Emerald Tales

Currently in Portugal after 7 years in the Mediterranean

15 September 2023 | Porto Santo
09 August 2023 | Porto Santo, Madeira
28 July 2023 | Porto Santo, Madeira
23 June 2023 | Porto Santo
15 January 2023 | Porto Santo
15 September 2022 | Porto Santo
19 August 2022 | Porto Santo
29 July 2022 | Porto Santo, Madeira
02 October 2021 | Faro, Portugal
06 June 2021 | Alcoutim
28 May 2021 | Alcoutim
16 April 2021 | Rio Guadiana
31 March 2021 | The Balearic Isles
20 March 2021 | Ayamonte
05 March 2021 | Alcoutim
17 February 2021 | Ayamonte

The good, the bad and the ugly

22 January 2015 | Marina di Ragusa, Sicily
Way back when I mentioned there would be good, bad and ugly round up of our sailing trip. Unfortunately what I'd written was on my tablet that died, I hadn't backed up recently enough (I don't trust cloud storage so don't use it, preferring my own USB sticks instead) so it was lost and I hadn't built up the willpower to write it again until now. So here it is!

The Good
We had warm, sunny weather pretty much from when we left Lagos with just a couple of rainy days up the river Guadiana and an occasional thunderstorm during the summer to break up the run of sun. This was good until it got too hot and moved into the bad category (see below).

Star gazing - we crossed from Majorca to Sardinia during the period of the Perseid meteor shower in early August. It did coincide with a full moon so we didn't see as many shooting stars as we might have if the sky had been dark but still saw a good number. It also helped pass the time on the night watch looking for them and counting them for the 'who saw the most' competition (no prize, just glory!).

During the summer of 2013 on the Spanish and Portuguese Atlantic coast the sea looked inviting but went beyond bracing to painful if you gave in to temptation and dipped a toe in. Being able to jump in and swim off the boat this summer in the Med was the perfect way to cool down on those hot (bad, see below) days. I also used the sea for keeping fit doing laps around Emerald, I'm looking into other water based exercises I can build in for this year.

We didn't bother commissioning our watemaker as it was easy and cheap to buy water at many of the places we visited just by tieing up to marina fuel pontoons where they had fresh water pumps or dinghying into a harbour and filling our water cans.

After the brash holiday resorts of the Balearics, Sardinia and Sicily were a breath of fresh air. Although touristy they had a very different air to them. The Italians were friendly, we had several lovely encounters with other boaty types. That has carried on into the winter, the Sicilians are a very helpful and friendly nation.

Finding a quiet anchorage - although we did come across some crowded places, especially in the Balearics, we were pleasantly surprised to find plenty of quiet ones with lots of space. We began to avoid the places advertised as having beach bars, preferring places with no tourist developments. Examples were on the north east coast of Mallorca, Cala Charos on Ibiza and along the south coast of Sardinia where the anchorages would be busy in the day with local boats but they'd all go home come evening time.

Nature - many creatures seen: geckos scurrying, monkeys in Gib, rock hopping goats, the ducks of Adaiya, flying fish, beautiful butterflies and colourful fish in the clear blue water. The beauty of the natural world: weird rock formations, volcanos, sandy beached calas just a few of the many natural wonders we saw.

History - there was plenty to please my history bug including ancient ruins at Pula, Granada's Alhambra, Roman and Greek ruins at Ortygia and Syracuse, Alcudia's walled old town and Roman ruins and Palma's cathedral.

Useful bits and bobs:
Portable, pressurised shower made by Hozelock. Allowed us to shower on the back deck after a swim and we could fill it warm water too. Also useful for cleaning the sprayhood windows which I aimed to do after every sail to get rid of any salt and so try to extend the life of the window plastic.
Shade curtains were essential and I've now made more to fully surround the cockpit.
The bug bat bought for €5 from a Chinese store was much fun for zapping the biting beasties (see below) with.
Building the stern arch (which Colin did whilst up the River Guadiana) to get the solar panels off the side of the boat. Now we have no worries about misguided yachts side swiping the panels and no bouncing around in big seas. They now sit in full sunlight all day, although they do now need a regular clean as the flat surfaces gather dirt.
A hand held depth sounder proved useful in a couple of anchorages. We could pootle around an anchorage in the dinghy looking for a good spot that was deep enough for us, without risking running aground in Emerald. If we were staying a while in a place we would usually move to a better spot if we could.

The Bad
We had a good season but without trying to sound like complete whinge bags there were some things we weren't very keen on:
Hot, hot, hot! My perfect outdoor temperature is somewhere in the low to mid 20's so once it was hitting the 30's I turned into a sweaty, soggy mess even just sitting still. We didn't really succeed at adjusting our day to go ashore or do chores in the morning and ended up many times living up to the phrase "only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun". I've made more shade curtains for the cockpit and will try again to adjust my days to Mediterranean time this summer. We really missed having a working fridge, both for cold drinks and keeping food fresh, we were having to sho more regularly and restrict ourselves to certain types of food. We plan to have a working fridge again for this year.

Going ashore - why can't towns and harbours see that if they make a nice dinghy dock all those boats anchored out will come ashore and most likely spend money. As with many other cruisers we can't afford the marinas so there will always be boats anchored off. The marina in Cala Addaiya in Menorca had it right - somewhere to easily tie up so we then come ashore and pay to use their laundry and buy water.

Arrogant superyacht types with no respect for others. Was it wrong to wish for them to have accidents whilst buzzing around on their water toys?

Pilot books - the Italian waters pilot book was disappointing with it's limited information on places to anchor. Instead we used other people's blogs and the Cruising Association's 'Captains Mate' app to help with ideas on places to anchor.

The Ugly
There there were the things that just made us go grrrrrrrr!!!
Swell. No, not the American word for something good but the rolly, watery, sleep disturbing kind. There were only a handful or so of disturbed sleep nights but this is more than in any other season and for me those nights were endless. I'd just drop off then a swell would roll in and it would feel as if someone was taking my shoulder and physically shaking me to wake me up. Even when we thought we'd found an anchorage sheltered from the swell, it would find it's way in, bouncing off the surrounding walls of a cala or bay.

Biting beasties - thank goodness we'd thought ahead and made bug curtains for the portholes and doors, but some still managed to find their way in. A satisfying way to zap them was with a bug bat, runs off batteries and electrocutes them with a pleasing zzzz sound.

Wind - much windier than we expected, we felt quite exposed at times and it seemed to be that the wind was either blowing light or a full on hooly with very few days of medium winds. When we were in windy places on previous trips, such as round the UK the marinas were easily affordable if we needed to find shelter.

Weather forecasts - very often incorrect!

Marina costs - over €100 a night for us in most marinas throughout the western Med. They obviously don't want our types visiting so we'll keep on heading east for a while.

Olive picking in Sicily

12 December 2014 | Marina di Ragusa, Sicily
Nichola / overcast but dry
Olive Picking 29th November
Out in the Sicilian countryside near Palazzolo Acreide a young family are keeping going the farm of their parents with olive, almond, walnut and carob trees along with a market garden for vegetables. They are passionate about keeping their products natural and organic; for making olive oil this means foregoing mechanical pickers for the olives and picking by hand instead.

Via connections amongst the cruisers at Marina di Ragusa, a call went out for helpers to pick the olives over a couple of weekends. We'd heard from others who had been before how great a day it was so we quickly signed up.

Early on a Saturday morning seven of us squeezed into a borrowed truck for the hour and a half drive. We took the scenic route via Ragusa which was beautiful, the morning mist softening the crags and hills. It was a bit slow and windy and at one place part of the road had land-slipped away but it didn't stop the locals tearing around at their usual speed.

Our target was a farm a few miles east of Palazzolo with a large cow sign to look out for. Turning into the yard Kenny had to be careful not to squash any of the 17 puppies wandering around. They were all very cute and one took a liking for Colin whilst I just wanted them all! Homes are needed for them if anyone in Sicily is reading.

olive picking puppies
Very cute puppies

After greetings with Paulo and Mila we left the puppies behind and headed off for a short walk to the olive field, Paulo answering our many questions and pointing out their land and explaining what we would be doing that day.

picking olives in Sicily
Hi ho hi ho it's off to olive picking we go

First step was to lay out the nets which had to be spread in a large square around each tree to make sure all olives were captured and joined with the upslope net overlapping the lower one so no olives rolled down and got lost in the gap. Nets laid we could begin picking. By running our fingers down the branches most olives would drop off easily, some needed a little more persuasion to break free. This method of picking left the olives unbruising - sometimes a stick is used if time is short but this bruises the fruit and results in a lower quality oil. To get to the higher olives we could use the ladders or climb the tree. Once a tree was cleared the nets were gathered and tipped into the boxes.

More dogs wandered around and it was just great being out in the countryside and fresh air. It was a bit cloudy which turned out to be a blessing as it wasn't too hot; the olive picking was fairly strenuous and we were soon working up a sweat. Not too cold either, just right. Lots of chat and banter passed the time. We were more than ready for lunch having had breakfast so early; Paulo brought out a plate of homemade bread drizzled with their own olive oil with locally made cheese. Plus the very important 2 litres of wine. A simple meal but very tasty and filling. Fresh rosemary and oregamo had been added to the olive oil and chasing herby oil around the plate with lumps of bread was downright delicisimo! The cows that provide the milk for the cheese are occasionally put in with the olives so they can fertilise the trees with their organic pats.

olive picking lunch

Back to the picking and a challenge to fill at least 8 boxes was set. Some trees were bountiful (the word of the day), one had the mother lode of all olives and filled nearly a box itself. Others were sparse and had hardly any fruit. Some olives were purple, mostly still green, all to do with the ripeness. A mix of green and purple gave the best oil.

olive picking haul

A little after 4pm the light was starting to fade and Paulo was suggesting we stop - we'd filled 8 boxes so that was perfect. Back at the house our energy was topped back up with lentil and vegetable stew, more bread, cheese, local sausages and the softest, tastiest fresh ricotta I've ever eaten. We also tried a very young olive oil, pressed in the last week and a bright, emerald green. It had a spicy flavour, apparently only the Italians like it so fresh but we were guzzling it up. It was shame to leave, I could have stayed all night chatting about the farm, Paulo and Mila's plans, nibbling away at the food and drinking the red wine. However we wanted to see where the olives were pressed.

olive mush
Olives looking like mushy peas

It was a jovial atmosphere at the press with other growers having their olives pressed and waiting for their oil. It seemed like a sociable place for the men to hang out on a Saturday night. Paulo explained the process, the olives going up a conveyor belt first where leaves and sticks are shaken out, then a wash. Next into a giant masher where the whole olives are crushed and churned until they look like super green mushy peas. A separator machine takes out the water and then one last machine to extract the oil. As the oil is pure olive with no additives it is a much greener colour than what is normally bought in the shops. We bought a couple of bottles of Paulo's oil from last year and will be looking more closely at the labels on the oil we buy in supermarkets from now on.
olive picking results
The sacred green oil

We were able to get our haul weighed - a whopping 160kg! Proper job!

A brilliant day out doing something useful and healthy and meeting Paulo and Mila was a real delight, they are so passionate about their land and keeping it natural. It anyone is interested they have a website at Phantalica and people can go stay with them and help out, not just with the olive picking.

Our first Thanksgiving

05 December 2014 | Marina di Ragusa, Sicily
Nichola / sun and heavy showers
Thursday 27th November
Every third Thursday in November is the day the American's hold Thanksgiving and with several American boats wintering in Marina di Ragusa it was our chance to experience it for the first time.

Wanda and John set about arranging a marina Thanksgiving. What started off as a pot luck on the pontoon with a single turkey turned into a celebration with nearly 80 people using a restaurant by the marina as a base and the turkey count going up to three. Everyone attending was asked to bring a dish - Colin went for his grandma's recipe for stuffed tomatoes, I decided on a brussels sprout dish that didn't need three months of boiling as is customary for Christmas ;-) Little did I know how hard to would be to find sprouts.

The sprout hunt began last week on the market/Lidl/shopping mall trip. No sprouts there. I began asking others on the way to the shops if they spotted any to let me know. A possible sighting in Eurospar gave me hope. Plus Yvonne from Puff the Magic Dragon had two jars of sprouts I could use if needs be. I headed up to Eurospar and found clingfilmed packets of the fabled green ball. Unfortunately most of the packets held yellowing and sad looking objects with just one of the five looking ok. I took that and went in search of frozen ones thinking I could come back from the others. The frozen hunt was unsuccessful so back to the fresh veg isle - no sprouts! An assistant was now stacking packets of herbs where the sprouts had been. Surely no one could have come and taken the four packets in the few minutes I was away? I had my dictionary with me so cobbled together some words to ask the assistant if there were more but she replied no. Someone else would have been having a sprout feast that day!

So Yvonne's jars saved the sprout day.

Colin and his stuffed toms
Colin and his stuffed tomatoes

On the morning the net started off with a turkey song to get us in the mood and then the cooking began. We had to cook in shifts given our galley is only just big enough for one person. I went first whilst Colin began scooping out tomatoes at the saloon table. Colin could then take over cooking duty whilst I gave a hand helping set up. At this point the restaurant decided to tell us they weren't providing plates. A combination of cycling around the pontoons, a notice on the gate and a radio call got the message out so that no one was left plateless.

A plateful of yummy food

The afternoon was a great success. Loads of food, the turkeys had been perfectly cooked by a local restaurant. More puddings than even I could eat and excellent company. We even had a paper feather each on to which we could write what we were grateful for and stick it on the turkey with some humerous answers.

Much to be grateful for on our first Thanksgiving - a tasty feast, a great bunch of people and being able to live this life. Cheers!

Mother Nature's job creation scheme

18 November 2014 | Marina di Ragusa, Sicily
Nichola / cloudy 20c
Mother nature throws much at us to keep us boaties busy. The harsh environments of salty water and wind do their best to keep us occupied with an endless round of cleaning and maintenance.

One of our battles is to keep the anchor chain in good condition, afterall it is the significant other in partnership with the anchor in keeping us from drifting off from our chosen parking spot.

Every year a winter job is to wash the chain and repaint the length markings. This year we noticed the first 30m which gets used the most is showing more signs of rust and has lost all it's zinc coating. Something needed to be done to delay any more corrosion and stop the chain melding together into a rusty lump whilst living in the chain locker for the next six months.

Our first task was to get the chain from the locker to the pontoon - not so easy when Med moored stern to. We laid tarps on the deck to protect it having only painted last winter. Then heaved the chain out in managable lengths and drag/carried it down the side deck, across the passarelle and onto the pontoon.

zinc paint

A scrub and wash removed any loose, flaky stuff and a few barnacles that had made home there (probably from Barnacle Bay at Syracuse (our own name for the place after a barnacle invasion force moved in on Emerald's hull)). Next we spray painted the chain with a zinc paint; our aim is for the paint to provide protection whilst in the locker and maybe a couple of months of cover once we're back anchoring again. The length markers will then need to be painted on again. Although it does seem like a pointless exercise as we know the zinc paint will eventually get knocked off through use, if it prolongs the life of the chain for another season or so then it's got to be worth trying. We shall report back next season on the holding power of the zinc paint.

Season round up part one

02 November 2014 | Marina di Ragusa, Sicily
From leaving Lagos in April to arriving at Marina di Ragusa in Sicily

Total distance travelled: 1786nm
Ratio of sailing to motor-sailing: 46% which isn't great. Good job we had all that lovely cheap diesel from Gib.

Nights at anchor: 152
Nights in marinas: 18
Nights on passage: 8

Countries visited: Portugal / Spain / Gibraltar / Sardinia / Sicily

From Lagos we sailed straight to Culatra and anchored for a week. Then it was on to Ayamonte to pick up the solar panel arch tube before heading up the river Guadiana. Glue River lived up to its name and we were there a month while Colin built the arch (with welcome help from John) and waiting for the east wind to stop blowing through the Gibraltar Straits. We weren't complaining though, the Guadiana was a great place to hang around with walks, music, festivals, cheap beer and friends to occupy our time.

Heading back down the river a planned overnight to Rota was delayed when we saw the nasty sea state at the river mouth. A long day sail took us there where we had a couple of days before a motorsailed romp through the Gibraltar Straits to La Linea. We had a mad dash around the supermarkets of Gib (ooooh Morrisons), visited the monkeys and helped John celebrate his birthday.

An overnighter to Almerimar started off more exciting than expected with a F8 pushing us along, no surprise it died to nothing overnight. Almerimar was our first experience of Med mooring, the helpful staff at the marina made it easy. Strange place though Almerimar and the surrounding landscape of plastic greenhouses wasn't appealing. We escaped for a few days on 'holiday' with Pat and Duncan to Grenada.

Another overnighter followed to Mar Menor (doodoobedobe) to eat up the miles. This inland sea was a real surprise - a safe anchorage, running and walking routes, a super generous yacht club (free showers, water and dinghy parking) and overhead displays from the Spanish Red Arrows.

Our last overnighter for a while was a loooong motor to Ibiza. Our first anchorage there was a bit of a shock to the system with our first experience of the superyacht crews. One boat anchored ridiculously close to our friends yet the skipper couldn't see a problem with it. Too much arrogance perhaps as there was ample space to move to.

San Antonio was good fun, watching teenage Brits abroad with a bus trip to Ibiza Town for a wander around. Moving north we were disappointed by small, crowded anchorages and charter crews but we found a huge deserted place at Cala Charraco. On to Mallorca and Santa Ponsa for a week or so which was a good place to hang around apart from the swell which seemed to plague us on and off throughout the summer.

Then east to round Mallorca with an aim to see a selection of the calas on that coast. Some beautiful locations but sadly many were overrun with hotels and people but we found idyllic Cala Magraner where we were one of only three boats and wild goats entertained us in the evening.

Alcudia next where we stayed for three weeks. We had this fear in our head of the stress of crowds and no space to anchor during peak season; Alcudia had plenty of space and good shelter from most wind directions so we got a bit lazy and stayed. Ashore we had plenty of shops for stocking up plus some great walks. But looking back we should have pushed on sooner and had more time in Sardinia.

In Menorca we only visited Cala Addaia which was a small but sheltered anchorage with a friendly marina shore but limited options for exploring ashore meant we were ready to move on after a week. A weather window opened and we were off to south Sardinia. Having watched the weather the previous few weeks we'd seen a pattern of mistrals with a few days of calm inbetween which would have made heading to north Sardinia a headache of having to constantly watch the weather and be ready to run rather than relax. In south Sardinia the anchorages around the neighbouring islands of Isola di San Pietro and Sant Antioco gave us options for all weather directions.

A couple of stops along the south coast and a night in the marina in Cagliari and that was all we saw of Sardinia which was a shame as I liked it there. Our crossing to Sicily was awful but Isola Favignana in the Egadi islands cheered us up. First impressions of Sicily were good despite enduring a very long couple of days as we sat out a mistral at anchor off Punta Longa.

Heading north around Sicily the engine power cable corroded off which meant an unplanned stop to repair it. The next day we overnighted to the Aeolian islands and the delights of the volcanos, one of my favourite weeks of the summer. After seeing lava flowing on Stromboli it was down through the Messina Straits to Taormina, hanging around at Siracusa and on to our winter home via Punta Palo.

Favourite places: River Guadiana, Cala Magraner, Favignana and the volcanos.

Next time: the good, the bad, the downright awful!
Vessel Name: Emerald
Vessel Make/Model: Kelly Peterson 44
Hailing Port: No fixed abode
Crew: Colin 'Skip' Wright, Nichola Wright
About: One from Northern Ireland, one from Yorkshire, UK
Extra: Emerald has been our home since 2004. We've sailed around the UK, the western Baltic and have spent 7 years in the Med. We're currently in Portugal, planning a refit. Lot's more information about us and the boat can be found at www.yachtemerald.com
Home Page: https://www.yachtemerald.com/