Sunday, 21 May 2017

Almerimar to Aguadulce

Last day in Almerimar before heading on: Groceries, fuel additive added to jerrycans of diesel, winches cleaned, whippings on lines re-whipped, life lines tightened, faucet filters cleaned (eeeuuuwww ! should have done this a week ago…), varnished woodwork in cockpit, cleaned and polished stainless steal around boat. Ready to head off to get some rest !

Mareda in Aguadulce
The weather called for 25 to 30 knots at 1 p.m. so we left early (not early enough for me, too early for Patrick). Calm mostly-downwind sail, jibing in light winds and finishing with 15-18 knots in Almeria bay near Aguadulce. As we tied up to the waiting dock at precisely 1 p.m., the winds climbed to 25 knots. Patrick decided to try docking stern-to anyway. With two marineros waiting to take our lines, we get Mareda’s ass into the allotted spot but a sudden gust pushes our nose over onto the neighboring boat precisely where we don’t have fenders. Patrick tried to use the motor to pull away but only managed to ding the corner of our own stern transom, precisely where it is impossible to put fenders. We managed to push, pull, and tug her into place as the wind gusts climbed to 30. We came to Aguadulce because there is a Jeanneau dealer near and we are getting our last days out of our 2-year warranty. After our stern-to debacle and new ding, Patrick sent them an email saying “BRING MORE GELCOAT”. Ice cream soothes the day.

After 20 days of work on the boat, we are finally enjoying our first days of what feels almost like vacation. We took the bus to Almeria to visit the Alcazaba, a Moorish fortress and the cathedral (we said last year we were going to give Cathedrals a break since there are just too many and they all start looking alike…). 

Almeria Cathedral organs, seen from below.
After a hot and dry visit, we refreshed in a Moroccan tea house with mint lemonade and homemade pastries. 

Our television reception is excellent thanks to relay antennas on the mountain across from the marina.  In the evening we get the news in French from the Moroccan stations.  As the sun goes down, the tv transmissions stop while the call to prayers is broadcast on every channel.  We have learned that this is our call to close all the windows without mosquito screens as the mosquitos launch their attacks at sundown.  

Almeria seen from the Alcazaba with our next sailing objective in the background: Rounding the Cabo de Gata.
Various repairs will keep us here for a few more days, but we are thoroughly enjoying this charming port and the relative rest. Now if someone can do something about those 30 knots screeching through our rigging… it’s like rounding Cape Horn in a storm but in shorts and flip-flops.
Posted on Sunday, May 21, 2017 | Categories:

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Into the Med

10 May
Maria off to the showers while Patrick heads to the ship chandler in Gib to try to find sail drive oil. No luck. Checked out of marina for 2pm departure. Fold back bimini (we don’t sail with it), prepare the boat for first voyage. Lunch. Leave dock at 2pm with light winds, arrive on fuel dock with 22 knots in the nose and rough chop, get pushed into the dock and two marineros come out to help tie up; very rough. Realize that tank was not as full over the winter as we thought and we put 10 liters in the tank plus filled up a jerrycan. My beautiful wax job gets smudged with black streaks from fuel dock fenders and the wind and chop seemed to be getting worse. Decide it’s just a local thing and leave anyway. Not the way I wanted to start a first outing. Two reefs and motor as we turn down the bay on a beam reach. All the cargoes are at anchor and no one is moving. Gusts to 30. As we reach the end of the bay and get near the Pt of Europa, the seas flatten out a bit and the wind decreases to 20. As we jibe round the point, the winds are variable, influenced by the big Rock. We roll out a bit of genoa and are doing 7-8 knots over the ground on now-flat seas. Beautiful sail ! Arrived Estepona and marinero says to go bow-to quay since stern-to is too dicey with 15 knots of wind. Whiskey to celebrate, then Pat heads to swanky showers and Maria fixes dinner (pimentos, rice, fabadas with sausage and chorico). Skype home, read, collapse.

Europa Point

The Rock, finally in the BACKGROUND !

11 May
Walked around Estepona in the morning in search of fresh bread (hazards of sailing with a frenchman). Headed off around noon for another gorgeous downwind sail with a few sprinkles in the beginning, averaging 6 knots with 2 reefs and variable genoa in 18-24 knot winds and 1-2 meter swell from behind (surf !). Experimented with a new way of jibing using the boom brake instead of hauling in and letting out on the main sail sheet; seems to work much better since there is always tension on the brake and the passage goes more smoothly. Slowly recuperating from 10 days in the boatyard. Arrived at Fuengirola around 6pm, tied up at waiting doc and the marinero said we could spend the night at the waiting dock since they weren’t expecting any other visitors. (How do they know that?). Walked around town, discovered that this tourist resort is known for spare ribs, then promptly found a great little restaurant claiming to have the best. Around 22:30, we hear angry bow thrusters near us and pop our heads out to see what’s going on. A large Swedish boat is trying to tie up to the visitor’s dock for the night. After some rather awkward manoeuvers, they finally got settled in and we fully expected they would head out just at dawn to try to avoid paying for the night.

Dodged a cargo getting tugged.

12 May
Very variable day. Strong winds (2 reefs), weaker winds (full sails...finally!), SQUALL (2 reefs and handkerchief genoa for a brief 27 knots), followed by roll-up / roll-out genoa for the rest of the day, including an hour of wing-on-wing sailing. Dodged fish farms around entrance to Caleta de Velez and tied up bows-to again. Time to try out the gangway plank loaned to us from our friend Leo, who used this invaluable piece of wood successfully for many years of touring the Med. Works beautifully !

13 May
Pat goes to the market, Maria puts on the jack lines (doh ! Realized I forgot to put those on during yesterday’s squall). Off around noon. Another variable day, flying full sails with then without motor, a rapid 2-reefs in the main as winds climb into the 20s, then into Motril yacht club with 18 knots. Very expensive stop for a small marina with nothing around, but they are the only game around for 20 miles. Eurovision Song Contest on the tv, but reception keeps cutting in and out so didn’t see much (yes, it’s kitch but so much fun ! Congratulations Portugal !). Another day down. Getting tired.

Malaga marks the beginning of the end of the massive construction along the Costa del Sol

Greenhouses as far as the eye can see along this coast. Guides warn about large sheets of plastic blown into the sea after storms.

14 May
Pushing on to Almerimar today despite light winds. Almerimar is bigger and cheaper and closer to our rendez-vous spot in Aquadulce next week. Full sun, light winds, motor, and TWO KNOTS of favorable current !! Despite what many people think, you cannot ignore the tides and currents in the Med, at least not along the Costa del Sol. The day felt like a vacation. We even allowed ourselves a ½ glass of white wine with lunch in the cockpit, tested the (kick-ass) cockpit stereo system, relay naps, did some small fix-it jobs. Tied up to waiting doc in Almerimar for a mind-boggling 1 hour wait. Tied up, stern-to this time. As we start preparing dinner, we are hailed from the dock. An English couple Patrick chatted with while waiting to check in invited us over for drinks ! We had a lovely evening and they may become a new buddy boat, since they will be heading to the Balearics and Sardinia as well. Love the cruising life. And now for FOUR DAYS of rest ! (well, there are those winches to clean…).

Finally, stern-to mooring.

And a propos of nothing in particular:

After 20 years of living in France, I’m used to the all-purpose cleaning product “Mr. Clean” being called “Monsieur Propre”, but for some reason, the Spanish version “Don Limpio” just cracks me up.

Read in the local paper: towns are trying to come up with ways to prevent so much wax from dripping onto the roads from the candles during the numerous religious processions of spring and summer. The wax build-up is causing car accidents.

As you leave Spanish ports, you can almost always find a Virgen Mary and Child waving good-bye to you. I suppose this is supposed to comfort you, but it gives me the willies. “Beyond this point, you’ll need all the help you can get.”   
Posted on Tuesday, May 16, 2017 | Categories:

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Diary of a Boat Prep

2 May
Community carpool service (Blah Blah Car) to Nantes airport, 1.2 hours from home; in hotel at Malaga at midnight, out at 6:15 the next morning. Three hour bus ride to Gibraltar (La Linea de la Concepcion on the Spanish side). Check in to 4-star hotel in partnership with Marina Alcaidesa (65 Euros for 2 with breakfast buffet and dinner buffet included). MAREDA !!! All seems well – dry, no funny smells, no bugs, no dings, no danging rigging; seems like we just popped off for a couple of weeks. Take bimini to repair shop (broken zipper). Lunch. Panic ! The marina tells us that haul out is in 20 minutes ! Motor started up with a gentle pur, maneuvered in reverse into the travel-lift slip like pros. Bottom looks pretty good for 6 months in the water (special “Mediterranean” anti-fouling we used?). Power wash. Drain sail drive oil and refill. Change oil filter and check levels. Shower. Dinner. Collapse.

Travel lift and smoking Rock of Gibraltar (typical East wind phenomenon)
3 May
Gigantic breakfast ! Will not need lunch. Wash and wax hull, sand bottom and prep for paint. Contact B&G electronics dudes to see about our green auto-pilot light light that is out. Big beer, early dinner, listened to French presidential debate via web radio, collapse.

4 May
Gigantic breakfast ! Paint bottom, ran out of paint, order new paint in a panic (will arrive tomorrow morning). B&G guys show up and do a software upgrade. Apparently the green plastic they used for the controller doesn’t let enough light through, so the software upgrade and settings help to put more light in the green areas. (what happened to the good ole days when that sort of problem was just an electrical connection?) Changed zinc on sail drive. Washed (filthy) fenders with Black Streak Remover, rinsed and inspected mooring lines. Repainted depth marks on anchor chain. Checked new “Wifi Away” traveling internet system (20 GB at 4G speed for 39 Euros / month all over Spain and Balearic island). Beer. Shower. Gigantic buffet dinner. Collapse.

Haz Mat Pat is back !

"Open wide and say Ahhhhh."  WD40 cures just about anything.

5 May
Gigantic breakfast ! (less enthusiastic now). Finish bottom paint; travel lift up so we can paint keel fully down. Pick up bimini from repair shop. Pick up out-board motor from winter storage shop. Relaunch boat. Move boat to marina choosing a spot facing the wind so we can put on the sails. Too much wind for sails today. Clean toilet. Toilet joint leaking slightly. Order new toilet joint kit. One solar panel seems to not be charging, but kicks in when we make a large demand on the battery with the fridge. Lazy bag on boom. Inventory of dry stores (food stuff) left on boat over winter in preparation for shopping trip. Gigantic buffet dinner. Patrick decides to add one more night in the hotel. We’ve got a lot more work to do, the interior of the boat is a jumble, and we like buffets.

6 May
Happy Derby Day Kentucky Friends ! Gigantic breakfast then SAILS ON ! Whew ! Always good to get that job done, especially in excellent conditions. Check PC computer navigation programs and GPS. Biked out to huge commercial center and grocery store (Carrefour) to see if they deliver. Yes ! Unpacked clothes, sheets, towels, etc., stored on the boat over the winter in vacuum-seal bags. No funny odors, no spots, excellent. Cleaning, arranging interior. Gigantic dinner. Back to boat after sundown to check out nav lights. All well. Collapse.

7 May
Last day at the hotel. Gigantic breakfast, check out and move stuff to boat. Move boat to a new pontoon with electricity and water. Wash boat !! Neighbor tells us it has rained mud (red Saharan dust) for the last month. Even clean, Mareda now has a sort of “tan”. Wash stainless railings. Dodger on. Drain engine fuel / water separater. All looks water, no black sludge. Flags on, buoy and Man-over-board sling installed. Fill water tanks and prime pump (takes quite a while and pump did not want to prime). Check cooking gas. Clean bikes (chains a bit rusty). Dilute acid on small rust spots around boat, rinse, polish. Big whiskey while listening to French presidential election results. Vive la France !!

8 May
Ahhh…. Corn flakes and coffee on board Mareda. Mega shopping trip (2 hours) with delivery to the boat. Bimini on. Wash floor rugs. Changed gas filter and chased resulting air bubble from fuel lines; changed water pump propeller, cleaned water filter. Check air filter. Lunch (swordfish) and dinner (gambas). Showers. Check weather. Collapse.

Can watch over Mareda from the hotel.

9 May
Laundry day. Market day. Took bikes to bike shop for gear tune-up (still under guarantee). Mopped floorboards. Filled up 5 liter gasoline jug for outboard engine. Lunch (swordfish again). Filled water tanks and jerry cans. Store and secure everything. Plan to leave marina to anchor just outside for the night. Canceled that – 20 knots sustained winds and we can’t leave tomorrow until 2:30 pm anyway because of the currents around Gibraltar (probably the last time we’ll have to deal with currents during our Med tour). Off to Shepard's ship chandler in Gibraltar for toilet parts not available in La Linea. Loaded up on Marks and Spensor’s Sicilian Lemon Curd (dangerous habit). Spent last of our Gibraltar pounds on ice cream. Showers. Dinner (calamari with chorizo and pimento peppers). Blog post ! Collapse.     

Ready to head out into the Med tomorrow !

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Four Days To Go and a Change of Plans

I think I mentioned in the last blog that sailing plans are written in sand at low tide. Even though the tides are very small in the Med, it didn’t take much for us to wipe out our winter plans. It was probably that full moon last night that did the trick.

Instead of wintering over in Sardinia, we’ve decided to head up the east coast of Corsica for the winter. For reasons I can’t remember, I assumed that Corsica would be more expensive than Sardinia and I didn’t even bother looking at possible winter spots.

Patrick snorkeling in the Lavezzi Islands in southern Corsica a few years ago. Sardinia is in the background only 10 nautical miles away.

I recently realized that we will have 2 full months of sailing time once we reach the Sardinian coast and that this was more than enough to enjoy the north coast and still head over to Corsica. After studying the pilot books and scouring blogs and forums, the port of Taverna / Campoloro jumped out at us as a possibility for on-ground winter storage. It’s cheaper than the port we were eyeing in Sardinia (Nautica Pinna in Bosa), has slightly easier travel connections to get back home, and, if ever we have problems, we’d rather fight our battles in French than in Italian (I know, not very sporting of us...)

The east coast of Corsica is much less exposed to winter winds than the west coast of Sardinia, and as an added bonus, Taverna lines us up nicely for a 2018 cruise across to Elbe island and down the Italian coast on our way to Greece.

We generally avoid making fixed plans, but finding a spot to leave your boat for the winter deserves a bit of forethought and planning, especially if you’re far away from home. Although having plans may kill the romance of long-distance cruising, I’m happy to not have to spend our last month on board stressed-out with trying to find a suitable and affordable wintering option. I don’t know about you, but I don’t do romance under stress very well. My inner sea turtle is at peace with this option.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Bits n Bobs: One week to go !

We had a flopper-stopper party last week, with curious sailing friends in attendance to check out our new parahoule (at-anchor roll stabilizer). Everyone agreed that it is a very clever design and has several big advantages over other commercial systems out there. We’ll surely put it to the test in the near future. After they all left, the neighbours called over: “what’s that weird thing dangling from your upstairs window?” so we told them to come over and check it out and help us finish off the last of the rosé wine. Another bottle later, they waddled home and we proved that we could disassemble the parahoule with some roll of our own.

Our previous arrival in Gibraltar.

We installed Anchor Watch Pro on the smartphone, which sets off an alarm if your anchor starts to drag. (I really wanted the app called “drag queen” - such a great name! - but it just wasn’t as fancy.) It’s less energy hungry than our vhf / on-board gps system (I think?) so we can leave it on overnight. It also has the advantage that you can click on “anchor down” just as you start letting out the chain, marking the location of your anchor so that you always have a bearing and distance to let you know if your anchor is underneath the neighbour's boat before you plan to leave. If you have a 2nd phone with a local sim card (which we don’t), you can leave the alarm phone on the boat when you go ashore and it will send you a text message alarm if the boat moves while you’re away.

Patrick is a marvel. Last week, we were chatting with some friends who suggested that a new boat is like a new car – it loses significant value after the first year. With this in mind, he called up our insurance agent and asked if we could re-evaluate our insurance policy for the boat. He came back from the meeting with a huge grin: fees reduced by 54% saving us over 900 Euros !!!! What a man ! (and thanks, friends, for the idea.)

We’ve started packing. This is a particularly difficult exercise for me because I like things to be orderly and logical. But order and logic often take up more space than chaos does. Around the parahoule sack, I’ve got little air pockets just perfect for a pair of socks, or a small bottle, or one sandal. I’m using this as a warm-up exercise for going-with-the-flow that is so important in boat life.

We’ve printed out our boarding passes. We’ve organized our car-pool service (called blah blah car) to get to the airport, we’ve called the hotel to let them know we’ll arrive late, we’ve checked out the bus schedules to get to La Linea, and we’ve contacted the marina to have them activate our pontoon pass for the morning of our arrival (love modern marinas !).

Marina Alcaidesa, La Linea de la Concepcion, Spain.
Yesterday, I spent the day taking written and oral French language tests for my application for French citizenship. I’m very glad it’s over. I won’t get the results for another 3 weeks. Our neighbours will receive my results in the mail and let me know by email. (Note to future commuter-cruisers: always have good neighbours.)

Note to self for next year: always have lots of aperitif drinks and snacks on hand for the month before departure. The number of “bon voyage” soirées seems to get bigger every year.

The way we left her.
To relax between study sessions for my French test, I took the Meyers-Briggs personality test (thanks to a blog post by Human Resources guru Ellen at the Cynical Sailor) and discovered my spirit animal, which is very important for deciding on the tattoo I plan to get for my 50th birthday. The results: I am an ENFJ sea turtle ! What does that mean? Endless hours of fun pondering past, present, and future actions, of course. One concrete example: Meyers-Briggs defines ENFJs as “idealist organizers” and the sea turtle serenely carries his home on his back, which allows him to feel at home anywhere. Now, pray tell, how is an ENFJ sea turtle supposed to pack? There is NO ideal way to organize your home on your back (or boat) ! I’ve tried! Oh how I’ve tried! I haven’t solved my problem, but at least I now know the root of my dilemma. See? How fun was that?

Between now and take-off time: 2 doctor’s appointments; hosting one (planned) bon voyage soirée; moving the plants outside, slapping them on the backside and wishing them good luck; loading up on fresh mothballs; finishing the last bits of food in fridge, freezer and pantry (always makes for interesting meals…); printing out boarding passes, hotel reservations, bus schedules, and proof of insurance in 3 languages; charging all the cameras (2), e-readers (2) and computers (3) for an eventual inspection at the airport; and most importantly, embracing my inner sea turtle to find peace in the stress.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Doomsday Update

In 15 days, we migrate to boat life for 6 months. Hotels and airlines have been booked, haul-out and repairs have been arranged, charts have been loaded, ports and anchorages explored, the lawn mowed and hedges trimmed, house-sitters arranged, and various new boat tools and toys bought. 

But leaving home is not “doomsday”. One of our final-countdown activities – probably our least favorite but most important – is updating our doomsday book.

As long as we're talking about doom... Med moorings await us !

This is a file (black cover, of course) that contains all the information we need to transmit to those left behind in the event of our demise or incapacity to act. It contains contact information for extended family, insurance information, where to find wills and testaments, bank information and deeds. We send a short summary for first-response information to Patrick’s kids, and print out the rest for later reference.

No, we aren’t paranoid, but you never know and we certainly don’t want to leave a mess behind. Our insurance covers repatriation and some funeral costs, as well as professional assistance for jumping through all the administrative hoops involved in sudden accidental death in a foreign county. There’s no way the kids could know what assistance is available through our existing insurance unless we tell them, and it’s not in the flurry of shock that such discoveries could be made in a timely fashion.

It seems appropriate to finish this task at Easter, a holiday commemorating rebirth or triumph over death. And now for some chocolate !!!

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Cruising Expectations 2017

Assessing your expectations are an important part of cruise preparation. They help you identify the equipment you might need or potentially useful techniques, but also help you to mentally accept that it won’t all be a bed of roses out there.

He probably wasn't expecting this...
Last week we met up with a cruising buddy with experience sailing around the Balearic Islands. Within a 20-minute span of time, he told us to expect polluted waters, obscenely over-priced marinas, ever-changing and unpredictable winds, rolly anchorages, bling-bling boats and boom-boom discotheques, and anchorages so crowded that you can’t set out the appropriate length of anchor chain.

So why do you keep going back?” we asked in amazement.

With a surprised look and wide Gallic shrug, he replied, “Because it’s MARVELOUS!”

And so we begin our 2017 cruise preparations with a new set of expectations.

To start with, let’s look back at how well we did last year with this same exercise. Last March, we began discussing cruise preparations for our trek from Brittany (France) across the Bay of Biscay, around Galicia, down the Atlantic coast of Portugal, left along the Algarve, and through the tight squeeze of the straights of Gibraltar. As part of that exercise, we made a list of expectations based on blogs, first-person accounts, and nautical guides. How well did we do? I calculated 44% failure rate. Here are the expectations that were wrong: 

Chilly temperatures and fog in Galicia. We weren’t eager to go swimming but the temperatures were pleasant and surprisingly we didn’t have any fog until we got down the Portuguese coast, and even then, we only had one day where things were dicey for a while.

Unmarked or poorly marked fishing nets and pots. Nets and pots were everywhere, and some areas were total minefields for many miles, but they WERE well marked. Of course, that didn’t prevent us from hitting one

Many Med-style moorings. We only had one in Bayona. It was okay, but with a 1.5-meter tide running at the time, the Med-mooring to a fixed (non-floating) pier was challenging. 

Med mooring in Bayona, Spain.  More difficult to tie up, but much easier to get on and off the boat.

Uncomfortable rolly anchorages. I don’t recall any that made us lose sleep, which is surely the main test of whether or not the anchorage was okay or not.

Improved fishing skills. Honesty, can’t remember why we expected this…

This year ushers in a new set of expectations, based again on others’ blogs, nautical guides, accounts of friends with experience in the area, and a slightly-improved understanding of our boat and ourselves. For 2017, we expect:

All the things our friend warned us about. However, since “forewarned is forearmed”, we hope to avoid the worst. Another cruising friend says that the Balearic Islands offer something for everyone and you can almost always find peace somewhere.

Med-style moorings. This time, we can’t get away from it. Once we leave La Linea, we’re not expected to see another finger berth for some time.

Using our 2nd anchor and chain off the back of the boat to limit swing in crowded anchorages. We’ve done this in sailing school but never on Mareda.

Expensive ports. This is in addition to the “obscenely” expensive ports our friend warned us about. There are a few marinas in the 100 euros / night range, but most are between 40-60 euros per night for Mareda, which is okay if it’s only for short-term stays. Mooring buoys can be had for 20-30 euros per night. We intend to anchor out as much as possible to keep the overall port costs reasonable.

Carefully-planned and precisely-executed commando raids in ports offering short-term tie-ups for a small fee (generally 20 euros for 1.5 hours). Water and electricity hook ups, food shopping and laundry duties will have to be rapid and efficient.

Lots of dinghy time (buy extra gasoline).

Meals from a can. Since we’ll be anchoring out a lot and trips ashore will be reduced, we’ll have to get used to canned food. We’ve never done this before, since one of our biggest pleasures of cruising is shopping at the local produce markets. Patrick has slowly accepted that he may not get fresh bread very often (but he has already claimed ALL of the freezer space for his limited bread stocks).

Capricious weather and rolly anchorages. We’ll do our best to cope with the swell (see Flopper Stopper post). We know that jumping from anchorage to anchorage to try to find the least uncomfortable will be our principle nautical pastime in the islands.

Warm crystalline waters, hot weather, living in swimsuits and sandals, gorgeous postcard-perfect surroundings (sometimes, anyway).

Rocks. To be avoided in general, and to avoid around the anchor and chain, if possible (and setting up a trip line, just in case).

Interior heat management (wind scoops, sun shades, bimini) and water rationing (washing dishes in saltwater, rinse in fresh; same for showers, etc.)

Charming old towns with labyrinths of cobblestone streets, hippy markets, ancient caves, perched mountain villages, UNESCO world heritage sites, great food and wine.

A zen Sardinia after the hustle and bustle of the Balearic Islands, off season and in areas with few charter boat facilities.

Honing our “roll with the punches” attitudes. This will be a hard one for me, as I tend to like the “by the book” approach, but I realize that we’ll have to be ready to squeeze into a space or pick up a buoy FIRST and ask questions LATER. (Is possession still 9/10ths of the law in the Balearics?)

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Countdown to Cruising 2017 Begins

With only 6 weeks to go before we head off for 6 months, we’ve been keeping very busy with cruise preparations.  What, you ask, is there to do when your boat is far away in Gibraltar?  Here’s a sampling of what off-season sailors do:

(…and the photo theme, in keeping with the “what off-season sailors do” theme is A Day at the Beach in the Breton Winter.  Click on photos for larger versions).

Battle with phone company won by Patrick; 55 Euros per month for telephone service and 30-GB internet that can be used in the 6 months on the boat outside of France.  No more lost days running around to Portuguese/Spanish/Italian phone operators trying to understand how their pre-paid cards work.

2nd credit card ordered for our main bank account.  If we lose one or it is stolen, we just cancel that one and continue with the 2nd one … no waiting around for a new card to be mailed.

Small repairs on Mareda approved by Jeanneau guarantee and appointments made with shipyards in Spain to do the work.

House-sitting arranged.  We’ll have friends and family staying in our house this year, and have made a “how to” document to describe how to turn on / off the water and electricity.

Patrick and friend cart sailing, Presqu'il de Quiberon

Nav planning progressing.  General strategy set, every cala and port in the Balearics and northern Sardinia investigated, dozens of emails sent to marinas for availability and price quotes for wintering options.

Tourism planning begun.  Yes, yes, tourism.  It’s not all about the boat.  Very excited about Sardinia!

Transportation logistics finalized for the trip down.  Plane tickets bought, hotels reserved, bus schedules studied.

Haul-out, hull wash, and relaunch scheduled in La Linea.  We’ll have 3.5 days to scrape and repaint the hull, change the sail-drive oil, and replace the zincs while the boat is out of the water.

Patrick zips along while I try photographic panning for the first time.

Anti-fouling paint ordered
and sent to Accastillage Diffusion in La Linea.

Search for paper charts initiated.  Yes local sailing friends, I’ll be calling YOU to see if you can loan me your paper charts!  I know I don’t really need them with 3 independent systems of electronic charts (MaxSea, OpenCPN, Navionics), but I like having at least a large-scale route map with me.

Computer preparation underway.  Update computers with latest versions of grib viewer; update OpenCPN with Pierre’s brilliant Google Earthand Navionics maps embedded; backups-a-go-go; bought new battery for Sony Vaio. 

Spare solar panel charge regulator bought.  We had one of these go bad before.  It’s easy to fix but would be long and costly to have delivered to the islands.

Planning for friends and family to join us underway.  Juggling schedules and potential port stops is always a challenge.

To do list / To buy list in progress.  Items include a Parahoule System, new Breton and Spanish flags, Italian flag, 2 additional 10-liter jerrycans for fresh water, trip line for the anchor, no-suds salt-water bath gel and shampoo, and maybe an additional mosquito net.

Entertainment Gathering.  E-books, movies, and music being researched and loaded.

The clock is ticking !!

The day after Storm Zeus on the Wild Coast, Quiberon.

Sea foam piled up like snow and flying through the air.

Foam beach.

Monday, 6 March 2017


No, I’m not referring to the use of recreational pharmaceuticals that will be prevalent this summer in Ibiza, Europe’s hottest party island.  I’m talking about trip lines, a wildly popular and hotly debated topic on cruising forums.

Trip lines can help you recover your anchor if it gets blocked under a rock or some other obstruction.  After reading a few Med blogs and guides, we’ll need to be prepared for snags around the Balearic Islands.  I’d sure hate to lose my beloved Rocna.

We have a standard buoyed trip line on board Mareda that, I’m convinced, is entirely inappropriate for use in the Med.  This consists of a small floating buoy attached to the crown of the anchor with a floating line.  When you anchor, the buoy floating at the surface indicates where your anchor is and gives you a line to tug on vertically (or backwards) to disengage the nose of the anchor from the obstruction, rather than pulling on the shaft of the anchor with the chain, which just drives the anchor further under the obstruction.

buoyed trip line, illustration from PBO (link below)
In theory, this type of trip line has several advantages: 
  • It clearly indicates to other boaters where your anchor is to keep them from deploying their anchor on top of yours;
  • It forces other boats to maintain a respectful distance when anchoring;
  • It is an easy to rig / easy to use way of having a line connected to the rollbar of the anchor.
In reality, this type of trip line has several disadvantages:
  • Many credit-card captains think the buoy is a free mooring buoy and they will try to tie up to it, causing your anchor to drag and/or your trip line to part (and threats and warnings written on the ball only dissuade the most timid of idiots);
  • Your buoy will bang against others’ hulls.  Boats will anchor as close together as possible (or closer) and each boat will inevitably swing over the anchors of the others.  There’s no harm in this.  But if you’ve got a trip line buoy set, other boats will swing onto your buoy, which will bang against their hull (until they’ve had enough and pull it up). 
  • Your trip line may get snagged around propellers of passing dinghies or motor boats, or worse, around your own keel, rudder, or propeller.
There are so many horror stories about these little buoyed beasts that many sailing gurus say you simply shouldn’t use them unless you’re alone in an anchorage.  Ron Heikell in his Mediterranean Cruising Guide is against their use in the Med, where anchoring space is always tight.

But what choice do you have when you think there is a possibility of obstructions?

Look where you drop the anchor.  If visibility permits, you can avoid dropping anchor in dubious spots.

Free Dive.  This depends on your level of diving fitness and the water temperature, but if you’re anchoring in less than 5 meters of water, you can probably free-dive long enough to pass a line around the rollbar of the anchor.  If you have to leave at night, diving is ill-advised.

Dive with a tank.  This is another hot topic on the cruising forums.  Emergency diving kits for sailors include bottles with about 5 minutes of autonomy, but they are only safe to use above 10 meters.  If your anchor is stuck and 15 meters, this shouldn’t be used.  (I know one sailor who did use his emergency tank at depths greater than 10 meters but I wouldn’t want to take the risk.)  These tanks are useful for inspecting the hull or cutting away lines caught in your propeller (been there / done that) but that doesn’t help us with our anchor problem.  An additional kerfuffle is that it is illegal to have tanks on board if you do any spearfishing or underwater hunting.  I’m sure the risk of being caught is slim (and perhaps they make exceptions for emergency kits?), but I would hate to have to let those juicy crabs or lobsters go because I’ve got a tank on board.  Did I mention that those emergency dive kits cost 600 euros?

Use a modified trip-line with no buoy.  We will only use this in areas deeper than 5 meters, when we can’t see the bottom, and/or if the area is reputed to be rocky or have obstructions.  But admitting that this is the right way to go is only half the battle.  There are so many opinions out there about how to rig up trip lines that you’ll quickly get snarled in the melee. Without detailing all the options out there, here is my favorite, developed from several sources but best explained and illustrated by the excellent articles posted at Coastal Boating and Practical Boat Owner by Alex and Daria Blackwell, authors of “Happy Hooking – The Art of Anchoring”.   

Floating trip line, illustration from Coastal Boating (link above)

With an appropriate length (15-20 meters) of line (opinions differ on floating or non-floating…and I haven’t decided yet), tie one end to the anchor crown using a knot that won’t chafe.  As you deploy the anchor and chain, feed out the line at the same time; when you reach the last few meters of the line, tie it into one of the anchor chain links. Note: it is very important that the line be slack when the chain is under tension, so tie off the end of the line into the chain several meters before you reach the end of the line so that it lies loose along the chain.  You want the line to be as strong as possible and still pass through your chain link.  Continue deploying the length of chain needed and gently put the boat in reverse to dig in the anchor (although a friend with experience in the Balearics says you’ll never have space to tension the chain correctly).  When you are ready to leave the anchorage, slowly advance the boat with the motor in the direction of the chain to reduce tension and haul in the chain until you see the line tied into the link.  Untie it, fix it to a cleat, and continue hauling in the chain.  If your anchor is stuck, you have a trip line already fixed to the anchor and you can use it to pull up vertically or backwards from a dinghy when the nose of the boat is directly over the anchor.  This is relatively easy to install and uninstall, robust, simple, has no moving parts, and is dirt cheap.  I may add a slight modification by threading a small loop or kink of line into a chain link at 10 meters to keep the line lying close to the chain a bit closer.

I’ll let you know how it goes.  I hope we won’t need to use this often but several of the “calas” in the Balearic Islands that I’d like to visit are marked as rocky with possible / reported obstructions, so I’d like to be prepared.  

Posted on Monday, March 06, 2017 | Categories:

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Flopper Stoppers, revisited

I’ve been studying flopper stoppers and various ways to prevent the boat from rolling uncomfortably with swell.  We plan to anchor out a lot this summer and the Med is well known for rolly anchorages.  I want to avoid any system that requires hanging something out from the side of the boat using the boom or spinnaker pole.  This is certainly the most stable configuration, but if you leave the system set up overnight, you have to put a light at the end of the boom to signal its presence.  We also suspect that many or most of our anchorages will be very crowded, and having a system poled out while inexperienced “credit-card captains” try to squeeze into tight spots right next to your boat gives me nightmares.  I want something that is simple to install, something I can leave installed while going ashore without worry, and, most importantly, something that can be uninstalled quickly in the dark at 2 a.m. when you have to leave the anchorage in an emergency 

The photo theme is "Paris by the Sea, part 2": nautical-related art and artifacts seen around Paris.

Arsenius' planispheric astrolabe (1530), Museum of the Centre National des Arts et Metiers, Paris.

I’ve only found 2 systems that don’t require poling out:  the Mexican hat cones and the butterfly pole. 

The Mexican hat or inverted traffic cones system is a series of plastic cones that look like flattened traffic cones (or sombreros) that you hang over both sides of the boat.  With the hats pointing down, they offer little resistance against the water as they descend, but as they are pulled up with the roll of the boat, the hat captures the water and resists the roll.  For Mareda, we would need a series of 5 on each side with a weighted line.  There are a couple of problems:  storage is not so simple for such a bulky configuration, but more importantly, there is a problem of inertia that reduces its efficiency.  As the boat rolls and pulls the cones up, they resist but are still displaced upward a bit.  As the boat rolls back in the other direction, the cones sink, but generally not as fast as the boat rolls (unless you have a large amount of weight on the line, and I don’t particularly want to heave 15 kilograms / 33 pounds up by hand at 2 a.m.).  This means that by the time the next roll begins, the hats have not fully descended and there is some slack in the line before they catch.  The cones alone cost 180 Euros, to which you have to add line and two 10-12 kg weights.

Another astrolabe from the CNAM museum whose name I entirely failed to record.

The butterfly pole is something I’ve read about elsewhere but have only seen developed by our local Mediterranean sailing guru, Pierre Lavergne, based on his 15 years of sailing in the Med and having tried everything.  Last year, Pierre convinced us that a riding sail was a necessary piece of equipment to avoid the windshield-wiper effect that stresses boat, anchor, and crew in windy anchorages.  That simple sail greatly improved the quality of several anchorages this past summer.

Sundial, Cluny Museum of Medieval Art, Paris
In French, Pierre’s system is called the “parahoule” and it consists of a rigid pole of three sections with a total (adjustable) length of about 3 meters (9 feet) with large articulated spade-like blades fixed at the bottom.  The pole is fixed to the balcony or stanchions and rails.  As the boat rolls towards the swell, the butterfly blades fold to reduce resistance and the rigid pole ensures that there is no slack in the system with no need for weights.  As the boat rolls with the swell, the blades fly open to resist the roll.  By putting one butterfly pole on either side of the boat (and the poles can be placed anywhere to balance the swell coming from directions other than straight a-beam), the roll is significantly dampened.  Pierre says it won’t dampen out all swell completely but will make the difference between a gentle rocking and a sickening sleepless night.  Pierre’s system costs 165 Euros, all included, for 2 poles, the system breaks down to 1 meter / 3 feet long, and weighs about 7 kilos / 15 pounds, easy to transport in our luggage.  The system can be quickly hauled out of the water and fixed along the life lines while sailing between anchorages – no need to completely disassemble and store it below.

Pierre's web-site is a goldmine of information (best if you read French) and he has fully described the parahoule on a companion site.  I’m eager to try this out (well, I would rather have perfectly calm anchorages, but…).  We'll make a full review as soon as we have some experience with it.

One of the world's largest Topazes from Brazil.  No, this has nothing to do with navigation, but it sure is pretty.

Posted on Saturday, February 25, 2017 | Categories: