A County Galway family are combining their love for the sea and adventure to explore the Atlantic by boat.
Peter Owens, Vera Quinlan, and their children Lilian (12 ) and Ruairí (10 ) are currently sailing through the Carribbean, having left their home in Kinvara last summer.
To date they have sailed 6,500nm, via the Scilly Isles, Brittany, Galicia, Portugal, Morocco, Madeira, Canaries, Cape Verde and across the Atlantic to French Guiana. And with many miles under the keel to date, the family has already enjoyed plenty of sailing adventures.
Members of the Galway Bay Sailing Club, the couple is blessed to have considerable experience to undertake such a venture.
Vera, a scientist with the Marine Institute in Oranmore, is a highly experienced sailor, thanks to her father Fergus who has extensive world cruising experience, while husband Peter, an adventurer and mountaineer, immediately took to sailing - their honeymoon 15 years ago was a lengthy Atlantic cruise on her father’s Pylades.
Now the family’s home is another yacht - the Danú- a 13m ketch, originally built in 1993, but brought up to superb condition by the couple specially for this venture. And to date the family has combined their experience of ocean sailing with their love for onshore adventure, including challenging treks in Morocco, exploring the Salut islands made famous by the publication of the book Papillon, and navigating a river in French Guiana, “where the trees of the rainforest almost touched the spreaders”.
However, of significance for Ireland was the family’s ability to deploy an Argo float that collects temperature and salinity profiles from the ocean - a first for Ireland to have an Argo float in this location.
“We had carried this instrument since leaving Ireland - a project we co-ordinated with the Marine Institute,” says Vera. “This float will record temperature and salinity data from 2000m to surface level. On surfacing the instrument will download this data to the Marine Institute to aid climate change research.
“Despite pitching in the Atlantic swell, we managed to deploy the float successfully and our mission control centre in the Burren relayed the message to the Argo team at the Marine Institute. A few days later we got notification the float was transmitting data successfully. Celebrations all around, as it is a first for Ireland to have an Argo float in this location.”
Winds, swells, and sand
Vera says there have been a number of stand-out memories along the way - including entering into Rabat, Morocco; crossing the bar and negotiating ferries crossing the Bouregreg river; experiencing 30 knot plus winds and 4m seas from the Canaries to Cape Verde; and a challenging trek through semi-desert terrain of the Jebel Saghro region where they walked 150km over the six days, sometimes in temperatures over 30 degrees.
Like most trips, not everything has gone to plan.
“We departed on November 29 from Brava, and the first few days we enjoyed great downwind sailing conditions, running with main and poled out genoa. For weather forecasting we had planned on our satellite phone to download GRIBS from Predict wind. Unfortunately we had a problem with the phone data cable and so we resorted to a voice call every two days to Fergus and Kay Quinlan. They would note our position and current weather conditions and then send us a weather update by text. This worked very well, and it was wonderful through the miracle of modern technology to talk directly to someone in County Clare from the mid Atlantic.
“French Guiana was definitely off the beaten track, with only a few boats of the 500 plus that crossed the Atlantic this season. We enjoyed going off the beaten track, but the constant rain, 100 per cent humidity, and mosquitoes were challenging. and we wondered how anyone would choose to live here.”
But there have been many more highs.
“Bringing Danú through a river where the trees of the rainforest almost touched the spreaders, yet we had 10m depth was incredible. We had Christmas dinner off St Laurent Du Maroni, managing to find a micro turkey in a local supermarket. Santa read the GPS coordinates we sent and found us successfully.
Crystal clear waters
On Stephen’s Day the family departed for Bequia in the Carribbean, and marvelled at the crystal clear waters after so many days in the the muddy Cayman and piranha rivers of French Guiana.
“Ruairi and Lilian were overboard and into the sea moments after we dropped anchor and we noticed friendly waves from many boats we had not seen since the Canaries. We were elated to be here, having previously sailed into Bequia 15 years previously on ‘Pylades’.”
Vera’s last report comes via the Union Island where they hiked through the forest to the highest point called ‘da pinnacle’.
“On the way you see tortoises, snakes, hummingbirds, hermit crabs and the unique Union Island gecko. The views from the summit are superb looking over to Clifton, the capital, with the islands of Petit Martinique and Petit St Vincent beyond. The reefs of the Tobago Cays are now beckoning.”
Members of the Galway Bay Sailing Club, which this year celebrates its golden jubilee, the family will continue to update the club on their exploits, while celebrating its golden jubilee in more tropical climes.