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 – http://www.worldcruising.com/arc/eventfleetviewer.aspx
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. 

Rain!

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.