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

Family, friends and lots of food.

We are so lucky to have such wonderful family and friends, from the loan of a car, to the use of a hall as a sail loft, to the provision of copious amounts of English biscuits, our welcome back has been generous and effusive. It is possible that we may explode from the quantities of food and drink we have consumed but the company has been fantastic and we still have a week to enjoy. 

Checking the cruising chute in ‘the other’ Rick and Roz’s long hallway.

The weather has been very English with a mix of bright sunny days and cool, drizzly ones. In the two or so weeks we have been here the landscape has morphed from the greeness we arrived to, to the beautiful oranges and reds of Autumn.

It has also been raining in Las Palmas we understand and the dingy has had to be emptied, thank you Gavin ( K1W1-Beans). And there has been reports of rats climbing warps to get onto boats! Having lived in the countryside for many years we have had our fair share of invading rodent life, but sharing our journey across the Atlantic with a rat doesn’t bear thinking about. A thorough search of the boat is called for I think.

Generally however we are feeling much better about leaving Raya now more ARC boats have arrived, including some of our yachting friends who have also been checking up on her for us. 

In addition we have had Yanmar Engineers on board. Ever since we bought the boat we have had a problem with a blowback from the engine coolant if we really push the engine, many people have tried to find the problem without success. In Las Palmas, fingers crossed, we seem to have found a horse whisperer for engines. Rick was pleased to discover a Yanmar service workshop on the dock in Las Palmas, initially things looked unpromising as their English was limited and our Spanish even worse. The engineer didn’t need words however, he just listened and felt the engine quietly for half an hour, eventually identifying a tiny stream of bubbles rising through the coolant and a minuscule hole in the gasket. They came on board last week to replace it, so hopefully that is one more problem ticked off.

We are beginning to think that our return baggage could be getting out the control. We have the two bags of clothes we bought with us, add in the large amount of shopping we have managed to buy in the last couple of weeks, ten large paper charts of the Pacific, fancy dress costumes for the ARC ‘eighties movies’ fancy dress party, Christamas lights for our family Carribean Christmas and a huge sail bag.

On the sail down from Gibraltar, with the boat struggling in the light winds directly behinds us, we made the decision to collect the cruising chute. When we bought Raya there was one onboard, but we decided it would be too difficult for the two of us to manage and would take up too much of our precious space, so we left it in the storage unit in Southampton. With our growing confidence sailing the boat, realising how little space we can actually squeeze our new life into and the fact that we have friends on board for the next few months of mainly downwind sailing, we have decided to take it back to Las Palmas with us. An extremely frustrating four hours on the phone later and I think BA/Iberia have agreed we can fly with it.

In the few free moments we have had, we have been busily thinking about the best way to feed four people three meals a day for the Atlantic crossing. We expect the crossing to take about eighteen days so that’s quite a bit of food and it’s not just the what to eat, we also have to factor in the when to eat what. It’s no good planning to have chicken salad on day sixteen when all the lettuce, tomatoes etc will have gone off or pasta for day four when it turns out to be very rough and boiling big pans of water is not a great idea. When you mix in the fact that we are shopping in a foreign country and the will or won’t the freezer work all the way, provisioning is going to be quite a challenge.

Picking up the Pacific charts and flags, reminds us that before we head back to Las Palmas, we also have lots of even further forward planning to do. When we are not indulging in our friends hospitality and we can drag our brains away from Atlantic preparations, we have to start thinking about permits and agents for the Panama Canal and Galapogas. Then there is a need for rough timings so the friends that are joining us can plan their flights, crew letters to leave here so they can get through customs, the much more complicated logistics of no longer being in Europe including family emergency communication etc, etc, etc………..

Sailing? It really is the easy bit!

Jungle of rigging

I am having breakfast sitting on the bows watching the world go by, it is still comfortably cool, the morning is overcast. Everywhere I look there are hundreds of yachts, unlike all the marinas we have visited before, here, there are surprisingly few motor boats. Directly to the right of us we have a hand built fifty foot yacht, built by a couple who come to Las Palmas each winter to escape the snow and dark of the Swedish winter. On the other side we have almost the opposite, a Jeanneau 54 DS a shiny new production boat who’s owners have yet to appear. In further contrast to our stern there is a tiny, ramshackle, unloved boat that looks like it may not last the winter, it is doubtful as to whether it even has an owner. Beyond that are more and varied yachts, which means more and varied rigging, in fact it is as if I am sitting in a small clearing in a jungle of rigging.

  

At first that appears to be all I can see but as I peer through the forest of masts it becomes apparent that there is so much more going on. Encircling the marina is a wall protecting us from the Atlantic weather, it runs around almost 360 degrees with just a narrow entrance, today the swell outside must be coming from just the right angle as we are all rocking and the pontoons are undulating in time with the surge. 

On two sides the wall is topped by a walk way, full with early joggers, dog walkers and fisherman. To the west, on the town side, the marina edge is populated with everything a sailor could need, a very comprehensive chandlers, a sail loft and a mixture of engineering companies. There are restaurants and a Club Maritimo, which offers a temporary membership to visiting yachtsmen and provides me with a place to swim. However nothing much opens here until nine and so all is quiet on that front. Finally to the right is the welcome pontoon and marina office. This morning there is a yacht that arrived during the night, flying their ARC flag, tied up alongside. Each day more ARC boats arrive much to the consternation of the local boats, many of whom are gradually being moved to an anchorage just outside the marina to make room.

Just beyond the wall I can see the bobbing sails of a flotilla of sailing dinghies making the most of the brisk breeze. They race against a back drop of the commercial docks which are surprisingly large for such a small island. I can count a dozen cranes and at the moment there are two huge tankers being loaded with containers stacked seven stories high.

Behind me is the city, a busy dual carriageway runs along the front and even at this early hour the ambulances from the multi-storey hospital that towers above the marina have their blue lights flashing and their sirens wailing to past through the traffic. This part of town is a jumble of high rise blocks and looking from here there is little sign of style or planning.

And finally to my left is the cruise ship dock. In town today is our old friend the “giraffe cruise liner”. It was often moored up in Southampton while we were there last winter and the purpose of a rather incongruous, large plastic giraffe on the top deck was the subject of much discussion. He is obviously very good, never the less, at whatever it is he does because he is still standing proud, overlooking with me this busy slice of the world.

European leg completed

We have arrived in Las Palmas, Grand Canaria, which means the European leg of our trip is now complete. The summer has past so quickly and it is difficult to comprehend that our next passage will be across the Atlantic to the Caribbean.

  

We left Lanzarote on Sunday night, we were only half convinced that it was the right decision, Rick had come down with my tummy bug a couple of days before and was only just on the mend. However the weather looked perfect and it did mean we would be sailing under the red moon. 

It was just under 100nm so we opted for an early start to maximise sailing in daylight and got up at 2am. We slipped the lines as quietly as we could and tip toed out of the marina. We have never left in the dark before and were surprised how long it took for our eyes to adjust to the dark. But we made it out to sea without incident, grateful again for our chart plotter and AIS system. 

The moon was almost completely eclipsed as we left and by the time we had stowed the fenders and lines, set the sails and were settled enough to look for it again, we couldn’t see it. For a moment we thought we had got it wrong thinking it would be red and that actually it would just go dark, but then we found it hidden behind the main sail. It was a perfectly clear night and it did look beautiful glowing a dark orange with just a hint of light peeping out of the base. It was easy to see why such a strange unexplained sight, century’s ago, could be imagined as a forewarning of doom, it did look very unnatural. Gradually as the night wore on we witnessed the shadow slowly withdraw until there it was back, a full moon. We do feel lucky to witness these things from such a unique and uncluttered perspective.

The next morning we had a tiny visitor, a chiffchaff type bird with a pretty pale yellow chest, which flew erratically around the boat for a few minutes, until exhausted it landed on our deck. Unfortunately we were also on the foredeck in the middle of rigging the pole for the Genoa and so wherever the poor bird tried to rest we, or a line, seemed to be there to disturb him. He stayed around for twenty minutes or so coming very close to us at times and eating a few crumbs we put out for him. I hope we were taking him in the right direction.

Poor Rick felt unwell for most of the journey, unless he was really needed I let him sleep, so we arrived fifteen hours later, Rick sick and me feeling really rather tired. It crossed my mind that we were a bit like our earlier visitor all of us working hard to get south for winter. Tradition insists of course that despite not being on top form a “got here beer” must be consumed and with surprisingly little effort we managed a can between us while waiting for the marina officials to get through the queue in front of us. Luckily the process wasn’t too arduous and we were soon tied up at the dock. No more sailing for us for a while.

Las Palmas is our departure point to head off across the Atlantic in November. We are crossing as part of a rally – the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers or the ARC. It is probably the most well known of all sailing rallies and over 250 boats will be joining this year for its 30th anniversary. We felt for our first ocean crossing that it would be a good idea to have some support and a chance to learn from the experts. We know quite a few people who have done it in previous years and it sounds like it’s going to be really good fun. The organisation so far has been exemplary, even down to the information pack for early arrivals that was handed to us on our arrival yesterday containing maps, ways to enjoy Grand Canaria, fliers from local businesses etc. 

Las Palmmas Marina is huge and rather full I can’t imagine where they are going to find room enough to accommodate the hundreds of boats that will descend in the next few weeks. A very different place than the last few marinas we have been in, our pontoon is full to bursting with sailing boats of all shapes and sizes. Many of them homes to live aboards,  many making their own preparations for an Atlantic crossing, others that seem like they haven’t moved for years. There definitely won’t be a problem hanging out the laundry here.

We have just over a week before we fly back to the UK for three weeks, when we return we expect to find many more rally boats have arrived and within a couple of days the ARC office will open and it will be full steam ahead for preparations and parties. Our task for the next week therefore, is to try and get as much done as we can before the crowds arrive. 

What’s the chance of finally finding someone who can work out the problem with our temperamental freezer, can we pick up everything we need from the chandler here and exactly how many cold drinks will four people drink over a three week period??

Languishing in Lanzarote

Lanzarote? We can’t quite make it out, it seems to be lacking in something but we just can’t put our finger on what that something is. We have had mostly very grey, hot and humid days, which have made us and many around us rather lackadaisical, I have picked up a tummy bug and living on a boat is not the best place to have one of those, perhaps these things are all colouring our feelings. 

We have spent most of the week mooching about the marina. Marina life is rather odd, Raya is moored directly below the walkway by the restaurants, so we are permenanently on show and frequently the background of people’s photographs. We in turn watch back, as people seemingly from another world enjoy their holidays. We feel out of place trudging through the tourists, dressed to promenade or dine, loaded down with laundry or shopping or walking to the showers towel around your neck and hair dripping. But Marina Rubicon is better than most, we can swim, eat and shop all within the complex and on Saturdays and Wednsedays there is a lively handicraft market. Not too bad a place to be stuck feeling a bit below par.

After our arrival Friday, Ricks first job was to check out the hull for any damage caused by the mystery collision on the passage over here. He donned his scuba kit and braved the rather murky water. Thankfully the only thing he found was a insignificant mark on the keel.

  
  

On Tuesday we hired a car for a day to explore the island and visit some of its tourist spots. Being a volcanic island that had its last eruption less than two hundred years ago, a lot of the interior would not look out of place among the pictures sent back from the Mars Rover Mission. It is incredible, barren and harsh and not a sign of life for mile after mile. Unfortunately the only way to tour the interior of the Timanfaya National Park is by coach with its accompanying bad audio guide in Spanish, English and German. Coach tours are one of my husbands pet hates, his stony expression inside the bus was almost as severe as the landscape outside.

View over looking Timanfaya National Park.

We stayed with the volcanic theme but with a brighter note, visiting a couple of sights where large air pockets created in the lava from eruptions 3000 yrs ago have been converted by the sculptor, architect and island hero Cesar Manrique, into useable spaces. At the Jameos del Agua an open tunnel through the lava has been converted into a garden/restaurant/concert hall. Inside the tunnel is a dark shallow pool containing a unique species of blind albino crabs and in the Jameos, a crater formed by the collapse of the tunnel roof, the garden was full to bursting with palms, cacti and succulents all surrounding a crystal clear blue pool.

Jameos del Agua

Our next visit was to his home where he had imaginatively created rooms and incredible outside spaces in the bubbles that had formed in the lava. It has been preserved as an attraction and holds a collection of his work and pieces of other artists including Miro and Picasso that he had gathered during his life time.

The red bubble at the Cesar Manrique Foundation

We have ourselves been dabbling in the art scene this week, finally buying a picture for the salon wall. As yachts aren’t really good places for fine art we decided we would use it as a place for a rolling display of the pictures, fabrics etc we pick up along the way. Well that was all good in theory but hard to fulfill in practice, a blank space has been staring at us since Raya became our home in March. Then a couple of days ago the oil below caught our eye in a local gallery, it fits the bill exactly.

Rick practicing his stony face

We did plan to sail onto Las Palmas tonight but I’m still feeling a little fragile, so we have our feet up and our books out. We shall sail tomorrow.

Eventful departure

Tuesday 15 September

Our current position is 34 degrees 40 minutes N, 7 degrees 21 minutes W, 40 miles off the Moroccan coast. The log reads – Tuesday 15th, 2pm, sea calm with 1m Atlantic swell, wind F1-2 from NW, engine plus sails, no other boats within 10 miles. We are relaxed, but despite the African sun we have socks on, it was a cool night and we are only slowly stripping off as the day gradually warms up. Rick is reading while I write, we both keep watch of this deserted piece of ocean for any boats not appearing on our AIS. There is nothing, just us at the centre of a wide open disc of undulating blue. 

We pulled away from our berth at one yesterday afternoon and headed for the fuel dock. We had enjoyed our time in Gibraltar, Queens Quay Marina turned out to be a very sociable place and it was nice to leave with many wishes for a good trip. Our plan was to leave Gibraltar Bay at about four, an hour before high tide, to give us a bit of assistance against the current running into the Med.

When we were in Gib in June the fuel dock was a nightmare with at least a two hour queue of boats milling about, too much hassle, we sailed on. This time around we were keen to wait it out, to ensure, with our record lately, that we had enough fuel to get us to the Canaries if necessary and to take advantage of the ridiculously low prices. So it shook up our plan slightly when we arrived to find all three docks empty, a polite and efficient attendant to take our lines and a super quick service. By two pm we were heading out to sea, dingy safely on the davits, emergency Magnums purchased and in the freezer and both our tanks topped up with 36p/l diesel. We were to have an eventful first twelve hours. 

We emerged from the behind the fuel wharf straight into the path of the huge cruise ship Aurora, who had also just slipped her lines. We took a quick right turn only to be confronted by two 600 ft tankers, Gibraltar Bay was very busy. Cargo ships on the move and at anchor, tug boats plying back and forth, motor boats and sailing boats all milling around the same small bit of sea. To complete the picture, the Rock dominating, stood high above us on one side, the mountains of the African coast loomed on the other and a pod of lively dolphins leapt between it all.

We, of course, paid for our efficient departure with at least 2kts of current against us all the way out of the straights. At its worst we were battling against 4kts racing around Tarifa point. We emerged only to be met by an area of overfalls – a phenomenon created when wind, current and tide combine to produce, sometimes, very rough water. Luckily today they were reasonably benign and it was more entertaining than anything else, a bit like sailing through a boiling cauldron. 

 

However, we were on our way and we did manage to cross the busy traffic separation zones while it was still light. TSZ’s are enforced in narrow or busy parts of the ocean to create motorways for large ships. They run in places like the English Channel, around prominent headlands such as Finestere and here in the narrow Straights of Gibraltar. Marine rule states that you should cross at right angles so everyone is clear what you are doing. Raya suddenly feels very small and a bit like the squirrels that dodged between our car on the roads in Biddenden. Rick’s brow is furrowed in concentration, calculating when to press forward and when to turn around the stern of the oncoming tankers.

Just as we got across and were breathing a sigh of relief our chart plotter suddenly started to scream at us – vessel position lost! We reset the system and all was well for a few minutes before it failed again, this happened repeatedly for about half an hour. There was no obvious reason, we were passing a Morrocan Navy vessel who was sat monitoring the Straights, possibly he was emitting something that was interfering with our GPS signal. Whatever it was, our back up systems all seemed thankfully to be working OK. It did, however, highlight our dependence on our electronic systems and made us think how we would cope without them, it even stimulated me to break out my Astro Navigation book – not holding our breath on that one.

The next challenge was rounding the northeastern corner of Morocco and its infamous fishing fleet. They drag long nets, hundreds of meters in length between two trawlers, scooping up everything in their path, including unwary yachtsmen. It was nightfall by the time we saw our first couple, they were better lit than we had expected and the fishermen had powerful torches to warn you off if you came too close but still the lights were difficult to fathom as you approached in the dark, we needed to keep focussed. During his watch Rick spent the whole three hours battling with them and was relieved to see the sun rise.

Things have calmed down now and we have survived, one day down, three to go.

Sorry to put in another sunset photo but Tuesday night’s was truly spectacular, the whole 360degrees of sky were lit up. Far from the sun the clouds were a soft baby pink gradually turning to this incredible flaming scene where the sun had just set. 

 

 

Parties and Preparations.

We arrived in Gibralta a couple of days before National Day. A day to celebrate the referendum held on 10th September 1967 when there was a resounding vote to reject joining Spain and keep Gibralta British. So it was with more than a little embarrassment that we chose this week to mess up on flag etiquette. We sailed into Gibraltan waters and right into the marina still flying our Spanish courtesy flag. When in foreign waters you must fly your country’s ensign off the stern and on the starboard spreader a small courtesy flag of the country you are visiting. We have been in Spain for so long we had completely forgotten it was there!

We have had a very pleasant week here. National Day was on Thursday and it was one big party with absolutely everyone dressed in the national colors of red and white. Having made such a faux par earlier in the week we searched the boat for red and white outfits and joined in the fun.

Many of the boats around us were dressed in full national regalia and all the marina restaurants held special events and we were entertained by live bands all afternoon.

  

To end the day there was a Grand fireworks display. It was set off from just outside our marina entrance so we had a perfect view. The fireworks were great but the most striking part was the echo of cracks and bangs booming off the Rock, the whole bay seemed to be shuddering.

  

As we near the Canaries and the beginning of the ARC we are meeting more and more boats that will be crossing with us and this week have enjoyed comparing notes and sharing a glass of wine or two with the crew of Euphaxia a Discovery 55, a very similar boat to ours. We have met some great people on this trip and it is going to make for a very good time when we all reconvene in Las Palmas.

With the ARC in mind Morrisons has hosted us for two visits as we restock the cupboards with British goodies and start to provision for the three weeks crossing of the Atlantic. We still think the freezer is not quite right but as it has been behaving recently we have risked putting some stuff in there. However, we need to ensure that we have enough protein to sustain us if the freezer fails and we have to eat all its contents in the first week. As neither of us or our crew have ever fished before there is a possibility that fresh tuna might not make it on to the menu and so it was we found ourselves at the canned meat section of the supermarket buying such blasts from the past as Fray Bentos Steak and Kidney puddings.

There is a huge list of preparations and information required by the World Cruising Club that run the ARC and we are slowly plowing through them. Rick has been working out the size of our sails, neither of which are standard and which we have no information about, but the WCC requires their size to work out our handicap for the race that is not a race, so the tape measure is out and calculations have been taking place. I joined together 40 flags, the whole set of international flag codes, ready to dress the boat before the start as stipulated, hopefully in the right order and correct orientation. And we have double checked we comply with the long list of safety requirements.

We have also been preparing for our more immediate journey, the passage to Lanzerote in the Canary Islands. It is about 650nm which should take us 4-5 days and will be the longest we have sailed in one hop and more than twice the time we have sailed just the two of us. It should be mostly down wind, Rick has been making sure everything is ready to set the sails easily, fingers crossed it will be a pleasant sail. I have plotted our route, not difficult – out of the Straits, turn left down the west coast of Morroco, until you bump into Lanzerote. The trickiest bit will be leaving Gibraltar, trying to minimise the amount of current and wind against us in the Straits then successfully negotiating the busy shipping lanes on our turn South.

We had planned to leave on the afternoon tide on Sunday but the wind looks much better for a Monday departure so that’s what we are going with. Today has turned into a free day and very relaxing it is to.

Reflections

 
Sunday 6th Sept 2015

We left Almerimar yesterday lunchtime to get ahead of the high winds forecast to funnel down from the east towards the Straits of Gibraltar, but find ourselves this morning, as for the whole trip, sitting in very light winds from the northwest! The sea is very calm, the air heavy and it is spookily quiet. There are no other boats in sight and just a few cargo boats showing up on the AIS, it is just us, the sea and the dolphins. Of which there are plenty, one pod has just joined us to swim in our bow waves. They were so close we could almost touch them, they stayed with us for about half an hour and finally we got some good photos.  

Dolphins , with Ricks reflection captured by the calm waters.

As our time in the Mediterranean draws to an end we have been reflecting on the great time we have had over the last couple of months and gathering our thoughts.

Unfortunately, the first thing that comes to mind as we sit motor sailing yet again, is that in this part of the Med at least, you would do better to have a motor boat, for the majority of our time here we have not had enough wind to sail in. When we have had some, there has either been too much or it has been directly behind or in front of us. Since turning the corner at the southern end of Portugal at the beginning of June we have logged over 2000nm, clocked up 300 hrs of engine time but only had decent sails on about eleven days!

Next, we can report that the super rich are alive and kicking. The amount of money sitting in marinas and in the anchorages around Ibiza, Forementera and Mallorca is staggering. We have seen stunning sleek 200ft sailing yachts, huge 450ft motor yachts, sexy Riva launches and ugly stealth motor boats. What we have been surprised about is that they all cling together in the same places, surely having wealth is about exclusivity. The only conclusion is that being seen bathed in your wealth is more important.

There has been a distinct lack of fish around the coast as I mentioned in my last blog but deeper waters must still have plenty as we ate great fresh fish in almost every restaurant we went to and the abundance of dolphins would suggest that too. We have drank more wine, mojitos and large gin and tonics than is probably wise and consumed platefuls of Serrano ham and Spanish cheese. Are clothes fit a little more snugly than when we arrived.

On a less positive note we have been very disappointed by the fruit and veg. Passing now back down the coast of Spain and remembering how we sailed, a couple of months ago, past the acres of plastic coverings with fascination, we look at them now with regret. There has been little of that great Mediterranean sweetness and intense flavor we were looking forward to, especially in the soft fruit and tomatoes, all we can think is that they are being grown too quickly in the false environment of the polytunnels producing the wishy washy flavours we get at home.

The sea has been fantastic, despite the abundance of floating rubbish. Crystal clear, every color of blue and turquoise and warm, beautifully warm. There were evenings when the wind had dropped and the sea was perfectly calm, when we swam it felt like we were gliding through silk.

Silky smooth waters.

Northern Mallorca was a revelation from the sea and from onshore, we loved it. We really got to grips with anchoring and had many fabulous nights in its stunning Calas. Our substantial anchor and meters of chain allowing us to anchor deeper than the crowds.

We have learnt about living on board and being at sea for days at a time, how to get quality sleep, provision efficiently and manage our water supplies. We have mastered and love our chart plotter and auto pilot. Rick is at one with his yacht and I can now run around with fenders, throw lines, tie knots and stand night watches. We are beginning to feel prepared for the bigger challenges to come.
Finally, we have learnt that you can’t trust the weather forecasts in this region, the forecasts have definitely been more wrong than right. Let’s hope their accuracy improves as we head out into the Atlantic. Next stop the Cannary Islands.

Taking the rough with the smooth

Well there is never a dull moment onboard Raya, our new life just keeps tumbling out oposing experiences some good, some not so good. One day we are fighting through a large swell and 50kt gusts, the next we are sitting listening to a mellow guitarist serenading our restaurant with the sun setting spectacularly in the back ground. One night we are woken in our anchorage by a swell so violent we have to jump from our beds to stop everything falling from the work surfaces, while tonight we are tied to the dock watching the world go by.

We left Sant Carles on Sunday afternoon for the twenty hour sail back to Mallorca, where Jonathan, Sheridan, Charlie and Daisy are joining us for a few days. All the forecasts promised us SW winds F4-5, easing to F3 as the night wore on, sea state slight to moderate. 

For the first two hours we found ourselves motor sailing, yet again, we had light winds not from the SW but from the SE – right on our nose, where was our wind we complained. Gradually the wind veered and grew, all was well, except for an increasing swell on our beam making the ride a little uncomfortable. We had become complacent with the easy sailing we have had for the past month or so. The contents of the galley lockers began to rattle, unstowed objects fell from shelves and both of us, not having taken seasick pills and having spent a week and a half land bound, began to feel queasy. 

Within an hour we were in rough seas, the wind was blowing a steady 30-40kts, that’s F7-8, with a couple of 50knt gusts thrown in for good measure. We had both the Genoa and Main sails deeply reefed as we sped along at around eight knots. A mayday rang out over the radio, two men overboard near Barcelona, we were glad of our centre cockpit and strong tethers. Raya as always just powered on through as if it was all in a day’s work. I on the other hand, of course, quickly became sick, the pills I took were too late to save me. But with only two of us onboard I was denied the luxury of crawling away to my bed and I stood my watches, holding on to the promise of decreasing winds later through the night. Well that turned out to be wrong too, the winds hardly dropped below 30kts all the way to Soller our landfall on Mallorca. Under calmer circumstances it would have been a nice passage, we had frequent visits from dolphins both in the evening and early morning, on one occasion a feeding pod, a couple of hundred meters away, were leaping high above the breaking waves in seeming delight. The moon shone bright until it set at two thirty and then the stars filled the sky, however, we were just pleased to see the sunrise and the sight of land on the horizon.

We anchored in our normal spot just clear of the main anchorage area in the Port of Soller and collapsed into our beds. With all the weather outside of the bay we were rolling a little, however it seemed calm after our previous few hours but somehow it didn’t help clear my queasiness. So we took the dingy into town for supper and to be on land for a while. Despite not feeling particularly hungry we managed a salad and some vital carbohydrate in the form of a plate of chips and we sat in the pleasant surroundings listening to a busker singing the familiar tones of old Eagles hits. We like Soller, it’s a pretty seaside town, with its hundreds of little boats and back drop of steep mountains, this was our third visit and we’ve enjoyed it more each time. 

We had tucked the boat as far under the cliffs as we dared to escape the swell, but as the night wore on it built and its direction changed, at five in the morning I was woken as my water bottle next to my bed fell on my head, last nights dishes rattled in the drainer and objects crashed about on the table. Time to move on and by six thirty we were back out in a choppy sea heading to our rendezvous with the Mckays.

Finally, we are still. We are tied up in Club Velo Marina in Puerto Adratx, the boat has been washed of the corrosive salt from its stormy night, my stomach is almost back to normal and we have had some well earned rest. Lessons have been learnt, but our faith in the weather forecasts has yet again been severely dented.