26/07/2008, Cadaques, Spain
July 26th, 2008
Barcelona to Cadeques
After three glorious days reveling in the architectural wonders and energy of the worldclass city of Barcelona, we left in the evening for an over night sail to our last stop in Spain. Arriving early in the morning of Sunday, July 27th at Cadeques we were greeted by another perfect sunrise. The small town has a certain vibe to it, although in many ways it was nothing special. The white square hotels and apartments nestled against the hill and sloped down to small beaches of stone. A few tourist shops, restaurants, cafes and a flee market in the central square.
We dinghied ashore and, after the usual stops to check our internet access and pick up water at the local grocery store, we hiked a kilometer over the hill to the small bay of Port Lligat, home to the Salvador Dali House, where he lived his summers for many years. The museum required reservations which we didn't have, so we held a reservation for later that evening, with the hope of leaving our current anchorage and motoring over to the bay. We hiked back to Cadeques and after a fast swim on the rock beach, we returned to Windancer.
After sailing over to Port Lligat, we tried anchoring three times with no luck. The heavy weeds made it tough to get a secure anchor and we decided it wasn't in the cards to stop here. So that night we said adios to Espanol after nearly a month touring the cities of Valencia, Barcelona and cruising the Ballearic Islands of Mallorca, Ibiza and Formentara. The next morning we would say Bon Jour to France.
25/07/2008, Barcelona, Soain
We already miss our guest frm Vancouver, but have brother Dan and family joining us on July 31st in Nice and need to re-provision and get the boat cleaned and ready for ou new guests.
We headed via subway (note to self - Barcelona is one of the most amazing cities and it has an awesome public transit system - including a very extensive and efficient subway) to the center of Barcelona to see a few Gaudi designed buildings.
We also found one of the two famous 100 year old grocery stores situated in the town's old downtown - Colmado Quilez. Thoughts of the Longo family starting their grocery empire filled my mind as I purchased some wine in this mainstay of grocery retailing!
We continued to the main grocery store (unfortunately the historic grocery store had a very limited selection and no fresh fruit or veggies) and completed a full re-provisioning for Windancer. Exhausted once we returned home, the crew took a much needed na while I headed to the local wifi spot and tried to source the necessary maintenance parts we require.
A good decision was made to stay an extra day and night in Barcelona and the entire crew enjoyed a restful sleep. Tomorrow we will finish washing Windancer, take the cable car ride to the Montjuic (huge city park) and sail overnight to our next port.
23/07/2008, Barcelona, Spain
After 12 amazing days while the crew of Windancer IV enjoyed our first "boat guests", Karen, Emily and Kate Walker, often referred to as the three bears, boarded the Aeroporto transit train and headed home to Vancouver via Philadelphia and Seattle where they will spend this evening.
The visit was beyond amazing, far more than my words can tell, and the four cousins spent the "time of their lives" playing, swimming, diving, snorkelling and exploring whatever Spain and the Balearic Islands had to offer. I can honestly say that I have not seen a more incredible bonding experience happen before our eyes - it was as if these kids hap never been apart. No fighting, no arguing, and to end it all off, on the return passage from Ibiza to Barcelna, we enjoyed a swim in 5000 feet refreshing Mediterranean water and while drying off, Connor spotted four dolphins swimming towards the boat. What a thrilling finish to a spectacular trip.
21/07/2008, Formentera, Balearic Islands, Spain
Having family join us on our trip is so incredible. We have always lived 1000's of miles away from our family and now seeing the cousins play, do crafts, talk, giggle, laugh and truely enjoy each others company is the best thing anyone could ask for.
ENJOY LIFE - It's a BEACH!!!
20/07/2008, Formentera, Balearic Islands, Spain
This week in the Balearics has been the highlight of our trip. Starting in Soller, Mallorca and traveling to our current destination of Formentera has left us with nothing but memories of an amazing vacation. Our Balearic travels began with 2 days in Soller. We rented a car and went to the cities of Valdemossa and Deia. Small cobbled streets, local stores, and blooming flower boxes were some of the most spectacular things on our day trip. We all got a scare when we traveled down a steep windy road about 4 metres wide to a secluded swimming area for a mid-day dip. A few days later we arrived in San Telmo where we spent a day tubing, snorkeling, and roaming the small town.
A day later we arrived in Palma, Mallorca. We took a short walk to drop off the laundry and visit the local farmers market. We made our way to the main shopping district and visited stores such as tous and El corte de ingles. As we continued our shopping excursion, we found ourselves in small alleyway like streets filled with small boutique stores. On our way back to the boat we found the Palma Cathedral. The next day we toured the Cathedral and found that it was breathtaking. Our tickets to the cathedral included entrance to a museum of relics, and other religious artifacts.
From Palma we sailed about 45 min. to a busy resort beach called Cala Portals. There was an island within swimming distance near the boat. All four of us (the kids) swam to the island and walked up most of it (until we got too many splinters to count). Uncle John took us on the dingy to the raft off of the beach. We all took our turn doing flips and dives until we were picked up again by Uncle John.
That night we sailed to Ibiza and we all took turns doing watch (Jenny, Kate, Karen - 9:00 - 10:00pm, Emily, Connor - 10:00 - 12:00pm, John - 12:00-3:30am, and Zig - 3:30 - 8:00am). In the morning we went to the "hippy market." There were tons of stalls with hippy apparel, music, jewellery, and crafts. We got a few great things but I will never forget the amount of dread locks, incense, and B.O. that I witnessed. After the market we took a taxi back to the port and made a few phone calls. That night we left for Formentera and arrived there around 9:00pm.
Our first morning in Formentera was like a dream, the clearest water I had ever seen and a beautiful shore. The downside - a whole lot of naked people. We went a shore and took along walk along the beach. We ended up swimming back to the boat for breakfast. After lunch we went back to the beach and rented motorized little boats. For half an hour we took the boats around the bay and stopped by to say hello to Aunt Zig and Uncle John. Connor and I took the little boat around a nearby island and were hit by a wave which brought water into it. After returning the boats we came back to Windancer for a swim. That afternoon we took the dingy into the town and took a taxi to yet another hippy market. This one was much smaller and was filled with handmade crafts. After a long bus ride back we took the dingy back to the boat for dinner (pasta night).
This morning Uncle John and Aunt Zig swam to the beach to collect shells and snorkel. After they returned Aunt Zig was wading in the water talking to us and was stung by a jelly fish. While her wound was healing we all went up the mast and took some pictures on the boat. This was followed by a short craft break and a scuba diving session. Uncle John taught Kate and I how to scuba dive and we both took a short turn trying it out. Currently, we are about to eat lunch (Tacos!), and Uncle John will be taking the dingy into the town to post this. We plan to set sail tomorrow for Barcelona, for more adventures including the Picasso Museum and possibly a wholesale bead market (for craft purposes). In conclusion my week in the Balearics has been full of new experiences and great adventures.
16/07/2008, San Telmo, Mallorca, Spain
Any boater can tell you that a collision at "sea" is one of the worst things that can happen to anyone - dangerous, damaging......real trouble.
The crew of Windancer IV enjoyed another perfect day in another great cala (bay) here in San Telmo. After a gourmet dinner aboard, we enjoyed watching the local festival boat playing music and crsuing through the anchorage. Everyone heads to bed for a well deserved sleep.
I woke to the sound and feel of bumping n the starboard side - the our side - and as I sit up and loko out our small "porthole" - terror fills my body.
Another sailboat, a sloop maybe 35' long, is bumping Windancer, their crew on their foredeck with flashlights beaming into our porthole. GET UP - LET'S GO.
I've never been so impressed at Ziggy's response to this "trauma" situation. I head to the bridge, Ziggy tries to fend off the other vessel who obviously had dragged her anchor through the harbour and into Windancer.
"Raise the anchor" is the call, Ziggy jumps to action in the dark night, and within moments, "CLANK CLANK CLANK" is the sound as our new Danforth anchor is hauled abard. "Anchor's UP" is the word from the foredeck, and I shift both engines into forwardand move Windancer slowly out into deeper water in the bay.
"OHLA OHLA OHLA" is what I hear, and as I look to astern of Windancer, I realize that we have not only hooked the other vessel's anchor, but that we are dragging the other boat with us as we exit the achorage!!! "Ziggy - too the helm" as I rush to the bow and release of anchor chain. Over the bow sprit, and while balancing on the bridle, I lower myself down and grab the stranger's anchor and free it from ours.
We're free - "Gracios, Gracios" we hear from our neighbouring vessel and newfound friend. Break time - take a breath - what now....
It's 0300, we planned on sailing to Palma at dawn - "SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?" Calmer minds prevail and we settle into a few more hours of sleep securely moored to a purchase bouy! The morning comes and we sail to our nest destination - PALMA!
PS - No damage was sustained by Windancer except for a tired crew!!!
14/07/2008, Palma. Mallorca, Balearic Islands
We have had a busy last couple of days since arriving in our new favourite place in the world, the Balearic Islands in the Med, just south of Barcelona, Spain.
We enjoyed a full day this past Sunday exploring Barcelona's amazing, historic downtown with it's classic "La Rumbla" main street that hosts the best flower shops the world has to offer and street erformers of all shapes and sizes. By late afternoon (local time) the jet-lagged Walker crew were ready to board Windancer IV and we promptly began our first overnight sail with the new crew, arriving safely in Soller on the North coast of Mallorca, the largest of the Balearic Islands.
This picturesque anchorage was perfect for the rested crew after a good nights sleep and the day was spent swimming, snorkelling and tubing in clear, salty water. The next day we hired (rented) a car and and toured three towns, Deja, home to the famous author Robert Graves (deceased) and an artists hang-out of late, Villamosa, more of a tourists spot but still maintaining the Mallorca n beuty and finally the town of Soller, rumored to be the birthplace of Chirstopher Columbus.
Ziggy has said she will write more on our travels on this coast. We continued along the north coast of Mallorca in calm weather because no archorages are to be found until we round the NW corner of the island and pass the small island of Dragonera before anchoring in a great harbour called San Elmo (nicknamed St. Elmo's Fire in tribute to Ziggy;s favourite movie).
This morning we set sail (motor-sail) for Palma where we are moored for the evening. THis city incredibly alive - it is currently 2345 (almost midnight) and the streets are full of people, locals , and tourists, families and partiers - everyone is "out on the town".
We'll write much more on our experiences in Palma later. Tomorrow we'll sail overnight to Ibiza and onto Formentera before returning to Barcelona on the 23rd/24th to get our guest to the plane on the 25th. Stay tuned for more blogs from the other crew members soon.
13/07/2008, Barcelona, Spain
Last night we decided to have an early night in preparations for the arrival of our family from Vancouver on Sunday morning. Ziggy was planning on heading to the airport by herself, but the MacKenzie children had a different idea.
Connor was up shortly after 0700, something that rarely happens these days for our son who will be teenage soon. Even more shocking was the sight of a fully dressed and very cheerful Jennifer MacKenzie, who can normally sleep until the late morning or beyond. Her only comment was "I can get up when there's something important".
We head to the train station and after getting subway instructions from the transit employee, we transfer through two subway trains and promptly get very lost before deciding to surface and catch a taxi to the airport as time is quickly running out until the scheduled 0835 arrival of our first guests.
The plane is another 30 minutes late and after a brief delay to reclaim their luggage, Karen, Emily and Kate emerge from the arrival gates at Barcelona International Airport. It was a classic family reunion, thousands of miles from anyones home making it even that much more sppecial.
The return trip to the boat was much easier, and we learn that the directions we received earlier in the morning were totally incorrect and we can take a direct train from the Marina Vell station on the Metro straight to the Aeroport, and after only three stop, were walking towards the boat.
The crew of Windancer IV worked very hard in preparation for our guests arrival, washign the boat inside and out and rearranging the interior to allow Karen and Emily to take Connor's cabin (Connor will take the foreward crew cabin during the stay - no worries) and Kate playing room-mate to Jenny. It works perfect.
Karen and the girls are tired but willing to take a couple of hours to tour the central city and the La Rambla district of Barcelona. The plan is to return to Barcelona for three days before the girls return to Vancouver on July 25th.
We enjoy a spectacular day walking for three hours before returning to the boat to ready the entire "new" crew for an overnight passage to Mallorca. We depart in good conditions and enjoy a good passage and safely arrive in a beautiful harbour called Puerto Soller on Mallorca's North West coast.
12/07/2008, Marina Vell, Barcelona, Spain
We arrived in Barcelona early this morning after a quiet night passage of 165 nm that was uneventful, except for the night sighting of an offshore oil platform that looked like a mid-ocean Christmas Tree.
The Marina Vell is a sailors marina right at the foot of the city of Barcelona. A truely amazing location only steps from the Santa MAria del Mar church that dates back to the 13th century and is dedicated to sailors and their families who would light a candle inside the church to wish there loved ones luck on returning home.
We continued on to the main street in Barcelona called La Rambla, a spectacular boulevard that is dotted with street performers, flower shops and local artists.
We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Karen Walker and cousins Emily and Kate for a tow week visit that will include a trip to Mallorca.
11/07/2008, Valencia, Spain
Friday, July 11, 2008
Lat 41 12.750'N
Long 002 06.050'E
As we head into Barcelona to meet with our sister-in-law, Karen, and our nieces, Emily (13) and Kate (9), we come off a 26 hour passae from Valencia where we spent three days exploring the city.
We were docked in Port America's Cup, a modern marina built to house the 32nd America's Cup in 2007. The rules of the cup specify that the winning team hosts the next cup; in 2006 Switzerland won and, as a land-locked country, arranged with Spain to build a port to house the 2007 cup. The port sits along Valencia's largest city beach and boardwalk and the houses built by each of the team line the entrance way - Prada (Italy), BMW Oracle (USA). If you are a sailing fan, you may know that the 2008 cup location has yet to be determined, as the Swiss team won in 2007 but the American's protested the results on a technicality and it is under review. The talk is the US and Swiss will enter catamarans in a special 'play-off' this year to determine next year's host.
Valencia itself is an often over-looked city in terms of tourism, yet proved to be a combination of history, modern and historical architecture and the home of paella (the rice-seafood dish served in a huge frypan type dish). After our overnight from Ibiza to Valencia, we spent the morning recouping and napping, as we have discovered that those nights as sea and the 3-4 hour watch schedule John and I share requires a catch-up nap the next day. On a multi day passage, we simply nap on and off throughout the day, but on arrival days, the tendency has been to immediately head out into the city. We have learned to take it easy the first day. The kids unloaded the bikes and explored the park and rode the Formula 1 race way being built around the marina for August while John and I napped and cleaned up. Later in the day we headed into the old town via city bus and spent the late afternoon, early evening walking the city past beautiful old churches and museums. Simply the doors on these buildings were works of art, large 15 ft carved wooden masterpieces. We passed the ritzy shopping area and encountered a very rare and somewhat magnificent site - a Starbucks. Ziggy couldn't resist.
We stopped in at the largest department store to pick up some groceries before heading to a market filled with wine and coffee bars. Jenny wasn't feeling well, so we jumped a taxi and returned to the boat. The next day, John and Ziggy took the bus to the Market Central, the largest fresh produce market in the city and stocked up on fresh vegetables, fruit and spices. We packed our goods in our tote bags and knapsacks as we have decided, after witnessing countless shopping bags floating in the Med, to make an effort to go bagless. Makes it easier to carry and hopefully, a small difference in our environmental footprint.
Later that day, we cleaned the boat while John worked tirelessly away on the internet to book us marinas in France, although it appears that, being a mere 15 metres does not qualify as big enough on the Cote d'Azur - when we grow up to 50 metres, then we can start talking.
Wednesday morning we scrubbed the decks and changed the oil on the port engine before we headed to the Arts and Science Centre, a beautiful, large series of modern buildings housing a Hemisphere (home to IMAX movies), Science Museum (home to hands-on exhibits for kids and adults alike, a temporary Marvel comics exhibit and other science shows) and the Oceanarium, where we started our day. The Oceanarium is a series of 10 aquariums displaying different habitats and marine life from sea lions to the penguins of the Antarctic, to the belugas and walruses of the arctic to the sharks, fish and rays of the Caribbean to the biggest dolphin pools in Europe where we watched the most amazing dolphin show. After seeing them swimming in our bow on most days as sea, it was wonderful to see them showing just how smart they really are - performing, jumping, singing on cue, tossing their trainers 15 feet into the air all on cue. Although I often approach zoos with an ambivalent feeling - torn between the awe of seeing the animals and sadness of their caged existence, the feeling was absent this time; perhaps knowing that these shows may secure their preservation by educating people as to the beauty and wonder of the animals.
John, who is sporting a very sore knee, left after the Oceanarium and returned to the boat after picking up water and a few last provisions. The kids and Ziggy returned later that evening where we enjoyed a lovely dinner, stowed all our gear in anticipation of an early departure and headed to bed.
Now, with the sun on the horizon and following an RCL cruise ship into port, we make our way into Barcelona to enjoy the splendors and hospitality of this famous city.
07/07/2008, Valencia, Spain
After enjoying a huge day celebrating the birth of ZIGGY, it was tough getting the crew ready for the mandatory overnight sail from Ibiza to Valencia, Spain on the Costa Brava coast of Spain's mainland. Preparing to set sail involves a large checklist of items to ensure that nothing is lost or broken while under sail and that we are al safe and secure.
When preparing for a night crossing that list doubles in size because we most often are not sure of the conditions to be encountered during the 100+ nm crossing at night. Rain, heavy seas, high winds and difficult maneuvering around other vessels in the dark that range from small 4m fishing skiffs to large container ships that would consider Windancer as a mere scratch on her hull if they were to run over us at night.
Never the less, we set sail at 1800, after a light meal and into stronger then forecast conditions creating an uncomfortable start to what was expected to be a 12 - 14 hour passage over approx. 90 nm of open Med sea. After we set into the usual routine of the sailing offshore, life was fine, the winds calmed down, the watch schedule was adjusted to account for crew that were not feeling 100% (sorry Zig) and we arrived in the hoarbour the hosted the 32nd America's Cup in 2007 around 0730 on July 7th.
The harbour is brand new, built for the huge America's Cup race and now is has been taken over by the Spanish government who is looking for a private company to make the huge marina a sustainable enterprise. We have no problem locating a berth that is larger than any we have encountered on this trip - we assume because we are among 100 other boats in this marina that was constructed to accept more than 500 yachts, many of whom were MEGA yachts!
After mooring Windancer stern too (all mooring in the Med is in this fashion with everyone "backing into" the dock with a bow line keeping the boat from hitting the dock. It allows easy access off the "sugar scoop" transoms on a catamaran. The family heads to the nearest bus stations (a 5 or 10 minute walk from the dock) and we get a tour of Valencia from a locals prerspective as we head to the "Old Town centre". The highlights were the beautiful architecture, the colourful building and amazing, landscaped fountains that adorn the main city squares.
We are lucky enough to pass by the Conjunto Catedralicio, that holds true to the belief that the "Holy Grail" resides within her walls. We also walk past the Palza de Toros, the coliseum looking structure that holds the actual "Bull Fighting" events. Ziggy is relieved to hear that the first bull fight is not until the middle of August - sorry Connor, no fun for you.
A quick stop at the El Corte Ingles supermarket (www.elcorteingles.es) and we head back to the marina, with a little girl that appears to be suffering from over-exposer to many days of extreme fun. Unfortunately, Jenny is exhibiting the beginning signs of a cold with the coughing, runny nose and low grade fever that no-one wants to have.
It's a quick cab ride home, onto the boat for some medicine and puffers and off to bed she goes, while I put the computer in the backpack and ride one of the folding bikes (note to self - the folding bikes are awesome and a must for sailors). No wifi sign to be found in the harbour so it's off to the boardwalk where, after only a short tow minute walk, I wind a strong wifi signal offering free internet for the taking. Check the e-mails, responds as required and make a few skype calls to family and friends before heading back to the boat to finalize the upcoming plans for our French travels and the arrival of brother Dan family in Nice. Best wishes for a health Jenny tomorrow!
06/07/2008, Cala Salada, Ibiza, Baleares Islands
Happy Birthday Ziggy
July is a special day every year for the MacKenzie family. It is the say when we celebrate the birth of a very special person in our lives - ZIGGY. Okay, maybe Ziggy doesn't like her birthday as much as I do (usually there is a month long celebration in November culminating in the November 27th party day - sorry, this blog is suppose to be about Zig's birthday!).
The day normally begins aboard Windancer at dawn, currently about 0700, but on July 6th I got up a little early, made "Happy Birthday Ziggy" signs to decorate the inside of the salon for the big day. We anchored last night in a quiet cove called Puerto de San Migel on the north side of Ibiza in the Baleares Islands. I take that back, if you haven't heard already, the Balearics are the Meds idea of the Caribbean with the party tone of Cancun during March break! As is true in Cancun, not much is authentic except for the drunken Brits who come here to have one huge "blow out" party week. So the clubs go all night, but we are lucky that we are anchored far enough away from the noisy, "Boom Boom" clubs that we can have a peaceful night.
The kids wake around 0800 and we put the finishing touches on what looks a little like a mini-Christmas morning, decorations, a perfect setting and yes, coffee in bed and presents on the table when you rise. We enjoyed a nice morning breakfast before hoping in the dinghy and motoring ashore to explore the tiny cove and the small resorts that round the cala or bay.
We lucked onto a small "efficiency" style hotel/motel where a primarily British clientele enjoyed an all-inclusive vacation while the MacKenzie clan had a café con leche (Ziggy) and cerveja (John) and watching the kids cherish the fresh water pool! After dragging two waterlogged children from the pool, we found an internet kiosk and quickly checked e-mails for birthday wishes (thanks to Inge for the early b-day note!) and then bought chocolate to sprinkle on the special birthday cake prepared by Connor and Jenny.
Back to the boat, quick lunch complete with birthday cake (it doesn't get any better than that!) and then some water fun - swimming, snorkeling and rowing the windsurfer over to a deserted cave. The final birthday surprise was when the kids took Ziggy for a ride on the tube behind the dinghy. Cruise director Jenny spotted while dinghy captain Connor expertly maneuvered the craft through the various other sailboats and safeyly back to Windancer.
The day was a huge success. Connor asked Ziggy during lunch "Mom, what was your favourite birthday?". "This one" was the only answer heard.
03/07/2008, Baleares Islands, Spain
We left what was described as the most beautiful beach in the world and headed for a snorkelling spot off the island of Ibiza. The anchoring was difficult, but once set. we had our first family snorkeling experience in 5-15 metres of warm, clear water with only one problem...... jellyfish. Lots of jellyfish, watch where you're swimming, jenny with her hand securely with her father (for one of the first times in a while) and all was well.
Amazing quantities of tiny fish - thousands, maybe more.
Oh ya, and yes, as we completed a marathon one hour snorkel around a large rock formation, within a few feet of safety aboard Windancer IV, CONNOR GOT STUNG!
More to follow......... and yes, he's fine.
02/07/2008, Approaching Formantera, Balearic Islands, MED
Lat 37° 58.725' N
Lon 000° 13.816'E
En route to Formentera, Baleares Islands
You would never have believed what happened to me this morning. I work up and my dad told me, Jenny you just crossed into the Eastern Hemisphere. Great I said, as if nothing really mattered, but it was pretty cool.
I was having breakfast when I heard my dad putting up the mainsail. So I ran up to the bridge to see if I could help. My dad instructed me on how to help raising the mainsail and setting the gennaker sail. We got the gennaker up and sat waiting until dad asked me "Jenny, do you think we'll see any dolphins today?". I said "Ya, I do".
Not more than a minute later, we heard ... a PLANE. It was so close to us that I thought It was going to hit the mast, but luckily it didn't. Can you believe it? Here we are I the middle of the Mediterranean Sea with no land in sight and small private plane nearly hits our mast. As the plane zoomed by for a second look, it was so close that the pilot was clearly visible.
It turned around, came back, went over us again and flew off into the distance. And that was the end of that plane!
The last westerly degree!
Lat: 37° 20.0'N
Lon: 001° 00.0'W
This adventure began as a dream more than five years ago. It was one of those late night thoughts, a glimpse, a spur of the moment thought blurted out after a trip to the boat show or a day boating somewhere in Ontario. "What do you think about sailing for a year with the kids?". The first thoughts immediately dismissed the idea. "The kids are too young", "What about our jobs?", "What about our friends", "NO WAY - maybe a month!". These were just a few of the initial responses to the question "Can we do it?".
Then we slowly put the wheels in motion. I use the term we lightly, only because in its infancy, the TRIP as I have so generically named the folder in my computer where I save all the pictures so far (over 2000 and counting in the first three months!), had not been accepted by the rest of the MacKenzie family.
So I started working on the kids. Connor and Jennifer quickly jumped on the bandwagon, I'm sure not realizing that the trip included a year of home schooling with two of the worst "home room" teachers ever (mom and dad). But before long, we had really started the snow ball rolling, gaining strength and momentum, and after sailing aboard our Beneteau 323 with friend Darryl for a couple of summers, the idea was getting closer to becoming a reality.
One of the key turning points, the TSN turning point (for those hockey fans out there reading this blog!) was when we finally decided to charter a catamaran in the British Virgin Islands with brother Bruce Walker and family. I'd already been to one of the largest boat shows in the US in Annapolis and test sailed what would become our new home, the Lagoon 440, but Ziggy and the kids had never seen the newly designed cruising catamaran, only having experienced life aboard a 32' monohull.
So we arrive in the BVI late one December evening, headed from the airport to the quaint Nanny Cay Marina and walked anxiously down the Dock B and onto "Dreamweaver", the Fountaine Pajot Bahia 42 that would be our vacation "home away from home" for the next ten days.
The deal was almost done. The vessel was huge, spacious, well laid out with room for kids to hide and areas where adults can be kids, and interact, and on, and on. As we awoke the next morning, checked out with the great charter management group at Catamaran Charters, we backed Dreamweaver out of her berth and motored slowly out of the marina and into the Sir Francis Drake channel in light winds and under a perfect, hot, sunny BVI day. I will never forget that moment - with thoughts of how amazing this "trip" could be if only we could put it together, and of course, getting the support of Ziggy, my incredibly talented and very intense wife. So as I sat at the helm of the FP Bahia 42 and watched as my wife stepped carefully back towards me from the forward trampolines where everyone else was enjoying the morning, I did not know what to expect. The last comments from Ziggy were "Maybe we can do a month away - MAYBE TWO months". She only had two words "I'M IN". And from that moment on, this TRIP was a go!
I hope I haven't lost any readers. I'm writing this blog as I stand watch in possibly the most beautiful night of our entire trip so far. And that's saying something. I have sailed Windancer IV more than 4,500 nautical miles from Nanny Cay in the BVi, to St. John and St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, to Simpson's Bay on the Dutch side of St. Maarten and Marigot on the French side of the St. Martin (the same island but with dual citizenships!) to Antigua for the end of Antigua Race week and where we joined the ARC Europe rally group in Jolly Harbour, to St. Georges, Bermuda through a force 11 storm (one level below hurricane force winds), and across the big leg, the North Atlantic Ocean to the Azorean Islands of Faial(Horta), Terrceria and San Miguel, before being joined by Ziggy, Connor and Jennifer for the final crossing to Lagos, Portugal and the end of the rally across the Atlantic and the real beginning of our family adventure.
Since arriving in mainland Europe, we have visited the both Spain and Gibraltar, traveling back and forth on foot, bicycle and by car at the easiest border crossing imaginable, trekked thought the Gibraltar caves prepared for use in WWII as a military hospital and joyfully chatted with, fed and scolded the famous Gibraltar apes after enjoying authentic English Fish and Chips in the old town square.
We spent this past Sunday night in what appeared to be a posh, upscale marina (staying there only because all others in the area were full) and after negotiating the nightly berthing fee down from 680 euros (equal to approx CND$ 1,100 for the night), we enjoyed watching the finals of the EURO 2008 soccer match, where Germany was unfortunately defeated by Spain (Connor proudly wore the German jersey he received while visiting family in Hamburg). We had been seriously warned by many sailing friends and acquaintances that this south coast of Spain is knows as a "Cruisers Gauntlet", meaning few to no anchorages, ridiculously expensive marinas "if they have space", which they usually don't, and serious weather concerns with active gale warnings constantly in effect and all this to see a "concrete jungle" of hotels and crammed beaches full of drunken British tourists.
That description pretty much summarizes out experience, except for one incredible surprise - the weather! After enjoying our day in Puerto Jose Banus marina, we completed a final provisioning at the local department/grocery store (that's a whole other blog to describe that experience) we motor sailed along the southern coast of Spain in what can only be described as PERFECT conditions. Not perfect if you're a racing sailor on a schedule, but perfect for us. The sea was as calm as the calmest day on Mary Lake in Muskoka, like a millpond, not a ripple. And no wind, which is fine for me seeing that the winds were forecast to be "On the nose", in other words we were planning on motoring into them in any case.
Our plan was to motor sail to Cabo Gata, a small anchorage recommended by the owner and crew of the Spanish boat, Kalliope III, as a good stop to assess the weather for the passage around the Gata point. So after a 24 hour motor sail to Cabo Gata, we decided the conditions were too good to stop, and we are now into our second overnight of what will be a 350 nm passage over approximately 54 hours. Both Connor and Jenny totally agreed with Ziggy and I that we should continue along, and that is how I'm sitting here, o the bridge in pitch black conditions, not a breath of wind, still waters, a warn night in front of me, the glow of Cartagena to my port (left) side and a freighter just passing 2 mn away on my starboard (right) side [thank goodness for radar - that's our eyes at night!].
We were blessed with 12-15 knot of SE winds this afternoon that allowed us to give the diesel engines a break and pushed Windancer IV along a brisk 8+ knots. Night fell and the wind disappeared, and I find myself in awe of the night. A sea of endless stars in the sky above, the perfect sunset into the Spanish foothills over a cloudless horizon, and dolphin sightings that simply cannot be explained. The trip has brought countless dolphin sightings, always welcome and incredibly uplifting and entertaining, but nothing like the one this afternoon. Dolphin are naturally friendly and playful creatures that swim together in pods, groups of a few dozens or more dolphins that "live (swim) together" as a family.
Dolphin sightings can be anything from a lone dolphin who hears the boat engine running and swims over for a short frolic in our bow wake, to an entire pods of 25 or more dolphins all swimming and playing, bobbing and weaving in the water usually at the front of the boat. Other times we can see several pods swimming quietly in the distance, obviously uninterested in putting on a show for the passing sailors. But today was the BIG KAHUNA, we spotted several dolphins swimming quickly towards us, and before we know it, dozens of beautiful, graceful nimble aquatic mammals were jumping and putting on the best show ever. But then we looked around the boat, and almost as far as the eye could see, were more pods that it appears had joined together as one giant armada of dolphin slowly making their way east along the Spanish coast. There is no way my words can explain the elation you feel when you are in the middle of something like this. And for the first time ever we could clearly hear the dolphin talking to each other, like a scene from Flipper - I'm speechless just thinking about it. And last night as I stood watch, more dolphins were jumping next to the boat - even at night!
So back to my watch, motor sailing at 0200, and I've run out of words to describe these perfect conditions. We have traveled more than 4,500 nautical miles thus far, a distance equal to one quarter the distance around the earth. And over the next month or so, after bidding farewell to the Walker clan (the three bears) and brother Dan and family, Windancer IV will sail towards the Italian coast in hopes of showing the family the Pisa and it famous leaning tower, Rome and the coliseum and Cinque Terre (the famous "5 cities" on the Mediterranean coast before turning the corner on this leg of the journey and heading out of the Med, back through the Balearic Islands, Gibraltar and a chance to see North Africa and the Moroccan cities of Tangier and Casablanca.
Location on a sailing vessel is expressed in terms of Latitude and Longitude. Our current position is 37° 28.062'N and 000° 43.968'W. It's a meaningful moment when we leave the Western Hemisphere; pass the imaginary line into the Eastern Hemisphere, far from home but heading towards new worlds and new adventure. In about six hours, that's where we'll be.
29/06/2008, South of Spain
Donde esta quaint Spain?
(Spoiler Alert - the following email recounts a day in Spain from a very jaded sailor's point of view. This view is only temporary and would typically be told over a drink in a bar, but with respect of distance and time, shall be written. Do not feel this is the permanent state of mind of the entire crew, but just a 30 minute catty moment. If you wish to retain the image of a blissful sailboat sailing along the coast of the Med, do not read further)
Do you recall sailing rule #1? Quick refresh: never sail on a schedule. Well, we are and we are not. We know we have to be in Barcelona on July 12 to meet family, so in preparation and with 16 days ahead of us to cover 700 miles, we checked weather and drew up a straw dog schedule that meant that for 1 day we would sail dead into the easterly around the tip of Gib. To make it manageable, we choose a very close destination, Marbella, just 40 miles along the coast. We set sail at 7am, with the kids still asleep and ventured off. I was prepared with Gravol in my pocket for easy access but none was needed as the seas were calm and the winds very, very light. By 1ish we entered the port of Marbella, tied up at the registration dock and inquired about space. None, we were told, none, it is all for private owners. John and I looked at each other and made the decision, that we would go back along the coast for 6 miles to the town of Puerto Banus, THE upscale marina in Spain. We had heard lots and read more, but nothing prepared us for our 24 hours in Banus, about 22 hours too many.
I have to admit, it was I who had wanted to see it. As Spain's answer to the Cote d'Azur, it is filled with mega yachts and upscale retailers - YSL, Gucci, Chanel, Jimmy Choo. As we entered, the lack of masts should have been our first clue that this 900 berth marina wasn't quite a sailor's haven.
Once again, we tied along the gas dock and inquired about space. In the shadow of Lady Haya, a 130ft mega yacht, we walked to the registration building housed in an old watch tower which are sprinkled along the coast (in the earlier days, these we used as a way for the towns to alert each other of danger. The first town to spot danger would light their tower, and like a torch relay, each neighbouring town light their tower all along the coast. Today, they are decorative or converted to other use; in the case of Puerto Banus, the registration desk.) As we entered the building, the sliding glass doors parted, our second clue that we were not in a quaint town. Getting a berth for a catamaran can be difficult as our width requires that we occupy two berths, and Mediteranean marinas mostly have stern-to mooring (sort of like backing up into a parking lot intentionally leaving no space between cars and then all getting out through the trunk). There is no dock between boats and once tied to the dock, you attach a bow line to either a supplied mooring buoy or you anchor. To prevent knocking your door on the car beside you, you place your fenders on either side from scratching each other.
At registration we were informed that, yes there was space in a 50m slot for a mere 689 Euros a night!!!! That was without internet, no room service and supplying our own air conditioning. I instinctively raised my hand to my throat so they could not see me gulp in shock. John, turned casually and asked if there was anything else. Well lo and behold, they found us 2 berths side by side for 88EU. We had set ourselves a 100EU limit and nodded we would take it. As we motored to the fourth pier to find berths 325 and 326, we noticed our third clue that we weren't in Kansas anymore - Hummers and BMWs parked along the piers so the owners could drive up directly to their boats without having to shlep their goods.
John backed us in stern-to in what I considered to be a feet of docking wonder assisted by the marina dock boy, clue four that this wasn't your typical marina. Wedged securely between two other sail boats (I think the only 3 in the entire marina), we then faced the challenge of "how to get off the boat". In Med mooring, you always ensure you are moored far enough off the pier to prevent yourself from riding up against the cement in case of surge, which leaves a 6 foot gap between boat and dock. All the power boats have built-in gang ways that automatically extend from their sterns. We, well we didn't have such a thing, but we do have this really ugly old windsurfer lashed to our port deck that makes the greatest gangway.
Into the town we ventured avoiding all the boutiques and finding ourselves in an outdoor market selling wares from Africa and India. As the kids played on bungy-trampolines, I wandered the market while John wandered about, laptop in hand searching for wireless. We split up, with John off to the local internet café and the kids and I wandering the streets agreeing to meet up in an hour for a bite to eat. Purchasing nothing, we seated ourselves in a local restaurant and began, what could only be described as perfect people watching. The rich, the super rich, the wanna be's, the drunken English, the Russian mafia - all for the taking. Two beaches on either side of the marina provided non-stop 'post beach, still in bathing suits' sauntering. Some folks just shouldn't be allowed to parade in little attire, while others, proved that there are actually perfect bodies and then others proved that plastic surgery and steroids can help get a perfect body, or if not, a perfect job at the many 'gentlemen's clubs' located in the lane behind the mainstreet.
Puerto Banus, in turns out, is home to thousands of drunk English vacationing on either stags, stagettes or girls' shopping weekends. Like a mini Vegas, I felt we were stuck in a Nouveau Rich, Drunken Tourist themed hotel. Countless times, we overheard drunk English girls chatting on their cells, "We're heading back to the hotel, too pissed to shop". We headed back to the boat, too sick of the crowds to people watch. We cooled off in the air conditioning of Windancer and then, went back into the town, for the one highlight - the Euro 2008 finale between Spain and Germany. Connor proudly wore his Germany t-shirt amongst the crowds and bore the ribbing as Spain defeated Germany 1-0.
As the crowds celebrated, the super rich left their super yachts to drive their super expensive cars up the main drag. Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Porsches, Bentleys, Hummers slowly made it along the streets only to part at the other end closer to the clubs. We made our way back down the pier crossed our windsurfer gangway into our catamaran. I was too happy to return to our home away from home. When I thought of the Med, I had envisioned quaint little Spanish towns with bodegas and tapas and sangria in tiny cobbled streets only to discover that the quaint towns have been replaced with tourist-laden, overpriced, overcrowded bars and shops. The quaintest place I know is Windancer IV where I can guarantee mi casa is su casa.
Appendix - What to Pack if Coming to Puerto Banus
Numerous 4 inch heels
Too much make up
Skin Tight Tanks and Dresses
What Not to Bring
Garbage Bags (why bother to pick up your dog's poop; when if you wait a few moments, someone in their Gucci loafers can flatten it out; or if you have brought some, give them to the power boaters who can toss them overboard with the rest of their garbage)
One piece bathing suits or bikini tops as they are optional on most beaches
Your parents, as you would never want them to see you behave this way
28/06/2008, Puerto Banus, Spain
We are just leaving the port of Puerto Banus - the Miami Beach or Rodeo Drive of the Med.
We are now headed directly for Ibiza in the Balearis Islands - an estimated 60 hour motor sail through light conditions. Everyone recommended against staying in this area - very crowded with Brisish or German tourists - drunk or getting drunk and lots of stagettes.
The cost is also a little silly. First they told us there was no room, then that we would have to "fit" into a 50 metre spot (at the cost of 680 euros per nights (more than $1000), finally got a spot, but we can saw we've been here, and we're most certainly not coming back.
Talk to you from the Balearics!
27/06/2008, Marina Bay, Gibraltar
After two days afoot exploring the main streets in both La Linea, Spain and Gibraltar, we convinced ourselves we too could drive the streets of Gib. I use the term streets liberally. Tiny cobbled lane ways, one ways, no exits, round abouts and thousands of tourists. But we were equipped with the toughest of cars, the Opel Corsa roadster. A four door standard with air conditioning and enough space to pack two fold up bikes in the trunk, we braced ourselves for a wild ride up to the Rock.
Mornings are busy, as thousands of Spanish workers cross the lenient border and enter the Gib for a days work. Gib has a population of 30,000 which doubles daily as the manual labourers enter the city. Almost everyone speaks both English and Spanish, although the Spanish would never claim that the local Gibs speak real Spanish and the local Gibs are quick to point out that, "Gib is great. We live in a very harmonious community with Christians and Jews living side by side (there are 6 Synagogues in this tiny town) and there are no conflicts. The only bad part is the Spaniards".
We hit the morning rush hour with John expertly manouvering his way in and out of round abouts; giving way as we entered and pushing boldly forward as we exited, yielding only to the CRAZY Vespa drivers who overtake on the left, ride directly between two lanes of traffic all the while talking on cells, yelling at one another while somehow maintaining their chicness - dressed for work in heels, hair coiffed and white linen skirt blowing in the breeze.
After a short 15 minute ride up steep lanes we arrived at the entrance to the National Reserve of the Rock. Only once did we drive the wrong way up a one way street, made very clear to us as the locals yelled, honked and whistled. John back-upped as Vespas whipped around the corners. A testament to their narrow streets and harrowing driving are the missing one or two side view mirrors of the cars parked in the streets and in a parking lot, almost 70% of the cars have some scrape or dent. In fact, on the first day as we walked home from the grocery store we watched as a young woman pulled her small car out of a parkade and slowly twisted between two parked cars. As she made her escape she calculated if she could clear her car on the left. Actually, she miscalculated and scraped the car. Without stopping to leave a note, she drove off sheepishly, knowing as we walked the street at the same pace as traffic, that we had witnessed the entire incident. But incidents are not accidents and incidents appear to be normal.
We paid our 26 pound fee (8 for adults, 4.50 for kids) which granted us entrance to the Upper St Michael Caves, the Apes Den, the Great Seige Tunnels and the Moor Castle all on the Rock and, if we wished, to the 100 Ton Gun, along the coast. We parked above the Caves and as we walked down, spotted our first Barbary Ape. We delighted in their antics as they jumped from the railings onto the tour buses onto the tour driver and back. They are incredibly aggressive and will stop at nothing to get food. We had been warned not to bring any food in our pockets or bags, as they will rip it out of your hands. They suffer so much exposure to people that the sanctity of their family units are at risk as parents and children are separated. We glimpsed a 3 week old clinging to her mother and suckling only to be yanked by her dad for a walk. The smaller apes playfully jumped onto visitors and took a shining to John.
(A little history: Barbary Apes is a misnomer, as the most famous and important tourist attraction are actually Macaca Sylvanus, tailless monkeys. Natives of North Africa, they were imported as pets and legend has it, that should the apes ever disappear, the British will leave Gibraltar; Churchill took a personal interest and imported more from Morocco when the population was on the decline.)
We left the searing heat on the rock into the cool, damp Upper St Michael's Caves. Located 300 metres above sea level, these natural caves are filled with stalactites (hanging from the top) and stalagmites (from the bottom). They are formed as mineral rich water drips through the rock and are millions of years old. The stalagmites rise from the bottom as water drips from an upper stalactite and over time, they grow closer together to meet in the "kiss of life". The caves were referenced as far back as 45AD and during WWII were prepared as an emergency hospital, but never used. Today, the largest chamber has been transformed into a subterranean auditorium for concerts, ballet and other events.
Leaving the caves on foot we walked to the highest point on the rock for a magnificent view overlooking the Mediterranean with Northern Africa to the south and Spain in the north, and the Costa del Sol to the east. Looking down we could see the marinas and shipyards of Gib including the exclusive Queensway Quay, home to the bigger boats. In fact, we spied Le Grand Blue, a 112 metre mega yacht, 15th largest in the world owned originally by Paul Allen of Microsoft fame and now by a Russian billionaire. Just aft of midships perched 2, yes 2, boats, the beautiful 80 foot sailing sloop Bellatrix and an equally impressive powerboat on her starboard leaving enough room for the helicoptor landing pad on the aft deck.
Leaving the caves, we drove along the one way road to the Apes' Den, where we really got to experience the apes. Purchasing a bag of peanuts and honing his skills observed from a tour bus driver, John went native - fending off the larger beggars, inviting the smaller ones to leap on his shoulders, talking, cajoling others to move from him to Jenny, he soon was his own photo op, with tourists snapping pics of the 3 apes balancing along John's shoulders. He mastered the 2-hand monte, tricking the apes into thinking the food was in one hand. They reached their long arms out and pried open his fist only to realize the treat was in his other hand; they simply reached further and pried open the other hand. Connor followed in his zoo-keeper father's footsteps and invited apes to jump up on him. Jenny gathered her courage and under John's tutelage, fed an ape only to be quickly swarmed by a few others and screamed to get them off. Ziggy was (happily) designated photographer and avoided them like the plague.
We drove on to the Great Siege Tunnels which lie on the northern end of the rock. Built in the late 18th century as defense against the many sieges, these tunnels housed cannons and gun powder and were later used by the British in WWII and expanded into the WWII Tunnels to build a fortress within a fortress to defend against the Germans and Italians.
The last stop on our Rock tour was to the original Moorish Castle from 1160. Much of the original castle was destroyed in the many battles between the Moors and the Spaniards, but today, the Tower of Homage, its main feature dominates the north face of the Rock and the lower castle extends all the way into the lower town to the Casemates Square. The massive walls almost 5 feet thick encase a tower in the tower and have protected both the Spanish and the Moors over the centuries.
We returned to our boat after a major provisioning at Morrison's, the local grocery store, ate lunch and returned up the rock for our 5pm tour of the Lower St Michael's Caves. Discovered in WWII accidentally as the army blasted a second entrance to the Upper Caves, these Lower Caves, referred to as show caves, offer a stunning display of most known formations. We joined Mario, our private guide for a 3 hour tour. Mario, one of 6 official guides, has been touring these caves since he was 10 years old when he joined his father, who was also a guide. He runs these tours at night after his day job and ensures that not only do we as guests experience the best tour possible, but that the caves are preserved and no one damages some of the more delicate formations. Tours are to be a minimum of 6 people, but the other group cancelled out and Mario agreed to take us anyway. Mario dubbed us Bob the Builder (Connor), Indiana Jones or Indie, accompanied by her own music s we made our way up and down the rocks,(Jenny), Snow White (Ziggy) and Pappi or Papparizi (John who was taking all the photos). We had been told to wear runners as some of the terrain was rough, but we were in no way ready for the intensity, but fun of the tour. Wearing hard hats and crawling, crouching, sliding down rock faces, hanging on ropes and rappelling down mini rock faces, we journeyed deep down into the caves until we reached our final destination, the underground lake. The caves are lit sporadically to showcase rock formation from tiny stalactites, to massive ribbon formations to dead stalagmites. The pools are so clear they provide an optical illusion. Connor tried to grab a coin that looked to be only a foot deep only to discover the coin sat over 1.3 metres on the bottom of the pool. When you tapped some of the formations, sound reverberated down the stalagmite, through the cave and back up to the stalactite drooping from above creating a unique subterranean symphony. All in all, we had an amazing tour and would recommend it to anyone.
We drove back through the Apes' Den, stopped for a quick hello to the one or two remaining apes, but when John opened the trunk to pull out a pack of crackers, were suddenly surrounded by about 15 apes both large and small. John, aka Dr Doolittle, commenced his friendly banter with all and ensured that the crackers were distributed evenly. One ape sat on John's shoulders for the entire time, enjoying both the vantage point and cast off crackers. As we drove away, another ape jumped on the windshield to see if there were any left overs.
We headed back into town where John dropped us off at the local gas station before he drove back to Spain, deposited the rental car, removed the foldable bike and biked back to the marina. Enjoying a late snack we regaled in the photos and videos of the day and then headed wearily to bed. That was our Gib in a day.
Anyone want to bike to Spain?
Today we went for a bike ride, but not just any bike ride. A bike ride to Spain. A few days ago we sailed from Portugal to Spain. We were anchored in a bay in Spain and went to sleep in Spain. By the time I woke up I was all the way in Gibraltar (an English territory). Yesterday we walked all around downtown Gibraltar and saw glassblowing - very cool or should I say really hot. We watched someone start off with a little glass ball and make it into a plate, which I would never have guessed, but it was beautiful. We had a traditional English lunch of fish and chips and then walked and walked and walked all through the downtown. When we got to the end we saw the Convent, the home of the Governor. In front was a guard who would stand on watch and march around every 15 minutes. Other than blinking he was still as a statue.
Today, I woke up at 1030, normal for me these days, had breakfast and decided I would go with dad to the town to see if mom's computer was still working. And just above the computer place was the home of the Governor and there stood the guard, still there, still as a statue. Later mom and I went to the salon and got our toes done, wasn't the best job but it works. Dad and Connor met us and the four of us walked and biked to Spain. On the way to the border, you cross the runway of the airport and luckily just before we left we noticed a plane was taking off; five minutes after that, a plane landed. We crossed the border and decided we needed a car to go up Gib rock. We rented the car and, wow, were the streets ever crazy. One, nobody ever stops, two, they go fast down skinny, narrow streets honking and beeping at each other. We had dinner in La Linea, the Spanish town on the Gib border where all sorts of Spanish fans waited for the big Spain vs Russia Euro Cup 2008 soccer game. Later we drove to the mall to buy groceries. In the mall we saw a pet shop and in the windows were puppies so thirsty, panting in these little cages. We walked in and told the people "the puppies do not have any water". They said, "after we finish feeding the birds, we are feeding the puppies".
We returned to Gibraltar through the security checkpoint where all they do is look ot see if you have a passport. They don't look at it, they don't stamp it, they don't do anything. We are back on the boat and can hear the screams of the desperate fans. We have got to go check the score to see what the commotion is all about. See you later. Jenny
23/06/2008, Off the coast of Tarifa, Spain
Lat: 36deg 06.536'N
Approaching the Gibraltar Strait
20 nautical miles from Tarifa, Spain
Yesterday marked our final day with our fellow ARC Europe friends as it marked the day when most boats said their final goodbyes and sailed to their respective home ports or to other various locals. We certainly enjoyed taking part in this year's event and found the organization of events and the local support at each port to be second to none. Many thanks go out to the World Cruising rally organizer, Fionn McKee, who was always there to grab a dock line, inform the group on local customs and interesting tidbits (including best wifi location in each port) and to assist in clearing into each country with customs, immigration and port authority requirements.
By the way, ARC stands for Atlantic Rally for Cruisers and is an organized rally event that provides safety and weather support as well as social events for vessels crossing making various ocean passages. Windancer IV just completed what is known as ARC Europe and is the tougher of the two Atlantic crossings, spanning almost 4,000 nautical miles including a 2,000 +/- n mile passage across the north Atlantic that often encompasses several extreme storms. In this year's event, it was the first leg from Antigua to Bermuda that was the difficult one, hammering Windancer and the front runners in a major Force 11 storm (65-72 knot winds) causing serious damage to several of the vessels. We were very fortune t have sustained only minor damage to our main reefing lines that were relatively easy to fix. As a reference, a Force 11 storm is one short of hurricane status!
So after bidding a fond farewell to friends aboard Antares and Spirit of Life, and returning our repaired 15 hp dinghy motor to the boat, we set sail in perfect 5-20 knot offshore north winds last night at 1800 en route to Gibraltar. The prompt departure was necessary to stay ahead of a strong weather system that may have delayed our entering the Gibraltar Strait for three to four days.
The overnight passage was uneventful, they seem to get easier by the day, and without much concern to any of the crew (especially the kids) we departed on the 185 nm trek to Gibby (the locals nick name for Gibraltar). As I took over for the first mate at 0700 after her favourite 0400 to 0700 shift (that's because you usually get to witness a perfect sunrise), I spotted several large ships on the southern horizon. Using our radar to track (called MARPA tracking - thanks Steve for helping teach the radar class on Windancer IV) the vessels and determine if they were on a collision course. This continued for a few hours and when Ziggy emerged from a morning nap at around 0930, we heard a number of loud, low, "sonic" booms. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM - all equally timed about two seconds apart. The kids were still not up so maybe it was them goofing off. But then again, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. As Jenny joined us on the bridge, we asked if she or Connor had been doing anything.
Then, we noticed a large "military looking" ship charting a course to "intercept" Windancer. I radioed the vessel using the VHF, first on the distress channel 16, then channel 9. No response. We continued to monitor the ship and sure enough, as it came within 2 miles of our location, a VHF radio call came through address to "SAILING VESSEL, SAILING VESSEL at co-ordinates 36 degrees, 21.90'N, 006 degrees 36.52'W, the is the Spanish Destroyer approaching your location, please respond". I radioed back "The is Canadian flagged sailing vessel Windancer IV, and after reaching an agreeable communication frequency, I was told the Spanish Navy was conducting live at sea maneuvers utilizing this area as a firing range. We were instructed to immediately alter course to head north and stay north of latitude 36 degrees, 20 minutes.
We obliged, like we had a choice, and were politely escorted out of the firing zone (thank goodness). As we approached the Spanish coast, we noticed another Spanish Navy destroyer joining the exercises and followed this vessel as it was clearly engaged by this first Spanish Navy craft and we were entertained by more sonic booms indicating an afternoon of military "at sea" war games!
Our day is coming to a close. We are less than fifteen nautical miles from Tarifa, the turning point to enter the Gibraltar Strait where we will shortly contact Tarifa Traffic Radio to exchange recent weather data and receive permission to enter the strait. This is a mandatory process since there is such a large commercial shipping lane.
One other notable trait of the passage, and the Gibraltar Strait itself, is that we can now see both the southern coast Spain and the northern coast of Africa, with Tangier, Morocco, less than 15 miles away. We hope to be lucky enough to experience this coast and the Moroccan hospitality as we exit the Mediterranean in late September as we transit to the Canary Islands in preparation for the return ARC rally from Palma, Gran Canarie to St. Lucia with brother Bruce "Skip" Walker and Marlene and cousin Ariel.
22/06/2008, Dive Time Scuba Shop, Lagos, Portugal
Scuba diving, an international sport! PADI has taken over the scuba diving industry, if you want a certification to scuba dive, teach or follow another course in scuba diving PADI is your best bet. We are settled into our berth at Marina De Lagos and we decided to wander and discover whatever the marina and Lagos had to offer. We walked not 100 metres until we stumbled upon Dive Time, the local dive shop. I said to Mom, "Hey Mom, can I try to get my open water diver certification here?" and after 2 months of single parenting and not having information on our schedule she answered, "We'll ask your father" yet we ventured in anyway to check it out. After a warm welcome from an after sharing our findings English-speaking manager we set off back to the boat with information on the course and hope that our schedule was free! After sharing our find with my Dad we grabbed our swim trunks, bathing suits and towels and set our to the pool, detouring to the dive shop to register me for the PADI Open Water Diver course. The plan was to have two dives a day, for two days, my Mom was to dive with me on day one and my Dad on day two. After a slow start on day one we got there at 8:40 to suit up for a dive that we were to leave at 9:30 for, it turns out the dive was at 10:30 and the new wetsuits were not broken into so we spent the extra time struggling to get these on! Bad idea, when it is 30 degrees Celsius and the wet suits are only heating us up even more! Doing our best job to not fall while waddling in the stiff wet suits, carrying gear we mad to the boat and set of or the dive site! After our briefing we put our kit on and plopped in! COLD! After the initial cold shock we adjusted. The first dive was to get used to the temperature and to find sea life, and sea life we found. An octopus, 1 foot and a half approximately, jumped out and inked at me 3 times! I was being assessed on my second dive which I had no trouble with except when trying to attain neutral buoyancy (being able to float in one spot because my feet kept rising towards the surface).
After another early morning, my dad and I took the bikes out for a ride, stopping off at the dive shop to inquire if I'd be able to go with a parent on my second certification dive trip. Tim, the dive master from Gibraltor who was testing me didn't hesitate in responding "Sure, no problem". So my dad decided to stay on Windancer to complete final items on the boat "To Do" list. After packing a few snacks in a plastic grocery bag, I headed up to the dive shop wher my gear from the previous day was waiting. The wet suits were more pliable and I could slip into them as if I had done it a hundred times before. With dive gear prepared and on board, we ventured bravely through the thick "pea soup" fog, for another day of scuba diving evaluation.
After some more underwater testing, some passed with ease, other that were retried and completed, we exited the water only to ask Tim the dive master "So, did I pass?". With a smile on his face, he replied "Connor, congratulation, you are an open water diver!".
So we returned to to the marina, where I was reintroduced to my family as "Connor MacKenzie, PADI Certified Open Water Scuba Diver".
21/06/2008, Port Landing Restaurant, Marina De Lagos, Lagos, Portugal
The ARC Europe 2008 rally is now complete. At the Prizegiving dinner last night, Windancer IV and her crew accepted first prize in the multihull class, also arriving first overall in the fleet!
We shared an amazing evening with the crews of all the vessels, Emilio, Jose Maria and Alek aboard the Hanse 57 "Kalliope III", Joe and Jackie aboard the Island Packet 38 "Antares", Francois, Colin, Maris and Damian aboard the Bavaria 49 "Spica", Archie, Lynda and grandson Justin aboard "Spirit of Life" and our hosts from the Marina de Lagos who have been excellent in providing an amazing facility here in Portugal.
We also thanked the World Cruising event organizer Fionn McKee for all his hard work and support throughout this event and presented him with a card drawn by Connor and jenny and signed by all rally participants with e-mailed comments from vessels heading north to the UK and Norway.
We will complete some minor mechanical repairs this morning and expect to depart for Gibraltor just after lunch in calm conditions and a perfect 10-15 knot north breeze that should carry us along the south coast of Portugal and Spain in into the Gibraltor Stait later tomorrow afternoon. Check the blog for Gibraltor monkey pictures on Wednesday or Thursday!
20/06/2008, Lagos Marina, Lagos, Portugal
Our own personal snow globe
"What about pirates?" is indelibly etched into my memory as the first question posed by anyone hearing about our ventures. Pirates my friends are the least of your worries.
I write this as I sit aboard Windancer, on a beautiful hot Sunday in the marina in Lagos (pronounced Lagosh), Portugal. After 5 days, 1 hour and 30 minutes we arrived on the mainland of Europe from the Azores. For you sailors out there, that is not bad for 810nm. We made incredible time and arrived first amongst the 6 yachts, even beating Kalliope, a 56ft Hanse who until this final leg had the first-on-dock honours. Had a few 9 knot days and incredibly banging nights, when the boat is rocked to its core as water crashes through the hulls. I cannot find a land based comparison; I thought of a construction crew demolishing the room next door, taking a sledge hammer to the biggest armoire you could imagine or the tenant in the apartment above dropping a piano, but they aren't quite right. Then there is the creaking, grinding, as if Windancer had suddenly aged and as an 80 year old, stood up after hours sitting peacefully and her joints howled in discomfort. The noise is constant, day and night, but it is in those blackest hours when she moans the loudest. Or perhaps it is simply the immense silence of the night sea which amplifies her cries. We experienced 5 of those nights and 5 of those days and it was fabulous.
We finished the MacKenzie family's first long crossing on June 19th, 2008. 810 miles a mere blink for the seasoned crew, but Jenny, Connor and I were novices. We set out on a beautiful sunny, not so windy afternoon. The first day and a half brought light winds from the stern and we surfed and motor sailed along. Then the wind shifted from the north and as we headed south east to the tip of Portugal, we relished in the beam reach. Regardless of the seas and the winds, Windancer remains stoic. She forges ahead, taking whatever the ocean cares to offer up. We playfully tease the many monuhulls in the fleet about our non-gimbled stove which every night delivers a warm meal without spilling a drop. Nightly we all sat around the galley table enjoying dinner and a glass of wine. For you non sailors, it is common for monohulls to bring along dog-dish type bowls to eat out of as they balance their dinner on their laps. Windancer has far too much dignity in her creaking bones to demand that balancing act. Although she does challenge us. With a 25ft beam, as you make your way across the galley or forward, you find yourself placing your foot down on a different plane from which you lifted it. The Windancer Shuffle can wreak havoc on the careless sailor, but we have mastered the four limb version where hands are just as essential as sea legs.
Pirates, you ask? Our friends and foes alike are wind, weather, the seas. There are no pirates. There is nothing on the horizon. After two days at sea with nothing in sight, I realized I was in my own personal snow globe; we were floating in the middle of a deep blue sea and the sky was our glass dome. To give you perspective, picture yourself on the 50 yard line of a football field. Bend down and reach into your pocket for a pen and ruler. Carefully draw a one-inch line in the centre of the field. Now lie down and peer at the goal posts and imagine that distance all around you. That is the scope of Windancer on the open seas. Occasionally freighters cross the horizon, sea birds swoop down and spy our fishing lines or dolphins grace our bow. Portuguese man o'war jelly fish, with their tiny purple sails and 30 feet of submerged tentacles whiz by. A small turtle now and then. But no pirates. When the winds pick up, I envision a small child in a toy store, picking up our snow globe curiously and giving us a shake. The winds and the seas stir around us and we continue to forge ahead, in the centre of our snow globe.
The question I frequently asked myself before we set sail was, "what am I going to do for 5 days?" However, boredom was never a factor. We wake at odd hours compensating for night watches, linger over breakfast. Talk, adjust sails, sleep, putter, listen to music, read, do and supervise homework, play games. Some write long hand first before transcribing their emails electronically in time for the much-anticipated 2pm satellite connection. Every day, John sends in our position, a 24 hour report on our progress, weather and experiences and then uploads our messages out while the rest of us wait anxiously for emails back. Even the shortest messages are welcomed; the kind words from friends and family and other boats boost the morale of the crew. Those words and messages are powerful and their drug-like effect wraps itself around us for hours. (Mom and Dad, if you are reading this, rest assured, this is what I have been told, no personal experience to attest to on the aforementioned topic.)
Evening watch breaks the day's rhythm. First Connor from 2100 to 2300. Bundled in long underwear, fleece, water-proof gear, hat, gloves and, most importantly, ipod, he sat on the bridge keeping a watchful eye for boats on radar or sudden shifts in weather. The nights were tremendously cold. Under power, we didn't keep a stand-by watch, but under sail, a second person was on call, ready to help, when needed, although this is a rare occasion. We changed the galley table to a berth and one or two of us found ourselves dozing there. We all had favourite 2 hour watches and rituals. Mine was 5-7; the sun is up and warming the deck. Still dressed warmly, but slowly stripping layers off. Gloves first, then hat, rolling up pants, until finally, after the rest of the crew is up, going below to change into shorts. My ritual involved books on tape and after testing the first few chapters of Falling Man, I moved on to Hammett's Maltese Falcon (on hold til our next crossing, so please don't tell me the outcome).
No pirates, no boredom.
Ashore now, my snow globe reverie is broken and filled with the ashore dance of sailors - shopping, hitting the Saturday morning market, laundry, cooking, cleaning, trekking to the showers, swimming at the marina pool, coffee at the local bar.
Tomorrow, Monday June 23, we plan to depart for a 2 day sail to Gib (the local's nickname for Gibralter). The noon sun shines brightly as I type, but I am deeply warmed thinking about returning to our own personal snowglobe silence.
Dedicated to Mom/Oma/Inge, on June 22nd , Happy Birthday. (By the way, Bruce, call your mother, by the time you read this, it will be a belated greeting.)
19/06/2008, Lagos Marina, Lagos, Portugal
After a quick dip in the Atlantic Ocean off the southern coast of Portugal, Windancer IV and her crew of merry sailors completed the ARC Europe rally and arrived first in Lagos, Portugal at 1330 on June 19th.
We welcomed the second place finisher Kalliope as they arrives shortly after 1600. Bob and Jim then headed to town (just across a pedestrian bridge over the channel, and positioned themselves at the best table to watch the EURO Cup soccer match between Portugal and Germany. Ziggy and the kids and I joined them for a beer and ice cream (beer for me, ice cream for the kids) and watched as the German team controlled the game, securing a 3-2 victory and setting a quiet tone over the street of Lagos.
We returned to the boat and Bob continued his 48 hour packing routine, after which he would still forget two pairs of shorts, a pair of underwear, his personal Crib board and a gift for Kate. We will try and send a care package home with sister-in-law Karen Walker when they visit in July.
Tomorow, Connor and Ziggy are off at 9:30 am to complete two of the required four open water dives to confirm his PADI scuba diving certification. Good luck Connor!
16/06/2008, North Atlantic Ocean - Lagos, Portugal
The Azores are behind us and we're on the last leg of Bob and my journey, just the beginning for John, Ziggy, Jenny and Conner. We were fortunate enough to get a full experience in the Azores. Land fall in Horta on the Island of Faial was very significant for me. Horta is a sailors mecca, the traditional landfall on the west to east voyage and the place made famous by the 1000s of signs painted on the breakwater by sailors from all over the world. An important stop for me, Horta, and we painted our sign now enshrined in that place for years to come. We visited Pico also, with its 2351m, 7713 foot high peak, an extinct volcano. We drove the coast road and the "Pico" roads, very narrow, vary high, very scary and very many cattle. We even climbed part way up the Pico or is that peak. Won't forget that day. Then there was Angra do Heroismo on the Island of Terecira. An opportunity to experience the Azores without tourism overtones. The history, the town, very old, very narrow streets, residences and shops all nestled together, close, old. The cobble stone streets and sidewalks, the cafés. Maybe the highpoint of the experience, the Bull Fight, it was real folks, no tourist show and Bob became a Bull Fighter, never forget it. Then, finally, there was the "city" of Punta Delgada on the island of Sao Miguel. A bustling metropolis, high rises, big shipping port, 6 story hotels on the waterfront, undergoing a complete renovation. We had a bus tour of the island that revealed the wonderful beauty of the interior, the pineapple plantation and that amazingly quaint and beautiful town on the shores of the blue and green lake in the bottom of a volcanic caldera, a wonderful place. Scratch the wall in the church and your wish will come true, only if you tell no one.
Now we're in our last day of Bob and my final leg to Lagos, Portugal. It's been an easy journey, mild conditions, mostly sunny but a bit colder that usual. That's no doubt due to the north winds we've been experiencing. This last leg was expected to take 6 days but it looks like we'll make it tomorrow, in 5 days.
Bob and I are both looking forward to getting home after this adventure. It's been a long time to be away from loved ones and the comforts of home. I think I'll pay some dues for that but I'm very happy to have done it. A major check mark on the life list for me, been wanting to sail across the Atlantic for a long time. Left my mark in Horta, in more ways than one, I'll tell you about it sometime.
I've been offshore, at sea, for 596 hours or 24 days on this adventure. That includes the trips from BVI to St. Martin and Antigua. From Antigua to Bermuda, the storm trip, from Bermuda to the Azores, thru the Azores and then this trip to mainland Europe, Lagos Portugal. I've kept a diligent log of this entire adventure, as has Bob. We look forward to telling our stories and reading our logs when we're old and grey, wait we're already grey but we're not old, not yet, don't feel that way, especially after this wonderful adventure.
I've learned a lot about life at sea, the word damp comes to mind. I've seen whales and lots of dolphins. I've met wonderful people from everywhere. I know the smell of the open ocean and the amazing color of the sea, I'll spend many hours trying to match that color on the pallet. I've seen endless horizons, clouds of every description, waves up to 30 feet tall and been splashed with salt spray from every direction. I've been hit by flying fish while on watch and seen sea birds a thousand miles offshore skimming the waves just inches off the surface, touching wing tips on the water. I've heard the water rushing past the hulls for hours and heard it crash against the hull with amazing power. I've been on watch every hour of the day and night, listened to hours of music from my I-Pod. Seen stars uncountable and moonlight so bright it would hurt my eyes. Seen ships come up over the horizon and disappear over the horizon. I've learned the Windancer Shuffle like a ballerina. All this and do you think we could catch a fish. We had lines out every day and only caught that one Barracuda the first day out of Antigua. We had fish sticks last night for dinner just to let those fish we mean business.
It's been a wonderful experience folks and it's not really over quite yet. Bob and I have a few days in mainland Portugal before our flight home out of Lisbon. I'm looking forward to that final icing on this cake. This'll be Bob and my last Blog entry though. Hope you enjoyed our reports we sure enjoyed writing them. Best wishes from your friends who were lost at sea but will soon be back home.
Bob adds the following; Only a special few will wave hello then good by to the Azores with all their sails a fly'n. This whole journey, especially the days and nights at sea with a great crew, will be something I'll always cherish and be proud of. From he historic charm of Horta on the island of Faial, to exploring neighboring Pico, to the adrenaline filled evening on Terecira and finally the very different feel of Sao Miguel, we saw a bit of everything in the Azores, our last stops until the mainland. Finally its back to the open ocean ad we're Europe bound. Guess I'm a little more inpatient than most. We've met lots of great people, most of whom are quite proud to be of no fixed address. I'm, certain now that I am not one of them. It's been a thrill of a lifetime; with no regrets but man I can't wait to get home.
I'm happy to say I've learned a lot and will take countless fond memories of living with some good friends and very close quarters for almost two months - no small feat! Respect, sharing everything, making peace, giving in and just plain getting along - sounds easy? - it's not. But with good people it can be done, and was. Now that I finally know how to e-mail, I hope Daryl and Steve won't be names that just fade away. Jim's a given for me, but I've also had a chance to know the whole MacKenzie clan a little better and hope I've been a factor in priming them for their huge life experience still to come. Lastly, although it took more than four decades, I can finally say that I know my brother a lot better, and even as the older one, I have to admit he's a keeper. Thanks captain and thank you all for helping to make one of my wildest dreams come true.