The last week has been a bit of a blur but Plan B worked and we have arrived at our winter destination, thank goodness!
We only spent one night in Palamos and carried on up the coast to L'Escala, where we were met by really helpful and friendly staff at the marina. It was also the first marina that we had visited that had heated shower rooms. That might sound insignificant to you but you have to believe us that this is an important consideration at this time of year! L'Escala town was a short walk around the beach away and was just lovely with interesting buildings, a warm, community atmosphere and the best bottle shop in the whole world. We found drinks in there that we didn't even know existed. Chris wanted to stop right here and go no further!
From there, we continued around the coast and crossed the border into France to arrive at Port Vendres which was a picture postcard French harbour. Checked the weather, once we had done the usual tracking down of an internet connection that, this time, turned out to be sitting under a tree outside a cafe. We realised that we had a small weather window on Saturday to get to La Ciotat and decided to go for it.
We left around midday and wondered whether we had done the right thing with an overnight passage a head of us. It was a bit tricky even getting out of the harbour as we had 35 knots of wind coming right at us but we knew that the first couple of hours were going to be the worst. After 30 minutes we had to get changed because we were soaked by the waves that had broken over the boat and had landed on us. We were using the engine to help us power through the seas, when it just stopped. Chris then spent the next two hours below, with his head in the engine room, covered in diesel, sorting it all out. We think we must have picked up some contaminated fuel in Ibiza, as the filters, which had only been changed in Menorca, were blocked with muck. Not deterred, we continued. Dinner was a tin of Irish Stew mixed with a tin of peas and carrots and was surprisingly good. The crossing of Gulf of Lions, which has a formidable reputation due to the strength and direction of the wind at this time of the year, was completed without incident and, as we approached the French coast at Marseilles, whilst I was resting below, Chris found himself doing 10 knots which was a bit too fast for the conditions, so he reefed the sails a bit more to slow us down but still kept up a respectable speed. The final part of the journey was in big seas and strong winds and, as it was still dark, we kept seeing the silhouette of the land disappear behind another set of big waves. We were quite glad that it was dark, so that we couldn't see just how big the waves were! As we arrived at Ben's boatyard the heavens opened and, in the dark, we got soaked mooring up. We didn't really say much to each other because we were too cold and wet but there was a silent relief and contentment at our achievement.
It is amazing how much better you feel after sleep and a bacon sandwich but we did. We spent a couple of days at Ben's yard and have today moved just around the corner to the Old Port of La Ciotat, that Ben very kindly arranged for us. We have a lovely location right outside the Capitainerie and a restaurant that is sharing its wifi connection with us (hope they don't mind). We have a view of the marina and town in front of us and it is just perfect.
We are now getting ready to return to the UK this weekend and are looking forward to seeing as many of you as we can before returning on 5th January when we will start some maintenance work on the boat before setting off for more Mediterranean adventures sometime in March.
Deep Blue has looked after us so well these last few months. We are very proud of her. We feel a bit reluctant to leave her this weekend but she is probably looking forward to the rest just as much as we are.
Check out the gallery for the last photos from Mahon, L'Escala (Spain album) and Port Vendres and La Ciotat (France album), we hope you enjoy them.
Our attempt to make it to La Ciotat was thwarted by the weather despite the good forecasts that we had. After 6 ½ hours, we had only made 18 miles due to the wind and sea with its 2-3m swell pushing us back. At that rate, we wouldn't have been home for Christmas. Also, my new anti-seasickness wristbands did not work. Then again, I don't think anything would have in that sea! So, the decision was made to return to Mahon, where we were greeted by beautiful sunshine and work out a Plan B.
Plan B consisted of looking at the forthcoming week's weather which told us we would not be leaving Mahon for La Ciotat. So, we decided to return to the Spanish mainland and work our way around the coast of Spain and France. That sorted, I quickly re-took all the photos that I had previously taken as the sun was now out and everything looked so much nicer. Will update the website soon, when I have a better internet connection.
The next day, we set off at 4.45pm for an overnight sail to Palamos. There was almost a full moon and lots of shooting stars. It was a quiet passage until we arrived at Palamos when, yet again, the wind blew up and our entrance into the marina was a tricky one. We moored onto the fuel pontoon, whilst tracking down a Marinero to advise us where to berth. The wind was throwing the boat and us about so much that we had to be creative in how we tied the boat to the pontoon in order not to have any cleats (the fixings on the hull of the boat that you attach ropes to) ripped out as it felt like a distinct possibility.
We have now been allocated a berth in the most expensive marina to date - 78 euros for one night. Even the posh Sunseeker mooring in Mahon was less than half of that. Therefore, we are now looking at the weather again to see where we can move on to tomorrow. Looks like the week again is going to mean a lot of hops around the coast jumping in and out of weather patterns but that is sailing at this time of year.
Have already made a mental note for next year - make sure we are where we are going to be for the winter by November!
After a week of howling wind, thunder, lightening, incessant rain and the boat and us being bounced around during all of this, we are pleased that normal weather has been resumed and we now have our weather window for our journey to France. We depart tonight at around 10pm and expect to arrive in La Ciotat, where we will be staying for the winter, around Saturday lunchtime.
Despite the weather, we have enjoyed our week in Mahon though didn't get out and about as much as we had hoped. On Sunday, we read The Sunday Times whilst having a pre-lunch drink in the Club Maritimo bar before going upstairs for their 'All You Can Eat' buffet for just 16 euros. We did England proud! Our Starters included; melon and Serrano ham, endive and Roquefort, paella (2 different types), roast pork and bean and tomato salads. Fish course followed and we had Salmon in a cream sauce, selection of small, fried fish and seafood gratin. Then, it was onto the main course of stuffed roast lamb, ossobucco, beef meatballs in a mustard sauce and lamb chops. Unbelievably, we still found room for an assortment of desserts. Yes, we really did eat all of it! For the rest of the day, we just sat around weighed down by the amount of food we had eaten and the guilt of it all.
The rest of this week has been spent doing a lot of walking, not only to burn off Sunday's lunch but also to raid the local supermarkets of Cava at 1.65 euros a bottle, perfect for the coming Festive season. We spent a whole afternoon, in vain, trying to find a self-service launderette, oh the exotic life we lead. We took one 4kg wash to the only place available, the local yacht club, where there was no choice but to have a service wash and it cost 20 euros! Since then, the washing has been mounting up and we will resemble a Chinese laundry when we get to France.
All in all, we have had a relaxing week and are now ready for our last journey of this year to our winter home. Chris has spent today getting the boat ready, course plotting and checking the weather. I have been preparing meals for the journey so that I don't have to do it whilst we are travelling, just in case I start to feel seasick again. However, I am very confident that this trip will be different as I have bought some anti-seasickness wrist bands that you wear on each wrist and which apply slight pressure to a certain point on the inside of the wrist that is supposed to completely remove any symptoms. Fingers crossed! At least Chris has got some nice food to eat over the next couple of days.
We are now going to go and have a shower and rest in preparation for tonight's departure so shall update again when we are there. Adios from Spain!
The journey to Mahon was an important one in that it took us to our penultimate destination before heading to La Ciotat in France where we will stop for several months over winter.
The journey was great in that the wind blew and we had the best sail of our trip so far. However, the sea was very lumpy and, during the second half of the journey, I was seasick again. Luckily, it was a quiet night when we only saw a couple of ships, so it was easy for me. One large tanker made a course change for us during the night. We were not on a collision course, but they obviously saw that it was going to be tight, so made life easier for us and changed course to go behind us rather than in front. Chris decided to call them up on the VHF radio to thank them. It turned out that it was an English tanker and they confirmed that they had changed course for us and wished us a good journey to Menorca.
Our arrival in Mahon couldn't have come sooner for me, but as soon as we were in the harbour and in calmer water, I felt immediately better and could appreciate the beauty of Mahon Harbour. It is a very large harbour, a prize that many nations have coveted. Nelson was here in 1799 (allegedly with Lady Hamilton) where he introduced gin production to the locals. We will be visiting the gin museum whilst we are here.
We are moored on one of Sunseeker's (large, expensive, British motor boats) moorings just outside their office here. They could not be more helpful and it is a great location right in front of the town steps taking us into the centre of the town which is on different levels above us.
Chris visited Menorca several times some 25 years ago as a guest of his friend, Mike Jackson, whose parents had a place here. Chris and Paula may remember a holiday here. He remembers it quite well, and it is nice to think of us having sailed here so many years later.
First impressions are very positive. Mahon is a real town, not dependant on tourism. It is out of season now but there is still a strong community feel about the place. The market looks great, the restaurants around the marina look very inviting and, checking out the weather today, it looks as though we are going to be here until the middle of next week at the earliest so there is plenty for us to see and do and we are very much looking forward to our time here.
Chris has just made a delicious smelling chicken curry, we've got ELO on the stereo and a glass of very good cava (2 euros/£1.42 a bottle) on the go, so life is good..............
Another 26 hour, 153 mile, overnight journey and we arrived in the Balearics; however, this journey was like no other!
We left Cartagena late morning to start our journey to Ibiza. There wasn't much wind, so the engine was on. At 7.30pm, whilst I was down in the galley preparing our evening meal (tortellini with a tomato & vegetable sauce with freshly grated parmesan cheese) and, whilst it was pitch black outside, I heard Chris say 'I think we will need to delay dinner for a little while', 'OK', I replied, followed by Chris's voice again, 'No, you need to come up here now'. I could tell from the assertiveness of the tone of his voice that, on this occasion, I had to do what he said. In my haste to get on deck, I hit my knee on the stairs and, hobbling on deck, got up there to see the dark silhouette of a large motor boat about 60 feet from us! Believe me, in the dark, 60 feet is not a lot. The boat was right next to us, following us. Chris told me that it had come up behind us very quickly. He could see their port (red) and starboard (green) lights getting bigger and bigger and knew that seeing both together meant that they were heading straight for us. He got out a powerful flashlight and shone it on the sails, thinking that they had not seen us. It made a slight difference in that they slowed down but they were still heading for us, when he called me up. We both stood on deck not really knowing what was happening, when they lit a bright flashlight and shone it at us and the boat. Then we heard them call us on the radio and we realised it was the Guardia Civil (police) offshore patrol boat. Knowing that we had done nothing wrong and had no contraband or fugitives on board, we relaxed. They wanted to know where we were from, where we were going and how many of us were on board. After we answered their questions, they wished us a pleasant trip, thanked us for our co-operation and left us alone. We stood there, a little stunned, thinking that we had just taken part in some kind of James Bond re-enactment, then I remembered that our dinner was waiting so we scoffed that down, our appetites even keener by the visit.
By the time we got to Santa Eulalia, the wind was blowing like mad and we moored in 25 knots/miles of wind. The marinero who helped us moor seemed pleased that we did a quick and efficient job of it as he was off to play football soon after and didn't need any hold ups.
As we plan to return to the Balearics in the spring, we didn't do much exploring but just had a quick walk around only to find that the place had mostly closed for winter. We didn't visit Ibiza Town where most of the action was probably taking place. We did meet up with Thomas and Marit, our Norwegian friends that we met in Cartagena, and we went out for dinner together. We had a lovely evening together and wished them good winds as they sail to Sardinia for Christmas, hoping to meet them again next spring.
Checking the weather, we saw that we had a great opportunity to make it to Menorca. Our original plan was to visit Mallorca first but, at this time of year, we had to make the most of the weather and, knowing that we were going to visit again, we decided to go for it. So, another 26 hour journey ahead.....
Again, we were lucky to have a warm night to make our 20 hour journey to Cartagena (pronounced cart-a-hay-na but we know it as Carthage, famous for its battles with Rome). But it was not a quiet night as we had to keep our eyes peeled for the procession of tankers, cruise liners and container ships and, of course, the usual fishing boats that seem to head in wild directions at great speed without any warning. We didn't need the sea traffic to keep us on our toes that night as the auto pilot (our third crew member) did that for us. We do enjoy helming and do it most of the time, however, when we are on a long journey and are some distance from the coast, heading in a straight line, we do use the auto pilot to steer for us, having first put a course into the chart plotter for it to follow. This is especially good at night, when conditions are calm. During our journey though, for no apparent reason, the auto pilot decided that we really should be going in a completely different direction and, with no warning, and at speed, spun the boat off course. After a second of your heart beating ten to the dozen, you realise what is happening and deal with the situation quite simply. This happened four times during the trip though. Another thing to go onto the Things To Do List.
We arrived here on Monday and unfavourable winds have kept us here until tomorrow (Saturday) when we are off to Ibiza. We are glad that we have been held up here because there is so much history and sights to see that it would have been a great shame to have missed them. The city was established in 243 BC and was the capital of the Carthaginian Empire because of its perfect location; five hills surrounding a natural, deep harbour. It became a fortified city, with a great wall connecting the hills and Hannibal used it as his base for his expedition across the Alps. Rome tried to take control several times but was unsuccessful. In the end, though, they did manage to take the city and the Carthaginian culture eventually died out in Europe. During the past couple of days, we have visited Christmas Fort at the entrance to the harbour where Chris thought about doing an artillery apprenticeship (see picture in Gallery), we have seen ruins of Roman streets, houses and an amphi theatre and have visited the castle with spectacular views all around. All this has only been excavated since the 70's. Today, Cartagena is an important naval base and we watched a submarine come into port yesterday which was quite surreal having only ever seen them in films.
The weather is still nice and warm when you are in the sunshine, which is most of the day, but it does turn cold once the sun goes down. Today, we had a 'Menu da Dia' lunch in a restaurant (9 Euros and 4 courses) in one of the squares and sat in our t-shirts soaking up the sunshine. It is now 8.30pm and I've got a fan heater on! It is November after all.
Another great thing happened this week on the technology front. Chris was chatting to Thomas, a Norwegian guy who had been in Cadiz for a couple of nights whilst we were there. They were discussing our never ending quest to find an internet connection whenever we arrive anywhere. He told Chris about a Spanish SIM card that allows you to use your mobile phone as a modem to connect your computer to the internet. The best bit is that it costs a maximum of £1 per day to use it for as long as you like. We usually have a phone connection even when we are out at sea, so without haste, we were off to the phone shop to purchase the card. It works perfectly and allows us to have internet connection on the boat as long as we have a mobile phone signal. So far, it has worked perfectly and will mean that we no longer have to spend time and energy trying to track down internet cafés. Hurray!! The only down side is that it is slow and you cannot use this connection for Skype calls. But, at least we can email easily and, very importantly, download some fantastic weather information to help us plan our journeys.
Next stop Ibiza. If anyone knows of any parties going on there this weekend, please let us know..........
We tried to leave Gibraltar last Wednesday but after 2 hours of battling against the wind, we decided to return and sit it out. This took nearly another week! For the whole of the week, a dark cloud remained hanging over the Rock and with it came cold winds and hardly any sunshine. However, we could see Spain the other side of the breakwater and the sun always shone there. So, we got our bikes out again and cycled across the airport runway in seek of some heat and, by chance, to find a Carrefour supermarket as Chris has worked out that they sell lager for only 34p pint. As you will know, Chris isn't usually a lager drinker but at 34p a pint, he has found that his taste buds are acquiring the taste!
At last, the weather changed and we set off for an overnight passage to Almerimar. It was an excellent journey with a warm breeze to help us along and the sunshine was waiting for us again. The marina was really nice and spacious with good shops, a supermarket close by and a live aboard community who stay there for the winter. All this was surrounded by low-rise, ornate Spanish apartments with the Sierra Nevada mountains behind. We also learnt that this is where most of western Europe is supplied it's winter salad from - vast areas of land between the coast and the mountains are covered in highly organised 'polly tents'.
One of the strangest sights we saw however was a vending machine outside the chandlers that sold live fishing bait! For just a couple of euros, you could have an assortment of wrigglers in all shapes and sizes - nice. The whole of Spain and Portugal seem to be obsessed with fishing so I suppose it makes sense.
The plan was to spend a couple of nights in Almerimar before continuing on our journey but it was such a nice place that Dave and Elaine decided that that was where they were going to stop for the winter rather than continue to France with us. So, after being together for nearly three months there were lots of hugs and wishes of good luck, before we headed off for another overnight passage to Cartagena.