24/05/2011, North Atlantic
We arrived in the Bay of Gibraltar on Saturday evening and tried to moor at a marina on the Spanish side of the bay. Within an hour we had the Spanish police telling us that we were not welcome and must leave. The one policeman could speak a bit of English and told us that we had to go to the British side of the bay. I tried to explain that we had Schengen visas but not British ones, but it made no difference - we left before it was too dark and headed over to "The Rock".
Sheppard's Marina was full and the next one, Queensway Quay Marina, where I had been before, welcomed us. As Mathys and I are South African, we now need visas for Britain and for Gibraltar, so we had to pay Pounds 75.00 for a short stay "letter of permission" plus the marina fees. What the hell, we paid and had a darn good sleep that night with no bouncing and banging.
Sunday was spent checking all our rigging, engines, cordage and a hundred other small items on the boat that could break, chafe or go wrong. Then Dave and I set off to the local supermarket to get some extra fresh provisions, returning with just enough to get us back to the boat without ripping our arms off - we had to walk the two kilometres back carrying everything.
Monday morning we fuelled up the boat. Let me explain that Gibraltar is supposed to be "duty free". Diesel is expensive, so for others following, buy diesel elsewhere and save some money! Then off we went - back to bashing into a twenty knot wind for the rest of the day. As I write this, it is Tuesday morning and the wind has died, the sails are stowed and we are motoring with just a slight breeze out of the east. The weather forecast is that it will remain like this for the remainder of the day and tomorrow we should have even less breeze as we motor into the centre of a high pressure system.
Coming through the Straits of Gibraltar is always an eye-opener for those that have not done that trip before. We entered via the northern small craft lane and had no problems with the numerous fishing nets on the southern small craft lane, which we were monitoring on the VHF. Now we are further into the Mediterranean Sea, the shipping is still all around us but far better spread out and a person can see the lanes the commercial ships generally stick to.
At the moment it is cold and we can even see the snow on the mountains well to the north of us. We have about 1600 nautical miles to go to our destination, which should take us about a week and a half, depending if we have to motor or do get some wind up ahead to be able to sail with. More on progress in a future blog report.
Now let's get back to that pigeon. We did not eat it! It spent the night on board and took off, flying south (back to Africa), when we were in the Straits of Gibraltar. It did leave its calling card in the form of guano everywhere it had been on deck, which was washed off the moment it took flight. So far this trip we have had a number of birds landing on the boat - two common noddies, two swallows, a dove and the pigeon. There was one other bird that wanted to take refuge in the sail cover but I have no idea what it was and it only stayed for about half an hour.
I had a query from somebody "down under" regarding how I communicate and send and receive email. It is actually quite simple. I have a small Icom HF radio (IC 706 Mk IIg), which is connected to an SCS PTC-IIpro radio modem, which plugs into my laptop, using Airmail software. The antenna side is cabled aft to the engine room where there is a small AH-4 automatic antenna tuner. The antenna side of the tuner is connected to a 13.5 metre long electrical wire which is inside a length of ski rope, which in turn is taken up the mast. The earth side of the tuner is connected to another 13.5 metre length of electrical wire, which I tow behind the boat and acts as the earth or ground to the system. I work the Winlink station all over the world with this setup, and have been doing so for many years. It is free to all licensed HAM's and has been of great value for email communications. On the other side of the coin, I can also communicate via voice using the radio, if the need arises. If you want further information, drop me an email via the link on the right of this page and I will let you know once the delivery is over and I can sit down and write further about the system.
I wish you all well for now and send greetings from Mathys, Josh, David and myself, John.
20/05/2011, North Atlantic
So, today we had hoped to start our transit of the Straits of Gibraltar but, due to having headwinds for the past twenty four hours, it is not to be! So, as we have been bouncing into the oncoming swell and wind, we received a visitor, in the form of a racing pigeon that has dropped out of some race and decided that flight is bad and catamaran sailing is good!
So, we have pigeon 2010#200689 (pictured above and with a green band), sitting on one of our empty diesel cans, enjoying the ride. We have no idea where he is meant to go but, if it is Spain, he is in luck! Anybody reading the blog who can trace his owner? He landed on the boat at 15:00 local time (20 May 2011) at position 35 degrees 27 minutes north, 008 degrees 04 minutes west.
And back to the transit of the Straits of Gibraltar. Since yesterday afternoon we have had headwinds, varying from 24 knots down to 18 knots, directly on the nose. Basically, we should have been able to get through the straits during tonight and tomorrow morning. However, we have been going so slowly that the transit will only happen tomorrow night into Sunday morning. As I type this, we have about 90 nautical miles to go to the western entrance to the straits. We already know that the winds in the straits are out of the east, which means it will also be a slow transit with a lot of banging and bashing into the oncoming seas - catamarans do not like those sort of conditions!
Thanks for the readers who have sent me updates of the Libyan situation. All of it is very relevant as we need to make the decision of how to pass the area without whacking an unlit refugee boat at night or getting tangled up with some conflict with warships involved. As we progress towards the area, we will reassess the situation, taking the predicted winds and weather into consideration, together with what we have been told. Please note that only a few people know my email address used whilst at sea - it is not the one on the right of this page! Emails to that address can only be accessed whilst I am ashore.
So, as we are all bored and waiting to get into a port for a day or so, nothing really is happening on board. The excitement for the day is the pigeon landing on board (and still enjoying the free ride) and, believe it or not, an empty Styrofoam box floating in the sea, that we passed. A very exciting day, don't you think? Ah, I hear you think, they really have lost the plot!
So, as Josh prepares the pigeon and I make the pie pastry, I bid you well until we have reached the Mediterranean Sea, which should be only a day or two from now. Regards from the motley crew - John.
17/05/2011, North Atlantic
Before I start my ramblings, I have now had a few emails wanting to know where exactly we are. You can answer your own question by clicking the "Shiptrak" link on the right of this page and should see a map of the world with our track represented in a series of red dots. Each dot is our noon (local noon) position. If you now click on a dot, it will give you the date and time, physical location (lat & long) and a few other details and a short comment. Hope it works for you as I do post our daily positions as soon as possible after they are recorded.
Right, that now out the way, we passed the island of Madeira last night on our course of 066 degrees true. It was well lit and the moon was full, so we were able to grasp the size of the island and the fact that there are a hell of a lot of people living there. We were even able to witness a pretty large aircraft landing at the airport, which is located right on the shore front. The other notable item is that there was not a breath of wind and the sea was like glass. This was expected and has continued all day today, with a slight breeze from the north expected later this evening.
We now have about 450 nautical miles to go to our next waypoint, which is at the western side of the Straits of Gibraltar. Doing the calculations, we should arrive there during the early hours of Saturday morning if the wind and weather plays its part as predicted by the weather folk. We will then spend the morning going through the straits and most likely stop off on the Spanish side of Gibraltar Bay to fill our water tanks and take on further diesel to get us to our destination.
At the moment we are under motor only (and have been for the past 24 hours), which is not too bad. Dave is at the helm trying not to run over the turtles we are seeing, whilst Josh is starting our dinner of "pap 'n wors". Well, not actually "pap" but mashed potato with boerewors topped with a pepper and mushroom sauce. It is the last pack of our boerewors so we will wave that part of our South African traditional food a farewell as we enjoy it. Dave, a Canadian, has grown to like it as well and was quite disappointed that it was the last pack. Whilst I type the report, Mathys is going through his exercise routine, doing push-ups. Ah well, everybody for their own!
Break, Break - dinner now consumed - lick da lips maan!
As you will gather, not much is happening aboard at the moment. So, from Dave (chief coffee maker), Josh (gambling specialist), Mathys (fitness wanabee) and myself, John (idiot in charge), we send you greetings until the next blog post.
15/05/2011, North Atlantic
It seems like a week ago that we jibed the boat and started heading east, but it was only a few days. The reason is a lack of sleep for everybody on board. Let me explain.
We were heading north from the Cape Verde Islands and actually needed to get a bit further north than we did. However, looking at the weather downloads, we realised that a front was due to pass north of us and thus we would start getting high winds right on the bow. I took the decision to wait until the wind started to swing out of the northeast to the north and then start our trek east, with a bit of north thrown in, towards the island of Madeira. We would then see what the winds were doing and try to head towards the African coast and Straits of Gibraltar.
The first few days of heading east were difficult, with large seas generated by the front passing north of us, high winds and a terrible short chop on the water. The result of this was the title of this posting - the "woosh" is us shooting off the top of a wave, the "bang" is us dropping off the back of it and the "shudder" is what the whole boat does as it comes to a stop with the bows dug into the wave following. Not nice! We all learnt the art of levitation in our bunks as the boat drops off the top of a wave - your body is still going up as the boat drops and then your body drops and you bounce off your bunk. Not the ideal sleeping conditions.
But, the front has passed and the winds have calmed a bit and we are a couple of hundred miles from Madeira and heading into the centre of a low, which has been hovering between the Canary Islands, Madeira the African coast and up to Gibraltar. We have about 800 nautical miles to the Straits and, looking at the latest seven day forecast, it looks like we will spend most of it motor-sailing.
Just before we did our right turn to start heading east, we caught two lovely Wahoo (photo of Josh with them shown above), which were filleted and frozen, with the exception of one pack which was consumed for dinner that evening. They are really lovely fish to eat - white compact meat with a great flavour. Tonight (Sunday 15 May), Josh is going to prepare battered Wahoo with potato wedges and our version of Tatar Sauce. Roll on dinner time! Our dinner last night was pasta with a tomato and garlic type sauce and rounds of sliced Chorizo sausage I bought in Mindelo - darn nice and easy to prepare in the bouncing and banging boat.
And quickly back to the boat. She held up quite well with the punishment over the past few days. We developed a few creaks and some grinding from panels but the major problem was that we developed a leak in the plumbing from our starboard water tank and lost all the water before realising it. Dave and I spent yesterday going through the whole water system and found the broken pipe, which we repaired. However, we now have an air leak into the plumbing between our auxiliary water tank and the pressure pump. This will be harder to find as there are about 20 couplings between the pump and the tank, with some of them that we cannot get to. It is not critical but is really inconvenient.
We are about a week from the Straits of Gibraltar. We will have to stop somewhere to fix our water problem and take on some more fuel and at first I was thinking of Cadiz but, if we can get through the straits, I may go into Gibraltar Bay and stop on the Spanish side. Unfortunately, Mathys and I, being South African, can no longer go to Gibraltar as we do not have British visas. From the straits we will have a further 1710 nautical miles to our destination, Gocek, Turkey.
Well, enough waffling for now - until the next blog post, regards from Mathys, Josh, David and myself, John.
09/05/2011, North Atlantic
Since leaving the Cape Verde Islands on Saturday morning, we have had a real mixture of wind. For the first twenty four hours we really were hammered by the wind and waves, with spray flying off the boat as we made, firstly, a northwest heading and then north-northwest. Conditions were not conducive for cooking and our first nights meal was a cup of soup and a bread roll. Then the wind started to reduce and of course, when that happens, so did the swell. Our second nights meal was a huge pot of pasta with a tomato, garlic, onion and marrow sauce - the marrow was a large one we bought at the fresh produce market in Mindelo.
Today we had a bit of motor-sailing during the early hours of the morning until a breeze set in once again and we were able to roll out the genoa and sail for the remainder of the day. Dinner has been consumed with great gusto - crumbed sailfish fillets served with coleslaw. Well done to Josh and Dave for the preparation and cooking.
It is now after 9pm local time and we have a quarter moon in the western sky with lots of stars and a few puffs of cloud hanging about. The temperature is definitely getting less as we head further north towards the Azores Islands and night watches now include a jacket. Soon they will also include long pants! As I type this the breeze is slowly dropping and we will most likely have to utilise the "iron sail" to take us through the remainder of the night. Earlier this evening I downloaded the latest weather files from the US weather service and it looks like very light airs up ahead for a few days. To keep up with the changing weather patterns, I am currently doing weather downloads both each morning and evening, thereafter I overlay it on a digital chart on the laptop and we all have a good study of the latest update to try and determine which watches will have wind and who will be using the motor. The weather files have been quite accurate since leaving Cape Town.
As mentioned above, we have a moon in the western sky as I type this. It is busy waxing and thus we should have good visibility on our night watches for the next two weeks. This makes for pleasant night watches as there is nothing worse than not being able to tell where the horizon is. However, on the other hand, it makes it slightly more difficult to spot the lights of ships. Our "ship spotting" competition was halted 50 nautical miles before we reached the Cape Verde Islands and was re-started when 50 miles out again. Dave is leading the scoreboard with myself second and Mathys third. Josh has yet to spot his first ship!
Well, it had to happen - I just started the starboard engine to give us a bit of speed as we had dropped from just over 6 knots to 3 in the last hour. We need to keep moving as we are a bit behind our schedule and need to make up some of the lost time.
In about four days we should be able to start turning more to the east and slowly start curving towards the Straits of Gibraltar. Exactly where we stop next is still debatable - it will depend on our fuel and water situation. I had planned to stop in Cadiz, Spain, but if our fuel and water is fine, we most likely will continue towards Turkey. The weather in the Med also needs to be studied as we get closer as there can, and often is, opposing winds in the Straits which can be quite difficult to get through if the winds are too strong and heading us. More about that as we get closer.
Well, that should update you all as to what is happening aboard the good ship Moorings A5003. Regards from Josh, Mathys, Dave and myself, John.