Cloud Nine Adventures
by Roger Swanson
|Author in cockpit for festivities.The following
is Part One of a two part excerpt of an annual holiday letter
sent to friends and family of Roger Swanson. Swanson describes
his 2003 trip where Gaynelle Templin , marked her first
circumnavigation aboard Cloud Nine, a fifty-seven foot ketch.
Swanson was fulfilling a promise he made to her during their
It has been a full year for us aboard Cloud Nine during which time we traveled nearly 10,000 nautical miles crossing the Atlantic to England, cruising England, France, Portugal, Spain to Gibraltar, and then recrossing the Atlantic back to Trinidad.
On April 1st we flew home to spend a few weeks with our families in Minnesota. We returned to the Virgin Islands in late May and made preparations for crossing the Atlantic with plans to complete Gaynelle's west to east circumnavigation this year. On May 31 we were underway with our crew of six headed north toward Bermuda. It was a pleasant trade wind passage and we arrived in St. Georges, Bermuda, on June 6th.
We visited an excellent museum on the naval base at the western tip of the island. Bermuda has played an important part in United States history. It was an important base for British ships blockading the east coast of the newly formed United States during both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. During the Civil War, British sympathies were with the South because of the importance of southern cotton to the British economy. For this reason, Bermuda was a primary base for ships attempting to run the Union blockade and supply guns, ammunition, and other supplies to Confederate forces. During WWII Bermuda was a strategic and critically located base for Allied ships and aircraft hunting German U-Boats during the Battle of the Atlantic. Less known is the part it played with U.S. and British intelligence during the war. Nearly all trans-Atlantic mail was routed through Bermuda where all mail was examined and much of it carefully opened, inspected, and resealed before it continued to its destination. It was also a communication center and was in constant use to intercept, decode and analyze enemy radio traffic.
The light winds of the first few days after leaving Bermuda soon became brisk and we found it necessary to reef down as wind and seas increased. The warm weather of the tropics was now behind us and it became much colder as we continued on our northeasterly course, finally mooring in the crowded Horta Marina at Fayal Island in the Azores on June 24th.
We refueled and were underway on June 29 encountering heavy weather at first with strong winds, rain, and heavy seas, but the weather moderated after a few days. We had our own private celebration at sea on the 4th of July with Yankee pot roast, potatoes, vegetables, salad, cornbread and Gaynelle's apple dumplings with Old Glory decorating our cabin. We saw many whales and dolphins on this crossing adding delightful variety to the day's routine. Light wind and calm seas were now becoming a concern and it was necessary to nurse our remaining fuel very carefully, sailing whenever possible in the lightest of breezes. On July 7th, almost motoring on fumes in flat calm, we were relieved to sight Bishop Rock lighthouse after which we soon moored at St. Mary's Island, one of the Isles of Scilly off the southwestern tip of England.
It was here on Bishop and Clerk rocks near St. Mary's Island that Admiral Cloudsley Shovel, returning with his fleet victorious from a major naval battle at Toulon, ran aground in heavy fog on October 22, 1707, losing most of his ships and over 2000 men including himself. This disaster was the result of a navigation error caused by misjudging the longitude of the returning fleet in the treacherous waters of the English Channel. This incident, among others, caused Parliament in 1714 to set up a Board of Longitude that offered a prize of 20,000 pounds (several million dollars in today's money) to whomever could come up with a satisfactory method of determining longitude. This prize offer resulted in a major race among mathematicians and astronomers to solve the problem, but it was John Harrison who developed a sufficiently accurate timepiece in 1759 after a 25 year effort that provided the solution to this problem. Reluctantly acknowledged, the Harrison clock eventually became the standard timepiece for ships at sea. There was much controversy concerning his solution and it was not until 1773 that the committee finally awarded all of the prize money to Harrison. We later saw the original Harrison clock, still in working order at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich.
We sailed through the Needles Channel into the Solent at 12 knots on a gentle breeze but a fast moving flood tide! Had we misjudged the tide, we would have motorsailed at full speed against the current for several hours and gone nowhere. The Solent is the bay area on the south coast of England enclosed by the offshore Isle of Wight. This is an extremely busy maritime area carrying heavy commercial ship traffic for Southhampton and the surrounding area. The Solent includes the historic naval anchorage of Spithead and also the harbor of Portsmouth, the traditional home of the British navy. We saw many boats as we passed Cowes, the yachting center of England. Dodging many ferries, we made our way through the traffic and moored at Gosport, just across the river from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
There was much to see in the museum area of the Portmouth Shipyard. The highlight was the 104 gun flagship of Lord Nelson, HMS Victory. This three decker has been in continuous commission since first launched in 1778, and is the oldest continuously commissioned ship in the world. Nelson's victory over the combined French and Spanish fleets off Cape Trafalgar on the southwest coast of Spain in 1805, gave England undisputed control of the seas and ended Napoleon's hopes for invading England. Nelson was mortally wounded in the battle, only living a few hours, but long enough to learn of his victory. HMS Victory was badly damaged in the battle and was towed into Gibraltar for repairs. Nelson's body was pickled in a barrel of brandy and sent back to England for a state funeral. Rumor has it that the brandy was not allowed to go to waste.
After careful study of tide and current tables, we left Portsmouth July 21 and headed east along the south coast of England, rounded the southeast corner, and headed up the Thames River. With the powerful tidal currents in the river, it was necessary to find a place to anchor while we waited for the second flood tide to take us the rest of the 60 mile passage upriver to London. When the tide changed, we weighed anchor and continued upriver passing through the lock and into St. Katharine's Dock Marina at high tide. The marinas in London, as well of many of the marinas along England's south coast, must be entered at high water through locks because of the 20 foot tides. If it were not for the locks, the marinas would be dry at low tide. It was exciting to be at St. Katharine's Dock located in the heart of London right next to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. It is a historic spot that was originally a cargo dock area dating back to the 12th century.
We took the tube to Greenwich, a short distance downriver from St. Katharine's Dock, where we saw the world famous clipper ship Cutty Sark built in 1869. We toured the Royal Greenwich Observatory where international time begins. Since 1884 the world has set its clocks according to the time of day on the 0 meridian here at Greenwich. We saw the Harrison clock along with his three prototypes, all in working order and keeping excellent time. I was amazed at the small size of the final model, only about five inches in diameter and maybe 1 1/2 inches thick. Gypsy Moth, Francis Chichester's around the world passage maker, was on display although her maintenance has been sadly neglected.
On August 1st we left St. Katharines Dock and headed down the Thames, anchoring in the river again during the evening to wait for the second outgoing tide. We sailed close inshore as we passed the White Cliffs of Dover that were magnificent in the early morning light. We dodged our way through heavy commercial traffic as we crossed the Channel over to Boulogne, France. We found the marinas very crowded because August is holiday month in France and everyone seemed to be out sailing.
Boulogne is a very old city that started as a Roman military camp in the 2nd century A.D. Heavy fortified stone walls were built by the Romans in the 4th century which were subsequently rebuilt and reinforced making Boulogne an important medieval fortress. We saw excavated areas revealing the Roman foundations under the existing city walls. Boulogne was considered by Napoleon as the harbor from which he planned to invade England, and France's tallest column stands on the edge of the city commemorating his Grand Army. The 13th century city walls are still intact on which we were able to walk completely around the old city before going down and exploring its excellent museum, cathedral and centuries old buildings along the cobblestone streets.
We rented a car and visited La Coupole near the town of St. Omer, about 30 miles east of Boulogne. This was a major development area for the V2 rocket bombs used by Germany late in the war and now houses an excellent museum describing both the V1 and V2 flying bomb program. It is a large bombproof concrete dome fed by miles of concrete tunnels where the V2 rockets were assembled and stored. Continuous Allied bombing prevented the Germans from using La Coupole as a launching site so the V2s were shipped out and fired from mobile launchers. The V1s first starting flying in June of 1944 following D-Day and it is estimated that about 24000 V1s and 3200 V2s were launched against London and other targets. It is believed that the flying bombs killed about 15,000 people, mostly civilians. Russian prisoners were forced to build these structures and assemble the bombs. They were harshly treated and it is estimated that over 25,000 laborers died in this effort.
After leaving La Coupole, we drove to Dunkirk and visited a museum describing the mass evacuation of English troops in May and June of 1940. Had Hitler not paused to regroup his rapidly advancing army and overextended supply lines, he might well have annihilated a major part of the British Army. He apparently believed the English troops were surrounded and could not escape, but the British managed to evacuate over 340,000 men, nearly all but the rear guard holding off the German advance. Fortunately the weather in the English Channel was calm, and in addition to naval units, hundreds of fishing boats and private yachts took part in the evacuation. Many were manned by civilians who braved intense German artillery and air attacks during the rescue operation. On our return to Boulogne, we drove through Calais where we saw Rodin's famous bronze sculpture, "The Burghers of Calais".
We left Boulogne, and sailed through strong tidal currents, fog, and coastal traffic southwest along the French coast and about 10 miles up the Seine River where we passed through a lock into the medieval port of Honfleur. This picturesque harbor, located in the center of the city, is surrounded by centuries old primarily wooden structures, many dating back to the 16th and several back to the 14th centuries. It was a major seaport as long as 1000 years ago when goods were shipped from here across the English Channel following the Norman invasion in 1066. In 1681 Cavelier de la Salle started from Honfleur to explore the mouth of the Mississippi and named the area Louisiana in honor of King Louis XIV, ruler of France at the time.
Our next stop was to anchor in historic Mulberry Harbor at Arromanches in the middle of the Normandy landing beach areas. Mulberry Harbor was created only a few days after the June 6, 1944, D-Day landings and was one of the engineering marvels of the Normandy campaign. One of the primary reasons the Germans were not expecting a landing in the Normandy area was because it lacked a harbor where supplies could be landed to support the fighting armies. To solve this problem 146 huge concrete caissons, previously constructed in southern England, were towed across the Channel, and sunk in place to provide a four mile long artificial breakwater to protect the newly created harbor. Elaborate pontoon piers with floating bridge spans had been prepared in advance and then put in place inside the breakwater enabling large cargo vessels to dock and unload their vital supplies. In the first three months following D-Day, 2.6 million men, 4 million tons of equipment and 500,000 vehicles were unloaded here. Without this harbor, it would have been very difficult to adequately support the Normandy invasion forces and the landing might well have failed.
The next day's sail took us to Cherbourg where we spent several days. It only took a few hours to reach Cherbourg from Mulberry Harbor aboard Cloud Nine, but it took three weeks of heavy fighting for American forces to circle around and capture Cherbourg from the land side. Realizing the strategic value of Cherbourg's excellent harbor facility, the German armies fought desperately to retain it, but were finally defeated on June 27. It was so well fortified that it would have been impossible to take from the sea. In a bitter lesson in 1942, the English learned that German harbors were impregnable against amphibious assault when they lost 5000 men of a 7000 man force attacking the harbor at Dieppe. Before abandoning Cherbourg, the Germans completely destroyed all docks and other harbor facilities and mined its waters. American engineers immediately went to work, but it was autumn before the port was open to relieve the load on Mulberry Harbor. Until then, Mulberry had been the sole lifesaving artery of supplies to support the Normandy invasion armies.
The history of the D-Day landings is too lengthy to review here, but during the next few days we visited all five Normandy landing beaches, first Utah and Omaha followed by the Gold, Juno and Sword landing areas. We saw Ponte du Hoc where the Rangers stormed ashore and up the nearly vertical cliffs under heavy fire to deactivate the heavy German guns threatening Allied ships offshore. The crest of the cliffs of Ponte du Hoc has been left exactly as it was following D-Day with its bomb craters, destroyed gun emplacements, and shattered bunkers. We walked along the fortifications overlooking Omaha Beach giving us a profound appreciation of what the landing forces were up against as they waded ashore and the bloody slaughter that followed on the morning of June 6th.
To see the American Cemetery near Omaha Beach is an extremely moving experience with its 9386 graves plus a monument to 1557 missing that were never found. We visited another cemetery containing 21,000 German graves. We examined the fortifications and what was left of the four six inch guns at Longues Sur Mer between Omaha and Gold beaches. Over 100 tons of bombs were dropped on these gun emplacements on the night of June 5 before the landings, but the guns were still operational the morning of the 6th. They were finally silenced later in the day by naval gunfire. We visited many battlefield museums in the area, but one not to be missed is the Peace Museum at Caen which not only concerns the Normandy invasion, but also reviews the events leading up to and following the war adding perspective to the entire experience.
On August 17th, with a new crew, we left Cherbourg for the British owned Channel Islands located just off the coast of France west of the Cherbourg peninsula. After a worrysome encounter with the fierce 9 knot currents of the Aldernay Race, we finally anchored in Aldernay harbor just before dark. Aldernay is a small island only about four miles long and its entire population was evacuated by the British before the Germans moved in. They proceeded to heavily fortify the island and many of the German gun emplacements are still visible. The Channel Islands were the only British territory occupied by the Germans during WWII.
Our next stop was St. Peter Port on the island of Guernsey, another Channel Island somewhat larger than Aldernay. In contrast with Aldernay, much of Guernsey's adult population remained behind during the German occupation. Hitler considered the Channel Islands to be permanently anchored battleships protecting the coast of France. He armed them accordingly with 10 and 12 inch guns with elaborate fire control systems making them part of his "Atlantic Wall". Much of this construction was accomplished with captured prisoners of war, most of them Russian. In addition to examining the fortifications, we toured an 800 bed underground hospital that was used extensively to care for wounded German soldiers evacuated from Normandy following D-Day. Guernsey has other castles and fortifications with interesting histories dating back to early medieval times. It is also the origin of the Guernsey breed of dairy cattle.
Our next port was Morlaix, a town located 10 miles up the Morlaix River in Brittany. This proved to be a navigational challenge starting with a poorly marked rock strewn channel and finishing with a serpentine 5 mile river bed where we often had only 12 inches of water or less under our keel. Once inside the harbor lock we were secure, but when the tide went out, the river was dry for five miles below the lock! We were told we were the first American boat to visit Morlaix in two years and I'll bet that boat didn't have a 9 foot draft! We thoroughly enjoyed this old city with its 15th and 16th century buildings, largely made from wood. It was once an important trading port although I have no idea how they worked ships up the river, although silting has probably greatly changed the channel through the years. When we left Morlaix we ran into heavy fog, at one point coming within a boat length of running into a small fortress built on a rock. Once clear of the hazards, we made the passage around the Brest Peninsula and started south across the Bay of Biscay. We were happy to be free of the high tides and strong currents we had experienced ever since our arrival in England.
Biscay weather was good to us and we had a pleasant passage to La Coruna in northwestern Spain. This is another old European city steeped in history. We saw the Torre de Hercules lighthouse built by the Romans in the 2nd century and is said to be the oldest working lighthouse in the world. Obviously significant improvements have been made to the structure since the original light must have been a bonfire on top of the tower. It was from here in 1588 that the ill fated Spanish Armada weighed anchor and sailed to attack England. The following year Francis Drake attacked the city but was driven off by Spanish soldiers led by a local heroine, Maria Pita, who is credited with saving the city. La Coruna was the gateway through which hundreds of thousands of emigrants left for new lives in the Americas. We enjoyed walking through "old town" with much of the medieval city wall still intact.
We continued south and rounded stormy Cape Finisterre carrying two reefs in our mainsail and then continued on to Portosin, a small fishing village, where we could leave the boat a few days and travel inland to visit the city of Santiago de Compostela. It is a fascinating city with its narrow streets winding between medieval buildings filled with a multitude of private homes, shops, museums, offices, and whatever else it takes to make a city. It is known for its fine silver craftsmanship that was visible in many shops.
We returned to Cloud Nine and as we sailed south toward Bayona, Spain, we noticed the weather was finally getting warmer. Although the weather in Europe had been unseasonably hot this summer, we had found the coastal areas cooler than we expected and we welcomed the warmer weather. We were starting to see a few American cruising boats which were the first we had seen all summer.
Bayona is another walled medieval city that was once an important trading seaport. It was the first city in Europe to learn of Columbus' discovery of the Indies (or so they thought at the time). After losing Santa Maria on a reef in Haiti, Columbus transferred his flag to Nina, one of the two smaller ships in his command. On the return to Spain, Nina and Pinta were separated in a storm, but it was Pinta that arrived first at Bayona on March 1st, 1493, with the historic news. After a brief stop in the Azores, Columbus arrived at Belem near Lisbon on March 4th, and then proceeded back to Palos, his original port of departure from Spain, where he rendezvoused with Pinta on March 15. We toured a full scale replica of Pinta in the harbor, but were quite happy to look forward to making our upcoming Atlantic transit aboard Cloud Nine instead.(Continued in April.)