August 2002 Ireland, England, and Away
We last wrote as we were sailing to Ireland, and we'll pick up the thread there. We docked the boat in the Dun Laoghaire (that's pronounced Dun Leery -- we had heard of it from other cruisers, and had a heck of a time finding it on the chart!), just east of Dublin, rented a car and did a whirlwind tour of the Republic. As usual for us this summer, the weather didn't cooperate; it was rain and fog, and more rain and fog. Consequently, we did not get to see some of the western peninsulas and their wild beauty. Impressions and highlights:

Ireland is clearly prospering. There are lots of new, large houses everywhere. It seemed strange out in the countryside to see big new suburban houses replacing the more traditional farmhouses. The cost of living is second highest in Europe; first is Finland.

We had expected Ireland to be green, and weren't disappointed. It was as green as Scotland, with almost as many sheep, but much friendlier people. For example, we went to a tiny pub in an equally tiny village (Castletownshend) in County Cork, which has a single street running down a steep hill to a tiny harbor. A typical Irish pub with low ceilings and a gorgeous back bar, its décor included a plaque listing its owners since it opened in the early 1800's. As soon as other customers discovered we were Americans (and cruisers), they started buying us beer! The pub was sponsoring a game of "Weakest Link" where the players were local notables who had raised money (over 5,000 euros!) for charity. We drank Murphy's (County Cork's answer to Guinness and pronounced More-fees) and closed the place.

Speaking of accents, we had expected to hear a strong brogue that we would have trouble understanding. This was not the case at all -- compared to Cornwall, Scotland, Wales, and even south-central England, Irish English was the easiest for us to understand. Of course, it may have helped that we grew up in New York, the land of "Dese, Dems, and Dose", but we wondered if maybe the American accent has been affected more than we knew by the massive immigrations of Irishmen in the last 3 centuries. Even the expressions are more similar: where the English say "lovely" or "brilliant" to express a positive reaction, we heard the Irish say "cool" or "great", as we do.

In the lovely harbor town of Kinsale, we took to heart the sign on the Royal Kinsale Yacht Club that said "welcome visiting Yachtsmen" and went in for a pint. Some members were clearly getting ready for evening racing, so we asked a gentleman at the bar about it. After his explanation, he asked what area of America we were from. "The Chesapeake Bay," we responded, it being the easiest reference for a sailor. "I have a daughter," he began, and we thought, "oh no, not another story of someone in Maine that we ought to know." But he continued, "who runs a sailing school on the Chesapeake Bay." Well, we know only one person who runs a Sailing School: our Irish friend Arabella, with whom Andi has raced. "Is her first name Arabella?" Andi asked. "Why yes," said her dad. Amazing.

While we were smiling about this small world phenomenon, 2 American couples from Annapolis came in for a pint with their Irish friends. Like us, they had come across the Atlantic this spring, and of course we all had to tell each other about our experiences and our boats. We mentioned that we had crossed the Atlantic in our Rival 41 'Mehitabel' almost 20 years ago, and one of the women said "Really? I used to sell Rivals, and I love them!" We looked at her a little closer and realized it was she who had brokered Mehitabel when we sold her, 18 years ago. Admittedly, sailing is small world, but this seemed almost scary.

Without doubt, one of the greatest of Irish inventions is the Irish Bed and Breakfast. Unlike their American counterparts, Irish B&B's are much less expensive than hotels, and feature HUGE breakfasts: Rather than ask if you want bacon, ham, or whatever, the owners simply serve at least 3 kinds of meat with the eggs -- bacon, ham, sausage, and "pudding", a kind of spicy sausage, which comes in black (blood sausage) and/or brown (normal). This is in addition to the cereal, yogurt, Irish brown bread (made with baking soda, not yeast -- in itself a great invention), butter, jam, honey, and coffee or tea. Laden with this breakfast, we really had no need for lunch, but never turned that down, either, as lunches are served in delightful old pubs and feature such delicacies as fish stew and mussels with garlic. And of course one must have dinner ... We reckon we'll have to do some serious dieting to get back to our normal weight!

There are literally thousands of these B&B's scattered all over Ireland. Most have one or two rooms, and are really nothing but private homes with extra rooms. Several times, we drove out into the countryside to find a place to stay, rather than going into a town. One of the places we found was a couple of miles up a one-lane road, on a ridge overlooking acres of farmland, sheep pasture, and woods. The next morning, the owner suggested that instead of returning to the main road we should continue along the one-track road over the top of the ridge and down the other side; so we did. On the way, we encountered a Land Rover, for which we had to back down for about 100 meters, once almost sliding into the ditch. The driver, a young woman, told us we'd never make it over the top, because it was so steep, but make it we did, and along the way saw countryside every bit as wild and beautiful as anything we'd seen before.

One effect of visiting foreign countries is that it gives us a reason for studying the local culture and history, and we were particularly impressed with what the Irish have gone through at the hands of the British, and each other. We went to museums describing the aborted French Armada invasion in the mid 18th Century, the general uprising in 1796-7, and the Famine in 1846-9. So, go ahead: Ask us anything!

We returned to Dun Laoghaire in time to sail across the Irish Sea and visit our dear friends Peter and Marie Gilbert near Aberystwyth, Wales, then down to Falmouth to get our mainsail slightly re-cut and spend an evening with Sally and Barry Kidson, and finally to Lymington, England, where Rob umpired a team race regatta between New York Yacht Club and one of the few organizations even more upper-crust than they are, the Royal Thames YC. This also gave us the opportunity to spend an evening with Suzie Jardine, who had been aboard Akka with us in the Caribbean two winters ago.

All in all, for a relaxing cruising summer, this has been pretty hectic. But we've loved every minute of it! Now we're off to the Channel Isles, France, Spain, Gibraltar, and Spain again, planning (hoping) to get to Barcelona by mid-October.