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:

Monday, 23 January 2017

Sunshine Blogging

Viki from Astrolabe Sailing nominated us for the Sunshine Blogger Award, given from one blogger to another for positive, creative and inspiring blog posts.  Thank you very much, Viki!  Coming from you (how many magazine articles have you published now?) this is indeed a great honor.

Alas, we feel inadequate to respond as we should.  We always feel awkward giving people advice about how to undertake and fund a life afloat, for example.  Who wants to hear “work hard, save every penny, and wait for retirement”?  That’s not our advice to anyone, it’s just the way we did it, more or less.  We are also not very good candidates for the award since we can’t really pass on the blog love.  I’ve curtailed my blog reading this year since we only have decent internet during the winter months, and I noticed that all of the blogs I do follow have already been nominated! (…and with good reason.)

So instead of making an attempt to participate fully, I’ve tried to answer Viki’s questions using some of my favourite quotes that I’ve been saving up for a rainy day. Even if it doesn’t always make much sense, I hope you enjoy it!

What do you enjoy most about traveling and or sailing?

Voyage, travel, and change of place impart vigor. - Seneca

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. -Dorothy Parker

For the born traveller, travelling is a besetting vice. Like other vices, it is imperious, demanding its victim's time, money, energy and the sacrifice of comfort. -Aldous Huxley

To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure. You have no idea of what is in store for you, but you will, if you are wise and know the art of travel, let yourself go on the stream of the unknown and accept whatever comes in the spirit in which the gods may offer it”  -Freya Stark

The sail, the play of its pulse so like our own lives: so thin and yet so full of life, so noiseless when it labors hardest, so noisy and impatient when least effective.  - Henry David Thoreau

What are the most challenging aspects of your adventurous lifestyle?

A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. – John Steinbeck

Security is mostly a superstition.  Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.  –Hellen Keller.

What evil luck so ever
For me remains in store,
’Tis sure much finer fellows
Have fared much worse before.  - A. E. Houseman

We accomplish more by prudence than by force. -Tacitus

How do you fund your sailing and travels, and what advice can you give to others wanting to do the same?

Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow
A thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.
— Jalal ad-Din Mohammed Balkhi (Rumi)

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than those you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.  -uncertain (usually attributed to Twain).

Too many people spend money they earn to buy things they don’t want to impress people that they don’t like.  -Will Rogers

The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it in your back pocket.  -Will Rogers

The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.  -Bruce Lee

I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.  -Thomas Jefferson

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
-Thomas Edison

What is one off-the-beaten path location you’d recommend that we visit?
(replace train references with boat ones!)

The railroad track is miles away,
And the day is loud with voices speaking,
Yet there isn’t a train goes by all day
But I hear its whistle shrieking.

All night there isn’t a train goes by,
Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming,
But I see its cinders red on the sky,
And hear its engine steaming.

My heart is warm with friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing;
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.
-Edna St. Vincent Millay

If you have a book you re-read often, what is it? If not, what’s your favorite book?

Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING--absolute nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,” he went on dreamily: “messing-about--in--boats; messing-about in boats--or WITH boats,” the Rat went on composedly, picking himself up with a pleasant laugh. “In or out of 'em, it doesn't matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that's the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don't; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you're always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you've done it there's always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you'd much better not.”  -The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Graham

What’s the strangest thing you’ve eaten or drunk while traveling?

Okay – no quotes for this one:
Sea urchins.  Despite how much butter and garlic you add, and no matter how much wine you drink to wash it down, it’s still just gross.

What do you enjoy most about blogging?

The word that is heard perishes, but the letter that is written remains.  -Anonymous

Or don’t you like to write letters?  I do because it’s such a swell way to keep from working and yet feel you’ve done something.  -Ernest Hemingway

When did your passion for sailing/traveling start and how did you make your dream a reality?

Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward in the same direction.   -Antoine de Saint Exupery

What is one item you can’t live without when you are sailing/traveling.

It’s hard to find a good quote about sun screen!  SPF 50 every 2 hours (recommended; we usually do well to apply it 3 times / day). 

Where are you from, and what are some fantastic things to see in that part of the world?

The south coast of Brittany in France is rimmed with islands and archipelagos, where isolated sand beaches and shallow turquoise waters can resemble the Caribbean. One tourist brochure is marketing the southern coastal islands of Brittany as the “Breton Caribbean”.  The comparison is a pretty good one until you dive into the 18° C / 64° F water!  The main islands off the coast that are “musts”:  The Glenans archipelago, Groix, Belle Isle, Houat and Hoedic:  all with idyllic anchorages, gorgeous beaches, beautiful islands to discover on foot (Glenans, Hoaut, Hoedic) or on bike / scooter (Groix, Belle Isle).   

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your travels?

Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all people cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.  -Maya Angelou

Monday, 16 January 2017

The Uninteresting Places

In French, there is a sailing quote that says (roughly): “sailing is the most expensive, slowest, and uncomfortable way to go from one place you have no reason to be to another place you have no reason to be.”  When I told this as a joke to a friend recently, she asked why we didn’t simply travel fast (e.g., not by boat) to spend more time in the interesting places rather than spending so much time and effort to land on the edge of nowhere. 

Widow selling dried fish in Nazare, Portugal.

Shady lanes of the old town, Muros, Spain.

I don’t remember what my answer was; some blundering stale version of the voyage being half the fun, I suppose.  But this week, while reading Alexander’s Path by veteran traveler, explorer, and spy Freya Stark, I found the answer I wish I’d given:

A good traveller does not, I think, much mind the uninteresting places.  He is there to be inside them, as a thread is inside the necklace it strings.  The world, with unknown and unexpected variety, is a part of his own leisure; and this living participation is, I think, what separates the traveller and the tourist, who remains separate, as if he were at a theatre, and not himself a part of whatever the show may be.”

Cathedral entrance, Porto, Portugal.
One of our favorite things about traveling by boat is meeting people, both fellow sailors and locals who don’t live in an area inundated by tourists.  As globalisation slowly erases our cultural differences (or accentuates and polishes them in an artificial Disneyland-type attraction for tourists), traveling slowly to the uninteresting places provides a last chance to experience a rapidly disappearing world.

Repairing fishing nets, Galicia, Spain

That said, next season’s cruise to the Balearic Islands and Sardinia will hardly be saturated with uninteresting places.  I am, however, searching for what appears to be an extinct cultural experience:  a nice nightclub in Ibiza for timid old farts on a budget!  How uninteresting! 

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Season Kick-off 2017

The temperatures hover around freezing, a thin layer of ice fringes the port, and our thoughts turn south towards sun and warmth as we begin planning our 2017 sailing season.  (And having just gorged our way through the holidays, the photo theme is “the things we ate” from our 2016 cruise.)

They try to tell you that these are very light...
Our current tasks:

1.  Buying / borrowing the necessary nautical guides and charts.  I’ve begun our route planning and have been scouring others’ blogs for tips on anchorages and ports (mostly about ports to avoid…).  We will probably spend the month of May along the Spanish coast between Gibraltar and Alicante, then June-August in the Balearic Islands, moving on in September and October to our wintering ground.  I’ll plan two options:  an ambitious one that will take us to Sardinia for the winter, or a more tranquil cruise towards the Spanish / French border.  No, we aren’t making much “east” in our Med cruise, but we’re taking time to enjoy the trip.  We won’t be coming back a second time later in life.

Octopus, beaten soft and sauteed in olive oil, salt, and mild red pepper.
2.  Making visiting cards.  This is something we always thought was a little silly until we ended up scribbling our names and contact information on scraps of paper all summer while others passed out fancy cards.  We’ve met so many great cruisers out there and enjoy staying in touch as we cruise along the same waters.

Spain has the biggest and best razor clams on the Atlantic seaboard; sauteed in a little butter, garlic, salt, and parsley.    
3.  Buying a laser rangefinder.  At first, I was against this, seeing it as a potential source of conflict.  Patrick: “The rangefinder says we’re 30 meters from the nearest rock.  We can anchor here with NO PROBLEM!” Me: “And does your magic rangefinder tell you if there are rocks UNDER the water next to that jagged coastline?  Huh?!  We’re moving!”  Then a friend told us how useful rangefinders are for those famous “Med Moorings” where you need to start dropping your anchor 3 boat-lengths away from the dock as you back into a spot.  So far in my planning, most of the med-style moorings in ports have lazylines or buoys so we won’t need to use our own anchor, but I’ve now decided that a rangefinder is a nice gadget to have on board.

An electric wok cuts cooking gas use by half or more !
4.  Thinking about flopper stoppers.  We plan to do a lot of anchoring this year and fully expect that many of the anchorages will be rolly and lumpy because of swell.  I have my trusty riding sail, but that’s only useful when there’s wind.  There are lots of swell stoppers on the market and many people simply use a sort of large weighted bucket poled out perpendicularly on the spinnaker pole or boom.  I suspect we’ll try this homemade system first before investing in a more costly one.  As they say, “one experiment is worth a thousand expert opinions.”   

When you order a glass of wine in Spain, you often get some sort of tapas served with it, like this potato and cheese omelette. Who needs to eat lunch after this? 

5.  Learning Spanish.  This is an ongoing battle; essential but not very effective since it requires discipline to sit down and do the work.  We use a combination of on-line video tutorials, tv news in Spanish, and exercise books, but we’re having a motivation meltdown as we begin 2017.  I have an additional barrier in that Patrick already speaks much better Spanish than I do, so I tend to place this in the “Patrick will manage this” category.  Mas facil !    

Ham, cheese, empanadas, olives, excellent wines.... heaven !