despite their poverty (they are poor, but only materially) has to be seen to be believed.  It is very humbling.  They live by fishing, and tending 'farm' patches on the nearby mainland that they reach by dugout, generally sailing one way (their sails are made from any fabric they can find so are often a riot of colour) and paddling back against the onshore trade winds.  Coconuts grow in abundance on the islands and they are collected and sold by the Kunas; us ‘gringos’ are not allowed to take them.

Our clockwise circular route round the western San Blas started at the Cocobanderos (uninhabited, idyllic), Green Island (local Croc, uninhabited, idyllic), Maquina (small, inhabited, pretty) and the Islas Carti (densely populated, dirty).
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