Wild West Coast
18 November 2017 | Portugal
I returned to Aqua Blue, wintering again in El Rompido, SW Spain, by late May 2017.
And after a rapid fit out, I single handed her to Portimao over three days. The last day from Culatra to Portimao was 11hrs into a freshening headwind, touching F6 apparent by late afternoon. I was minimising tacks by heading offshore, tacking back in when short 2mtr seas started to crest over the bows. But with a reef in the main, and some rolls in the genoa, the old bus crashed her way west. To finally shoot past Portimao breakwater at 8pm on the 2nd June, having seen not a single other yacht!
After a couple of days anchored off Ferragudo, AB was hauled by the giant travel hoist and propped ashore, high enough to fully lower the centreboard. I spent a week (during an early heatwave!), wearing old clothes and protective gear, while carrying out epoxy repairs to the main hull skeg, plus CB and trim board, with the encouragement of Paul Wells, who is rebuilding a 60ft tri here. A thorough cleaning and greasing of the excellent Kiwi prop ensured three point turns would still be possible! Finally a good coat of antifouling completed the work, for this year anyway!
On Monday 12th of June I walked up to Parchal station to meet Stella arriving by train from Faro airport. We dragged her case back to the yard admiring the profusion of large Stork nests, most with one or two young, already as big as their attentive parents. I like Portimao, a working town with good restaurants, and a riverfront to stroll by and sit at in the evenings.
Relaunched 48hrs later, AB was refuelled and watered at the marina, b4 anchoring off Praia Grande in the outer harbour for some R&R , altho I can never stop pottering onboard. It's a great beach with clean water and a couple of restaurants. Altho we alternate with Ferragudo for easier access to the shops.
It was now time to select a window for "going round the corner" . I was determined to tackle the first part of the west coast of Portugal which means waiting for a pause in the Nortada, the relentless summer north wind created by the Azores high pushing up against the thermal low over Spain. After a couple of days we moved the few miles further west to enjoy the great anchorage of Alvor. Quite windy but with less movement than Portimao, and still good shopping and eating out. The easterly Levanters seem more frequent than previous years to me, altho I'm no climate historian.
So when the wind clocked round we ran down to Sagres, but found the easterly seaway making the bay uncomfortable, if not untenable for overnighting. After another night in Alvor we made a much earlier start and were rounding Cape St Vincent by mid morning on Sunday 18th June, with a favourable fresh wind. And were able to broad reach up the west coast for few hours till the wind died. I'd already identified Arrifana bay as a possible overnight stop and we motored in behind the headland at tea time. There was only a very slight Atlantic swell and we had a relatively quiet night in this rather open anchorage, despite some katabatic blasts finding their way over the peninsula. Under way again by 7am, (the two hundred foot cliffs don't exactly encourage you to hang around!), we had to motor up the coast all day. We paused outside Milfontes, knowing it was low tide and an unmarked very shallow entrance, but keen to observe for a future visit. In fact I had crossed the bar for one night exactly 30yrs ago in Freedom of Norwich, another Kelsall trimaran.
By the evening we pulled into Sines and anchored initially on the east side of the inner harbour, just outside the marina. But the close presence of two other yachts plus an annoying swell, made me move west to anchor just outside the fishing boat moorings. Just below the free lift which ascends the yellow concrete cliffs, towards Vasco da Gama's stern statue. There's a long staircase as well, if you fancy the exercise after dragging your dinghy up the beach! We spent several days here. I think Sines old town is charming. Seemingly only reluctantly tolerating a few bijou hotels and tourists. A few moderately priced restaurants and bars help while away the time. And there's a very healthy Swift population occupying the drainage holes in the yellow cliffs. They continually screech and do low flybys as one attempts to capture them on "film"!
On the grey morning of the longest day we motored round the Sines sunken breakwater buoy and headed north. Later managing to sail in "mizzle" up to the Setubal entrance channel, altho we just continued, to anchor outside the small craft moorings at Portinho de Arrabida for a catch up siesta. By 6pm the wind was howling off the mountains and we stayed onboard, to start a Coen Brothers box set, particularly enjoying "Burn After Reading". Before a rather disturbed night, good ground tackle needed here!
During a quite chilly pre brekkie swim I managed to unwrap a stray mooring rope from the prop. Then ashore to visit Fort Arrabida which surprisingly contains a small maritime museum. There are also rooms to let at one of the restos, in this most pleasant anchorage. We then rode the tide up to Setubal and anchored as advised by the pilot in the filthy water off the Yacht Club. Shortly a RIB skipper informed us we risked a hefty fine if we remained within 300mtrs of the wall! We moved SE to Castello San Phillipe but it seems a rough area. So we crossed to Troia and the marina there informed us over the VHF they had no room for multis!! So back north to anchor off Albarquel beach west of Setubal. And this is a pleasant spot with no overnight katabatic blasts. Altho the beach bars basically close by 7pm. Still we caught up on sleep!
In the morning we beached the dinghy and walked and hitched into Setubal. Which is really worth it for the huge mercado and especially the 15thC Igreja Jesus, with it's spiral columns in local stone. I also walked down to the Club Nautico who confirmed anchoring off not now permitted and indeed they recommended we continue to use the Albarquel beach. A taxi from outside the Mercado sped us back to the Praia for a coldie. Back on board by 12.30 we plugged the tide down channel and re-anchored at Arribida for a good fish meal in A Faro resto, b4 another windy night demonstrated the holding power of the Rocna. In fact with F7 fcst in the morning we spent another day at Arrabida, maintaining AB. Even changing the Yannie water pump impellor, and finally connecting the waterproof cockpit speakers to my new toy, an eBay 24volt Brennan, basically a giant iPod! Stella, a Radio 3 aficionado, will tolerate some of the blues and fusion I prefer.
More violent blasts overnight but I did sleep from 2am, you can get used to anything! Unbelievably on 25th June in southern Portugal we awoke to rain! I sorted oilies after brekkie and raised the Rocna between williwaws. We were motoring south in zero wind by late morning. With two huge bumblebees in the cockpit, no doubt blown off the Sierra overnight. We eventually sailed the last few miles back to Sines and released the bees. It was very quiet in town on a Sunday eve.
We appreciated the quiet night at anchor, but apparently blasts off the cliffs are not unknown in Sines either. In the morning we moved AB onto the Cais Recepcao to fill with diesel and water. Then transferred her onto the outside visitor quay , helped by a Brit yottie who's been here for 12 years. After signing up to good wifi Stella easily booked her return flight, who's B Pass the marina office printed. I appreciated the very soft water, in the brilliant showers. The air temp was only 70F!
The morning of the 27th June brought the return of the Nortada. So a late morning investigation of the unmarked Milfontes entrance bar was abandoned for this year. Instead we left at 9am for Cape St Vincent. And a long day's run in increasing wind ensued. With several long displays by dolphins under the bows. I'm convinced they like multihulls! We rounded the Cape after exactly 10hrs as the sun set, great views brought the cameras out! Hook down in a calm Sagres bay inside an alloy cat by 8pm. M&S tinned curries are so good!
A very quiet night, altho some slight swell does refract round Pt Sagres. We beached the dinghy and walked round Henry's Fortaleza on the headland. Again exactly 30yrs since the last time. Altho Sue Keane and I had previously driven here in a TR2 in 1970!! We then ran east to Cape Piedade in a rising nor westerly, which we rounded just inside the fish farm, accompanied by a couple of large Bottlenose dolphins. Later re-anchoring in Alvor in the slight shelter of the villa with blue pontoons, for a good meal ashore. The place is a bit of a multihull graveyard, but of course to me they're interesting!
After three windy nights in Alvor we transfered AB east back to Portimao on the 1st July, which was surprisingly cool in the early morning, only 63F at 7am. As usual we alternated between Praia Grande for loafing and swimming, and Ferragudo for shopping and eating out. Then into the marina to ease Stella's journey home, which she managed in 8hrs on the 5th. I booked my EZY flight too via the marina wifi. And also dinghied up to RCS and begged a lift out, but Paulo was still "doing his places"!
So on Sat 8th July I hauled the Rocna and singlehanded back to Faro, anchoring at Culatra by 3.45pm. Ashore later for a good Corvino, I got a fishbone stuck in my throat which bothered me for 36hrs or so. Henry Honda was behaving much better after the simple expedient of applying some Contralube to the plug connection! I use it on every electrical terminal now, esp the windlass connections in the focsle.
Only 2.6ft under AB's hull on Sun morning, I do exploit the shallow draft! By 11am I was sailing east along the southern side of the huge fish farm when I noticed splashes from what I initially assumed were dolphins. But shortly sickle fins made me realise I was looking at very large Tuna! Later I was slowly overhauled by a large green Spanish yacht under spinnaker. They came very close for pics and interrogated me, "are you alone?". I then ran into Ayamonte with a fresh seabreeze on the last of the flood tide, and the heavy old bus twice touched 9.9kts! There were seven yachts anchored outside the marina and I joined them, not going ashore, it's not obvious where to leave a dinghy here. We bounced around with current against wind till 3am.
Finally I ran back to El Rompido's shallow winding entrance under MPG, to reclaim AB's very comfortable and convenient winter berth on the inside "cat quay". Francisco and the marineros are very welcoming.
Pushing through the Pillars.
04 September 2014 | SW Atlantic Spain
Aqua Blue has escaped the Med after 25yrs!! Rather delayed this year, I returned to Cartagena on 1st July and worked on Aqua Blue in this attractive city for two weeks until my wife Stella joined me. The morning of the 15th brought a fresh northeasterly, nearly trapping AB in her winter berth, the fouled rudder and prop preventing me from rapidly spinning AB in the confined space between pontoons. We eventually extracted and rotated her with the help of the skipper of Zacharia, which is such a well maintained steel boat that not a speck of rust is visible anywhere! We ran down the coast for several hours and later anchored on the east side of Aguilas bay with a few other yachts. I immediately jumped in and spent an hour removing weed and shell, especially from the rudder and Kiwi prop, who's hub needs to be clean to fully engage the powerful reverse blade configuration (which is actually a broader pitched version of forwards, it's complicated!!). That achieved we stayed onboard, M&S chicken curries are so good!
Motoring out in the morning AB was turning and moving better thankfully. And in fact we motored to mid afternoon before another very fresh northeasterly suddenly came up and the engine was silenced for an hour or so before we turned in to Cala San Pedro. There's only a small calm sheltered area available in this rather exposed anchorage, but we joined several earlier arrivals off the nudist beach with it's very high cliffs and had a quiet night again not venturing ashore. Cocktails were enlivened by the naturists strolling about. Stella unearthed a tin claiming to contain "saucissons in lentils and foie grasse", and very good it was too! As was the first episode of Breaking Bad, we'd finally started on the boxed set of the first four seasons.
Although calm it was a katabatic windy night. But that meant we could surf down to Cabo de Gata under headsail alone in the morning, see Stella steering in pic above. Whereupon the wind disappeared in the lee of the cape and we crawled across the Golfo de Almeria. We pottered on to Almerimar marina where AB had spent the winter of 89/90, where it was now so calm we joined a few other yachts anchored outside. Of course a light SW wind then disturbed our sleep and there was even light rain at dawn.
Before breakfast we motored into the marina to top up the fuel tanks. The marinero and HM were both interested that we'd last visited in 1990 since that was the year they'd both started work, needless to say we had no recollection of each other! We continued motoring west but soon were close hauled into a rising wind. We still made good progress motorsailing fast under a reefed main and staysail, and I was learning to use the new SmartPilot X5 which operates the auxiliary tiller inside the rear cabin. Despite not being fully calibrated it would just tack AB and was easy to control plus being more powerful than the earlier belt driven wheel pilot. We reached Motril by 7pm but were not allowed to anchor in the large harbour due to a nearby helipad. So we retreated to anchor between the east harbour wall and another groyne even further east. It was calm initially but a swell rolled in during the early hours resulting in a disturbed night and an early departure.
Leaving at 8am we motored over the swell to Almunecar but rejected the anchorage indicated in the pilot book and continued, to anchor outside Marina del Este. A SW7 was then forecast so I called up the small marina on Ch9 and to my surprise they had room for a trimaran! So we entered and paid for an expensive berth for two nights. Stella was pleased, pointing out she had not been ashore for over four days! We had a good meal ashore after a long siesta. The local shop was permanently closed though. However we reached Almunecar by taxi in the morning and had a pleasant walk round the ancient town's fort and Cuevas, followed by a pavement lunch. We were back on board by 3pm for siesta again, followed by another good meal in "David's" restaurant. Then more Breaking Bad, we were already addicted!
On Mon 21st July easterlies were forecast again, but they were too shy to appear, so after filling the tanks we motored all day to reach Benalmadena, parking initially behind a 61ft Privilege cat. We were then directed to the quiet outer wall at only 38euros and had young angler couples for company into the early hours. So much Spanish activity seems to start at sunset. We reversed out at 8.30am and headed south but soon encountered a fog bank and to our amazement this lasted all day and was sometimes very thick. Even with attentive watch keeping we still had a close encounter with a large trawler, spotted only a few hundred feet ahead! Without the GPS we would never have found Sotogrande entrance, the light on the end of the outer wall appearing above us out of the mist at tea time. We anchored outside again, the harbour seemed full of giant gin palaces. Fortunately it remained flat calm with a light land breeze and by the evening we could clearly see the Rock.
In the morning we resumed droning south and rounded Europa point, identified by both a lighthouse and a mosque minaret. Threading through the anchored freighters off Gibraltar we initially anchored outside La Linea for lunch and a swim. But then entered the marina and had some difficulty mooring AB at reception, with her windage in a fresh seabreeze blowing us off the wall. No help from the marinero, altho a SA yottie eventually took our lines. After topping up the tanks and paying 30euros for the night, Stella eventually lassoed a bollard on a deserted pontoon, altho it was close to the good shower block and wifi/bar. Alcaidesa is half empty but not expensive, especially for wintering. And overlooking the marina is the bar/restaurant AQA which we can recommend.
The following day we stayed put and walked past the queuing cars to the Gibraltar border post, where we immediately boarded a bus to cross the runway and reach the centre. Gib is much improved from my last visit in '87!! We saw the sights inc the Trafalgar graveyard where the mortally wounded were laid to rest. The dead were of course "consigned to the deep" at Trafalgar. We decided against joining the queue for the expensive cable car and retreated from the afternoon heat to the shade of AB's bimini. Followed by another good meal at Aqa. There's also a good restocking supermarket in La Linea altho it's quite a walk.
I had of course been following the weather online and there was no early prospect of easterly winds. So on Fri 25th we returned to the reception berth at 8am to pay for our second night as the staff arrived, and set off across calm Algeciras bay, weaving again past the many freighters at anchor, to round Punta Carnero. As advised I sought out the rougher water which identifies the west going tide and used a lot of the Yanmar's power to make progress. The incoming westerly wind peaked at 31kts, at which AB's speed over the ground was precisely zero knots!! But gradually it declined as we crawled west to anchor outside Tarifa harbour after six hours of very slow progress! The alternative is to raise sail and tack over towards Morocco, but this means leaving the tidal "travellator" and incurring a multihull's leeway in strong winds, with the result I suspect being counter productive. The ancient Greeks and Carthaginians must have been very determined to row and sail through the Pillars of Hercules. There was already a Dutch boat anchored off the beach (yachts are not really welcome in the harbour) and four of us by nightfall at europe's most southerly point. Huge cat ferries maneuvered nearby since Tarifa is a very active port, and unsurprisingly the beach immediately west is the continent's windsurfing capital.
We continued in a now lighter northwesterly the following morning, with AB back in the Atlantic after 25yrs in the Med, already enjoying longer seas. Passing the Trafalgar banks instigated reflective thoughts about who and what had lain beneath us since 1805. Nelson asked not to be thrown overboard and was pickled in a barrel to receive a state funeral in London many months later. Attended amazingly by some of his opposing officers!! The peninsular war continued of course under Wellington, but England no longer feared invasion by Boney.
We identified and entered the tortuous channel into Sancti Petri by tea time, but found the place very crowded with weekend visitors and had to continue some distance inland to find an anchoring spot. Too far to visit the village by dinghy, but that was compensated for by the birdwatching on offer. We just relaxed onboard, only disturbed by the occasional kamikaze speedboat.
We awoke to curlews calling as though we were in Chichester harbour. And a Spoonbill strolled by on the mudbank at low tide. We swam in the warm murky water and then proceeded back to the village, but the marinero would not let us stay on a vacant buoy this Sunday morning. So we motored slowly up the coast to round Cadiz, giving the many reefs a good offing. Continuing round until we were heading south again we passed under the impressive new bridge and anchored off the small Club Deportivo, full of anglers motor boats. They will tolerate yachtsman's dinghies for a small fee and indeed there is an onsite restaurant/bar where we had a good fish dinner.
On the Monday morning we easily caught a bus into the fine city centre and joined a short guided walking tour of the old town. We had an excellent tapas lunch outside the market and continued admiring the many fine streets and houses not returning to AB till 8pm. We repeated the process the following day, museums, market, lunch and general sightseeing. Cadiz city seems improved since our last visit in 2005, and we could have continued for a week!!
On our last day we just visited the convenient and well stocked local shops and left by late morning. We motored past the very shallow and unmarked River Pedro entrance, supposed to be a sheltered spot if a Levanter arrives. We also toured the rather open anchorage just east of Puerto Sherry before continuing on past Rota and along the beach to round the reef off Chipiona. Whereupon we crossed the bar of the river Guadalquivir and ran down to Sanlucar de Barrameda, where we could find no space to anchor. So we spent the night on the north side of the river just before the turn up to Bonanza. And a bumpy night it was too, with the wake of the constant trawler movements in the early hours.
However we found we could safely leave the dinghy on the Guardia Civil pontoon, conveniently close to the Donana National Park visitor centre in the brightly tiled ex ice factory on the front. Upstairs is an interesting display concerning Magellan who apparently left from here. We continued into the old town and had great tortilla camerones (crisp fried shrimp crepe!). Stella bought some Manzanillo de Barrameda, a very dry sherry, best served ice cold. Back on board by mid afternoon we then spent two hours walking the Donana beach front. A sign prohibited landing by dinghy, walking off the beach and almost any other human activity. Needless to say the park employees had four 4*4s parked on the beach and the general message was "you paid for this but you can't enjoy it"!! In the evening I topped up the tank and we settled down for more Breaking Bad and another bumpy night, trawlers streaming past at 8pm, plus 3 and 6am!!
It was quite windy too, not at all a sheltered anchorage despite being several miles up river. Next time I'd round the corner and anchor north of Bonanza for the night. We hauled anchor and took the early ebb down river in the late morning, over the surprisingly rough bar. It helps to leave the channel but you really have to watch the depths. It was already too late to tackle the thirty mile beach west so we eyeballed the multihull anchorage immediately NE of Chipiona but agreed it was too open to the northwest. So we entered the marina for the rest of the day and night. The reception staff made us welcome and had just wide enough berths, but the paperwork took an hour during which fifteen A4 sheets must have printed!! After a siesta and good showers we walked into Chipiona of which I expected little. But we were pleasantly surprised and walked down to the Sanctuary to Madonna de Regla, where unusually you can ascend steps behind the altar to closely admire Madonna! There are also two Moscatel bodegas and in the smaller of the two we enjoyed ice cold Manzanillo, 80cents a freezing glass!! And we enjoyed swordfish and chicken in the square overlooking the smaller town church.
I updated myself on the weather via my ancient Blackberry while lying in my bunk from dawn. And at 8am I walked up to the windy balcony by reception to watch waves breaking across the marina entrance. However the overnight blast started to go down and since there was little promise of improvement to wait for, we elected to leave by 10.30am. First we had to motor again over the bouncy Guadalquivir bar straight into the prevailing northwesterly. I raised the reefed main to steady the motion and gradually the wind started to back, freeing slightly. Next up was the staysail for motorsailing. But by lunchtime we really got a lift along the beach and the genoa was unrolled and the Yanmar silenced. The heavy old bus was now maintaining over 7kts parallel to the beach and the miles to Mazagon really started to come down rapidly. In fact AB amazed me by sailing up the entrance channel behind europe's longest sea wall on calmer water at 8.5kts, as we strained to identify the faded skeletal buoys. We anchored just west of Mazagon marina, next to two neglected yachts! Sherry plus M&S chicken again restored us, while listening and laughing to Count Arthur Strong, before we then further followed Walter White's descent into Hell.
Overnight I received an email from Francisco Vargas at El Rompido with the latest position of the fairway buoy and the times of high tides which were now two hours before Cadiz. We'd already missed the 8.45am high tide so pottered onboard till lunchtime, enjoying the weather which had in fact improved. We set off again as the sea breeze arrived and spent a few hours tacking west, keeping an eye on the many fishing buoys. But we still managed to wrap one round the centreboard and had to stop to free it. Crossing Rompido bar at half tide AB had little more than 4ft under the main hull! The flood tide swiftly carried us the four miles west inside the long La Flecha sandbank up to El Rompido marina to claim our pre-booked winter berth. I'd missed out the western Andalusian Costa de Luz from Tarifa to the Guadiana on both my previous journeys east, so this time we made a point of enjoying Cadiz and the Sherry ports, after the overdeveloped Costa del Sol. Within three days we were back in Brighton, but we look forward to seeing more of SW Iberia.
Preveza Greece to Cartagena Spain
24 August 2013
This June/July, Aqua Blue left Levkas Greece and crossed to Syracuse Sicily via Crotone. After an OCC meeting in this delightful anchorage and ancient city we rounded Sicily clockwise to Trapani. Then crossed to Cagliari Sardinia for a week.
After a crew change AB then sailed further west to Menorca and Majorca. After a further stay in Porto Colom and another crew change, the tri crossed via Ibiza to mainland Spain and cruised down to Cartagena, where she will spend winter 13/14.
Now read on!
Aqua Blue's transit of the central and western Med, during June and July 2013.
After descending the Adriatic last year, Aqua Blue wintered hauled out at Ionian Marine, Preveza, where she had previous been based from '96 to 2004. I visited in October and April/May to continue the "never ending refit". The main job was replacing the old infected stainless diesel tank with a new plastic Vetus model, ordered through IGR Yacht Services Nidri, which is run by Sue Keane who spent four years covered in fibreglass during the building of AB!! During that job I also finally glassed shut the old outboard hole under the port cockpit seat. I'd been meaning to do it for years! I also painted the starboard float with very pricy two pot polyurethane after a lot of sanding, and managed the port float and central bows too when I returned in early June.
A really good "bottom job" followed, I managed to get 5litres of equally pricy Seajet antifouling on all three hulls, since AB was likely to spend next winter afloat. Stella arrived by Easyjet to Corfu then bus down the coast, finally alighting at Action airport from where I recovered her in a car lent by the kind Italian yachtsman who was preparing his own trimaran alongside AB. After saying our goodbyes to George Tsiligiris the owner of Ionian Marine, we were quickly slid into warm gulf of Amvrakia. No deck work had been done at all while ashore, one must concentrate on the hulls, so we motored over to anchor north of Preveza off Zika's hotel for a day and night, to bend on the sails and inflate the dinghy plus all the other little jobs needed. Preveza is not the prettiest town but we had a good meal ashore and Stella photographed lots of Swifts and Bats emerging from old houses at dusk.
On Tues 11th June we motored out of the Preveza channel into the fresh seabreeze with the Yanmar powering well from the new tank and fuel lines. Running down to Levkas we made the 2pm bridge opening and were anchored off Sioux Sails by 4pm, altho we moved to spend the night south of the boatyard at Vliho after receiving a gale warning for the first night. Surprise dinner onboard became Croatian tinned pork enlivened with garlic and peppers. Back to the Sioux Sails anchorage in the calm morning, where we collected the pre-ordered aft bimini extension and sailcloth tramps that protect the cockpit, from Sue Carter! All fitted well and we spent the rest of the week here socialising with Sue Keane and her family, while preparing AB for longer trips, plus siesta-ing in the afternoon heat!
Our trip really started on Sat 15th. Up early to rinse all the mud off the ground tackle and invert the dinghy. We made the 10am Lefkas bridge then motor sailed north until the regular sea breeze piped up, whereupon we bore away slightly and romped into Parga bay at good speed for a night at anchor. The town discos did not stop till 5.30am!! On Sun morning I ascended the mast to reeve the MPG halliard, ever hopeful of light winds. Then of course we motored west past Paxos and the south tip of Corfu, where the wind completely deserted us all day. By early afternoon I decided we did not have enough fuel to motor all the way to Sicily, so we turned back and motored up the east coast to anchor off Corfu town. Where we heated up a very good spicy Bart's curry, while admiring the waterfront buildings with their Swifts screeching and wheeling overhead. We were at Gouvia fuel quay before it opened at 8am the following morning. However the lady attendant soon called me (while Stella was away shopping), and I managed to get 112litres of diesel into the new tank plus all the jerry cans onboard, price 170euros!!
Up the north Corfu channel we motored to turn left and pass south of Erikoussa, an island anchorage we have used often en route to Italy. But this time we pressed on west into the Ionian sea. At midnight we were broad reaching past Santa Maria de Leuca on the heel of Italy and continued across the mouth of the gulf of Taranto. The Yanmar came back on at dawn but by mid morning we were sailing again under the drifter, only 20miles from Crotone. In the afternoon we anchored under Cape Colonne's solitary column for a swim after 29hrs from Gouvia to Magna Graecia. At tea time we backed up to the pontoon in Crotone harbour. After a green curry onboard we strolled ashore following the Swifts and had great Italian ice creams, Ora Negra and Noche e Figi!
In the bright blue early morning we had an Italian forecast of N2 and a Greek fcst of NW4-5loc6, take your pick!! We motored out at 7.30am and ran down to Cape Rizzuto where the breeze died and we started motoring SW across the well named Golfo di Squillace, altho the squalls tend to blow off the coastal mountains at night. After lunch we spotted two Risso's dolphins and not long after we had a ten minute display of aero and hydrodynamics by six common dolphins, a wonderful sight right under the bows. And two more pods later paid us a visit, they're obviously plentiful off the boot of Italy. I'm convinced they are looking up at us on the foredeck! At midnight we were passing Cape Spartivento and by 4am I was able to silence the Yanmar and AB had a spirited sail across the south entrance to the straits of Messina, quite bumpy at 7kts with Stella fast asleep in her bunk. She arose at 7am to be confonted by smoking Mt Etna appearing straight ahead. At midday we entered Syracuse grand harbour (avoiding the Cani rocks!) and selected an anchor spot, after being hailed by David of Daq Attack who had organised an OCC meet in this wonderful ancient city.
We had driven here over twenty years earlier and were glad to be back. First I had to organise a wire strop with lock for the dinghy, which would spend much time tied to the town quay. Forewarned is fore-armed!! We spent five nights in the magnificent grand harbour much used buy the ancients. Socialising with several OCC boats esp David and Julia on Daq Attack most evenings. But also exploring the old town on the peninsula Ortygia. The Basilica based on the Temple of Athena, with the columns still visible in the walls had me spellbound most days. Although it would seem an obvious thing to do, there are very few of them!! I suppose the Christians shunned the Pagan buildings! We also visited the Sanctuary of Madonna of Tears, or "giant concrete parking cone", I can't say I'm a fan of much modern architecture! The cylindrical Concrete Pantheon intrigued since it's now an anti Fascist monument! Castle Maniace down at the tip of Ortygia is worth a visit too. That day I also had an SSB/Sailmail lesson on Daq Attack, followed by great Daiquiris served by David and Angie Jeffs on Hurah to enliven "Mexican Trains", based on dominoes!
In fact we shared a taxi with David and Angie the next morning, leaving Ortygia for the Greek and Roman Archeo park. Followed by visiting the Archimedes (Syracuse's most famous son and scientist) museum with Stella, very modern and interesting. After shopping in the market too, we still had lunch back onboard flowed by a few jobs in the shade. I tried the engine after four days on the solar panels alone, the battery was down to 60%, but it still span the newish Yanmar, who's alternator promptly supplied 60amps!! I also frequented a bookshop with lots of old CDs for sale. The overnight temps were still very reasonable too, down to 68F by 5.30am. And the fresh westerlies that are supposed to make the town quay so uncomfortable in the afternoons did not put in an appearance fortunately.
We left Syracuse on Tues 25th June, pausing to chat to Daq Attack who had returned with an overheating engine. We motorsailed down to Capo Passero, the SE corner of Sicily, where the wind veered and increased of course, with an up to two metre sea running out of the Sicily strait. On the second port tack I just continued into Porto Palo, the wide open clean fishing harbour and anchored under sail, using the self tacking staysail we'd reefed down to, just showing off really. We continued plugging west the next morning, tacking under the reefed main and a few rolls in the Genoa. The heavy old bus was maintaining 7kts to windward over the rising swells. In the early afternoon one of the genoa sheets snapped (at the old knot on the clew). We rolled away the flogging Genoa and motorsailed under main alone up to Ragusa entrance where Stella and I managed to rope the main to the boom while bouncing around. The Yanmar then firmly motored us into the large new marina, where I eventually had to accept a push from the marina RIB to get AB stern to one of the pontoons in the howling crosswind. No paint lost surprisingly. We had mean't to spend two days here so I booked for three nights and in the morning we collected a hire car.
Stella was keen to visit Ragusa Iblea for it's stunning Baroque architecture, especially the churches. Back onboard by late afternoon I "end for ended" the Genoa sheets, while Stella sought out the laundry. Followed by a very good meal at Quatro Quadri. The next day we reached Modica and Scicli in the hire car. Modica was incredibly steep hill walking in the sun, but with great drinking chocolate! Scicli was much smaller with very helpful young students in the palace and town hall where Montalbano is filmed. Back at Ragusa our Gaz bottles had returned and I used the hire car to get more diesel before returning it in the morning.
On the Sat morning of our planned departure the forecast gales arrived and made that weekend's sailing regatta very hard work for the keen sailors, some of whom had arrived from Malta. We cruisers of course remained at our berth for two days of maintenance and improvement jobs. I also chatted to a Californian owner of a very pretty Morelli and Melvin cat named Koa, which had been built in Christchurch NZ and shipped to the Med!!
On Mon 1st July we re-emerged from Ragusa to motor west in the now too light wind to Punta Secca, where we managed to identify Montalbano's beach house, now a B&B! Sailing west in the light sea breeze we made Licata by 3.30pm. Another huge new marina on the south coast of Sicily, successfully attracting wintering yachts. It was almost empty in July of course, but we still received all the welcoming literature! The delightful little Baroque town surprisingly provides a large supermarket just outside the marina entrance, so convenient. We continued west in the morning, to pass Punta Bianca after admiring the castle of Montechiaro. Later we could just make out some of the temples of Agrigento in the summer haze. At tea time we were backed up to a plastic pontoon in the fishing harbour of Sciacca. It's a nice old town after you've ascended the stairs on the cliffs. One of the Norman town gates still has the original wooden door hanging! On our return to AB we found a large German "double ender" Mindedal, skippered by Manfred, who apologised for attaching his 25tons to our 5 tons!! Like us he was heading west after years in the Med for some Atlantic sailing!
A longer day in light winds around Capo Granitola the SW point of Sicily brought us to Favignana, the largest of the Egadi islands. We anchored by the galley sheds, but a snorkel inspection made me move nearer the beach! We ate onboard admiring the illuminated Norman castle (with it's lighted path too) to the west up Montagna Grossa. In the morning of the 4th July many American boats were congratulating each other on the Dragnet 6516kHz. We rowed ashore to enjoy the charming town with a great villa and rather grand public loos. Stella pounced on the great little frutta and verdura market too. We were motoring NE by lunchtime to pass closely by the islet of Formica with it's tunny factory now seemingly an exclusive hotel. Continuing we entered Trapani harbour to anchor in the NW corner by a solitary Polish yacht. It was calm and 100% overcast grey! We left the dinghy on the Lega Navale pontoon and had a long walk into town, but it was worth it. Stella dragged me into many churches and we had a very good and reasonably priced pavement meal too. The town has been cleaned up enormously since our visit by car two decades ago! We had some trouble getting back into the now closed Lega Navale and on a future visit I'd seek somewhere else to leave the dinghy.
The wind piped up and down overnight and we had swung and dragged more than a bit, altho the Rocna unbeknown to me had snagged on a heavy seabed rope. We had intended to spend another day in Trapani but after recovering the fouled Rocna, with a fcst of N4 bec NW3 I decided not to re-anchor, but to put to sea. In fact it was a bouncy 20kts (F5) from the N outside the harbour, but we needed wind for Sardinia so continued. We eventually had the cutter rig up with a few rolls in the genoa and by early afternoon had left the Egadi islands behind. In the evening the wind moderated somewhat but backed to NW pushing us south of the direct course, necessitating driving AB closer to the wind. Stella managed to rustle up a Chile con Carne as it got very dark, there being no moon. By the early hours we had been pushed down to nearly 38N, so as the wind fell light in the early hours the genoa was rolled and the Yanmar pushed us NW directly towards Cape Carbonara, the SE point of Sardinia. And so we droned on all morning and afternoon, briefly diverted by Dolphins, with the sea calming right down, finally anchoring off the beach at Villasimius as the sun was approaching the Sardinian mountains to the west. A British Dazcat "Razzamataz" with a huge roached main came in and the owners introduced themselves as Tony and Anne Montgomery Smith.
On Sun 7th July we slept late (after our "overnighter"), then pottered onboard till Tony and Anne dropped by and invited us to dinner. Murray won Wimbledon and we enjoyed good company and a Paella on Razzamatz. The next morning swim really woke me and we ventured ashore via Villasimius marina, pleased to see lots of nesting Housemartins on the new buildings, plus a shop and fuel dock. The afternoon seabreeze then allowed us to sail across to Cagliari where we were enthusiastically helped to back up to Marina del Sole, while a huge thunderstorm hurled lightning rods down across the bay. This year was unusual in that we were making use of marinas, rather than anchoring all the time. I was pleasantly surprised that the staff were not at all fazed by AB's 25ft width, leaping onboard to grab the laid lines, they regard the yacht owners as amateurs, which we are!!
We saw Cagliari's sights for a few days before Stella flew back to Brighton. I amazed myself by booking her flight on the Blackberry since the marina wifi was so slow! We socialised with Tony and Anne who arrived the next day, to sensibly leave Razzamataz for a few weeks in cooler climes at home. Manfred also came in on his huge Colin Archer Mindedal. AB seemed very empty after had Stella left but with power onboard I continued with "improvements" in the cooler mornings, before the afternoon temps drove me into the tented bar area to follow the TdF on the iPad, following Cavendish's sprinting exploits. Then on Bastille day Froome conquered the Beast of Ventoux, where Bobby Simpson perished so many year ago. I eventually spent ten days here, the folding bike helping my evening explorations and restaurant choices.
I collected my new crew Dominic from the airport with one of the Marina's cheap rentawrecks, and used it to fill 3 diesel cans as well. We dropped the laid lines on Thurs 18th July and motored south to Capo di Pula, from where we could enjoy some gentle tacking to Spartivento, before reaching slowly into shallow Malfatano bay. A great multihull anchorage altho there were a few keelboats at the entrance and some campers behind the beach. The water was 79F so long swims were in order after murky Cagliari. Next morning we motored around Capo Teulada and then sailed slowly to Capo Sperone, before having to motor against a fresh headwind up the channel to Carloforte on San Pietro island, which is a pleasant spot used by yachts transiting the south central Med.
On the Sat morning we took on yet more water and I bought diesel while Dom raced round the local supermarket. We could now receive the French Navtex, which promised a good reaching wind today, declining tomorrow. We had to motor west all morning but as we came out of the lee of Sardinia we were grateful for a fresh NEasterly all afternoon, and all night too. We made very good progress although the bumpy conditions produced cascades of water to jetwash the lee float, testing Dom's Stugeron pills, although he heroically made dinner! Prolongued sleep was impossible so we did one and a half hour watches, which we both agreed was about the right length in the conditions. Sunday brought gentler sailing under blue sky and declining seaway and we sailed well until the wind went light at tea time, whereupon we motored the last two hours to enter Addaya, Menorca, threading our way through the twisting entrance and anchored keelboats till our centreboard folded up in the shallow very green water. I made a too hot curry (again) and crashed out before ten pm, secure in the knowledge that Froome had won the TdF!!
A very quiet night encouraged deep sleep altho the green water and many yachts discouraged swimming in the morning. We settled for showers and then Dom explored in the kayak. While I managed a QSO with Bill G4FRN using the Icom 706 bought off eBay! We later motored round to Cala Teulera inside Isla del Lazareto at the entrance to Mahon harbour. On the way, under autopilot, I just spotted a log ahead and managed to close the throttle as trunk bounced along under the hull. No visible damage fortunately. Teulera was hot 90F, blue and still, good for swimming with the water 81F. And we were not sent packing to the expensive moorings by the HM, as many boats have reported. We stretched our legs walking up to the giant fort on La Mola after dinner but they were closing up.
We arose to the news that the third in line to the throne of England had been safely delivered!! Then motored southwest while I played the radio Ham, I need the alternator on to transmit. We managed some sailing later in a light westerly, but ended up motor sailing against it to reach Porto Colom, Majorca after 60mls in 11.5hrs. It was a long day and Colom was very crowded with so many buoys and boats compared to twenty years ago when AB spent two winters here. But the town was the same, altho with many more bars & restaurants, some with free wifi fortunately. We had a very good meal in "HPC". Within 36hrs Dom, a fast learning crew member who does not seem to mind bumpy conditions (what more can one ask?), had departed by bus to Palma airport to meet his family for a holiday on the north coast at Deya.
I then stayed on the buoy in Porto Colom, pottering onboard in the shade, since late July is very hot in the sheltered harbour and altho the local kids swam in the murky water, I didn't! I even found a long lost St George's pennant and flew it from a "whippy" mast on the port float despite Gibraltar being in the news!! Dusk would release me to walk ashore with the iPad, for pavement eating and "surfing". I also exchanged many emails with my next crew about flights, at one point I was booking them in Colom and the travel docs were being printed in Oxford! On the late Thursday morning of the 1st August, Humphrey alighted from an air-conditioned bus from Palma, into the Porto Colom cauldron. He'd been up all night, so a long siesta to aid acclimatisation was in order. We had a good pavement paella in the evening while I managed to book online a mooring buoy in Cabrera national park. And we'd only bought the Paddy (cheaply in NY) to see how it worked! Previously I've resisted the internet revolution onboard since it can't be received affordably any distance offshore.
Friday morning we toured Colom harbour in AB to fill with diesel and water. The sea outside was rather sloppy given the lack of wind but we eventually sailed into large and deep Puerto de Cabrera to pick up the waiting buoy, in nearly 100ft of water! Absolutely no facilities, just somewhere to get away from it all, in the otherwise crowded Balearics. And we left early on Saturday to cross to Ibiza, where a late southerly blast carried us round the north east coast to anchor in crowded but very scenic Portinatx, which like Cabrera is completely open to the north. We followed that long day with a short drift around to anchor in the even more open and shallow Bahia San Antonio-Abad. It was incredibly crowded with yachts at anchor and tourists and frankly overdevelopment ashore. I had actually flown here in 1965 with my family in a tiny plane from Barcelona, which we'd reached by train from northern France. The contrast was overwhelming since in '65 the was no development whatsoever on the beach outside the small port town. In fact we had met a Canadian who was about to open a beach bar and we actually wondered whether he'd have any customers. I can only hope he sold out later for a good profit!!
We were glad to motor out of the Bahia at 8am , initially accompanied by two dolphins. We had to motorsail all day to reach the mainland headland of Cabo de la Nao, continuing south to anchor in the Bay under Cabo Oro east of Moraira, where Admiral Byng had moored his fleet, before his overcautious attempt on Mahon. As I'm sure you know he was later executed to "encourager les autres"!!
Alicante marina the following night was incredibly hot and expensive at 90F and 89euros! Crowded too, we spent the night on the waiting quay or "muelle despair"! We had a reasonable meal in one of the marina restaurants and explored the interesting old town centre and promenade. But another night at this price was unthinkable, so after filling with fuel and water , we spent the next night at the open anchorage west of Cabo Huertas. Running SW down the coast in the morning the wind and seas built up quickly and we eventually surfed around Torrevieja (Humphrey managed some video) and then motored hard against the wind to gain the deep anchorage in the outer harbour, for a late lunch and siesta. We stayed onboard for dinner and watched "Paris, Texas" yet again!
In fact we killed a few days in this free anchorage and altho we couldn't find the "old tower", it's a pleasant spot, altho very crowded again in early August. Our final sail took us past the Mar Menor and round Cabo de Palos to Cartagena which we managed to enter under sail. The relatively new fully battened main enables slow progress to windward on it's own surprisingly. An Ozzie marinero made us welcome in the new Yacht Port Cartagena (YPC), even allocating us a double berth with side finger pontoons at mono rates. Which was what had brought us here of course. I met the lovely Julia in the office and paid for four months, in exchange for lots of tourist advice. Humphrey and I slowly stripped down Aqua Blue for the winter in the cooler mornings, combined with sightseeing and later siestas. The whole old town centre is paved in marble and all the house fronts with their wrought iron balconies have preservation orders. The Roman remains including the newly uncovered theatre, the House of Fortune and the Forum are all worth a visit. As is the restored Town Hall and the very informative Underwater Archeology museum on the quay behind YPC. There's also a Roman/Carthaginian festival in the autumn and a Jazz festival in November.
However by the 16th August we were back in Brighton for a party and even more important my daughter Louise's graduation. We returned en famille to Cartagena in September for more sightseeing and a few afternoons at Cala Cortina (only ten minutes by taxi). Plus sampling several very good restaurants. Altho I was distracted somewhat by finding bars to follow the Vuelta Espana!
Later in December I emailed YPC after seeing strong winds forecast, to be immediately re-assured marineros would be on duty over Xmas. I can't recommend the place highly enough! We plan to drive there for the Easter celebrations.