As soon as we arrived we deployed the dinghy and Ian went to the jetty at Agia Annas to collect the Hill-Cable gang. They all came back to the boat and Sam and Louis were soon jumping in and defying each other to do more and more intrepid leaps off the boat. Sam, who had stayed with us in June, was in charge of showing everyone around and explaining the use of the heads!!
We enjoyed a few chilled beers with everyone and I loved showing Sarah and Paddy around Linea.
They headed off to freshen up and and we all met up later for dinner. Deciding to wander up towards Prokopios we came across an open air cinema showing Zorba the Greek. It was an interesting film with a young Alan Bates in the lead role and Anthony Quinn as Zorba. It was fascinating to see Crete of old and to learn of the harsh amoral ways of the society then.
The following day Louis was poorly and so Paddy and Sam came out to the boat to chill for the afternoon as the wind was picking up and we didn’t really want to leave her.
My pal Jane, who I used to work with at Malsis, arrived to stay for a few days. She was thrown right in at the deep end with a trip to the cinema to see Mamma Mia with Bryn and Jill. We all had a good sing!
Next day, Paddy and gang were heading off to Paros. Jane and I took a bus trip to Naxos town and had a lovely afternoon wandering around the Chora… me reminiscing about the time I spent a night sleeping in the park there with my friend Stephanie Minto in 1979! (Don’t tell Ivan and Carol!)
We were just heading out of the bus station when i heard a familiar voice. I turned to look and recognised Nikos, whom we had worked for at Powder White during our ski season. It was quite an extraordinary coincidence as a couple of seconds either way and I would not have seen him.
On the Sunday, we set sail for the north part of Paros to a wonderful anchorage with safety from winds from any direction. We anchored in the NE side of the bay and it was stunning despite the power station far off on the south coast of the bay. Unfortunately, it was a long and exposed dinghy ride to and fro the beach where Paddy and gang were.
Nevertheless, we did manage for them to come to the boat for a day, and for Louis to stay over and watch the meteor shower with us. We had a good walk along the shore, some snorkelling, a bit of beach time and an exploration of the marina and town of Naoussa.
The town is a lovely jumble of alleyways and squares. The marina is an interesting place with lots of anchor knitting and big motor yachts taking up a lot of the space. We decided that we would have to stay at anchor.
We spent lovely, all too few days with the family. Paddy and gang were due to depart on the Wednesday from Mykonos so we dragged ourselves away just after the sun had gone down and the wind picked up and set off across the bay to the boat, waving a fond farewell as we went.
We were happy to get back to boat after a thorough drenching in the dinghy in huge waves and in the dark!
Spotting a weather window we decided to sail back to Naxos on the Tuesday so that Jane could get back to Athens. We had a fantastic, heeled over sail back from Paros to Naxos. We sailed into the anchorage at 8.5kt. The wind was over 35kts in the bay. We put away the head sail and switched on the engine. Just as we were just about to head up to the wind to get the main sail down the engine would not give any power.
Oh shit! We were quite well into the bay and in reasonably shallow water so we put the anchor down and let out a lot of chain. Ian went down to inspect the engine. We were holding nicely. We let out even more chain, cause its better out than in!, and tried to fix the engine and get it started again.
We took Jane ashore the following morning in relatively calm winds of 22kt. We had sailed only about 50 miles all week and spent most of the time with a load of random people she’d never met. She handled all this brilliantly, as I knew she would, and we really enjoyed our week with her. We hope you’ll come again, Jane.
We timed our departure from the Northern Aegean to coincide with the Meltemi; a strong southerly wind that rushes from high pressure in the Balkans to low pressure over Crete. The wind gathers pace and fury as it heads south and pummels most islands on its way past. The wind isn’t a constant threat, it comes and goes, so in between there is virtually no wind. It’s a frustrating because it limits your choices of sailing direction and possible sailing days. On the plus side, it does mean that temperatures are a very pleasing 27 degrees, which is just about perfect.
So, with the Meltemi due we knew we would be whisked south at a great rate of knots in order to meet up with my brother Paddy, and his family, before the end of their holiday. We were looking forward to some long days of sailing down wind and surfing along on the waves.
We left Thassos with an accompanying juvenile dolphin twisting and turning near the bow and made it to Myrini on Limnos in good time. Initially, we anchored in the bay but couldn’t find a spot we were happy with in strong winds and so spying a small space on the quay, we reversed in on the end.
The next day, we awoke to a layer of fine sand over everything in the boat. The wind had picked up and swept with it tonnes of black sand motes. A boat sticky with salty air provided a large surface that these particles love to cling to, so very soon the boat, ropes, sprayhood and new bimini had a tinge of charcoal hue about them. Hey ho! No point in cleaning anything until the wind dies down in about four days. Whilst gusts tossed chairs and tables about on the quay, we decided to hire a car and have a little exploration of the island. It is a dry and dusty place in summer. Myrini was the prettiest place we saw with its imposing castle high above the town and the beautiful neo-classical buildings with their Juliette balconies, tall shuttered windows and tiled roofs.
We enjoyed wandering the vine covered alleyways of the town and sampling the delights of the restaurants away from the sea front. We felt in with the locals when we played backgammon in a very popular ‘ouseria’. Six euros for two ouzos, two carafes of cold water, a bucket of ice and a plate of meze snacks.
We spent a very moving afternoon visiting one of the Commonwealth War Graves Cemeteries on the island. The island was the launch place for the ill-fated Gallipolli campaign in 1914 and thousands of lives were lost. Here we met yet more friendly Australians, originally from Limnos, who come back every year to visit family.
After pre-dinner drinks on board Linea with fellow Cruising Association members Nigel and Lawrence on Cormorant we set sail early the next morning to Lesvos where we were due to meet Bryn and Jill.
After a five hour bus journey from Levkas to Athens, a flight from Athens to Lesvos and a two hour bus ride across the island to our western anchorage they were well in need of a beer or too as we caught up on our respective summer adventures.
Next morning, we set off to Khios. We arrived in the late afternoon after a great downwind sail and parked stern to the new quay. Yanis was there to meet us and we were delighted to see that there were showers and loos on the quay. In the morning, we took a walk up to the village of Volissos where we found an old saddlemaker and joinery shop. The joiner was at home and switched his garden fountain on in our honour! We had a peek into his workshop all twisted olive wood and wooden saddles for donkeys. The supermarket was small but superbly stocked and I was pleased to be able to buy some eco-friendly washing up liquid for the first time in Greece.
The owners agreed to give us a lift back to the port with all our shopping in an hours’ time so we continued our walk up into the village and found a lovely taverna for a late breakfast and a traditional wood fired bakery complete with sooty walls and doddery baker.
Once back at the boat we motored off to an anchorage at the south part of Khios and spent a calm night there in a deserted bay.
The wind had got up again the next day and we had a fair sail towards Ikaria. Famous as the place where Ikarus flew off towards the sun. Our pilot guide says that he believes Ikarus’ feathers were blown off not melted off, as the wind around Ikaria is renowned for its ferocity. However, on the day we were there, there was no wind.
On arriving at Evdhilos port, we were informed by our lovely Greek neighbours that there was a traditional festival on in many of the mountain villages where there would be food and dancing to enjoy. So we quickly organised a taxi and headed up to one of the villages at about 2200h. The square was packed with people, tables and chairs. The boys queued for food and Jill and I bagsied a table. The food came wrapped in paper. A huge amount of roasted goat, chips, Greek salad, tzatziki and bread, all to be washed down with locally produced red wine. Yum!
Soon the music livened up and people started to gather in the centre of the piazza to dance. They linked hands and began to circle round demonstrating nimble foot work. Irresistible! We jumped up to join in. Some of the dances went on for about 20 minutes. We struck up a conversation with a lady on our table who told me she was 76 years old. She was extremely fit and agile. She lived in California, was married to a Brit and wanted to return to live in her native Ikaria. She was on her annual sojourn to the island. I asked her about the secrets of the islanders longevity which we had heard so much about. She said it was too complex a thing to explain in a five minute conversation. She mentioned that it was to do with so many factors such as diet, exercise, mental well-being, family and social connections and so on. Makes sense.
The following day we arose a little later than normal and hired a car to go off exploring. We drove along the hairpin bends that skewer the rocky island slopes and wound our way towards the south coast and Kirikos. After a quick stop at a pebbly beach and a dip, we headed back to watch the sun set.
Next day, the wind was perfect for the final leg of the journey south. We surfed down huge waves and in big winds to arrive in Agia Annas on Naxos to a welcoming committee from Paddy, Sarah, Sam and Louis waving frantically from the quay. How marvellous.
The evening was topped off with a visit to the open air cinema to see Zorba the Greek!
Next day, we chilled on the boat in the strengthening winds and then met up with my friend Jane Blanshard (an ex-colleague from Malsis) back at the open air cinema for a viewing of Mamma Mia!
We waved a fond farewell to Bryn and Jill and look forward to seeing them soon. We were so pleased to have them, with their sailing experience, on board for the 300 miles surfing south and we celebrated reaching another milestone – our 5000th mile on Linea.
Erin, Ian and I set off for Prevesa. Our aim was to complete the necessary Greek paperwork and to do some laundry. Both necessary evils! We had a wonderful sail up the west coast of Levkas so avoiding the channel and the apparently temperamental swing bridge. We arrived in Prevesa in time for the Saturday night perambulations – known as La Passegiata in Italian, and La Volta in Greek. Perfect people watching.
Ian showed incredible persistence to finally acquire our DEPKA form. He presented a letter from the Coast Guard office in Argostoli saying that they had run out of forms and that we had tried to register. There were also no forms in Prevesa either, although apparently, five were due to arrive…would Ian kindly return tomorrow morning? This he duly did and we were in luck.
The form was given to us, stamped and chocked. All our passports and papers were photocopied. Ian then had to go to the tax office to be given an invoice for 29 euros. From there he was directed to the National Bank to pay the invoice, from where he would take his receipt back to the Coastguard in order to have the paperwork finalised.
By this time the washing had been done and dried. We set off for Paxos to meet our great friend Sue Lowrey.
We moored on the north quay, away from the town centre in the most dramatic of settings yet. An island protects the channel from the open sea and winds. It is the most wonderful anchorage. Understandably busy. We set about tidying up the boat and preparing drinks and nibbles. Sue and Margaret arrived and we enjoyed giving them the guided tour.
After a delicious pasta dinner and yet more wine, we staggered back to the boat and slept soundly..
Next day, Sue picked us up and gave us a tour of the island of Paxos by car. We spend a pleasant afternoon sunning ourselves on the beach and then went back to Margaret’s beautiful hillside home for a delicious dinner.
We had a jobs day on the Thursday and then welcomed Sue and Margaret for breakfast and coffee, after their morning swim, before saying a fond farewell and sailing off to Sivota-Mourtos.
We anchored in Middle Bay since the weather was quite settled and enjoyed some nice swimming around the boat. I tried fishing again but with no luck at all. We shot out in the dinghy to do some beach combing. We were about to go ashore on to the biggest of the islands when we noticed a herd of rather shaggy goats with large horns on the beach. We stayed off some distance and admired them from afar.
Next stop was Corfu. We anchored stern to in the incredibly smelly East Basin. Compensated by the fact that you are right next to the Old Town and tucked under the fort and it’s free! We wandered through the streets to the cricket field and showed Erin the colonnaded Venetian style streets.
The next day, Ian and Alice Daggett arrived and we promptly set off to our anchorage further north where we had a quiet and smell free night. The next afternoon we had to dropped Erin off at the airport. She was returning to the UK to work for six weeks to save money for her up-coming ski season in Tignes.
We zig-zagged across the channel to stay in Plataria and then Pagania. We had some good sailing. The anchorage at Pagania half a mile from the Albanian border was amazing. Once we had driven past numerous large and ugly fish farms we turned the dog leg to discover a completely enclosed anchorage. No tavern, no bars, no body and no signal!
So, back to Corfu Town and another fond farewell to Mr and Mrs D. We had had a wonderful few days with them.
As strong southerly winds were expected over the next few days we decided to head north to Kassiopi on the Northern tip of Corfu. We had a few happy days there meeting up with Andy and Denise Hurley on Comet whom we had first met in Mallorca back in April/May.
Our next visit was from old friend and fellow sailor, William Dear. We had a boozy night with him in Corfu Town celebrating the sale of his boat. As you may know, the happiest days of any sailor’s life are the day he buys a boat and the day he sells it! )
On Tuesday 7th June we motored sailed round the northern tip of Mallorca to head back to Port de Soller. We were about to complete our first circumnavigation of the island, meet up with all the Vyvyan family and pick up our new comfy, comfy mattresses for the front cabin!
We had a tranquil sail round and I am almost loath to tell you that Ian was working on his all over tan! Much to my amusement, he sat at the helm in his deck shoes, Gilly hat and birthday suit! Hmm….an interesting style. (No Picture!!!)
It was lovely to be back in Soller. We anchored near the swimming buoys right opposite the Hotel Esplendido – a great name for a hotel!
We had a lovely few days pottering around, catching up with our new sailing friends and chilling with the Vyvs.
On Friday we had to depart fairly early to head on round towards Palma, where we were going to pick up Keira and her friend Lucy.
We had decided to spend a night in Cala Portals Vells again and duly anchored. After a late supper we crashed out only to be woken by urgent tapping on the hull at 0400hrs. Ian leapt up and went up on deck to see what was what. A middle-aged Mallorcan man was swimming in the bay, wearing a head torch and pulling a life buoy behind him on a long strap attached to his yacht. He said only one word…’Tipping!’ But with sufficient anxiety and panic to spur us into immediate action.
It was such a dark night, we couldn’t make out anything, there being no moon or shore lights to help us see. We deployed our dinghy in record time and Ian set off into the gloom whilst I shone our fantastically strong flood light on to the other yacht. It soon transpired that their anchor had dragged in the strong winds that had built up in the night. The boat had been pushed back until it’s keel was sitting on the sand near the beach. Luckily, they had not been pushed to the rocks lying menacingly on either side of the small yellow strip.
The shadows cast by the search light made Ian believe that there was another stricken yacht and crew wrecked up on the beach which served to add to his sense of urgency in sorting out the first boat quickly, but later, on closer inspection turned out to be just shadows and a vivid imagination.
First, they attempted to push the small yacht off the sand using the dinghy. The keel was too deeply embedded and so Ian thought of enlisting the help of another yachtie and their tender. The nearest other boat was a HUGE catamaran called Le Passion 60. Ian knocked repeated on their hull and finally managed to raise one of the guests. Ian explained the need for assistance but the man stated that he was not the skipper and no one came forward to help.
Ian returned to the troubled yacht alone. Next, they tried using the kedge anchor to winch themselves forward, but that was hard work with a manual winch. Finally they tilted the whole boat to one side by pulling hard down on the main halyard from the dinghy and this, the swell coming into the bay, together with a bit of luck, allowed them to pull the boat off the sand.
They re-anchored near by and we agreed to listen out for them on the radio should they need further help. I brewed up some coffee and we gave them our last few biscuits, which they were very grateful for, as they had no intention of going to sleep again after their trauma.
We were so pleased to have been able to help them and they were very glad that they hadn’t had to call out the life boat because, as local Mallorcan sailors they would have been mightily embarrassed.
They left for Palma at 0800hrs and we told them that we would be there later on in the day.
After checking into the Real Club Nautico Palma and being issued with our blue wrist bands – Paul Brennan, take note! We marvelled at the range of facilities, including pool and gym, that we could use. Just look how close to the cathedral we were now.
We collected the rental car and set off to do the shopping before heading to the airport to collect Keira. This included an additional 50 meters of anchor chain in preparation for the eastern Med. Weighing in at 75 kg this presented a bit of a challenge to get on board. We tried to find a petrol station that would allow us to refill our LPG bottle but no joy, and, in the extra time it took to find this out, the Palma half marathon had started and the one road we needed to be on to get back to the Marina was closed! We spent a frustrating hour in the car trying to find our way back and finally decided to just go straight out to eat.
Later, Ian went to the airport to collect Lucy, Keira’s friend and we all crashed out. Next day we spent nearly an hour circling near the fuel pontoon for an opening only. When we were about to motor in to take the place of Taira they radioed us to let us know that the fuel station had now closed for the day! Humff!
So off we set. We arrived in Ensenada de la Rapita in the evening, and, after an slight issue with the anchor deploying itself quite close to another boat, we finally managed to sort out the errant remote control and anchor a safe distance away from others.
It was a fairly bumpy night in the large open bay but there were only two other boats and so it was certainly peaceful. We motored into the fuel pontoon at La Rapita Marina and were able to top up fuel and water, empty our bins, visit a chandlery, use the facilities plus have a pleasant chat with the marinero who had a can of beer tucked into the water cage on his push bike!
So, suitably stocked up on everything, we set off for a lovely sail to Cabrera. An archipelago of islands comprising the Cabrera National Park, south of Mallorca.
We had reserved a buoy there through the National Park website and it was a very straightforward process to pick up the yellow buoy and line.
What a stunning place. We were able to walk up to the castle at the top of the hill, walk to the lighthouse over the other side of the island, use the military cantina for a bite to eat and a jug of sangria and most importantly, use the loos!
We explored the coves and beaches of the bay in the kayak and dinghy and spotted enormous sea bream and other large fish. We also saw a number of enormous, giant clams, softly opening and closing their scalloped lips. Strangely there were no shells on the beach at all. I had a quiet go at fishing with my newly constructed line (following your useful advice, Nick) and threw in my decoy bait, then my hook and line, and yes, quick as you can say, sea bream, I had a HUGE one on my line. Foolishly, I lifted the fish up out of the water on the line and you can guess what happened. The fish wriggled off the hook and disappeared back to the shoal.
We enjoyed a relaxing few days here in the utter peace and quiet.
Our next big sail was to head back up the Eastern coast of Mallorca. We wanted to head for Pollensa eventually, so we made it to Cala Mondrago which was a good half way house and thought it would be a nice place to enjoy a bit of civilisation. We had run out of cooking gas in the morning so had been denied a morning cuppa, and with no prospect of cooking our supper, we had to go ashore.
We set off walking up the road and met a sweet English couple from Poole in Dorset. They told us that our best bet would be one of the beach restaurants. So we about-faced and headed back to have a nice meal overlooking the deserted beach.
Next morning, we set off to do some provisioning and to find gas in nearby Cala D’Or. We jumped on the bus and enjoyed the scenery as we drove through increasingly touristy areas. We were keen to find breakfast and sat in a little cafe on ‘the grid’, ordered eggs, etc. and it was only then that I realised that I had dropped our mobile phone.
Ian retraced our steps to the bus stop, I went to enlist the help of the tourist information office, who phoned the bus company to no avail. Keira was able to see the whereabouts of the phone on Find My Friends. It appeared to still be in Cala Mondrago.
So we completed our chores and ate our breakie and grabbed a taxi to take us back to the boat. On arriving at the Cala the phone appeared to have been moved. Keira was despatched to negotiate its recovery.
It transpired that two German women had found the phone on the floor of the bus. Instead of handing it to the driver, thinking that it must belong to someone from Cala D’Or, they held onto it in order to take it back to Cala D’Or that evening! They were wandering around the park and beach in Mondrago and making it difficult for Keira to find them. They were about to get back on the bus to return to Cala D’Or when Keira finally caught up with them. They gave us the phone and we thanked our lucky stars!
So, panic over, we went back to the boat and because the forecast was not good for the beach day that we’d planned we decided to crack on to Cala de S’Agulla.
We anchored up near the beach and the next day the girls kayaked ashore to spend a day relaxing on dry land. Within minutes the entire beach, and every piece of sand was occupied by Germans.
They were surrounded by chanting, beer drinkers. I think they relished the opportunity to do some serious people watching and sat there enthralled. We joined them for a bite to eat at lunch time and had bat and ball and frizbe competition later in the evening.
It was as if some one had rung the end of day school bell, because the minute the sun started to disappear over the hill the beach cleared. The beach maintenance guys sprang into action and the sand was swept and spruced up and sun loungers re-arranged neatly for the following day.
This is the best part of a beach day.
Back at the boat we had a Pimms followed by yummy supper. The girls decided to go out into town. Ian gave them a ride in and they staggered back to the dinghy at 0500hrs! And were fast asleep as we set off back to Pollensa later that morning.
Strong winds and torrential rain having been predicted for Pollensa in the afternoon, we wanted to be anchored safely before it arrived and so that Ian could go ashore to watch the rugby. Typically, the wind arrived early so we had to hang about a bit whilst the storm blew over. He did managed to see the last half of the game.
Now we had the chance to do some window shopping around Pollensa and suss out the buses for Lucy’s return to the airport.
We saw a little more rugby and decided to eat out on Lucy’s last night at a lovely looking restaurant called Ambrosia.
Next morning, we were refilling our completely depleted water tanks and petrol supplies before heading back round to Port de Soller when we saw the sea plane again and I managed to grab a couple of pics. Looking forward to our brief sojourn in the UK for Keira’s graduation ceremony and to vote for the EU referendum.
Our first visitor came to stay this week. We were delighted to welcome my great friend, Paula Vickers, aboard. Staying for one night only after a busy working week for Dial an Exchange in Portugal. Paula arrived on a sunny Friday afternoon and all too soon was jetting back to Blighty. It was great to catch up.
Over the preceding few days we had spent all our time prepping the boat for sailing. We checked the life jackets, took back the serviced life raft, fire extinguishers and the new EPIRB; refitting the VHF, washed some of the lines to get the salt off, deep cleaned the deck and polished the chrome, translated labels from Dutch to English and hoisted the dinghy. We also sorted the rope locker, marveling over the impressive collection of hose pipes and fittings, filled the tanks and stowed everything away safely, including Ian’s bike, which was shoe horned onto the bunk room.
Saturday brought the arrival of ship mate David Heane who was to assist as crew in delivering the boat to Gibraltar, one hundred and eighty miles away. Priorities, though, first we had to find somewhere to watch the rugby. So, we grabbed a taxi into Monte Gordo and found a strange little sports bar where the rugby was in full swing and beer was on offer.
We were up bright and early on Sunday morning and the Marinera came to help us with the turning of the boat in the marina. It was a beautiful morning with bright sunshine and flat calm which really helped us manoeuvre out of the restricted space.
We gave our new friends Tristan and Sue of SY Minerva a wave as we passed by and headed off down the long channel of the Guardiana River and out into the Atlantic.
First stop, Mazagon Marina about 30 miles off. We had very light winds initially but they built until we were able to deploy Genevieve the genaker, which quickly became Ian’s favourite sail.
This huge sail pulled us along at almost the speed of the wind. We made much better progress. We realised that since we were now in Spain protocol requires that one should change the courtesy flag on the starboard spreaders. We successfully removed the Portugese flag and attached the Spanish flag. Somehow, the string to which it was attached had become jammed in the pulley and nothing was happening to lift the courtesy flag to the required height. We added it to the list of jobs for the skipper to do the following morning.
Winds dropped so we chugged into the marina and were finally berthed by 2000hrs; a long day, but we all agreed it had gone very quickly. We headed for beer and wifi and then quickly rustled up a spag bol and collapsed into bed. Next day, we were up fairly early and the first job was to hoist Ian up the mast so he could fix the pulley. He was trussed up tight in a harness and attached to halyard. We pulled him up to the first set of spreaders, winches creaking disconcertingly as he rose high above the deck. Mission accomplished. He fixed the problem and we were sorely tempted to leave him up there on the naughty step!
However, we decided to let him down so we could continue the trip to Chipiona. We made good progress and were berthed early enough to grab a shower and head into town to replenish food stocks at the Allimentacione.
Moments after completing our provisioning duties, we walked down to the delightfully un-touristy town centre where we spotted a brightly lit bar on a street corner. Serano ham legs were hanging from the ceiling like a collection of upturned, day-old, party balloons. We suddenly noticed that we were all exceptionally thirsty, so we piled in and plonked down at the scrubbed Formica table and ordered beers. We were presented with a menu by the friendly Spanish waiter and tried to match the overflowing and delicious looking tapas dishes on display with the names of the dishes on the menu.
Los Faroles turned out to be absolutely fantastic. We were the vanguard of a run on the place and within ten minutes of us sitting down, the place was packed with Spanish families, couples and workers on the way home. All chattering nineteen to the dozen and enjoying the tapas. Fabulous evening, scrumptious food.
Next day, we set out to Puerto America at Cadiz. The wind was strong today and we were tied up on the arrival pontoon by 1600hrs. Absolutely shattered.
The port staff asked us to move to another berth just in case several 20 metre yachts might arrive and want to moor for the night. So we had to un-tie and go through the trauma of parking all over again. My least favourite part of the day!
By this time, the wind had really got up and was 18 knots and gusting much more. In a confined space this makes manoeuvring tricky, because big areas of the boat tend to act like a sail and make steerage challenging. As we pulled up alongside the pontoon a particularly big gust began to push the boat away. The breast line that was ready didn’t quite make it to the pontoon first time. Suddenly, the stern was being blown across and with no other boat in the pontoon there was nothing to cushion or stop our progress horizontally into the berthing bay.
With the bow being the only place to get ashore I was commanded to leap to the pontoon in order to assist David who was already there. I prepared to make the leap from the pulpit, the highest point of the deck, calculating my trajectory so as to avoid the anchor and the bow spirit sticking out insolently in my way. It was at least four feet down to the pontoon far below. As I rather nimbly, I thought, began my descent, my left ankle kicked up hard against an errant spinnaker pole with enormous force. Since the pole was firmly strapped on to the rail, it did not budge and my ankle received the most tremendous clonk. By this time I was airborne and cat-like somehow managed to land on the foot of my one dodgy, previously broken, ankle and judo roll to my feet. Now, I was aware of a tremendous pain in my left ankle and realised that I now had two dodgy ankles to contend with!
Finally, we managed to sweat the boat I towards the pontoon and get her sorted.
After a medicinal snifter, whilst applying an ice pack fashioned from a frozen chicken fillet to my elevated limb, we all decided we needed a nap to get over the trauma of the berthing.
Awaking at 1930hrs we set off for Cadiz town, me limping on both sides, where it soon became apparent that something was happening. There were people everywhere. We followed a group down a maze of streets off a huge square and came across a little bar on a street corner with a free outside table. We descended and abandoning any attempts to say more than ‘por favor’ and ‘gracias’ ordered a range of tapas by pointing at plates of food on other people’s tables.
It was delicious! Swordfish, anchovies, sardines, potatoes and sea bass. All the while the crowds were building up along the street adjacent to us.
We heard drumming and a procession of people marched past us clad in white robes and hooded headgear, topped by an enormous point; like extended dunces hats with a KKK mask attached, swiftly followed by three crosses. Ahhh! Now we could see that it was an Easter Passion Procession.
The file of people continued to go past down the narrow street. A huge and ornate wooden sarcophagus was carried by, then finally an elaborate silver one with a model of Mary Magdalene perched on the top. Everyone clapped and then almost immediately started to disburse as the heavens opened.
Luckily, we were kept dry by the huge umbrella above our table. We waited for the shower to abate and then headed back to the distant marina.
Next day we set off to Barbate. The last, most Easterly port of call in the Atlantic. We left after an engine check, hoping to complete the 37 mile trip in good time.
There was very little wind, however, and quite a moderate swell, so we wallowed about making slow progress. Eventually, we pulled up at the visitors pontoon at dusk. The light drops very quickly here so by the time we had negotiated a berth via Google translate with the security guard, it was really quite dark. The marina was well sheltered and so we smoothly slipped along side the finger pontoon, no heroics today, to park quietly there for a few hours.
In double quick time, we rustled up a supper of ham, cheese, salami salad and potatoes; showered and set the course for the following day’s sail to Gibraltar.
We decided to leave at 0500hrs the following morning.
(Poor David would be glad to get back to work next week, for a rest!) The distance was at least forty miles on a straight course and was further complicated by tidal streams and currents with which we needed to coordinate as we squeezed through the Straits of Gibraltar. (Dire Straits?)
Not only that, there were the usual plethora of man made obstacles to avoid, such as; massive tuna nets laid over vast areas, military exercise zones, underwater cables suspended two metres below the surface. All of these are charted so routes can be planned accordingly, however, we would be sailing in the dark for that added extra challenge! We would need to be able to identify all the different flashing, occluding and constant lights in our sight lines so we would know where we were in relation to the chart. Also, in coastal waters, car headlamps can be a bit off-putting too!
In addition to that, there are the veritable mine fields lobster pot floats to keep an eye out for and skirt round.
During the week we had become accustomed to being alone on the wide open sea. Sighting another sailing boat was unusual. We spotted the odd ship in the distance and checked their identity on the AIS tracker.
So, as we approached Tarifa, the part of Europe closest to Africa, we were interested to see things becoming distinctly busier on the traffic front. There is a traffic separation scheme, for large cargo vessels, operating in the Straits. We saw it in action. We checked the details on the AIS of one of the ships as she passed us by some two miles away. 345m long and 50m wide! Yes, that’s correct! 345m long! The circumference of her deck being almost a kilometre! And then there’s us – 13m long. Definitely don’t want to get in the way of one of those.
There are entire books written about transiting the Straits, with warnings about overfalls, currents and counter currents as the Atlantic squeezes into a narrow eight mile stretch of water. For example, it is said that the wind blows at Isla Tarifa at 40 knots for 300 days of the year. It is also said that, ‘If the wind is light at one end of the Straits it will be blowing hard at the other.’ This is exactly what we experienced as winds built during the course of the day. Luckily for us it was one of the other 65 days on which we passed Isla Tarifa, our half way point, and although we had planned to anchor in the lee of the island to eat lunch and have a nap we decided that with the fair wind we should just crack on. By the time we reached the mouth of the Bay of Gibraltar the wind had reached 30 knots.
We tonked on with the wind behind us, gybing three or four times. Exhausting work, winching in the main sheet each time on a powered up sail. It was precarious to put the preventer on the boom each time we gybed but somehow we manage to do it all whilst cooking and eating scrambled eggs on toast. The skipper was on the helm so David had to feed him!
Suddenly, we saw The Rock of Gibraltar ahead. There were vessels everywhere, travelling in every direction, at ridiculous speeds! I was detailed to keep track of them all. A large red vessel crossed in front of us and we skirted her stern. A huge cargo ship surged past our starboard beam at twenty four knots. Ships lay at anchor on both sides of the bay, either waiting to off load cargo at Algeciras or Gibraltar. Fuel ships hugged up against other vessels to fill up their tanks. We bravely sail in amongst these giants. The wind is strong, the waves moderate and the current carries us along. We make good progress even with two reefs in the sail and half the head sail in.
Before long, we spy the breakwater up ahead. We head for the reception pontoon and two mariners are there to help. Wonderful.
We complete the copious paperwork for the fifth time this week and are allocated our berth.
We limber up for the gymnastics associated with parking our boat by rearranging the fenders and recoiling our lines. We complete the calisthenics necessary to to kick our legs over the rail, mooring lines in hand, and perch, precariously on the rail. The finger pontoon looms ever closer. Notoriously thin and wobbly, they are not the greatest thing to try to jump on to. Their minimal width does not allow an extra step to counter forward motion. It must be a standing landing. David jumps with the grace and delicacy of a man half his size and age. He makes it, with barely a wobble and hooks us on. The wind pushes us away. We utilise another cleat and manage to pull clear of the boat next door. A bow line is attached and all are sweated in against the wind and current to sit us fairly close up against the pontoon. No damage done, except to David’s finger which is scraped, bruised and bleeding all over the pontoon.
So happy to have survived the Straits (not so dire, after all), sailed 180 miles, and to have arrived in this spectacular spot, under the Rock, tucked into the marina of the appropriately named town of La Linea.