Donning the now familiar multiple layers of protective clothing I head for the cockpit. It is four am and as I step outside my eyes scan the surroundings to take over the watch from Bellomino. Behind us in the distance are the last fading lights of Menorca and the town of Mahon.
We had stoped there for a few hours in the late afternoon for a short look around as some on board had not been there before. I am now looking back with a hollow feeling as I had stoped there a few times before with very pleasant memories of a picturesque town in a most unusual setting. Mahon lies at the head of a fiord nestling in the almost circular hollow of the surrounding hills and dates back centuries. Camera in hand I had explored the old city seeing the ancient stone buildings and massive arches of fortified gates.
Had I had my camera with me last night it would reveal a different town indeed. In the intervening short few years the town has been modernized with paved piazzas and streets closed to traffic while the shoppers ramble free of any obstruction. All this is very well but the marble shop-fronts and glitzy lights look like any where else. For me and my jaundiced eye it has lost much of it's character and the magic that enchanted me before. I am glad that I still have my old photographs and memories.
After three cold hours on watch it was still dark at seven am. We are now at fourty degrees North in the winter so will not see the sun for another hour. Due to set at five thirty this afternoon the day is noticeably shorter with just nine and a half hours of day light, quite different to a few short weeks ago when we basked in long hot days.
It's evident once again than we are on an inland sea as the feared swell from the Mistral has not materialized. Very quickly both the wind and waves have subsided and we motor on in calm conditions towards the Straights of Bonifacio. This is the narrow gap between Corsica and Sardinia. Through this portal we will have an uninterrupted path to the Italian mainland coast. This afternoon I hoisted the Italian courtesy flag in anticipation. This is surely the ultimo sforzo.
With the lights of Sardinia ahead at 40 deg 59 min North and 007 deg 54 min East.
Picture: Courtesy flags
It's a little after four am and I am awake. Like a child anticipating some special event the excitement has me unable to sleep and I curl up in my duvet willing more sleep that will not come. Some two hours later Dudi stirs and we fire up the generator for the hydraulics. Dressed warmly in several layers of clothes with Musto's on the outside we uncouple the electric cable that seems to have become an umbilical attachment to the shore. Everything is dripping wet with dew, very cold dew we find out as we recover the mooring lines tethering us to the wall. Released our beautiful boat eases away quietly from the other boats on the dock around us. It is still dark and the sun is not due for some time as we gently make our way doing everything not to disturb our neighbors in their slumber. Following the channel markers we are soon passing through the outer harbour and on our way setting a course past the south eastern corner of Mellorca. As the sky gradually lightens we motor along gaining a view of the cliffs along the edge of the island. Protected in the lee of the small landmass the sea is flat and there is little wind. As we separate from the island the wind steadily increases and we are able to sail rapidly towards Menorca. The sea stays calm with the protection of the islands and we wonder what awaits us when later in the night once we pass the next island. Our weather information has the Mistral subsiding but there is bound to be still some wave action left over.
Our sojourn in Palma was a welcome break but we are happy to be our way again.
Picture: The Europa lighthouse
The quest is never ending and I am chasing weather information almost as soon as I open my eyes in the morning. Searching for a suitable radio signal I get the download going and then have a chance to make a cup of breakfast tea.
The weather systems depression is still there although now gradually starting to bring about the change that we are waiting for. Wind circulating the system is being funneled between two mountain ranges in central Europe giving rise to the infamous MISTRAL blowing from the north and blocking our path not only with strong winds but also large swells and wave patterns.
All is ready on board and the mooring lines feel like tethers holding us back. We strain at them with a similarity to a race horse on a knee-halter. Eager to be free of the restraint and surge ahead on our journey.
All is not lost however as the marina is very large hold a myriad of of boats of all shapes and sizes. Amongst them are of course others that I recognize from the Southern Wind Stable and it it a pleasure to see them again in new surroundings. Arriving for pre-dinner drinks at a small tavern some of the crew are already there socializing with some of the other yacht crews. Going through the introductions I am struck by by a face that seems familiar. It turns out to be someone to whom I handed a boat over to at the end of a delivery seven years ago. He now has a beard that hampered the first recognition and it is marvelous to meet old friends in this way.
Sunday evening found us behaving like lemmings and following the crowds to the embankment at the Cathedral. Being the end of the San Sebastian festival we had heard that there would be a fireworks display. With throngs of people around it dawned on us that the site of the display was a barge in the outer harbour. It might have been better to have been on board and closer to the display but the die was cast and here we were here with only minutes to the start. A trail streaked up into the sky and burst into a shower of sparkles, several seconds later the explosive boom reached us and the show began. For an amazing thirty minutes we were treated to possibly one of the most dramatic pyrotechnic displays imaginable.
On a walk about I saw a stone wall with a wrought iron gate and a small sign indicating a public garden. Entering I found myself in what seemed a piece of heaven. Lush greens surrounded a stone walkway that meandered through the garden that had been built on a rocky slope complete with a stream gurgling as it flowed over a rocky course. Nestled between two large apartment blocks this not just a garden but a verdant lung in the concrete jungle. Well done to the unknown planer with the foresight not to turn the rocks into another foundation.
Poised and ready to depart this haven I wish you good night from the STP marina here in Palma.
Picture: Left to Right, Tom and Bellomino in Palma
As idyllic as the last few days have been there appears to be a sting in the tail. Our constant sourcing of weather patterns ahead has shown an extensive depression in the area of Corsica. This is in our path and although not wanting to appear to chicken out the prudent decision was taken to stop in Palma and review the indicated weather from here.
Arriving at three in the morning Mrs. Marietta's company could not resist the attraction of Palma's night-life. One drink in the first bar and they started turning the lights out. No problem, another was soon found complete with loud head-banging music. Eventually the need for food arose and this saw us in an America style diner eating real hamburgers for breakfast with the light of the sun filling the streets outside. This may all seen strange after my comments about city pollution and all but "se la vie".
Taking the opportunity a walk around the city was enjoyed this afternoon. All was very quiet as it is the San Sebastian holiday resulting in most places being closed, this did not detract from the charm of the walk in very beautiful surroundings and gave me time to enjoy the architecture and the small winding streets. Knowing their way around I was happy to follow in a carefree mode soaking it all up on my first visit here.
There is a little maintenance to do while we strategise on the weather ahead and prepare for the rest of our journey.
Enjoy your sun-downer with us and pass the tapas porvavour.
Picture: Bellomino at the helm.
It is as if the Mediterranean has welcomed us with open arms. In spite of it being winter the conditions experienced since our passing through Gibraltar have been nothing short of stunning. Well today was just good as the description of yesterday's cruise along the Costa do Sol. The wind backed to the west during the early hours of the morning and gave us some excellent sailing with the slight swell in our direction resulting in a smooth ride. The last two nights have also produced the best star-gazing opportunities with the stars so bright that one felt it possible to just photograph the sky and colour in the constellations. Orion presiding over the sky with his sword in hand as Cassiopeia pointed to Polaris at the end of Ursa Minor, while The Plough, being part of Ursa Major, heralded Polaris from the opposite side. To the south at Orion's heel was Canis Major ever faithful and obedient as any favoured pet, and all the while the Gemini twins of Castor and Pollux looked on in amazement together with us.
The very slight sliver of the waning moon did little to dull the stellar display as the dawn approached ever so slowly as if not to rush things. I had not checked the actual predicted sunrise time so waited patiently for it to arrive. Gradually the soft light increased revealing the surface of the sea and illuminating the few clouds that had gathered along the horizon. From a soft glow the colours turned to gentle pinks deepening to a light amber. Suddenly unable to contain itself any longer the sun burst in on the scene in a blaze of orange and gold. The day had begun!
As favourable as our entrance to the Mediterranean has been I had an uneasy feeling deep down in my soul that I could not identify at first. As it progressed I realized what was taking place. Serene as the sea around me is my soul misses the open ocean already with this transition through Gibraltar. There is no mistaking the " BIG BLUE " as I fondly call the open ocean. One senses it's vastness in the long, rolling swells that bring a never ending energy from far away. The primary swell is ever present no matter what waves the wind may add on top. There is an unhurried peace in that motion that can not be dispelled or ignored, it is in fact an elixir that is to be craved and savoured. The fact that we are now on an inland sea is unmistakable. Absent from what little swell that there is, is the energy. It is flat and too easily affected by whatever local conditions may apply. Totally fickle in it's approach surrounded by the densely populated shoreline oozing it's pollution over everything.
Little mentioned in our story is Bellomino. The youngest in our crew he has brought with him an enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge that is a pure joy to behold as he tackles any task be it inside or outside the boat. He has little patience with the cantankerous auto-pilot and steers away sporting his infectious smile. He also has a propensity for devouring chocolate bars! Hopefully the connection will be good enough to send his picture as well.
It has been great to get all the blog comments coming back to us courtesy of Shaun who manages the site for us and in response to a recent one, Govoni, grazie degli avvertimenti, cosa dovrei fare adesso? Comprare un De Walt nuovo o una 44 magnum?
Now as we cross between the Islas Baleares with position 39 deg 01 min North and 001 deg 49 min East I bid you farewell till next time.
Picture: The rock of Gibraltar.
The one thing about sailing is that it will always be different. We are subject to so many subtle variations of weather and sea conditions that no two days are the same.
Reflecting back on our passage from The Cape Verde's to Gibraltar it is very surprising how different that portion of our voyage turned out to be. The weather pattern was radically different from the normal thus allowing us to take a most unusual route and in the latter stages to be so close to the African coast on our way past Morocco with views of Agadir, Casablanca and Mohameddia. We made excellent progress covering the distance from Praia to Gibraltar in seven days of glorious sailing with calm seas and even at times the wind from behind. So frequently on this route I have experienced head winds coupled with big seas resulting in hard beating with the boat heeled over, slamming and very uncomfortable for days on end with the passage taking up to twelve days. One always expects a layer of fine red dust blown from the Sahara to collect on the boat and taking the " inside " route raised my fears of this being a problem. We did have some but only a very light layer which washed of easily. Closer to the coast there were many more passing ships than on the conventional route. Having the AIS facility made this an easy task although there were many that did not have any signal at all. Their lights were visible at night and it emphasized the importance of keeping a good lookout at all times. We hailed a big red ship passing close by and enquired about our own AIS signal. Happily for us they had received it reassuring us that we are visible to other vessels as well.
Departing Malaga this morning we have had a marvelous days sailing heading almost due East along the Spanish coast. The wind has been a little from the southeast allowing us to motor-sail to good effect. In fact during on watch in the cockpit this afternoon I quipped about us just being out for a lovely sail along the Costa do Sol on a week day whilst everyone else was at work. Sure enough this is my profession and where I apply my expertise in a safe delivery but it does have it's immeasurable rewards on days like these.
Not that it is possible to be complacent. It must be remembered that we are now in the winter period which can produce some nasty conditions and we need to be ever vigilant to the possibility of approaching changes to the current situation. To this effect I have today down-loaded three sets of data including a synoptic chart of all Europe to be aware of what is driving the weather that we have locally. It is important to watch both the big picture and the local detail at all times.
As we approached Malaga the boat was dressed with our registration flag at the stern and the Spanish courtesy flag on the starboard spreader. On the port spreader we have an Italian and a South African flag signifying the nationalities of the crew on board. I thank Dudi for this gesture and consideration.
From position 36 deg 42 min North and 002 deg 10 min West at 21:15, I bid you all BUONE NOTTE as I catch a little rest before going on watch for my turn to play with the boat.
Picture: Enzo posing with the one he was allowed to keep.
STOP PRESS.....STOP PRESS....
Those following our tracking beacons will have realized that we entered passed through Gibraltar in the early hours of this morning and are now in the Mediterranean.For me it is great to be back here while for the others on board it heralds the last section of our adventure as we draw nearer to their homes. All in all it took us a month from Cape Town and allowing for the stops twenty six days of actual sailing.
At times during yesterday I was putting my thoughts together with a view to reflecting on our passage from Cabo Verde to Gibraltar but there was a lot of urgency in locating phone numbers and contact details for obtaining fuel in Gibraltar. The day was fraught with agonizing loss of contact on the satellite system and using cell phones with marginal signals to the Moroccan shore in sight to our left. Eventually we were able to contact the fuel dock just outside the marina in Gibraltar but alas they only have three and a half meters of depth at the dock and our boat draws four meters. On to the next plan which needed contacting a shipping agent to make arrangements for us to enter the commercial port and have the fuel delivered there by road tanker. More details needed and in the end the necessary information was sent via the trusty SSB system that gives you these blogs. Arriving at the port shortly after three in the morning we called up port control on the VHF radio to request permission to enter and tie up at the designated dock which we had been told about by the agent. At this point the red tape and beaurocracy caught up with us. The boats arrival and details had not been forwarded to the Port Authorities as promised, thus we were not able to enter into the port. Not even that they would not let us anchor outside to wait for the morning. In fact they did not even want us to be in their water space. Our cockpit conference decided to give Gibraltar a miss and head on into the Mediterranean and find fuel elsewhere.
Turning around we made our way out of the Algeciras Bay and passing Europa Point to our port side took our course eastwards into the Mediterranean. Perhaps the Spanish do have a rightful claim to this enclave.
Several of us had been in the cockpit for more than six hours with the cold wind on our faces. At on time I looked at the air temperature reading on the B&G, it was twelve degrees. Having sorted ourselves out with the course and a fresh watch I came below to my cabin. Taking off the outer foul weather jacket and farmer brown trousers and my fleece track suit I got into my bunk and pulled the duvet tightly around me. What a wonderful feeling of warmth crept over as I dropped of to sleep for a few hours.
Fifty or so miles along the coast brought us to Malaga where we were warmly received by the Spanish Port Control and Port Police who assisted us with some documentation and arranging for a fuel delivery.
The fuel has now been loaded and I have been able to check all the various engine oils and drain the fuel filters of water so we are ready for the next leg.
I have the chance to write this while the others wash the salt from the top of the boat and then I suppose it will be a fine meal together. Some thing that we can not always enjoy, eating while sailing is a relay affair with someone in the cockpit at all times.
Our position in the Malaga harbour is 36 deg 42.8 min North and 004 deg 24.9 min West.
Cheers from a contented Mrs. Marietta crew.
Picture: Crostata being prepared by Vittorio and Valentina.A very pleasant jam filled tart with a biscuit like crust.
When leaving the Cape Verde Archipelago to head northwards it is customary to proceed in a northwest direction towards the Azores and or Madeira. This is because the dominant factor in the North Atlantic is the Azores High governing the weather patterns with it's clockwise rotating wind patterns. These give strong head-winds on the route from the Cape Verde's to Gibraltar. On our leaving the islands we were faced with a different scenario. The typical high pressure cell was absent with little wind showing in a large area from well west of Madeira to the African coast and all the way past Gibraltar.
Taking this into account together with our desire to possibly call at Las Palmas in the Canaries we set our course directly to that objective. Those following either of our tracking systems would have seen the unusual track in comparison with previous voyages from Cape Town to the Mediterranean. It might even have raised a few eyebrows at it's unusual nature.
The widely spaced isobars coupled with the lack of the dominant high gave us the most delightful sailing conditions with flat, calm seas and light winds. The winds were inclined to be a bit variable and not strong enough to dispense with our trusty engine which has been performing well. Using the engine and available wind to best advantage whist not straying from our direct route has resulted in daily distances of two hundred and ten to two hundred and fourty seven miles a day calculated noon to noon.
As we have progressed a careful watch has been kept on the weather as several depressions developed very far to the west close to the North American and Canadian coasts. Fortunately for us these systems moved to the north-east and did not affect our general area. Closing in on The Canaries we were taking note of the changing situation towards Gibraltar. Staying to the inside of the islands it was decided to forgo our opportunity of obtaining spares for the auto-pilot and continue as fast as possible to Gibraltar, as the forecasts obtained gave us a small window of favourable conditions to enter and pass through the straights.
Typical of the last few days was yesterday when I spent practically all of my available time sourcing various forms of weather information. This time spent prevented me from writing which I wanted to do very much. Even today the time spent has resulted in me doing this perhaps after the best radio propagation times so I hope that I am still able to get it away tonight. Not that it has been all doom and gloom for the past few days have been as exciting as ever.
Dolphins in the form of the smaller Atlantic species have become frequent visitors to the boat. These extremely attractive grey and white patterned chaps are extremely playful and leap out of the water in spectacular displays. Arriving on a pod of about fifteen whales we slowed and circled gently to try and view the as best we could without disturbing them. very large by comparison to those seen earlier I did at least see one raise it's head as it arched to surface without actually breeching. Definitely baleen whales and by their size, the head that I saw and dorsal fin exposed above the surface I feel sure that they were Fin Whales. Unfortunately none of us got any good usable pictures.
Bird sightings have become much more frequent being close to the coast with Gannets being very much in evidence. A few land birds also came to pay their respects with a very pretty swallow spending the night.
Having already mentioned the catching of a tuna, Enzo was most perturbed when a few hours later we caught another, being smaller than the first he was not at all happy about it being given a second chance and returned to the sea. We were rewarded however by another catch the next day. Watch out for the photo!
Having passed The Canaries last night we are pushing on for Gibraltar hoping to be there some time on Tuesday the 17th.
News of Paulo has filtered through and we are pleased to know that he has received medical treatment and is well on the road to recovery. It does depend on the decision of his doctor and the availability of a suitable rendezvous to see if he can rejoin us for the last leg.
Here at 31 deg 09 min North and 011 deg 29 min West I bid you good night as I try to send this before going on watch.
Cheers, Tom et al.