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.

Sailing along the South Coast

Sitting watching the sunset, after a great day, congratulating ourselves on successfully reaching Plymouth.


Monday we set sail from Yarmouth heading for Portland, there was a bit of mist but it was forecast to lift mid-morning and we had the tide with us for an early start. We shot through the needles channel at eleven knots straight into a bank of fog, not a pea souper but enough to make the going a bit percarious. Had it not been for our AIS, a VHF signal that all commercial vessels and now many pleasure boats broadcast, that shows their position, we would have felt quite exposed. But nobody else was stupid enough to be out and the screen was clear.

Then out of the gloom, screaming straight for us came a military speed boat. Trying to squeeze a course as close to our track as possible with the wind on our nose we had strayed into the Lulworth Gunnery Range and they were live firing. We were abruptly instructed to sail 240 degrees for 31/2 miles. So down came the sails and rather sheepishly we motored off. After forty minute we could turn back towards our destination and as if by magic as we arrived at the marina the fog disappeared. We had made it through the first day.

Tuesday it was on to Dartmouth, again the wind wasn’t kind to us but we did manage to sail a bit of the way and at least with better visibility we could enjoy the scenery. We gave Portland Bill a wide berth but the sea was still very choppy and it was cold, we both had on about five layers and full wet weather gear.

Now for you non sailing girls let me now explain what problems this causes. Going to the loo is a nightmare, you put it off and off and off until you just have to go. The boat is bouncing about and often healed over at an angle, just getting to the toilet is a challenge. Then wedging yourself upright by leaning against the wall you start to unwrap yourself.  First comes the fumble to get the life jacket clips undone, then off comes your Musto jacket, a confusion of zips and Velcro and then the dungarees. Now down to your normal clothes a certain urgency ensues, you wish you hadn’t left it so long. If you are lucky you are on a tack that slopes you on to the toilet, if not you have to wedge yourself on and have the added pleasure of the toilet seat snapping at your bum. Finally it’s back on with everything and you return to the cockpit at best sweating and exausted, at worst feeling seasick and swearing not to drink anything more until you reach port.

Although having a reputation of being quite tight fo space we had been looking forward to visiting Dartmouth, we have been many times before, on land, looking out at the yachts wondering how it would feel to arrive by sea and here we were doing just that and it didn’t disappoint. Even the sun came out reflecting off the hundreds of colourful houses that line the steep banks of the Dart river. We had been directed to what turned out to be a too small berth and there was a hairy few moments as Rick had to manoeuvred us out of the small space and we motored up to the end of the visitors pontoon. On the dock, at the only space available, in very big letters were the words No Berthing, Landing Only, but the Marina office was closed for the night and we were off at seven the next morning so decided to risk it.

Wednesday dawned a sparkling sunny day and the wind had veered to the East , making for a perfect days sailing. It was almost warm, the wind was behind us and we made the trip on just three tacks. We arrived at the mouth of the River Tamar at midday, this is another place with connections for us. We waved at Cawsand Bay as we past, the birth place of my Father, his Parents, his  Grandparents and their Parents, as far as I can trace them back and the location of my first remembered summer holidays. We saw the little chapel we had climbed out to perched on the end of Rame Head and we spotted the house on the cliff in need of refurbishment that we viewed as a potential retirement plan before this bigger plan took shape. We had arrived in Plymouth, our first big challenge completed.

Slipped the lines, off around the world

This afternoon at 1.30pm we slipped our lines and set off around the World! The first leg might be quite a modest affair, just three hours out into the Solent and across to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. But every adventure has to start somewhere and we can now say we have visited our first island.

The storms of last week faded away Thursday allowing the last minute preparations to resume. Paul from Dolphin Sails arrived with our large awning, especially designed to give us plenty of shade when at anchor or in a marina in the sunshine. (If you are interested you can see us at Dolphin Sails Facebook page where they have posted some photos.) Harry from the Rig Shop came to have a last tweak of our rig and we finally finished stowing all the spares. We had a last minute panic when we discovered a gas leak, but Rick managed a repair just in time for our departure.

Another delay bonus was that we were around to see Rachael when she came to pick up my car yesterday and Matt joined us for lunch. Both are looking forward to joining us at the end of June and it seemed fitting that the four of us were together just before we departed.

Rick woke on this momentous morning to a pair of red feet above his head, there was a large black and white bird standing on our cabin hatch. He not only had red feet but a long narrow red beak too, it was an oyster catcher and we felt that his visit must be a good omen at the beginning of this adventure aboard our Oyster 56.

We waved a farewell to Shamrock Quay as Rick navigated down the river and I dashed around the deck putting away the mooring lines and fenders. Before we knew it we had left. Southampton water and the Solent were extremely busy, at one point we were dodging two huge tankers and their accompanying tugs, hundreds of sailing boats, a good number of motor craft and a handful of maniac jet skiers. Most of the traffic was returning to Southampton and Portsmouth, we relished the thought that everyone was going back to their home ports because it’s work tomorrow, in our direction we were leaving it all behind.

We arrived in Yarmouth at about four and headed straight for the fuel dock, we filled our tanks with 1400 litres of diesel and took a deep breath as we handed over the credit card. But this will last us quite a few months and we are now set to take advantage of the weather window of the next couple of days and get ourselves down the South Coast to Plymouth.

We are on our way!

Just the Two of Us

We’ve just returned from our first sail on Raya with just the two of us aboard.

There wasn’t a huge amount of wind but there was plenty of beautiful spring sunshine and at lunchtime we stopped and anchored off Osborne beach to enjoy it.  

In the afternoon a sea breeze got up and there was just enough wind to sail back to southampton water. We may not have been the slickest team on the water but we managed without incident.

Under Itchen bridge, we returned to Shamrock Quay, where we parked, always the moment of highest tension, almost perfectly, phew!

A good day.

The Boy Likes His Boat

We are just back from a three day cruise to test out Raya post refit and work out the best way to sail her with just the two of us. We were accompanied by Oyster guru and font of all knowledge Andy Willet from Stella Maris where she has been all winter. We had a fantastic time, she sailed really well, the weather despite a dodgy forecast was superb and the crew (Rick and I) did OK. It was great to be out on the water, especially for the first time with a full set of sails and we used them all, in every configuration possible. The boy likes his boat. 

We started still tied to the dock working out a man over board stategy using the boom as a hoist, Andy manfully volunteered to be the casualty and the pulley system worked really well and we recovered him back onto the boat without any untoward damage. Chris joined us and with everything safely stowed we set off. We squeezed under the Itchen Bridge and dodging the ferries into Southampton Waters, we unfurled the sails, she handled fabulously. With the sun shining we stopped just off Calshot Spit, anchored, ate a light lunch, lowered the dingy to take  the first shots of her out in the water. Then we sailed into the Solent to practice gybing and tacking, our first time not only in such a large boat but with fully electric winches and hydraulic furlers. So for my part at least, as instructions were given, there was plenty of brain crisis as I had to decide not only which sheet or halyard to use but which button to press. We dropped Chris in Cowes and with tide and time against us we headed up the Beaulieu River and tied up at Bucklers Hard. Time for a glass of fizz, we had successfully completed our first day. 

Thursday dawned with Rick hoisted up the mast as Andy and I worked out the easiest and safest way to do it when it was just the two of us onboard. This cruise was obviously going to be invaluable, just as long as we could remember it all. An hour later and the odd sight of an Oyster heading straight at the shore line could be observed by the numerous wading birds inhabiting the banks of the river. Over the last week of spring tides we had noticed that Raya was registering zero on the depth gauge at low tide when she was clearly floating, so we decided that the gauge needed recalibrating. A lead line wouldn’t work in these waters with thier soft muddy bottoms so it was decided to do the acid test and see, very cautiously, what depth the transducer read when she actually touched the ground. At the helm this felt a very alien thing to be doing running our shinny new yacht aground, but Andy confidently assure us all would be fine, which of course it proved to be. 

Once in the Solent we headed downwind to have a look at the USS Roservelt, a huge American Aircraft carrier currently anchored off Portsmouth, suddenly Raya really didn’t seem so large after all. The police boats surrounding her stopped us getting too close and we turn around to test out the rig into the wind. An exhilarating sail in about 24knots of wind with the odd gust at over 35. With one reef in the main and the stay sail up, we screamed down the Solent at between 8 and 10 knots, With waves breaking over the bow and the port rail in the water she felt as safe as houses. To top it off we reached the Needles as the sun set perfectly over the Purbeck hills.   Andy was keen that we got in some night sailing so we continued out into The Channel until darkness fell and then turned back to face the challenge of sailing up the Needles Channel and into Yarmouth harbour in the dark. As we turned the confusing backdrop of the lights of the Solent faced us, we had seen the breaking waves over the shallows either side of the channel as we had passed through an hour ago and just to add a little spice a 200 ton tanker conspired to be at the red marker buoy at exactly the same moment as us. However we made it through and were safely tied up in Yarmouth Harbour by eight thirty, tired, cold and hungry but with smiles on our faces. 

We couldn’t believe our luck when we woke the next morning to clear skies and hardly a breath of wind, the sun warm enough to eat breakfast on deck and the air still enough to bend on our new downwind sail. Most of our sailing on our around the world trip will be with the wind behind us and so good downwind rig is essential. With at times only two of us onboard we wanted a safe, reliable system easily controlled by one person. We took the decision to leave the spinnaker at home and instead use a twin headsail system. Once we had set up all the lines we went out into the Solent and with the genoa poled out to port and the second sail  sheet run through a block on the prevented boom we were pleased, in the light winds of only six knots, to be sailing at four. The boat was stable and flat and with zero apparent wind and the sun warming us it couldn’t have been more pleasant. Finally back up the Itchen we finished our day with a bit of stern to parking, a good opportunity for Rick to practice his boat handling skills and for me to perfect my rope work. Thanks Chris for being target practice for my rather dodgy throwing. A busy few days with two exhausted sailors, but invaluable. We have come away with another frighteningly long “to do list” but nothing major went wrong and Raya performed brilliantly.