Category Archives: Blog Posts

Sailing out of the Mediterranean

We spent our last couple of days in Menorca making the most of our time with our Swedish friends, Ulrika and Joel, as once we left we were headed in opposite directions and may never see them again.  That’s a real downside to the cruising life.  Meeting really great people you probably would never have crossed paths with if not for the boats, who you have to say goodbye to.

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Our last four days we worked our way from the north coast to the south, stopping at Algayerens, Fornells, Isla Colom and Cala Porte.

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At Algayerens there is supposed to be a fresh water spring where we planned to fill our kegs, but we couldn’t find it, so settled for a trek up the cliff instead past a big lagoon, green with algae and thick with wildlife such as turtles and dragonflies, and Joel got some great drone footage from the top overlooking the next Cala.

Anchored off the town of Fornells we cycled inland to the town of Mercadel which I’d read was a real foodie destination.  Well I’m not sure where it got that name from but it wasn’t worth the 18km cycle of death along an A road in blistering heat.  I can tell you Ben didn’t thank me for that one.  The other thing I really wanted to go to Fornells for was the lobster stew it’s famous for, but wandering the lovely old streets scanning the menus we soon realised it couldn’t be had for less than 70 euros a pop.  That just wasn’t happening….I could live without it!

The anchorage sheltered behind Isla Colom made up for our failed gourmet quest as we had a beach barbecue with the Swedes.  Who needs to pay through the nose for overpriced seafood when you can cook fish you’ve caught yourself, roast corn over an open fire accompanied by smoky potatoes with fresh salads made and enjoyed with good friends? 

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We sat on the beach watching sand fleas ping in every direction when you walked, the dogs having a sniff around and enjoying being off the boat.  The sun went down behind the boats at anchor and the stars came out one by one, soon filling the sky with a million sparkling diamonds made bright with little light pollution. The scuffling sounds from the bushes got louder and nearer as dark fell.  We soon realised we were surrounded by rats!  They were amazingly unafraid even with the fire but thankfully kept a few metres distance and as you’re not allowed to venture further inland than the beach of this tiny island we guessed the rats had taken over.

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As we left way after dark, leaving the rats to our leftovers, we waded the dinghy out into deeper water and through clouds of bio luminescence….we all stood knee deep swishing our legs around to make them glow, a surreal and totally amazing memory.

Next day we all made our way down to Cala Porte on the south coast and anchored in a small but beautiful Cala. 

We’d spotted loads of interesting looking caves along the way so we all got in our dinghy with the snorkelling gear and cameras to explore.  We found one particular cave that had a kind of rock bridge across the entrance that you could swim through, letting sunlight flood the underwater cave and light it up bright blue.  Ben made a short film of our cave diving which you can watch here

This was our jumping off point to start heading back across the islands and eventually out of the Med.  Early next morning with decent winds forecast we sailed across to Mallorca, and halfway caught a Tuna!!  It was about 2 feet long with huge eyes…a bit of panic ensued as even though we trail a big line with a squid lure off the back most days we never really hold much hope of catching anything, so how we got it on board was an issue.  We planned to help pull it in with a bucket but as Ben finally got it up to the side of the boat it did a massive flip and unhooked itself.  We were pretty gutted!  On the shopping list is now a big net and a gaff hook.

We sailed from Menorca to Gibralter over 13 days stopping for only two days between sails.  A total of 573 miles; 130 hours of sailing.  This is a breakdown of our journey:

June 16th: Menorca to Mallorca.  10.5 hours

June 17th: Mallorca to Formentera.  26 hours

June 19th: Formentera to Cartagena, Spain.  31 hours

June 21st: Cartagena to Almerimar.  23 hours

June 23rd: rest day!

June 24th:Almerimar to Almunecar. 7 hours

June 25th: Almunecar to Morocco. 27 hours

June 27th: explored Tetouen, Morocco!

June 28th: Morocco to Gibralter. 5.5 hours

 So all in all it was a mission getting back out of the Med but we had to get to the straights of Gibralter before the winds changed to strong Westerlies, which would make it near impossible going against them, however it gave us valuable overnight passage experience and helped build my confidence handling sails on my own, making any necessary course adjustments to avoid ships and feeling comfortable sailing in the dark.  We were also glad to be getting out as it had started to get really busy in all the anchorages, with a lot of power boats that don’t seem to know how to anchor….one example is when we stopped in Formentera one boat lost control motored backwards dragging his anchor across our chain, un setting it.  He said the electronic windlass had broken so couldn’t pull it up, meanwhile the wind had picked up threatening to start us dragging.  Ben had to swim over, climb aboard his boat and show him you can actually pull an anchor up by hand!

There’s something really special about night watches; the millions more stars you can see with zero light around you, the phosphorescence  as the boat cuts through the water (the weird bit is when you go to the toilet in the dark and the bowl flashes bright green when you pump the sea water through it) and the absolute velvet blackness of the sea.  The only downside is having to get up every three hours for your watch, which until you get into a longer term routine means you don’t get proper sleep.  Coupled with the fact most of our night passages were quite roly meant we arrived at each destination a little dazed and confused.

Highlights were:

Making the most of being becalmed by having a leisurely dinner on deck

Seeing a turtle and pilot whales

Dolphins

Showering on deck with no land in sight

Getting footage of the boat sailing from the dinghy (feels weirder than it sounds being in a dinghy with no land around)

Catching our first Tuna

Being in Almerimar for San Juan Festival where there are fires on the beaches as far as the eye can see, and going swimming at midnight with the locals…..

We were determined to make it to Morocco, which we did albeit a flying visit, and based ourselves in Smir Marina just across the Straights from Gibralter and South of Cueta.  The closest city was Tetouen so we explored the Old Town for a day with the help of a local guide called Ahmed.  I was a bit worried about it being too hot as with it being a Muslim country I had to completely cover up, which was a bit daunting after spending the last few months in bikini and shorts, but thankfully there was a strong breeze and the maze of alleyways in the old towns are almost completely in shade.  I didn’t get hassled at all (just a lot of staring and one persistent man asking for money) I think helped by the fact we were with Ahmed and he knew EVERYONE! Unfortunately we’d arrived the day after Ramadam so all the markets were closed with it being a three day holiday!  We were a bit disappointed as we’d planned to find our wedding bands there and I was looking forward to stocking up on spices and browsing the stalls.  Nevertheless it’s a fascinating place and we’ll hopefully stop at Rabat or somewhere on the Atlantic coast when we make way for the Canaries.

We were delayed leaving by an hour or so as we found the engine had dumped a load of coolant due to a corroded pipe, so Ben had to do a temporary fix using a type of self bonding silicone tape. 

Being outside the EU you have to fully check in and out of the country which means visiting customs and the police.  We’d heard it could take up to four hours but it was super efficient and we were done within an hour and when clearing out the boat was searched and passports stamped, all quite straightforward.  Then when making our way up the coast we were hailed on the radio by a Moroccan Warship!  Basically they take all your details and travel plans, and basically want to know your reasons for being in their waters, not surprising as Morocco gets a lot of drug trafficking and the refugee crisis is obviously still a prominent issue with one of the main routes now being across to Spain.

*Many times when sailing between Gibralter and the Costa Blanca we’ve heard PanPan calls from the coastguard warning of boats spotted full of migrants making their way across.  If you see them you’re supposed to report the position.  I always found it quite emotional to listen to and we’ve got a rough plan of what we’d do if we came across a boat in trouble ie. Most boats are carrying between 30-60 people so you run a real risk of becoming swamped yourselves*

We had a fast and furious sail back across the shipping lanes to Gibralter where we filled the tanks with tax free fuel, and checked in to Marina Bay for 5 days.  You’re not allowed to anchor in Gibralter Bay so I’d say this marina is the most convenient for the airport  as it’s a 10 minute walk (you walk right across the runway).  I flew home to be with my Mum after her operation and meanwhile Ben cracked on with a few jobs.

The day I got back we left for a 27 hour sail back to Faro!  We were again racing the wind and had to make the most of the Easterlies which meant we could sail and not motor.  Rounding Tarifa we had 30+kts of wind against tide so fairly choppy seas but after that it was lovely, smooth sailing which was welcome considering I’d been up since 4am and needed the sleep.

We anchored off Isla Culatra for two nights and it was really nice being back on the car-less island of sand, home to the 1 euro beer.  We had a wild and windy walk up the beach and a swim, which was noticeably fresher being the Atlantic, but made a welcome difference to the warm Mediterranean!

Friday morning we lifted out back up at Bruces yard and have set about getting the boat ready to leave for a couple of months.

Jobs on the list:

Scrub hull of any algae and freeriders  

Wash salt off sails

Take jib down and stow

Flush through main engine, outboard, generator and toilets with fresh water (the toilets particularly as a few weeks in 30 degrees heat means any marine life in the pipes will have a very stinky party whilst we’re gone – rotten eggs doesn’t even come close!)

Strip gearbox off engine to get replacement damper plate and fix the oil leak

Clean out fridges and use up perishables

Clean dinghy and repair seams

 

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In two days time we are making a detour flight to Valencia to go to Benicassim music festival with our friends Helen and Morgan (cannot wait!!) before flying back to England.  We’re really looking forward to spending some proper time with friends and family, especially at the wedding, and of course seeing our Miley pup.

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Last of the Balearics

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We stayed in Soller for another four days, still waiting for winds other than Easterly so we could head in that direction.  It was a great place to be based as there are many walks and hikes and lots of cafes with free WiFi to download films and music and check weather.  We haven’t had to be in a marina for two and a half months now as there are plenty of suitable anchorages in the islands, so we were pleased to find there was also free water to be had on the pontoon where we could also leave the dinghy, as one of the taps had no metre, so we spent one evening after dark ferrying back and forth with our water kegs managing to get about 250 litres.

We made a short sail early one morning, before it got too hot, up to Cala Calobra with our Swedish friends aboard plus their two dogs, where there is a hike up a dry river canyon called Torrent de Parreis.  It’s supposed to take 5-6 hours to reach the top and is classed as the most difficult in Majorca with much of it a scramble and climb through huge boulders and up steep sides.  The cala is deep so we had to anchor in 12 metres which felt strange.  It isn’t well protected from swell and can get too uncomfortable overnight, so we planned to make our way back to Soller in the evening.

There are wild goats dotted around the sheer cliff faces that made weird amplified sneezing noises at the dogs as we passed below and it’s so quiet the bird song that echoes around the canyon is amazing.  It was a fantastic day and a truly stunning place, we cooled down afterwards with snorkelling and had some lunch aboard before making our way back.

The next day we had an incredible storm.  We were out for food with Ulrika and Joel and watched as the sky turned black with the strangest cloud formations, then lit up with a crazy lightening show.

Just as we returned to our dinghys we were hit by the most torrential rain we’ve ever felt!  We towed our friends back to their boat as we had our outboard on and it was like having buckets of water thrown over you.  Strong winds and the worry of fork lightning around a packed anchorage kept us a little on edge for the night and we were glad not to have the tallest mast!

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Next day brought a lull and after bailing the dinghy out we decided to make a dash for it up the coast before the next lot of strong easterlies set in.  After messing around with sails and attempting the spinnaker for a bit we admitted defeat and had to motor sail as there wasn’t enough wind for our heavy old girl.

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We did have fun at the last leg as Kate and Mike on Kealoha V who’d left just after us caught up and we raced each other around the cape in fickle winds, probably doing about 3 kts and I think Kate even got a paddle out at one point.

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We eventually joined Ulrika and Joel in Cala Gossalba just around the NE corner.  They’d beaten us by at least an hour as their boat is a third of the weight and can sail to windward, so they had a great day of it.  We all decamped to the beach that evening and were joined by Ulrika’s cousin and girlfriend who were visiting from Sweden.

Next stop was Pollensa.  The depths are a bit variable but it doesn’t get less than 2m anywhere but what was a little disconcerting was passing through the sea plane landing area.  We anchored with about 30 other boats in the area they say is not allowed and that you get moved on (you obviously don’t) next to Kate and Mike.  They lent us their Optimist one evening so we took turns messing about in the anchorage.

davWe really want a sailing dinghy that you can also use a small outboard and oars with to use as our tender when ours gets too knackered, so it was great for me to have a go.

We hired a motorbike here so we could explore some of the mountains and inland Majorca.  We went to Deia and also Palma, the windy mountain roads being great fun, passing by lakes and through pine trees.  Ten hours later we returned the bike needless to say a little stiff and achy.

 

We left to cross to Menorca the next day, with winds on the nose, realising now if we were to wait for anything other than easterlies we’d still be in Ibiza!

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Unfortunately this meant we were also going into the swell which is always what gives me seasick symptoms so I spent the majority of the 5 hour crossing lying down.  However for the last hour and a half the thermals kicked in and we got to sail the last bit hooray!

We dropped the hook in Cala Santandria…crystal blue water, no swell, perfect.  We put a couple of lines off the stern to the rocks as it’s quite a small cala and spent two nights here.

We cycled the 10 minutes into Ciudadella on Saturday and wandered around the old town which is beautiful.

We also finally managed to finish editing our first video for YouTube and uploaded it…it’s only taken us nearly 11 months!!  We’ve been pretty lazy on that front and learning to use Premiere Pro editing suite is hard work, but now we’re over the first hurdle we’ve started working on the next one and it’s really fun watching back to last year when our adventure began. IMG_20170611_141136_763

It’s only for fun and a way for our family and friends to see what we’ve been up to and it’s also a great way for us to document our travels.

Our channel is called Sailing Bora Bora Victory 40 and you can find the first episode here

We’ve decided we’ll leave Menorca by Friday 16th June before the Mistral starts blowing and start our journey back out of the Med via Morocco.  Our initial plan is to do an overnight from here to Formentera, then possibly Calpe, Cartagena and maybe Aguadulce and Caleta de Valez.

We now know which parts of mainland Spain aren’t worth stopping at, and which anchorages and marinas are suitable in what conditions, so we plan to do a few long passages to cover the miles.  The distances above vary between 16 and 26 hours so we’ve got enough time to rest for a day or two between sails and most importantly it’ll get us used to doing some longer passages at sea for our Canaries trip in the Autumn.

Ibiza to Mallorca

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Once again I’ve left it too long between posts so I apologise about the length.  Last time I posted we were making our way up the unspoilt west side of Ibiza, and towards San Antonio where we anchored in the bay, managing to find space as the seasonal mooring buoys hadn’t been put in yet.  San Antonio is a ‘special’ place, mainly visited by the classic Brit’s Abroad variety who come for a mad few days of clubbing, and it therefore caters to the masses.  Amongst the clubs and overpriced bars you’ll find many a restaurant serving the classic all day brekkie, kebabs and KFC and a large majority of the clientele are stag or hen parties who when the going gets tough head over to Formentera to chill out and recover for a few hours.

We spent a few nights at anchor, getting varnishing done and fitting the half drop window in the pilot house which means we can get a nice through breeze as the weather heats up.

We then had some last minute visitors, friends Rich and Lara, making the most of the Bank Holiday weekend with a cheap trip away to stay with us.  We took them to a few of our favourite anchorages and across to Formentera, unfortunately the weather wasn’t the best and poor Lara suffered with sea sickness, but we managed to have a lovely time ashore exploring Ibiza Old Town.

I flew back to the UK on the 3rd May and as the airport is in the South of the island we sailed back around and anchored off the nearest beach (Ensenada des Codolar) and had a couple of hours sunbathing, before walking a dusty road to the terminal (which was a little further than anticipated).  We said our farewells and had the strange realisation of spending two weeks apart, as again we’d spent the last 5 months together 24/7.

After a stag party in Ibiza and a hen party in Devon it wasn’t long before Ben was meeting me back at the airport and we were getting a taxi 10 minutes to Salinas beach where Ben had left the boat.

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He’d really enjoyed his solo sail around the island, despite anchoring on his own being a bit daunting at first, and I’m glad he got the chance to do it.  It was good to be back in the land of sun, sea and sand as when I’d left England it was a typically cold and rainy day, but bitter sweet as we both really miss family and friends a lot and of course our Miley dog.  The water was noticeably warmer than when I’d left as we waded the dinghy out, and back aboard our floating home, and we enjoyed a few glasses on deck catching up and watching the sunset.

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Next day we sailed to Talamanca just further East on the South of the Island and as we were looking for a good place to anchor our Finnish friends on Stella Polaris cruised in who we’d previously met back in Fuengirola whilst weathering the storm.  We had a lush day chilling and swimming around the boat and next day due to the lack of food aboard we had lunch out at The Fish Shack which is a really lovely… well shack, set on the rocks with basic tables covered by a bamboo pergola.  They don’t have any menus just a verbal list of the days fresh catch, all served with potatoes and salad.  Simple and delicious, we enjoyed a couple of hours there with a view of the boat.

Doing food shopping whilst living aboard isn’t always easy as you have to walk or cycle with as much shopping as is humanly possible to carry; the shops rarely being close by an anchorage.  Next morning we trudged into town with backpacks stuffed with more bags and always preferring the local, smaller shops if available, stocked up on fresh fruit and veg, then marched on further to the nearest supermarket for dry goods.  Over two hours later we were back at the boat hot and sticky with aching arms, then it was a quick swim to cool down before upping anchor towards Formentera again with that being the nearest place to anchor with any protection from the forecast Easterly winds.  It was a great sail and we barely batted an eye at the mega ferries we were well used to by now.

Next stop was back to Ibiza and up the West coast with the wind to Cala des Torrent as we wanted to hire a motorbike.  40 euros for 24 hours inc insurance was a pretty sweet deal as motorcycle hire goes (from Turbo Rent A Car) and the next day we spent exploring some of inland Ibiza.

What a great day, we’ve missed riding on two wheels and it enabled us to see another side to the island, plus from the unique perspective of a bike you get smells otherwise missed by being in a car…hot pine trees, dust in the air, wildflowers, frying fish from roadside bars, fresh salt air.  We rode through San Juan and a market spread across both sides of the road, pulling over to take a look there was a live band, organic food, handmade jewellery and clothes, and local arts and crafts, then onwards to the other side of the island, stopping for an icecream at the beach before making our way back through the smaller roads, past olive groves and vineyards.

Overnight there were some unforecast strong winds which meant a restless night and we were up at…you guessed it, 3am, watching the next door boat drag its anchor but thankfully catch again before hitting us.

After a breakfast out and returning the bike was Cala Benirras further up the North Coast.  A beach tradition here of drummers gathering at sunset, made famous since the 90’s when people gathered in a show of peace to drum in protest against the war in Iraq, and has been a Sunday night tradition ever since.  Sometimes the beach is so packed the police shut it off, however we were there on a Monday and there were still a group of around 20 or so, drumming, fire throwing and dancing until well after sunset.

Heading around to the East of the Island the swell seemed to be coming from all directions and we had a pretty uncomfortable and frustrating day!  After checking out four anchorages, all exposed and where we’d be tossed around all night, we finally decided on San Vicent tucked up into the NE corner.  As we were the only boat there we motored in reverse to spin our stern around and put our kedge anchor out to hold us into the oncoming swell.  We also always now put the ‘dibber’ out (no real reason why we call it that it’s just easier than saying ‘anti roll thing’) which works really well to stop us rolling from side-to-side and we can actually get some sleep!

When we get to a new place we always head for the nearest bar…not just for the vino, but to get the WiFi code in order to pick it up from the boat using our booster.  This was unbelievably slow but the bar was pretty cool and they didn’t seem to mind our sandy feet on the ‘beds’….

We were only down this way because I wanted to go to the market at Es Cana the next day.  However it turned out to be a massive tourist trap and after 15 minutes of shuffling after a thousand holiday makers, and seeing one too many tat stalls, we called it and went back to the beach from whence we came.  A lunch of Falafel salad at the chriniguita made up for the disappointment of a wasted journey though.

It was far too roly to stay around that area for the night so we had no choice but to motor sail all the way back up and around the NE corner and to Portinatx.  This was much better protected and Stella Polaris were there too so we enjoyed an evening on their boat catching up.

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On Friday we left at sunrise in convoy with Stella Polaris and another Finnish boat Senora de Mar, finally making Mallorca just over 8 hours later.  Dropping anchor in Santa Ponsa we went ashore straight away with two huge bags of washing we’d been neglecting and marched through the baking sun towards the nearest lavanderia which was 20 minutes away.  Dipping our toes in the sea with a cold beer whilst we waited for it wasn’t a bad way to do chores though!

 

Santa Ponsa is quite built up and even though the anchorage was nice and calm, after laundry and restocking the food stores we didn’t want to spend a lot of time there, so it was onward and up the NW coast to Puerto de Soller where our Swedish friends were anchored.

Again a contrast in landscapes.  I never realised Mallorca was so mountainous and this stretch with rugged and steep sided cliffs and also sparsely inhabited only has anchorages suitable in calm conditions, Soller being the only port of refuge.

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We passed through the high sided narrow gap between the main island and Isla Dragonera which is known for its thousands of lizards that scatter as you walk.

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We stopped en route in Cala Deia as we’d seen one of the restaurants there, dug into the sides of the cliffs, featured in BBC drama The Night Manager.  It was as stunning as portrayed but exceptionally busy due to its popularity with the odd celebrity and supposedly the TV coverage, with a 1 hour queue, and most certainly £££.  No thanks, we opted for the other opposite and slightly less busy, but with a matching view and cheaper menu and definitely weren’t disappointed!

So that was five days ago and since we’ve been enjoying spending time with Swedish friends Ulrika and Joel.  We hiked to the village of Deia which is stunning; with the houses built of similar stone, the combination of orange groves, grape vines and conifers it has elements of both Tuscany and the  French Alps….I suppose this is typical Mallorca, I’ve just never been here!  We walked for a total of 7 hours, a lot of it up hill, so were all pretty exhausted that night.

Ben and I also walked into the nearer town of Soller one day which is also lovely, full of history and character and you can get a traditional tram back to the port but being 6 euros each we opted for the local bus instead.

Rowing back through the anchorage I had a memory of before we owned a boat; if we used to be in a place that had a marina we always made a detour to have a look around, trying to capture the feeling of what it might be like to be part of the boat world one day….but now we’re there, and have been for over two years, and it’s really hard to encapsulate a feeling to refer back to before!  We are living and breathing the liveaboard life and it’s hard to put into words as it’s so normal to us now.   Whatever you imagine a situation to be like you can never prepare for the actual reality and I’m glad that so far even with the tough times it can only be described in the best possible terms, and I consciously make sure every single day to take a moment to feel thankful for it.

Cartagena to Balearics

From San Jose we had a couple of gusty sails on our way up to Cartagena. We stopped for a night just east of Aguilas

and the next bay just around the corner had a perfect little beach protected from the wind for a beach fire.

The next morning we followed a path and found a hidden well that according to an old sign used to supply pirates with fresh water, and along with the abundance of wild fennel to keep scurvy at bay meant this cove was a popular spot for landing.

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A steep pathway led up the cliff inhabited by wild tortoise (despite my persistent searching none were to be found) and we had a fantastic view of Bora Bora at anchor.

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There is some stunning scenery around these parts now Costa Del Boy is behind us.

 


Arriving into Cartagena Bay the next morning we had the strangest experience of short, sharp swell coming from what seemed every direction, making for an uncomfortable ride along with the wind suddenly picking up to 25-30kts from nowhere. We radioed the marina once we were inside the harbour, saying with the direction and strength of the wind and our prop walk, we’d need a port side to berth that we could enter up wind. What happened was the marinero directed us down towards a berth where we were unable to turn in the conditions, so were forced to enter the berth with the wind behind us on our port quarter, driving us in. Ben struggled to keep control but with the engine in hard astern managed to slow our speed enough to stop us hitting the pontoon ahead, I managed to get a line to the marinero but not before we were blown crossways and pushed into the boat in the next berth. Fantastico. We were pretty peed off…why only one marinero to assist in those conditions and why give us a downwind berth when there were plenty more suitable? It was an accident waiting to happen and later that week we saw another exact same situation two boats down. The damage was actually quite minor, but he will almost certainly claim and our excess is an expense we could definitely do without. Lesson learnt; stick to your guns and go with instinct when something doesn’t feel right.
The boat was in desperate need of a wash down being caked in salt, along with the majority of our clothes, so we spent the next two days scrubbing, washing and having a general tidy up before the parents’ arrival.

We spent a fantastic few days being tourists, seeing the sights and over indulging on tapas and vino tinto. We couldn’t’ve asked for better weather for them and even managed a light winded sail to a nearby beach where we anchored for lunch (which turned out to be the beach of a nudist campsite, whoops!)


We’d spent a week in the marina, our longest ever, so were keen to set sail again.

The next stretch was just trying to make as much headway towards Denia as possible in order for the shortest crossing to the Balearic Islands.

We spent the next three nights hopping anchorages and on the last two hour leg with calm seas and clear skies, got hit by Gale Force 8 out of the blue. As such we had too much sail up so it was a bit chaotic for a minute whilst Ben reefed the main and we struggled to furl away most of the genoa but once we’d got into the protection of Calpe all was calm again….the Mediterranean can be fierce!
The wind direction now turned against us making sailing to Denia a no go, so we stayed anchored outside the marina for a few nights.

Calpe is quite touristy but had a nice feel to the place and whilst there we climbed the Penon de Ifach; a 330m high Nature Reserve and bird sanctuary and is really stunning!img_20170407_103910.jpg

The first third has laid walkways but once you go through the tunnel the ‘path’ to the top is marked by spray painted red dots where you scramble up the slippery soapstone polished smooth by thousands of feet, the worst parts having ropes or chains to hold on to, and it’s certainly no mean feat. I was more worried about being dive bombed by the gulls though as it was nesting season!

We also caught our first fish just off Moreira near Calpe woohoo! Finally lots of fish around the boat that aren’t mullet, these turned out to be Saddle Bream, and we’ve caught a few more since.


The following Tuesday we had an early start for our sail to Formentera, and a light but good downwind run.

Twelve hours later we dropped the anchor outside of the port at La Savina on the north of the island. The ferries here that come across from Ibiza are crazy fast, most travelling at 24kts, and cause huge wash as they slow to enter the harbour. We put the kedge anchor out to hold us into it and slept well, but had to time it going ashore in the dinghy so we didn’t get flipped as the swell broke on shore!
We spent just over a week sailing around the island (our first circumnavigation haha!) The sand is icing sugar fine, the anchorages blissfully quiet with usually just us staying overnight and we couldn’t get over how stunningly clear and blue the water was…we could lay the anchor over 6 metres down and see it clearer than in a swimming pool. We did lots of walking and cycling but also lazed on the beach and soaked up the holiday vibe! It was lush. But also expensive…our one lunch out nearly broke the bank (long gone are the one euro beers) and the laundrette in town was 10 euros a load! We nipped into the marina to fill up the nearly dry water tanks and that was 12 euros, god knows what it costs to stay the night.


When the wind turned to a strong easterly we sailed across to Ibiza with 25+kts of wind and reefed sails, dodging the gap between the mega ferries.

Wow, is this island stunning. We are making our way up the west coast and apart from small patches of holiday apartments there are no over crowded towns along this coastline so it retains an unspoilt, raw beauty. We’ve been hiking up the hills most days and the variety of wild flowers lining the roads and paths is phenomenal.

Yesterday we found our way down the scree covered trail to the hidden cove of Atlantis-the lost city, opposite the island of Es Vedra. It is actually where they have quarried stone to build the many lookout towers that stand atop the hills on the islands, but with the odd rock formations, carvings and myriad of caves and sea pools it does have a mythical quality. The climb back up was pretty challenging amongst the scrub and loose rock but we pushed our aching legs further on to the top of the highest headland we could see (we estimate 350-380m) and literally vertical in parts. I must admit my legs, scratched to bits and feeling like jelly, nearly gave up towards the top but the views were incredible!

In 10 days time I fly back to the UK for two weeks whilst Bens mates join him out here for his Stag weekend (oh dear God) so until then we’ll be trying to snap out of this holiday mode we’ve fallen into and get some jobs done…Ben is currently varnishing, I best go help.

Into The Med

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We untied the lines and pushed off from Isla Cristina at 6am (5th March).  It felt so good to be moving on again, to new places, and especially before first light as its always amazing to see the sunrise.  There wasn’t much wind but we were keen to get down towards Gibralter and into the Med, as Mum and Dad are planning to visit at the end of the month!

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We had an 11 hour sail to Rota and as the wind wasn’t up to much we got a chance to play around with some sails downwind and had the genoa, spinnaker, mainsail, staysail and mizzen up at one point.  img_20170306_093420.jpg

We’d also bought a second hand genoa whilst back in the UK at Christmas and as our furler has two grooves we ran it up the second and flew two headsails. img_20170306_143049.jpg

 It worked perfectly and is really good to know it can be done in light winds, however we’re a bit worried about the extra force on the forestay and Ben has bought parts to fit a solent stay so we have the ability to run the second jib up on that one if needed.  We also flew the mizzen staysail for the first time and we love it!  It fly’s really nicely between the two masts and sort of fills the gap, making the most of light winded conditions.  

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We had a one day stop at Rota whilst waiting for wind.  After failing to muster the energy to cook we treated ourselves to a meal out and I had a dish local to the town called Urta a la Rotena which is the locally caught catch of the day cooked on top of sliced potatoes, with a kind of vegetable and tomato sauce.  Really delicious.

The next day we sailed to Barbate.  A couple of hours out we heard some massive explosions and knowing this stretch of coast is a military firing range weren’t too worried at first as we’d not heard any warnings to stay clear on the usual traffic channels.  However we kept seeing the smoke trails in the air as whatever target they were aiming at was shot down, and it was hard to see how close it actually was!  The bangs were incredibly loud and after a while we decided to head inland and away from the ‘firing zone’ just to be on the safe side!  There wasn’t as much wind as we would hope, but rounding Cabo Trafalgar brought gusts of 30kts from nowhere, bringing a 2.5mt swell and as it was on the nose it proved to be quite an uncomfortable passage from there on, and to make matters worse a tuna net right near Barbate entrance wasn’t well marked so we had to detour.  After a 10 hour passage we finally entered the harbour, as the waves were breaking across the entrance, and were glad to tie up.

Barbate was a strange place, the marina at least, which seemed a cross between half finished and run down, but had a fantastic beach.

 

We walked the next day right to the top of the cliff and sat to look South at the distantcoastline of Africa…a real eye opener and time to reflect on the distance we’ve sailed so far.img_20170309_201128_485.jpg

The sail from Barbate to Tarifa was longer than anticipated as we had to tack to a headwind, but we were flying along at 6+kts for much of it.  You can see why Tarifa is a kitesurfers paradise as apparently the wind blows a nearly constant 30kts down here for the most part, and is a reason it has a high suicide rate due to the relentlessness of it!

We anchored on the west side of the mole to shelter from the east wind, which felt really weird as it’s exposed to ocean swell, but the Gibralter Straits generally have easterly or westerly going winds funneling through the narrow gap between Europe and Morocco (hence the name Windy Alley), usually for around three days each way with a lull between the change of direction, which is what we were waiting for.  

Due to the unique wind patterns and complex tidal flows of the area, transiting The Straits is not generally considered to be easy.  There is a constant 1kt of current flowing eastwards into the Mediterranean, with a 300m deep sill between Spain and Morocco restricting outward flow (the Med is almost landlocked and the majority of the water is lost through evaporation, as opposed to outflow).  Through the Straits tidal streams at springs can reach in excess of 3kts, half this rate at neaps, with a change in direction every 6 or so hours…but there are three streams each flowing at different strengths and often in opposite directions!  I came to think of it kind of like motorway lanes.  However as the middle part is taken up with the shipping lanes you generally stick to your inner ‘lane’.

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We had some lovely sailing going through and before we knew it the rock of Gibralter loomed before us.

In our eyes Gibralter is a weird place, full of typical ‘Brit bars’ and fried breakfasts, good for replenishing the marmite supplies and filling the tanks with duty free fuel, but we wouldn’t want to spend any longer there than necessary.

You’re not allowed to anchor in the Bay and our marina was within spitting distance of the runway, behind us loomed a huge cruise ship turned Casino Hotel.

However, we did walk all the way to the top of the rock to see the Barbary Macaque apes that live wild.  I absolutely loved it!  We took a pic nic and were pretty tired out at the end of the day as we walked for about five hours and it’s bloody steep!

When reversing out of our berth in the marina the engine stalled and we realised the stern mooring line hadn’t sunk like it should and had got caught around our propeller.  Cue sideways drifting and running around ready to fender us off the other boats.  Thankfully we were right below the office so one of the guys came in a boat and towed a line from our bow back in.  This was our first experience of Mediterranean style moorings and we hadn’t been looking forward to them for reasons like this!  Ben had to get his wetsuit on and dive in to untangle the massive knot.

We had to leave that day as strong easterly winds and big swell was forecast for the next few days, which would mean we were stuck there.  We had a pod of curious pilot whales just behind us as we left the Straits which was a really special moment, and a rough and gusty 8 hour passage to Fuengirola, which meant much reefing of the sails.  We spent that night on the waiting pontoon as it was too late and windy for us to be found a berth.

So now we were stuck here for four days.  We were found a berth between two huge boats and the swell even inside this marina was crazy.

We were bashed around so much that both the fairleads at the bow were ripped off with the violent jarring, and one of the snubbers snapped.  img_20170320_101735.jpg

The swell offshore was over 5 metres but even so it shouldn’t have been that bad inside and we had three nights of hardly any sleep.  Ben managed to get a surf in on the third day and I sewed covers for our spare diesel containers and the windlass out of leftover sail cover material, but with the weather raging we didn’t get a chance to do much else.  We were really glad to be able to get out of there, especially as were being charged 28 euros per night for the pleasure!!  

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This area is only good for transit sailing and not for cruising, which we can see why being the land of the Irish Bar and All Day Breakfast and we’ve come to refer to it as Costa Del Boy, but it so far has provided us with some challenging sailing conditions and therefore experience, which is why we are here.

We’ve actually had to get our full wet weather gear on..I mean what’s all that about?!

The wind had now dropped to a near nothing but there was still a bit of a swell left over, with the occasional big lump, but we pushed off and after 6 hours our next stop for one night was Caleta de Valez, before leaving next morning to find an anchorage.

We are well and truly sick of marinas, and usually avoid them at all costs, but since we are transiting ‘off season’ our options have been zero to limited.

After much mooching over the charts we decided on the most secluded looking beach we could find, which was near Almunecar, roughly two hours up the coast.  It was a pretty uncomfortable nights sleep being an exposed spot, but we had the most perfect evening with a fire on the beach.  THIS is what we live for.

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Our next stop from here was Motril, best avoided if it can be helped.  We anchored outside of the harbour, protected by the breakwater with a view of the oil refinery and scrap heap.  We had to go ashore to get food and had to wade through oily run off from said refinery, going straight into the sea.  It’s so upsetting to see this sort of thing can still go on, and we’ve seen so much plastic either floating in the sea or washed up on beaches.  Much of the coast here is covered in sheet plastic for some sort of crop, and I’m sure with the high winds this is partly to blame, but we’ve noticed Spain in particular doesn’t usually employ the 5p levy on plastic bags and supermarkets force you to use plastic bags for all fruit and veg.  Such a waste and so unnecessary, which is another reason we try and seek out the local markets.

The swell picked up overnight and made its way around the breakwater so we hardly slept at all.  If you imagine trying to sleep on an seesaw, you’re getting close to what it’s like.

The Navtex predicted force 6-7 next day, but we couldn’t face being stuck there so braved it and headed for Almerimar, 6 hours away, reasoning if it got too bad we’d pull into Adra only four hours away.  We had a 3.5mt swell and winds gusting over 30kts, but as we were going with it, it felt manageable.  We averaged around 7.5kts speed and surfed down some of the bigger waves at 10+kts…it was a great day and gave us a lot of confidence in ourselves and the boat.  Entering either of the ports in those conditions just wasn’t feasible, being that they were exposed to the swell, so even though we were massively tired we made the decision to carry on another few hours to Aguadulce which was protected as east facing.  As soon as we’d tucked in closer to shore ready to enter the harbour the seas were nearly flat in comparison, so really glad we made that decision.  A very salty boat and two salty sailors, we slept like logs.

So that was yesterday and now we’re anchored in a cove just south of San Jose.  It’s still super windy but we’re well protected from any swell in here (SO glad we’ve got our new anchor!).  

We had a 6 hour sail, again with BIG waves and strong winds, especially rounding Cabo de Gata (Cape of Cats?!).  The colour of the water is stunning and I can get lost in watching the crest of the waves as they fold over themselves, changing from deep blue to bright aqua, and back again in a mass of fizzing bubbles.  img_20170322_144447.jpg

We want to get to Cartagena on Saturday to give us time to source some teak for repairing the capping, and get a few other jobs ticked off the list, so we figure with the best sailing wind forecast for tomorrow we’ll try and make an anchorage at Garrucha or Aguilas, then one more stop before Cartagena.

From what we’ve seen so far the Costa Blanca has many more anchorages, seems less populated and less ‘Del Boy’ than the Costa del Sol.  Happy days.

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Onwards…sort of.

We had a great last couple of weeks in the Guadiana. There was a carnival in celebration of some Saint or other, which seemed a good excuse for everyone to dress up, drink rum and flood the otherwise deadly quiet streets of Sanlucar, and was a lot of fun.

 

We were however a little sheepish as the night before new friends Paul and Emma from Spirit had led us astray 🙂 and we were still recovering from dancing on the pontoon in the early hours.  Apologies to one of our neighbours was necessary the next morning, however the other two boats alongside had gatecrashed so were just as guilty as us.

 

The meal-turned-party was a thank you to Paul and Emma for picking up our new batteries from the freight depot whilst they were near Faro.  They are now installed and we can breathe a sigh of relief.  Two of the old ones we gave to Dave and Anna who live in a finca on the river bank.  We visited them for a cuppa (and to kidnap their lovely dog Gwen for a walk) and they showed us around.  We fell in love with their simple set up which they run pretty much off grid with solar electricity and water, use their own lamb for meat, grow vegetables and fruit including peach and citrus trees and have a little eco summer house to rent out.  Perfect.  If only the UK wasn’t so restrictive.

 

We went walking with Nick from Wylo II (he is the designer of Wylo boats) and were entertained by his fascinating tales (or yarning as he prefers to call it) from his four circumnavigations.  This is the interior of his boat…

Later we were introduced to the business of rum testing, supported by the thick volume where he has recorded years of notes (serious stuff I can assure you).  He has barred me from putting any photos of the said volume online!  img_20170227_165753.jpg

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We balanced out the socialising with many cycle rides up extremely steep hills, and discovered all the amazing wild flowers and new spring growth.  It’s prime orange season here and we scrumped a few fallen from trees which are the most sweet and juicy we’ve ever eaten.

 

We also picked a mass of the coveted wild asparagus!  Once you know how to spot it it’s addictive, but you do end up with arms and legs scratched to bits. 

We woke up one morning to the boat covered in what looked like thick, orange mud which turned out to be Saharan dust coming down with the rain!  It took a while to scrub it all off (I was glad of being on the pontoon so I could use the hose) and it stained our cockpit cover a  bit.

The night before we left a big raft of canya against the boat, combined with the force of the spring tides, managed to unhook our anchor and we dragged a good distance up river with the flood tide.  Why does this sort of thing always happen at 3am??  Our CQR we are using as our back up since losing the other just isn’t up to the job and it had taken a few attempts to dig in again this time…we think it would help if we sharpened the point, but its maybe a little under sized also.  This confirmed to us we should upgrade to a Rocna and be able to sleep sweetly again.

 

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Little sleep but still smiling

 

By the time we’d tried to re anchor three or four times, then moved way back down river to our previous spot, it was 6am.  After a whizz up river in the dinghy to say a few goodbyes we headed the two hours down to Ayamonte.

Here we went shopping for many expensive but necessary boat bits, including the new anchor.  It might as well be made out of solid gold for the price but in balance it’s cheaper than potentially losing your home!

We anchored out in the river ready for are departure and it set like a dream.  We are two happy (but skint) sailors.

 

We planned to sail the 65 NM or so to the Bay of Cadiz where we would head for Rota in the North of the Bay.  If we averaged 6kts this would be about 11 hours, and there had been 15kt winds forecast from the northwest, gusting 20 ish, which would be a nice downwind sail.  However last night this was upgraded to a sustained 25, gusting 30, and increasing throughout the day with a 3mt swell which for our first long sail of the season wasn’t ideal.  So instead we’ve come the hour or so East to Isla Cristina and will wait it out here until we hope Monday when the conditions are better, and watching the instruments the forecast is spot on!

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So after our excitement of finally setting sail we haven’t come very far, but at least it is somewhere new.  After being boat bound for two days last night we ventured out for some Tapas.  Isla Cristina is a major fishing port and the majority of their tourism comes from the Spanish so we got some curious looks from the locals.

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Poor Ben has a horrible job today trying to fit anti siphon pipes to the heads (bleugh!) as they are fitted below the water line, and is enthusiastically swearing and muttering away…I’m keeping very quiet and out the way with a cold beer on hand for when he’s finished!  Then it’s an early night tonight as we have a 5am start tomorrow for our sail to Rota…finally!

 

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Shells from Isla Cristina beach

 

 

 

 

Back up the river

 

The end of our time in the yard was overwhelmed with battery problems.  Being short on cash, we had ordered some Trojan batteries off a guy on eBay that were second hand but described as in new condition and having been stringently tested.  Being deep cycle batteries this all would be fine, last us a few years and save us more than a few hundred quid.  However, long story short they were anything but.  We complained and he did actually send out two more (at cost to us) but these were just as bad!  Ben spent the majority of his time charging to full capacity, testing, waiting for replacements, re testing, exploring whether the fluctuating yard power supply was messing up our battery charger, tracing old wiring to see if there was an unexplained draw on them…basically trying everything he could think of.  As they had been delivered to us in the UK over a month before testing them wasn’t straight forward because being 6v batteries its difficult to load test them individually.  All in all a hell of a lot of time wasted and many hours spent in the locker. img_20170113_224950.jpg

He’d also had to redesign the construction of the box they sit in as these new ones were much taller than our old ones, and with each weighing 52 kilos getting them 12 ft up onto the boat was a challenge in itself.  So, when we left the yard we had the embarrassing situation of leaving behind all six batteries for scrap and being over £600 worse off (batteries plus shipping costs).

 

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The offending batteries

 

A hard pill to swallow.  To add insult to injury we had hired a car to pick them up from the freight company and Goldcar had charged us the (huge) deposit in pounds rather than euro’s, meaning when your bank converts it back at the point of refund you are ripped off with an unfavourable exchange rate.  In our case we were down £140.  Absolutely criminal as after reading up they are legally obliged to offer you the choice of which currency to pay in.  Coupled with a big fat tax bill the bank account was in a sorry state.  The week after we went back in the water was spent on the phone to Ebookers/Goldcar complaints department, and we also emailed Paypal about the battery guy but we weren’t holding out too much hope for any money back.

Anyway, there were also many positives to our time on the hard.  The prop shaft and propeller repairs were much cheaper than anticipated, Ben replaced the stern gland, we got varnishing and antifouling done, I finished recovering all the saloon seats, we replaced some of the guardwire and resealed the stantion posts…along with many other boring but necessary jobs.

Every day we lived in chaos as the jobs took over our living space.

The hoist back in went smoothly and the new stern gland didn’t let in any water which had been a bit of a worry!

Lots of people we’d made friends with in the yard came to see us off which was really lovely and it felt great being back out on the water.

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We had a fab little sail down the lagoon channel and anchored back off Culatra island for the night.

 

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Culatra from above

Next day there was good wind and we wanted to go out for a bit of a shake down sail to check everything was ship shape before our friends arrived at the end of the week.  So we pull up the anchor, only to find…no anchor.  The swivel pin had broken leaving our best anchor nicely buried in the sand somewhere.  Ben had checked it over too before we left the yard but with stainless steel the corrosion is internal and there must’ve been a microscopic fracture.

 

Nevertheless we went out and had a fantastic sail for a couple of hours and anchored using a spare on our return.  That night the generator conked out, hooray!  What next we thought.  We had old batteries that wouldn’t hold charge and now  no generator to charge them.  Thank god the sun was out and our solar panels were keeping up the pace.  Ben discovered that seawater had been somehow getting in and seized the exhaust valve solid, which then bent a push rod.

We trawled the sea bed for the anchor for about 7 hours the next day with one of Bens homemade contraptions, but as it had no chain attached it was like finding a needle in a haystack and we had to accept defeat.

Now we will have to decide on whether to upgrade to a Rocna (£££) which would mean much less worry about dragging anchor in strong winds or go for a more affordable model that wouldn’t be much better than the spare CQR we’re on now.  My instinct says spend the extra and be safe not sorry after our latest experiences.

We sucked it up as our friends were arriving from the UK so time to put it aside and enjoy their company.

We had lunch out in Faro old town for Kat’s birthday and the next day we had a good 8 hour sail up to the Spanish border, a fairly sizeable swell, which meant Kj was seasick the whole way (he denies the previous nights red wine played a part!).  We were a bit early for the tide as with over a 2 metre swell meant we had to heave to a little outside the entrance to the Rio Guadiana until the channel depths increased.  Everyone was a bit knackered from the days sail so it wasn’t a late night.  The next day being Bens birthday we managed to use the northerly wind to sail back downriver as we had to be near a train station for our guests trip home the next day.  This meant staying overnight on the Spanish side in Ayamonte marina and a 6am run across the river to the Portuguese side, as the marina here has a bad rep for being tight on space and dodgy cross currents.

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sailing before sunrise!

 

Since they’ve left we’ve made our way back up the river and are awaiting the arrival of our NEW batteries via Algarve Freight to Ayamonte marina.  We had to bite the bullet this time and fork out a horrific amount of money for 4 x T105 deep cycle Trojan batteries.  However we had the unexpected good news from Paypal that they had recovered our £500 from Mr Ebay Trickster yipeeeee!!  We are over the moon…and to top it off the next day Ebookers refunded us £100 of the missing car deposit.  YES!!  Phew, not so bleak after all.  The chandlery back down in Ayamonte has anchors in stock so when the batteries arrive we’ll buy a new one too.  Since we’ve been back up here we had a big tree wash down and our chain wrapped around it nicely, and when we re anchored it took five attempts to dig in.  Not what you want when its peeing down with rain and nearly dark.

We’ve been keeping busy doing lots of cycling to get things like gas and fuel for the outboard (all up massive hills but we really need the exercise!) so it’s great to have two folding bikes now. img_20170207_120849.jpg

Ben has been generally making a mess of the boat..only joking, he’s been resealing all the rig fittings and stantions that are fixed down to the deck, so they don’t leak anymore, which means all the headlinings are down in the aft cabin.  On valentines we took a picnic and found new walking routes on the Spanish side.

We’ve also enjoyed meeting some more boat friends; Martina and Julian are from Carina of Devon but are house sitting on the river near us and we had a curry night with them, along with Paul and Emma from Spirit on Wednesday night, who we’re also going up to visit on the other side at the weekend as they’ve bought a plot of land.

 

Once the batteries arrive we’re thinking of making our way down to Cadiz and then towards Gibraltar.  I’m excited to see some new places finally as we’ve been up and down this stretch of coast for a long time now.  Until then we’ll be enjoying the sun which has made an appearance and is surprisingly warm for February!

End of one season and onto the next

 

 

Our last week or so up the river Guadiana we had moved onto the pontoon at Alcoutim and ended up meeting quite a few more people, so the social scene was a lot of fun.  We went into the riverside bar one evening and met a bunch of people who all piled in from the free wine and chestnuts being dished out on the waterfront, who were all suitably inebriated.

 Some were from boats, others were travelling in camper vans.  The next night we took homemade pizza over to Prinses Mia, Martijn’s 44ft steel boat, that he has done up over the last four years or so and kitted out with bargain finds in the most beautiful way.

 The inside is palatial and he says he turns the bathroom into a sauna with the use of some sort of pipework construction I didn’t quite understand (Martijn is Dutch and speaks at one hundred miles an hour!).  We also met Will on SV Mangata and Max who has a 22ft wooden boat and is planning to sail across the Atlantic this winter.  Mad…I don’t think many people are brave enough to go across in a boat that small!

Martijn could always be heard inviting people round for a ‘party’ and we enjoyed a couple of nights aboard drinking cheap red wine and sharing stories from life at sea, and for us newbies it’s great to pick up useful information and have a sounding board and advice with various boat issues.  Problems never seems as big once you find out most people have had the same, or far worse, in their time. 

On Tuesdays nights there’s a music night held in the Riverside Tavern in Alcoutim where people bring along everything from guitars, ukelele’s, mouth organs, flutes, penny whistles, fiddles and more, which Ben joined in with.  Most people are liveaboards from up and downriver, but many live nearby in finca’s and it always proves a popular night.img_20161115_231315.jpg

On a walk one afternoon we finally found the elusive wild asparagus! However if it wasn’t for spotting a local picking it we’d never have known as the spiky bushes camouflage the green spears almost entirely.