OMG! We are off across the Atlantic 

I am sitting here luxuriating in the stillness, we leave tomorrow and for the next two to three weeks my life will be lived on a moving platform. We are eager to get going, we have been sitting n the marina for long enough, the Caribbean beckons.
ARC World continues to defy description. We have made dozens of new friends, partied every night and fretted over everything from which route to take to when or whether to change the bed sheets. Getting anywhere takes ages as you continually bump into people all on a similar mission. The pontoon is full to bursting with people rushing here or there, boxes of groceries, delivery boys, and pieces of boats. It is crazy just how much activity is still going on on the boats. We have a guy from Oyster dangling 23m up our mast, opposite they are attaching a spinnaker pole and next door but one awaits a new boom!

  S pontoon 

The team from Oyster do a brilliant job pre ARC, they come to each boat and spend three or four hours checking through everything with a fine toothcomb and when they find a problem they help fix it. Raya thankfully and after all the money spent on the refit, expectedly, is still in good condition. They did however find a small problem at the top of the mast, a fitting had been left with a rough edge and this over the six months we have been at sea has chafed our spinnaker halyard (halyards are the ropes that pull sails up). As we are about to fly our coloured sail this could have proved problematic and Oyster have kindly been sorting it out for us.

 Further peace of mind came in the form of Andy from Stella Maris (our refit team) who stayed on board and helped us with the pre-trip checks as well. We really can’t be leaving feeling any safer than we are.

  Andy at the top of the mast. 

Our crew, Eric and Hartmut, have arrived so team Raya is now complete. Eric is a long time friend and Harmut an old work colleague, they have been signed up for almost a year and are both excited and working hard. All the fruit and veg arrived this afternoon and had to be washed to remove the chance of cockroach eggs being carried onboard. Rick and I returned from the skippers briefing to find the crew knee deep in apples and potatoes and Raya resembling a grocery store.

  Just part of the fruit and veg order 

Stowing all the food has been a challenge and I’m still not sure whether we have far too much or not enough. Both Eric and Hartmut appear to be big eaters so I rushed out and did another last minute shop. I have pre cooked half a dozen meals for the days when we don’t feel like cooking and have ingredients to knock up something exotic if we fancy it, we have tons of fruit, emergency tins and bags full of chocolate. It is possible our supplies won’t just get us to St Lucia but will get us right the way through Christmas too!

The forecast looks good as there is a stable high pressure over the Azores which has caused the trade winds to set in. The forecast is for NE winds F4-5, if that’s how the conditions are it will be perfect for us, our already heavy bulk, now full with food, fuel and water will need plenty of wind to get going.

Whilst at sea I will try to post a few blogs but as we will be sending via our satellite phone I won’t be able to send photos. If there is anything other than blue sea and more blue sea I’ll post the pictures when I reach St Lucia. Fingers crossed for a whale sighting.

Busy busy

It is Friday the 13th and our destination was the village of Terror, this is not an ARC trip for the superstitious. As we wind up the steep narrow roads our coach seemingly oblivious to the oncoming traffic the name becomes more and more literal. I was on my way to help plant trees with a group of other ARC participants joining for the morning a project to reforest a section of Grand Canaria. The Canaries despite its volcanoes and large areas of urbanisation is in fact a bio diversity World hot spot and I was doing my tiny bit to help keep it that way.

It was great to be surrounded by green instead of the concrete of the marina and despite the mist the views were good. However my tiny bit turned out to be extremely hard work, the planting area was at the top of a very steep hill and we were then presented with a cross between a hoe and a pick axe. One aching body later I had managed to plant six or seven trees and as a group we managed 190 between us.


On Sunday we went on a friends boat to see the start of the ARC+. It was nice to get out of the marina and get some fresh air and to wish our friends, old and new, fair winds as they headed off to the Cape Verdi Islands. 

The start line of ARC+

Their departure immediately seemed to put the pressure on the rest of us and now everyone is busy busy here in Las Palmas.

We have taken Raya for a run to test her engines. We ploughed up and down the shore taking the revs up as high as they would go and the good news was – no bubbles in the coolant. We have been to lectures on everything from managing emergencies at sea to provisioning, cooked the first few meals for the freezer, worked down the long list of stuff to check on the boat, done two more big shops and continued to party most evenings.

Tuesday we “dressed the boat overall” this means flying a string of the International signal flags from the front of the boat to the top of the mast and down to the stern. All boats are asked to do it to add to the overall feeling of celebration in the marina. Each flag represents a different number or letter and often has a further meaning, for instance the blue and white A flag means ‘diver below please keep clear’ or the yellow Q flag means ‘this boat is healthy can I clear into port’. I had spent a concentrated afternoon in Lanzarote stringing them carefully together being especially vigilant to make sure they were all in the specified order and would all appear the right way up. Looking at some of the other boats there seems to be some debate as to which way up is correct, but the overall effect is very colourful.


Flags are not the only thing to be hauled to the top of the mast this week, yesterday I attempted to get Rick up to check our rigging. We had practiced it a few months ago using the winch on the bow, but this time decided to try with one of the electric winches in the cockpit. This turned out to be a bit of a mistake as the angle of the line entering the winch which we thought would be just about OK, turned out not to be and instead of flowing seamlessly around it tangled up. So there we were the winched jammed and Rick hanging about ten meters above the deck, after a moments panic all was well, luckily he had rigged a safety line and with the help of a friend he was easily dropped back down to earth. Lessons learnt and to ensure we got straight back on the horse, I winched him back up by hand much more controlled but a lot harder work!

All the boats have been lent a yellow brick transmitter that will transmit our location right accross the Atlantic – our AIS can only locate us to within about 50 miles of a beacon most of which are on land. If you would like to follow us and the rest of the fleet you can do at –
Make sure to select ARC 2015, not ARC+ 2015. 

ARC World

Saturday 7th November 

The tension at the far end of our pontoon is palpable. The ARC + which crosses the Atlantic via the Cape Verdi Islands, leaves tomorrow. It is not just the bustle of supermarket deliveries of last minute provisions or the practicing of man overboard routines or even the raising and lowering of a multitude of shapes and sizes of sails as they are checked and double checked. It’s something more subtle, the tone of a voice, the determined stride up the pontoon, the concentrated expressions. For them suddenly the time has come to get serious, the partying is finished.

For the rest of us on the traditional ARC, sailing straight from Las Palmas to St Lucia, things are just beginning. We watch on, trying to pick up tips for our departure on the 22nd November.

It is difficult to quite explain our pre-rally world here, a mass of people living cheek by jowl, the boats are crammed in, moored just a fender (8ins) apart. All busying ourselves with making sure we get can our boats and crew through the 2-3 week journey ahead, safely, well fed and as efficiently as possible. We are all making friends fast, everyone chatting to everyone else, mostly complete strangers, but with this huge event in common.

Our flight finally left Heathrow three hours late and we arrived back at the marina at 4am on Tuesday morning. Thankfully Rene, a local guy who offers a long list of services to the influx of ARC boats, was there to pick us up, our luggage arrived including our sail and Raya was exactly as we had left her. After a few hours sleep we woke to blue skies and a social whirl, any hope of having a break from the relentless eating and drinking of our three weeks break at home we soon realised was in vain. We have reunited with people we had met en route during the summer, met people we had only previously chatted to through our blogs or on Facebook and made new friends of all the people moored near us. Each night we end up on one boat or another having a glass of wine, swapping tales of our trips down and discussing worries and solutions regarding the preparations ahead.

Provisioning is a common topic of conversation, what and how much we think we need, where best to buy it, who delivers most promptly, where to put it all once it arrives?


Provisioning trip no 1

You need friends around, everybody helping each other out. Apparently our dingy had to be rescued a couple of times while we were away as there has been some very heavy downpours. We left it tucked under the bow of the boat to allow access to the stern by the engine guys that needed to get on and off the boat carry equipment. We discovered however that it wasn’t just above water that it had had problems, the bottom was completely encrusted with barnacles, so Thursday we drove it around to the local beach and spent a hard couple of hours getting it clean again.

As you walk down the pontoon you notice crews sitting sheepishly on deck sourounded by life jackets, first aid kits and boxes of flares. The World Cruising Club who organise the ARC has very strict safety standards and before you can leave on any of their rallies, you have to pass a safety equipment test. We had ours yesterday, it feels a bit like an exam as the safety officer quizzes you and inspects your boat. Raya of course having crossed the Atlantic and circumnavigated the globe with the WCC before has already been through all this and we inherited a lot of the required equipment when we bought her, the remainder we sorted out before we left Southampton. We were relieved to pass with flying colours, everything in place except for a bit of missing reflective tape.

We ticked off a couple of other things that have been hanging over us for a while. We have been unable,  in Spain, to fill our Propane gas bottles that we use for cooking and we have been eking out the little gas we had for months now. So we were very happy when Rene again came up trumps, returning both full yesterday. If we weren’t trying so hard to return our waistlines to some vestige of their former selves I would celebrate by baking a cake.

The engine whisperer informs us the engine is now in tiptop condition, we plan to take Raya out for a test run on Monday and fingers crossed the coolant problem will have been finally eliminated.

And yes, drum roll please, the freezer appears to be fixed! All we need now is to find time between the full itinerary of seminars and social events to fill it back up.

ARC Itinerary week 1

Goodbye to the Balearics 

Wednesday 2nd September

We have started our journey back out of the Mediterranean, from now on we will be sailing westward all the way to New Zealand! 

I am writing this from the cockpit, motor sailing, we only have six knots of wind, three quarters of the way from Ibiza to Almerimar, where we intend to stop for a few days enroute to Gibraltar. The visibility is not brilliant so we can’t see the land which is about fifteen miles away, the sea is calm and there is not another boat in sight, it looks to all intense and purposes as if we are in an ocean already. This will be, at about forty hours, the longest double handed sail we have done so far, conditions have been benign and everything is going well with just nine or so hours left to go. One of my three forecasts are for the winds to freshen and to veer to the west, this will make things a bit more lively, so we are making as quick progress as possible while we can.

The Mckays, Jonny, Sheridan, Charlie and Daisy joined us in Andraitx last Wednesday and we spent, the six days they were with us, making a final visit to some of our favorites spots in Mallorca and Ibiza. We spent a night in our northern corner just outside the main port of Soller and finally got into the restaurant on the front we had been trying to eat at all summer and enjoyed steak cooked at the table Tappanyaki style. 

We anchored for a swim and lunch in Cala Foradada, where we swam for the last time in the crystal clear waters. The lack of fish in this part of the Mediterranean, in numbers and variety, has been rather shocking, so we felt lucky to see a few Pipe Fish, some yellow stripy Jacks and one small Parrot Fish. The overwhelming majority of fish are the Saddled Bream that we see everywhere and that are very enthusiastic eaters of our stale bread.  

Charlie feeding the Saddled Bream.

And then we turned west, towards Formentera and Ibiza. It was good to have some extra crew for the night crossing. Jonathan is an extremely experienced sailor and the root of our sailing ambitions, even Rick managed some sleep, feeling confident leaving Raya in his hands. It was quite a good trip, we managed to sail at least half of the way, there was quite an uncomfortable swell again but nobody suffered from sickness. For the kids it was their first night sail and I think they were surprised with how peaceful it feels and how light it was, bathed in a full moon. At one point Charlie was reading by the moonlight, in fact I was rather depressed by how poor my eye sight was compared to their young eyes, despite the thousands of pounds spent at the opticians, it’s a shame you can’t buy youth.

The anchorages in Formentera were thankfully less crowed than they were a month or so ago, but unfortunately Cala Sahona was full of small black jelly fish. We have seen an increasing number in the past week or so and both Sheridan and Rick have been stung. We are currently sailing just south of Cartagena and there has been a constant stream of a brown, ten inch diameter, variety passing the boat for the past two hours. That’s a lot of jelly fish!

Saturday evening we met up with friends of Jonny’s, Eric and Sally and their house guest Steve. An interesting bunch, we had a very pleasant supper. Eric has been visiting Cala Sahona since he was a child, as he has a family villa here, it was fascinating seeing the bay through his eyes realizing he’s completely different view of the place.

When we woke the next morning not only were the black jelly fish still all around us but we were getting a bit battered by the wind, so we took up the anchor and moved about three miles up the coast and anchored off Isla Espalmador. We were so glad we did, the island is joined to Formentera by a narrow, five mile long, low lying, sand spit and when we took the dingy ashore we discovered how beautiful it was. One side was a turquoise calm sea, full of yachts and super yachts at anchor, the other just 100ft away was exposed to the full brunt of the east wind and waves crashed into the beach. The spit is composed of flat low rocks and soft white sand, every rocky mound was completely covered with little towers of stones built by hundreds of visitors. Everybody seems to have a different tale for why people build them, but here, it felt very New Age and quite mystical. Despite a compelling urge, we resisted the temptation to build our own and instead played in the rough waves on the east side and then lolled in the cooling calm waters to the west.


McKay family playing in the surf


Calm waters on the Eastern shore


For their penultimate night we paid a final visit to the anchorage at Cala D’Hort, eating at the nice cliff top restaurant and waking to views of Isla Vedra (Bali Hai) before setting off for Marina Santa Eulalia just north of Ibiza town. 

In the afternoon we took a taxi the fifteen minutes to Ibiza and walked, with much complaining from some members of our party, to the top of the old town. We walked through tunnels, up steep hills and even steeper steps to reach the picturesque square containing the Cathedral right at the top of the Citadel. The groaning was not improved by, at sunset, the arrival of a swarm of mosquitoes, suddenly the whole place was full of people scratching. Luckily we found an enterprising grocery store selling mossie spray and the evening became a bit more comfortable. We wandered into one of many restaurants lining the street on the edge of the old town and it turned out to be some of the best food we have eaten all summer, a fitting end to the Mckays stay.

We left Ibiza with black storm clouds in the distance and despite turning south to try and avoid it,we were soon engulfed by our first electrical storm. We rushed to protect one of the hand held radios and my iPad (which could act as a spare GPS if nessecary), putting them in the oven which we hoped, acting as a Faraday Cage, would keep them safe if we were hit by lightening. It was quite frightening as we watched a funnel form in the clouds and lightening bolts hit the sea. With the thunder cracking loudly all around, the torrential rain hit us and the visibility dropped to a few hundred feet. It only lasted half an hour or so but we were relieved to be finally sailing in sunshine again.

The rain front approaching

Thursday 3rd September

Well the expected high winds arrived five hours earlier than forecast and so the last quarter of our journey turned into a hairy twelve hours as Raya beat slowly right into the waves and wind. We arrived in Almerimar wet and tired, feeling that we had certainly passed the double handed, two night test. Thankful for our fantastic boat and her engine which ran without complaining for nearly forty five hours. 


Monday we had a heavy downpour, unbelievably it is the first rain we have had since leaving three months ago (sorry UK friends I know you’ve just had a very wet day), it was quite a novelty. As the squall moved in, high winds swirled around the bay causing chaos as the anchor ballet fell to bits. Every boat in the crowded anchorage had a mind of its own and a wet half hour was spent fending off. The catamaran beside us was affected particularly badly , the poor guys onboard working hard not to hit us or the cliffs close on their other side. As we haven’t been in port for a while Raya was pleased for the fresh water soaking and in between guarding our flanks we gave her a good wash down. 

I am trying to build in a bit more excercise to my days, besides the casual swim to the beach or snorkeling, at anchor I am swimming circuits around the boat. This eliminates the risk from passing motorized mad people and depending on conditions, gives me a gentle or if it’s rough or the boat is swinging, a good work out. I am also doing a half hour of palates a few times a week. How often depends on it being calm enough to make it possible and quiet enough for me to feel comfortable waving my legs about on the very public bows of the boat. Wednesday morning was perfect, satin smooth sea and just a few boats spread well out in the large anchorage. As I looked about during my stretches, it occurred to me how the view from my mat, normally the sweaty reflection of myself and my classmates in the mirror of the fitness studio, has improved some what.

View from the pilates mat

After we dropped Eric and Roz Saturday we spent a couple of days hopping between bays along the south coast of Menorca we had a bit of wind and it was great to be sailing more than motoring. There were plenty of very beautiful and unspoilt coves that I’m sure are delightful out of season but in August they were heaving with yachts, it was just too crowded for us and so after one more night we moved on. Tuesday evening found us back in Cala Pinar – shaggy eagle bay, on the very northern tip of Mallorca, a convenient stopping point before our sail to the Spanish mainland the next day.

It’s now Thursday afternoon and we arrived early this morning in Sant Carles de la Rapita on the coast of mainland Spain where Raya will be coming out of the water for a couple of days. We are having three coats of anti-foul applied to the hull, a first step in the preparations for the bigger adventures to come. Hopefully it will keep us weed and banicle free until we reach New Zealand in just over a years time. Stella Maris our refit guys from the UK have a partnership here and have negotiated us a very good price, so it seemed worth the detour and we plan to take advantage of our location for a few non-boat days with a trip to Barcelona.

The twenty hour crossing from Mallorca, started with zero wind, a bit annoying as we had planned the crossing a day or two early to take advantage of the forecasted perfect sailing conditions. However as the sunset and just as we finished being scathing of meteorologists weather forecasting abilities the wind suddenly picked up and we were soon flying along in a F4 on a beam reach. 

Sunset enroute to the mainland

It was a very dark night and as I came on watch around 1am I felt completely disorientated, there was no moon and cloud obscured most of the stars and disappointingly the promised meteor shower. It took the lights of another boat in the distance, about an hour in, before I really felt comfortable that I was being an effective look out. Rick still has yet to master the art of sleeping during nights at sea, the weight of responsibility lying heavy on his shoulders, not to mention the heat below making for very sweaty conditions. 

So today is a rest day, tomorrow back to reality and top of the agenda is the cleaning of our rather smelly grey tanks, the tanks through which our waste water from the showers etc runs, delightful.

Anchor Bay Ballet

On Friday we headed for Mahon, the capital of Menorca, as Eric and Roz had flights home on Saturday. All the marinas were choc-a-bloc, so we diverted to Cala Taulera at the entrance to the port. The anchorage was very full but we were keen to get in as the forecast was for high winds the next day and this Cala laying sandwiched been an island on one side and a promontory of the mainland on the other was well protected. With some clever maneuvering by the skipper we found a slot and dropped our anchor.

It’s a funny thing but some people when they are on their own boat, particularly when at anchor, seem to put up an invisible wall around themselves and do their own thing. Sometimes this will manifest as music being played too loudly, or running a noisy generator though the peace of the evening, oblivious to the disturbance being caused. For others, especially the French in our experience, it is a visual assault, they parade around their yachts naked. On the Friday afternoon we arrived the man on the yacht next to us was proudly displaying all, while his wife sat next to him in a bikini, the next day they changed around with her hanging out the towels on the bows bare as a baby and he was in swimming trunks. What were the rules that dictated their dressing or not each morning? Eric decided they had been cruising so long they only had one pair of pants left between them and therefore had to take the wearing of them in turns.

Another sign of a long term live aboard boat is the amount of stuff on the decks, hanging from the rails and fixed to the stern. Just three months in, we quietly promised ourselves that we will keep our boat looking beautiful and our clothes on. A large supply of spare underwear will be kept at all times. Time will tell.

Just after we had dropped Eric and Roz at the dock the wind started to get up. Boats looking for shelter flooded into the already full anchorage. As the wind blows from slightly differing directions, the boats, always trying to have their bows into the wind, swing around their anchors. Exactly when and how much a boat swings depends on a myriad of things, such as the size of the boat, length and weight of chain deployed, and profile of the hull under the water.  The anchorage turns into a stage full of unchoreographed ballet dancers, pirouetting around there own central point. For this dance to work, all the boats need to have enough space around them so that if their neighbours swing is slightly out of time with theirs nobody bumps into each other. When it is crowded this can lead to some close encounters and tense moments.

We prepared for the night, putting out a bit more chain, clearing the decks and attaching a few fender over the side, just in case. We had a bit of space around us and our large anchor and heavy chain held us tight but it appeared that the other side of anchorage wasn’t so lucky, every now and again a shout would go up, torches would flash and a rush of activity could be seen. It was too dark to really see what was going on but hopefully no serious incidents occurred. As it happened the wind eased just after midnight and this particular performance slowed to a more sedate pace. Rick feeling happy that all was safe could come to bed and I was spared my early morning watch.

A Confusion of Roz and Ricks

We have had some problems summoning each other this week, our friends Eric and Rosamund, commonly known as Rick and Roz are onboard, so there has been a lot of “Roz” , “Yes”, ” No the other Roz”. But we seem to be communicating okay and Roz brings with her other talents, she has been cutting and coloring my hair brilliantly for years and I have been holding out for her visit for weeks.

Open air hair salon

They arrived in Palma on Saturday and keen to show them the fantastic scenery on the North Coast we headed straight for Cala Foradada – the hole in the wall cove. On our previous visits the Cala has been very quiet, the sea is perfect and the cliffs spectacular, there are no roads, no beach, no buildings. So we were surprised to find  Seawolf a 190ft motor yacht anchored there when we arrived and even more surprised to be joined by the 450ft motor yacht Rising Sun during the evening, Google tells us she is the eleventh largest Superyacht in the world. The next morning yet another huge motor yacht arrived, the 230ft Tallisman. What on earth was going on? What or where around Foradada is there we mere mortals don’t know about?

Rising sun and Tallisman

Not invited to what ever this exclusive event was, we sailed on to the far north east corner of the Island. The sea was quite choppy and the first Cala we entered, we decided, was very pretty but too uncomfortable to stay, we motored a couple of miles further down the coast but the next bay was similar, we considered bringing our sail to Menorca forward to the night instead of the next morning but there was very little wind. In the end we motored accross to the far side of Bahia de Pollensa where it was more sheltered. 

In the morning we had a better opportunity to appreciate where we were, Cala del Pinar, was another quiet, pretty cove. The land ashore belonged to the  military and off limits to civilians but not to the booted eagle that flew over us and then stood perched on a branch drying himself for most of the morning. A shaggy fellow, about eighteen inches tall, with a white coloured breast and speckled thrush like back and wings.

We were glad we had waited until the morning for the thirty mile crossing to Menorca, the wind was blowing F3-4 on the beam, a great sail. Eric is joining us for the ARC and we had been discussing swimming off the boat mid-Atlantic and how scary that might feel, so living for the moment we thought we would try it. As we approached the Menorcan coast the wind had died and so we heaved-to (a method of backing the sails to stop the boat). Not quite mid-ocean, just three miles off Menorca and not 1000’s of metres deep just 67, but still, not the beach. The boat was drifting at about half a knot and we were surprised how quick that appeared when you tried to swim towards it and yes, Jo Robinson, it did cross my mind what might be lurking in the depths beneath my feet. Then to maintain British heaved-to tradition we made a cup of tea, bringing very puzzled expressions from a couple of passing Spanish yachts.

Cliffs on the Northern coast of Menorca are much lower and softer than the ones we have come from and the anchorages full of sailing rather than motor boats, so everywhere has a gentler feel. We are currently anchored in Puerto de Fornells. A small seaside town of white cubed buildings, inside a deep inlet, full of yachts. 


There is a busy sailing club here and we spent an entertaining afternoon, between hair cuts, watching laser dingies racing and capsizing in the brisk breeze. Everywhere we have been in Spain, from A Coruna to the here in the Balearics, we have seen youngsters sailing in all conditions, the British sailing team may need to look out in a few years time.

Peace – for a while

Monday 13th July 

I love that we wake each morning to a different view. I am often first up on the boat, in fact, sometimes it is so quiet and still, it feels as if I’m the first up in the whole of Spain. This morning the sea was calm, there was hardly a breath of wind and it was silent except for the continuous gentle lapping of the sea on the rocks. I did have one fellow early riser, a fisherman bobbing up and down in the distance, but the beach was empty. 

My view today, as I emerged sleepy eyed through the companion way, was of the huge slab of rock, Vedra Island. It is rumored to have been used for the photography for South Pacific’s Bali Hai and this morning it looked fantastic in the early light and was crowned with a puff of white cloud.

Vedra Island, Ibiza

An hour later I could begin to feel the warmth of the rising sun on my back and Vedra’s veil had been burnt off. As other sailors emerge from the yachts around me, the peacefulness seems to demand quiet and everyone is talking in hushed tones, slipping rather than diving in for their morning swim and much like me sitting on the deck quietly enjoying the view, even the gulls seem to be respecting the silence.

As we and the day move on, we become re-immersed in the madness that is Ibiza. We sailed to Fomentera, an Island, joined by a string of rocky islets to the Southern end of Ibiza. Our guide book written in 2011 describes it as being quieter and less busy than the main Island, that alas, is no longer the case.

The bay, Cala Sahona, is shallow and the water turquoise, the beach is of white sand and the cliffs are orange and patterned by ancient striations, it would be beautiful – but for the crowds. It is a mystery to me why so many boats, many expensive large motor yachts, all congregate in the same anchorage for the day. At times the boats are so closely anchored together no one can relax for fear of bumping into each other, skippers sit at the helm anxiously watching the ballet of swinging yachts around them. Swimming far from the yacht is foolhardy as jet ski’s, dingy’s and small motor boats weave their way between the spaces and there is hardly a square foot spare on the beach. 

We would move on but we plan to sail to Mallorca tomorrow evening, Penny and Stephen, who joined us yesterday, are keen to do a night sail and this is the only convenient sheltered anchorage for tonight. As the evening approaches the boats thin slightly and we manage to move to an emptier spot, but a noisy flotilla of charter yachts has joined us and the peace of the this morning seems a distant memory.

The Rock

As we approached Gibralta we had radioed ahead to Marina Bay, they had no space for us and so we diverted to Queensway Quay. What luck, it was extremely nice, the staff were friendly and helpful, the showers were good and although it was surrounded by the ubiquitous blocks of apartments the environment was pleasant, and all for only £26 a night!! On the quay were five or six good restaurants some serving full English breakfasts, steaks, ribs and chicken a welcome change from the fish, fish, or fish we have had for the past few weeks.

After a day or two of chores, chandlery, provisions, hair cuts etc… Friday we put on our tourist hats and took the cable car to the top of the rock. Here we enjoyed the view and watched the macaques, while a cloud, that would eventually veil the peaks of the rock, formed in front of our eyes. It was fascinating, a fast stream of mist rose from the Mediterranean side of the cliff, much like someone was boiling a giant kettle just the other side of the ridge and gathered into a cloud above us.

First stop was the St Micheals cave complex, they were incredible. Unfortunately, the powers that be had decided that they would be enhanced by playing a continuous light show, flooding our soroundings with a fluorescent rainbow of colors. They were wrong, the grandeur of the cathedral sized cavern with thousands of stalactites hanging like giant organ pipes needed nothing to  enhance them but a bit of white light.  

Emerging back into the sunlight, we set out to walk the couple of kilometers to the other end of the rock to find the war tunnels that riddle its heart. When Rick, Mathew and I were here about eight years ago, we equally eagerly set off downwards to explore, but got completely lost and ended near the bottom at a very tall locked gate, there was no way we could even contemplate walking back upwards, so had no choice but to climb over. I clearly remember being perched fifteen foot up, Matt who’d hopped over like one of the monkeys egging me on from one side and Rick encouraging me on from the other and I thinking to myself – I’m too old for all this. So it was with some trepidation, now even older, that I started off on the badly signed paths again. Luckily this time around we did make it to the tunnels, if with slightly sore feet and knees from our steep decent. The tunnels are certainly a great feat of engineering that have protected Gibraltar for over three hundred years, but left me, in my rather weary state, uninspired.

Saturday morning we motored out of Queensway Quay and around the corner to the fuel docks to top up our tanks with duty free diesel. We had been beaten to it by two very large boats who were just starting to fill up, now it takes us about an hour to fill our tanks, so these guys were going to take ages. Keeping a boat still, untied up, is extremely difficult, so forming an orderly queue  with another two boats that were waiting, was not a attractive prospect. We weren’t desperate for fuel, just wishing to take advantage of the cheaper prices, so we abandoned the idea and with Julia at the helm we rounded the Rock into the Med.

Not a breath of wind greeted us and the sea was glassy smooth with just a gentle swell. 


As we said goodbye to Gibralta, in the distance, we passed four or five pods of Dolphins swimming towards the straights and before we knew it we had covered the 12 nm to our anchorage just north of Sotogrande.

Here the gentle swell became a bit more noticeable but determined to enjoy ourselves we braved the cool water to have a swim and took the dingy out for a whizz around the bay. We had a lovely evening, we cooked, drank wine and relaxed to the melodious sounds of Katy Meula and Simon and Garfunkel. 

We are now moored in Puerto de La Duquesa, tonight we are visiting some friends with a villa nearby and tomorrow Phil and Julia say goodbye. Hopefully they have had a good time, just a shame we only managed a couple of hours of actual sailing with them. I have just watched as they confidently stepped up to take the lines for a boat coming in opposite us, something they definitely wouldn’t have even thought to do a week ago.

Whales in the Straits

Wednesday 17th June

What a fantastic day we had yesterday.

The story really started on Monday evening, we’d spent the day sightseeing in Cadiz and were planning to spend a final day in El Peurto de Santa Maria to enjoy the beach and sample the sherry made in the town. My first job, however, was to create a passage plan and I started by downloading the weather forecasts for places en route – Barbarte, Tarifa and Gibraltar. As I swiped through the pages my heart dropped, the predominant colors as the week went on were changing from greens and yellows – F2-3’s to oranges and reds -F5-7’s. Now we have done plenty of sailing in such winds and the boat is more than up to it but for this trip there were two differences, firstly the wind direction and swell were both from the east which meant we would be sailing right into both, which translates into a hard and wet sail. And secondly, and most importantly, we have Phil and Julia onboard neither of whom have ever sailed before and we were keen not to put them off from the first day.

We decided if we sailed Tuesday and Wednesday we could make it to Gibraltar in two hops and beat the weather. So it was all hands on deck as we prepared the boat and new crew. We went through the safety checks and the procedure with the fenders and lines when we leave and arrive in port, Phil and I created the passage plan and we tidied and stowed everything downstairs. By 10.30pm we and the boat were ready. With our alarms set for 5.30am, timimgs dictated by the tides as always, we went to our beds.

As we set off for our first stop, Barbarte, it was still dark. A surprising fact is that Gibraltar, at 6 degrees W, is further west than Plymouth at 4 degrees W, with the clocks being I hr ahead this makes for dark mornings and long light evenings.

As we motored out of The Bay of Cadiz a fantastic sunrise accompanied us. Phil and Julia apprehensive about the day ahead, Rick and I a little downhearted about the lack of wind and the prospect of another day motoring something we have had to do a little too much of recently.

Well we did end up motoring most of the way but that was the only downside of the day. We started off in fleeces and ended the day in t-shirts always warm enough and never too hot. We had clear blue skies and apart from a small swell the sea was calm, almost glassy at points. It was even calm enough for Julia and I to sit and enjoy the view on the forward deck.


We were having a great time enjoying the sunshine and the back drop of the Spanish hills and beaches, we were much closer to land than we have often been because the coastline is deep here and with the motor on (absolutely no wind!) our route was not dictated by the sails. Everything was going so well and we were making such good progress that we decided not to stop at Barbarte and push on straight to Gib. For a couple of hours we managed to get the sails up, we had perfect conditions, I’m afraid Phil and Julia may have got the wrong idea about this sailing lark.

But the real excitement was yet to come, as we approached Tarifa, Rick spotted a large dolphin off the starboard bow, it was odd for a dolphins to be swimming alone and not to approach the boat and we quickly realized it was in fact much further away and actually a whale. Then the whole pod revealed itself, about ten members we think, including a mother and calf that swam and dived in unison. They gave us an incredible show for about half an hour, at one point one was only 50m from the boat, we couldn’t believe our luck. A quick look at our Sea Mammals of the World identification book revealed them as a pod of killer whales and in fact the Straits of Gibralar is a hot spot for sightings. Almost impossible to get a good photo, below is our best attempt.


On our right we spotted land – Africa, the first land we have had out at sea to starboard since we left Plymouth, the huge cliffs and mountains of Morroco. And then the Straights of Gibraltar came into view an impossibly small gap from afar. We negotiated a stream of fishing boats returning to Tarifa and entered Gibaltar bay.

The dreaded stern to mooring was achieved without drama by Captain Ricky and the well earned cold beer drunk. Quietly we congratulated ourselves, stage one completed. We always, when explaining our route, would say glibly “we will hop down the south coast to Plymouth, across the Bay of Bicay, down the coast of Portugal and around the corner to Gibraltar before entering the Med”. Never could we have imagined what an adventure it would be and this is, very much, just the beginning.

Flying flags, storks and laundry

We are currently moored in El Puerto de Santa Maria, Real Club Nautica (Royal Yacht club). As members ourselves of the Royal Southampton Yacht Club we can fly a Blue Ensign instead of the normal red one. We are not really into the minefield that is flag etiquette but with our red flag fraying badly and in need of repair we have been discussing using it. As we now find ourselves tied up, on show, right outside the restaurant and bar of the Real Club Nautico, where by the amount of flags around they obviously are into such things, we decided to put it up and as it turns out it does looks rather good, dare I note – that it really goes well with the blue color scheme. 

We wandered into town and again flags were on display everywhere. Below is the cathedral where flags were not the only thing flying. If you look very carefully at the turrets you will see numerous storks that have built their nests precariously on the spires and statues.

Back at the boat we discovered one disadvantage of our mooring here. Something that at home I hardly even thought about, turns out to be a real mission on the boat, the laundry. Despite Ricks kind efforts to wear just one T shirt for as long as humanly possible, it still builds up. So every couple of marinas we visit we have the delight of spending hours and Euros in the laundry facilities. We do have a small washing machine onboard but not a tumble dryer and Rick takes some persuading to let me hang it out over the boat. Here in our prominent position in the marina even I agree that we couldn’t really cover the decks and rigging with our freshly washed bedding – luxury yacht or Chinese laundry?

At Anchor

Hooray, we finally have Internet!

Saturday 13th June

We enjoyed Tuesday and Wednesday night at anchor, it was extremely peaceful. Despite being under the flight path for Faro airport, the frequent passing of the local ferry service and all the fishing boats zooming around, it was still somehow quiet. We enjoyed not having to deal with the marina authorities, not having the pressure of parking and really liked being 50m rather than 5ft from the nearest boat. All with the added bonus of being free.

We anchored in a channel, cutting through the wetlands south of Faro and Olhao, off the small island of Culatura. Culatura is little more than a sand bank and there seemed to be more tiny fishing boats in its harbour than houses in the village, I think we can guess the main source of income on the Island. There were a couple of restaurants serving excellent fish, of course, catering for the locals, the few anchored yachtsmen and a dribble of tourists arriving on the ferrys from Faro to enjoy the beaches on its southern shore.

There were no cars, the roads were made of sand and the pavements were wooden board walks. The small store next to us at lunch was been stocked by tractor that carried goods up from the dock and a friendly scavenging dog wandered around the tables. It was all slightly ramshackle, unhurried, authentic.

When we are at anchor our dingy is the equivalent of our car, and we carry it on davits, a crane like construction on the back of the boat. I always love travelling in the dingy it somehow seems adventurous. Of course it is essential for us, without it when ashore we couldn’t get back to our boat and conscience of the fact that it and the 20hp outboard are and look brand new we have a strong cable and padlock to secure it. Having taken lunch and wandered around the island not only did it feel an unnecessary precaution it almost seemed insulting. 

Wednesday evening the wind got up, we anxiously sat on deck keeping an eye on the orientation of our neighbours but we just gently swung left and right  and our anchor held fast. The small French boat behind us began to drag and had to re-anchor but on the whole the muddy bottom gave good holding and the night past without incident.

Next morning we upped anchor, taking a good quantity of the mud with us and set off towards Cadiz, one of the places on our route I’m keen to visit. The channel we were in was quite shallow, so we needed to leave around high tide, which was at 11am. This meant that sailing the eighty nautical miles directly to Cadiz would have us arriving in the middle of the night. So instead we planned to stop halfway at, as it turned out, a rather soulless modern marina in Mazagon. But it did the job, giving us a good nights rest and we arrived at Puerto de Santa Maria yacht club at four pm yesterday. There is a ferry that runs regularly to the old town of Cadiz and the yacht club apparently has lots of facilities including a swimming pool we can use and on Sunday Phil and Julia arrive to join us for ten days.

 And it has reasonable wifi. 

Dolphins, moonlight and miles

Saturday 30th May

We had a fabulous berth in Baiona. it was protected from the wind and the wake from passing traffic but had great views over the town. On the marina side of the headland the water was calm and blue, but on the beach just a few hundred meters away, the other side of the headland, the waves were crashing on to the rocks. The best of both worlds.



Duncan and Brad arrived on Tuesday to sail with us on the overnight passage from Baiona to Cascais in Portugal. We took Wednesday to familiarise them with the boat and do last minute preparations. This included erecting the Bimini (a canvas roof over the cockpit) as with the improved weather we needed some shade. We washed the last of the Southampton grime from the hull and enjoyed the excellent local wine. The crew proved their worth early on. Brad helped a scooter rider who’d fallen off his bike while we were enroute to the supermarket and Duncan who had taken our dingy for a fun ride around the bay ended up rescuing a fisherman stranded with no engine and needing a tow back to the dock. He was rewarded with a bundle of razor clams, we didn’t really know quite what to do with them, so decided to cook them as we would muscles. We steamed them in butter, garlic, lemon juice and white wine. Unfortunately the result wasn’t as good as expected and being conscious of the state of our stomachs for the journey ahead most of them ended up over the side.

We set off early, struggling with just a small breeze that was directly behind us. The boat is not brilliant in light airs, so we turned west on a track that took us a bit further offshore, in search of wind. And we found plenty, as the day came to an end we had around 30 – 35kts of it. The sea got quite big too with a large swell coming in from the Atlantic. Raya as before took it all in her stride and with a stricter pill regime I didn’t get seasick, a huge relief. We again came across plenty of traffic, cargo and fishing, demanding our concentration and ensuring we stayed wide awake. In the early hours we clocked up our first one thousand miles, just another thirty odd thousand to go.


As we got further offshore we passed over a ridge in the ocean floor where our chart told us the depth went from 200 to an amazing 4000m deep in just 5nm. That’s quite a steep cliff by any standards and probably contributed to the rough conditions. However it was a beautiful clear night with a bright 3/4 moon, for a while it was directly in front of us and its light created a silvery path for us to follow. As it set at about 3.30am the stars came into there own, millions of them filling the sky. Unfortunately it was hard to easily appreciate them in their full splendour as we have a ‘no leaving the cockpit’ rule at night and now with the Bimini up it blocks our view, a conundrum yet to be solved.

To our delight, another highlight of the passage, was the arrival of Dolphins, during the 36hr sail we were joined by three pods. I don’t know if there is an official explanation as to why Dolphins swim with boats but from the deck of Raya it seemed obvious they had come to play, they swam fast next to our hull, surfed in the waves and dived under our bows. 

As we approached Cascais we had to sail through a minefield of fishing pots, which for reasons best known to the fishermen are marked with sticks bearing blue, green or black flags, ie the colours of the sea and almost impossible to spot. The crew were put on lookout duty and we managed to get through without hitting any although it was very close with a couple of them.


Despite our offshore detour, we arrived in Cascais an hour ahead of schedule tying up to the waiting dock at 5pm. All feeling a bit weary we were rather dismayed to be directed to a berth in the corner of the marina with limited room to manoeuvre. We have been dreading the stern to parking that is common in the Med but knew we would have to do it at some point and this was that moment. Rick a little stressed, did a great job, with restricted depth and a huge concrete marina wall looming over us, he reversed into our berth without incident.

Next came what’s becoming the customary cold beer, then a shower, food and a night without lea cloths.   

Finally Found Summer

Tuesday 26th May 2015

We were feeling rather tired, the sailing so far has been quite challenging, so we thought long and hard about whether to sail to Baiona in one hop, a 12hr sail. In the end we decided to go for it, with a few researched bolt holes enroute if we felt we needed to stop. As it turned out we had a fantastic days sail.

We started off with the sheer granite cliffs very reminiscent of Cornwall as our back drop. Cabo Finesterre has a fearsome reputation as being a rough and windy spot, but we had left early before the winds had really got going and it hardly bothering us. As the day went on the scenery soften and began to look more continental, with craggy hills and sandy beaches.

The sea here is very deep and a dark, dark, greeny, blue black. There was a metre or so of swell and small waves with white horses, but compared to what we’ve had, it felt calm. The sky was blue with hazy cloud stretching across it. 

We were sailing downwind so the boat was relatively flat and on deck, although the true wind was around 20kts, the apparent wind (the wind you feel onboard) was much less as the movement of the boat cancelled out some of the breeze. This was more like how we had imagined things and we began to believe that we could – cook, shower, live – for the weeks we need to cross an ocean. 

The day had started as a three layers, wet weather gear and boots type of day, but gradually it became warm and we ended up in t shirts and deck shoes.  


It might have taken us 12hrs sailing due south but we finally seem to have found summer. In fact this morning as we sip coffee and tea, on the veranda of the yacht club, looking out over the pretty Ria Baiona it feels as if we have passed through a time warp.

North winds

Sunday 24th May 2015

As I was chatting to Matt on the phone yesterday and discussing our trip across Biscay, I had to have a little smile. When Matt did his Yacht Master a few years ago during December and January, I always remember him telling me how they would go for days without changing, hardly even taking off their wet weather gear or life jackets little alone their underwear. I had tutted as Mum’s do and put it down to teenage boy slovenliness. But now we understand. When you have on as many layers as you can fit and still move, when the boat is rocking and rolling so much you can’t stand, when you are on deck for a cold three or four hour watch and have a only a few hours of rest before your next one and when concentrating on every clip, zip or piece of Velcro makes you sick, it is the obvious default position. So it was that I found Ian, Rick and at times Chris laying fully booted and suited on the salon sofas.

No need for that today however, we sailed for just 6hrs and are now tied up in the Galician village of Muxia in Ria de Camarinas, Northern Spain and a little peeved that we are STILL not warm. We seemed to have been plagued by north winds since we moved on to the boat in March and for the last couple of days it has been blowing a gale, literally.

It is common for there to be a strong north wind here at this time of year, they call them the Portugese trades because they run right down the Spanish and Portugese Atlantic Coast, but even the locals seem fed up with how chilly they are for the time of year. They have helped the sailing of course, as they did today with us averaging nearly eight knots for the 45nm from A Coruna to Muxia. But it would be nice to sit in the cockpit and relax in the sunshine without being battered and blown.

It took a day or two but we decided that we liked A Coruna with its quaint old town and bustling restaurants. Having Ian with us, as we wandered around, was great fun because as an architect he looks at a town through slightly different eyes and we saw things that we would normally never have noticed.  

For example it is characteristic of this area of Spain for buildings to have  a false facia that stands about a metre proud of the building and is made of windows of glass. This gives the occupants a small ‘conservatory ‘ area in winter (and when the North winds are blowing!) and can be opened and shaded, to keep the rooms cool in summer, as can be seen in the lovely terrace of apartments in the picture above.

We took a day out, while in A Coruna to visit the medieval town of Santiago de Compestella with its narrow streets and churches, it is place of pilgrimage for Roman Catholics and was thronging with people loaded down with backpacks, wearing walking boots and carrying staffs. We drank beer and wine in a terraced garden courtyard, wandered the streets and felt on holiday for a few hours.

Rick worked on things on the boat, we did the laundry and reprovisioned, a busy couple of days and then this morning we left Ian on the dock to catch his flight home, as we sailed to Muxia.

The Spanish Rias that run all around this coast are deep inlets surrounded with wooded hills and pretty beaches, we had planned to spend a few days exploring them, they are meant to be very beautiful and littered with secluded anchorages. However, the combination of our delayed start and the cool windy weather has made us decide to keep going South, next stop Baiona.

Across the Bay

Well the Bay of Biscay lived up to its reputation of being rough and stormy and the crew all still feel slightly weary but have an immense sense of achievement.

However before I tell the tale, a quick note on our AIS system for all our friends and family who follow our progress on various beacon apps, thank you all for the concerned calls, texts, posts etc we recieved. Our AIS transmits a VHF radio signal and therefore will only travel short distances, ours being situated on the top of our tall mast can be picked up by receivers for about a maximum of 50miles. So when our blip on the screen disappears this is not us sinking it us sailing out of range of the receivers that are mostly based on land. You will see large commercial vessels far out to sea as they relay their AIS through the internet, but we, I’m afraid, will disappear.

Last Sunday we left Plymouth promptly at 7am to catch the best of the tide for the start of our sail to A Coruna in Northern Spain, the route took us across the English Channel and then across the Bay of Biscay, we estimated it to be a three day passage. On board with us we had Ian an old friend who has sailed with us before but, like Rick and I, was a long passage virgin and Chris, a member of the Stella Maris team and experienced delivery skipper.

We had for days been watching the weather forecast and we were expecting to have NW winds for the first few hours, which would back to the SW as the first day went on. Our plan was to get as far west as possible while the wind was right and then turn southwards as the southwesterlies came in, hoping to be far enough west to skirt outside the Traffic Separation Zone that carries the big cargo ships around the headland at Ushant in France. However as we left Plymouth Sound the winds were persistently from the SW. Probably with our inexperience telling, but keen to get sailing and with the lure of the south pulling us, we headed for the inner passage at Ushant instead. We had a great day with the winds on our beam, Rick gaining confidence as captain with every mile. We set up our watch system to ensure the boat was manned 24 hours a day and that everybody got plenty of rest, we cooked our first hot meal onboard while sailing and relaxed. All was working well.

As we approached the Traffic Separation Zone noted in the log is “dodging tankers”, they were huge great things that bore down on us relentlessly as we moved between them, keeping watch on the screen and on the horizon became vital.

Eventually we had to turn westward to get past the Ile d’ Ouessant off the western most point of France and the motor came on. At first with the tide with us, we were steaming along with a speed over ground of around 8kts, but then the tide changed and we struggled for a frustrating few hours with not only tide but wind and waves against us, for hours we were hardly moving.

Unfortunately it wasn’t just the tide that began to change, as we entered Biscay, the 15-20kt winds that were expected, built to a steady 30kts peaking on Monday at nearer 35kts, we had a large swell layered with a choppy sea. We took photos but capturing the roughness of the sea escaped us, this great photo was taken by Chris just imagine a few huge waves in the background.

I came on watch with Chris at 10pm Sunday, it was a very dark night with no moon or stars and, with the boat rocking and rolling, despite taking pills I started to feel seasick. For me, from there on things only got worse. I managed to stand my watches for about another twelve hours but eventually had to give in and take to my bed where if I kept absolutely still with my eyes closed I could reduce my sickness.

The others battled through, Chris was a lifesaver with a seemingly iron stomach that meant he could keep everybody fed with the food I had prepared before we left. Ian was sick for a while but found his sea legs by the end of Monday and Rick was on a high as Raya shook off the conditions with ease. At no point did we ever feel worried, she just plowed through the waves happily at around 8kts, both main and genoa reefed. With, now finally, northerly winds we were able to head straight for A Coruna. Would we have had a calmer ride if we had stuck to the original plan and kept further out of the Bay, I guess we’ll never know, but what we do know is that Raya is not going to let us down, even if some of the crew do!

The entry into A Coruna in the dark at about 4am Wednesday morning, with the sea still very rough and a fleet of fishing boats leaving, was quite challenging and tested our navigation skills, but we made it in to the marina unscathed. On the radio we had been directed to an outer pontoon, in the darkness we couldn’t see that it was in fact covered in netting laid to discourage birds from landing. As it turned out it should have discouraged us as well, it was a bit like something out of the Keystone Cops as in turn each of us jumped off the boat, lines in hand and promptly tripped up. We did get her tied up, a little bruised and blooded but were quickly met by a very apologetic marineros who showed us to a better berth.

Despite their tiredness and the fact it was 6 o’clock in the morning the boys managed a couple of celebratory beers and then we all crashed into bed for a few hours of sleep in our now wonderfully still bunks.