Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Pink and Blue Jobs: A Cautionary Tale

Visit any sailing blog and you will find a post about the division of labor of a sailing couple: pink for women’s jobs, blue for men’s.  I have always disliked these posts since no job on a boat is either pink or blue when both partners take responsibility for running the boat.  As a rule, each partner must be able to manage every task on the boat, alone if necessary.  (Not sayin’ it has to be pretty…)

Mareda tied up in her winter berth in La Linea de la Conception, Spain, just across from Gibraltar.  That big hotel in the background, we have just learned, hosts the marina's web-cam (see next photo!)
Patrick and I divide tasks based on affinity for the job.  Patrick is stronger than I am, so he hoists the mainsail 99% of the time and is usually up front when it comes time to set the anchor (where the windlass does most of the work, but you never know when you might hit a snag.)  Patrick is taller than I am, so he is usually the one that tucks the mainsail into the lazybag.  But Patrick has a bad ankle after 2 surgeries, so I’m the one who jumps (er, um.. steps lightly) off the boat to tie her up when we come into port.  Because I enjoy these tasks more than he does, I’m in charge of the navigation strategy and sail trimming, and because I’m lighter and have no fear of heights, I’m the one who climbs the mast when needed.

But none of this matters.  Every couple will organize their tasks as they see fit.  The problem comes when we think that “equal” means “same”.  For example, I know now that I can tackle any job on the boat alone.  But I have been forced to accept that I cannot do things the way someone bigger or stronger would.  This sounds obvious, right?  This is where my cautionary tale begins.  

Mareda, seen this morning, via web-cam.  How cool is that?
The good news first.  I have developed carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis, resulting in the loss of normal use of two fingers.  Huh?  Good news?  Yes, indeed.  The first diagnosis of my problem was Rheumatoid Arthritis, an incurable degenerative disease where the go-to treatment is “mild” chemotherapy.  My aunt died last week of complications from her 16-year battle with RA and the side effects of the immune-system-suppressing drugs meant to stabilize it.  Osteoarthritis is the good old fashioned wear-and-tear variety where the treatment involves resting the afflicted area and anti-inflammatory drugs when needed for pain.  My rheumatologist says I may never have another flare up and don’t need treatment beyond a little pain killer now and then.  But nothing can bring back those two fingers and the others are sending me warning signals to take it easy.

I have always prided myself on my physical force and being able to sail the way most of my male friends sail.  When I crew for others, they tell me they don’t notice that I’m a woman (um… thanks?).  I’m now paying the price for that short-lived thrill of feeling equal to anyone on the water.  Without really knowing or accepting it, I have been doing irreparable damage to my hands all these years by ignoring the warning signs and letting my pride and the adrenaline of the moment blind my reason. 

This isn’t necessarily a pink problem.  As we get older, pinks and blues are both faced with having to accept new limitations, to back off a notch, to graciously accept help when it’s offered, to take things slower, to use the winch instead of bare hands, to re-position the boat in its slip using the motor rather than trying to tug and shove 7 tons into place, to take 3 days instead of 1 to clean the hull.  If anything, this back step is probably easier to accept for pinks than it is for blues.  It takes a certain courage to accept this notion of slowing down as wisdom when it feels like a loss.  As the tee-shirt and coffee-mug philosophy says: “Old Age: No Place for Wimps.”

At 48, I can reasonably argue that I have reached middle age.  When I think back on all that I’ve experienced and accomplished in the first half, it makes my head spin to think of the possibilities for the next half.  Sure, the next half will necessarily be slower and gentler, but that’s an insignificant price to pay for the potential wonders that life still has in store for me.  So if you see me out on the boat winching where others use their hands, stepping lightly, or asking for help, please don’t feel sorry or embarrassed for me.  I’ve got bigger fish to fry and I’m pacing myself.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Photo Friday: Full Moon Fever

This week's super moon brought super tides, ideal for clam digging.  In principle.  After scratching around in the mud for 30 minutes only to come up with 9 clams, I took out my camera and started hunting other prey.  (Sorry if this post takes time to load...I forgot to compress the size for the web and ran out of time.. er, um, well, was lazy...).

Super moon with telephone wire.  (pitfalls of suburban nature photography)

The Brent Geese are on their post-nuptial migration and have settled into Brittany this month in one deafening, hungry mass. This collective honeymoon trip begins in the arctic and Siberia, advances to Denmark and Germany in September, then moves on to Brittany and finally to the Arcachon Basin near Bordeaux as their final wintering spot.

My 10-year old version of Photoshop finally died and I'm now playing with GIMP.  Couldn't resist infra-rouge geese.

A couple of swans were trying to hold their own in the mass of geese, while the local gulls clearly decided to vacate the area until the tourist riff-raff set off again for warmer climes.  The winds for the next week will be blustery and from the south, so the geese will likely hang around for awhile longer until the wind turns favorable for a tailwind ride down the coast, just like retired sailors waiting for a weather window.

With Patrick's persistence, "we" managed to get enough clams for a meal.  (To be fair, I only ate my 9 clams...).

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Brittany Daydreaming

The grey days of the Breton fall have arrived.  After a week of savoring the changing light, warm cozy clothes, and hot drinks, we have begun dreaming of the warm sunny days in the Med that await us next year.  I've started this planning exercise by reading blogs of friends who have already sailed in the area, and I have to admit that the tales of over-crowded, noisy, weather-exposed areas has us scrambling to find the quiet hideaways off the beaten path (they do exist, right?).  But as we all know, sailing in the Med is not about sailing; it's about cultural visits, warm weather, and turquoise waters. Ah, warm turquoise waters....  

In the meantime, here are some photos from beautiful Brittany in the fall.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Photo Friday: Halloween Special

Today's Halloween Special takes us to the Carmo Church Bone Chapel in Faro, Portugal, and the Mertola cemetery, where the dry climate means you can simply slide a coffin into a glass shelf to keep your loved one on permanent display.  Happy Halloween !

Posted on Friday, October 28, 2016 | Categories:

Friday, 21 October 2016

Photo Friday: Looking Up

Welcome to the second week of Photo Friday, where we post photos that didn't make it into the blog from our summer sail around the Iberian peninsula.  It's only the second week and already I've decided to break my own rules.  I had the clever idea of posting photos in themes, but to properly curate such a collection, I decided to include some photos that have been previously posted. So there.

This week's theme is Looking Up.  This isn't a philosophical feel-good theme, but rather one that explains why I now have to slog through 10 sessions of physical therapy for a crick in my neck that hasn't gone away in the last 5 months.  As I was looking through my photos, I realized that most of our visits were spent with our heads tilted back, looking up at statues, monuments, fortresses, and cathedrals. I hope some good has come from our efforts and you enjoy the view with a neutral head position !

Posted on Friday, October 21, 2016 | Categories: ,

Friday, 14 October 2016

Photo Friday: Golden Hours on Mareda

As we settle in to our winter routine, I'm going through all the photos I took over the sailing season.  There are some I'd like to share that didn't make it into the story line of the blog posts, so I've decided to start a Photo Friday post to group some photos into themes.

To get things started off with a colorful bang, here are some photos I took during the "golden hours", when the sun is rising or setting, casting long shadows and splashing beautiful colors around.  As usual, you can click on the photos for a larger image.  Enjoy !

Portimao Sunset

Portimao Moonrise

Fort Berlengas

Culatra Moon

Sunrise over the Straits of Gibraltar

Sunset over Marina Alcaidesa, La Linea
Sunset over Combarro

Posted on Friday, October 14, 2016 | Categories: ,

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Winter Wrap-up 2016

Sailing season 2016 is officially over for us, we are back home in Brittany, and Mareda has been tucked in for the winter at Marina Alcaidesa, La Linea de la Conception, Spain, otherwise referred to by us as “Gibraltar” for lack of a more prominent landmark.

The rock, viewed from La Linea, Alcaidesa Marina.

La Linea, Alcaidesa Marina viewed from the Rock.
We’re disappointed that we couldn’t extend the season out to the end of October as initially hoped, but given the circumstances, we’re both very happy to be home a little early.  A mere 24-hours after landing, Patrick developed an abscess in one of his front teeth and his face swelled up like a balloon.  He was in agony for 48 hours despite maximum doses of Tylenol with codeine.  The antibiotics finally took effect and he’s back to normal but the prognosis doesn’t look good.  We’ll know more next week, but he could be looking at 2-3 surgeries with 4-5 month recovery times in between.  That could put a crinkle in our cruise plans for next year. 

As for me, I have an appointment with the rheumatologist to see about my newly blossomed arthritis, which could put a crinkle in more than our cruise plans.  We’re both looking at a lot of doctor’s visits over the next few months and we’d rather be home to cope with it all.

Patrick "Woo Hoo! We're in Gibraltar!"  Ape: "if I had a banana for every stupid tourist photo I pose for..."

Here are some statistics for 2016:

Miles covered =   1140
Days on boat = 114
Days sailing = 33
Longest sail = 78 hours
Hours motoring = 141
Different ports and moorings = 30 in 3 countries
Number of nights at anchor =  20
Average port cost for 2016 season = 17 euros / night   (calculation based on port fees, free nights at anchor and an exchange program between our home port and ports in Galicia, Spain that gave us some free ports in June.)


The thrill of sailing new territory in new countries

Visiting La Coruna, Porto, Coimbra, Lisbon, Sintra, Faro, Cadiz, and Gibraltar

Playing Robinson Crusoe anchored behind Culatra island for two weeks

Beautiful hot sunny weather from June to October !  (neither of us wore shoes for 3.5 months)

Meeting other cruisers and sharing the journey


Health problems; ours and visiting friends’

Stress (Patrick wishes to emphasize that the stress was mine, not his).  Sailing in new territory with new weather patterns and in a foreign language can be tough on the nerves.  We sailed around some mythic headlands this season: Cape Finisterre in Spain, Cape St Vincent in Portugal, and Cape Trafalgar / Tarifa / Gibraltar.  All went well, but the anxiety of anticipation was heavy.  Even though we didn’t really have a fixed calendar to respect, I often had the feeling that we were on a boat-delivery job and we didn’t always have time to enjoy a place because the weather forced us to either move on the next day or risk getting trapped for a week.  I had a small breakdown (yes, yes, tears and all) around Mazagon, which was just after our horrible experience in Lagos and just before I went to the clinic to find out why my hands weren’t doing what I was telling them to.  I have hopes that these issues will be resolved before we head out again next year and we’ve already agreed to take it much slower next year. 

Unbelievably poor internet services.  I think most ports have just given up trying to keep up with the demand and they now expect every cruiser to be autonomous (mobile telephone with 4G connections, sat phones, etc.)  Even the bars and cafes around the marinas have limited services.  When internet is your only means of getting good weather information, this becomes a critical issue.  We’re studying options for next year, but they all look expensive.

What worked

Riding sail: we only put this to the test a couple of times, but we noticed a big difference in our motion compared to that of our neighbors.

Heat management:  I was worried about this and my Breton husband, unaccustomed to heat. Despite 37°C / 99°F heat in Portugal, we stayed comfortable thanks to the bimini, the dodger and its opening front and side panels, our wind chute to capture even the slightest puff of air (when you hook it up even in light winds, you have the impression that you’ve turned on a fan down below), and good engineering by Jeanneau with lots of ventilation.  All the hatches have mosquito screens built in and we use a mosquito net across the door of our cabin at night so we can keep maximum ventilation.  The only thing missing is side panels for the bimini.

Electricity management:  Our solar panels kept us charged with no worries even after 2 weeks at anchor and despite a refrigerator working overtime.  Our electric wok and toaster, which we can use when we are hooked up to shore power, cut our cooking gas consumption by a factor of 3!

Diesel management: When we fire up the motor, we rarely ask it to give us more than 5 knots, usually in combination with sails, so our gas consumption was much lower than we anticipated.  We averaged 1.3 liters / hour.

What didn’t work

Internet.  We wonder why we even invested in an expensive wifi antenna.  Useless, given the circumstances. 

Spinnaker pole: we’re selling it!  We always thought it was important to have one to pole out the genoa or the gennaker, but the reality is that we are never sufficiently motivated to actually hook it up.  In addition, I discovered a new way to maximize the opening of the genoa when sailing with a tailwind or wing-on-wing, which is to use the gennaker sheets and the barber hauler to pass the sheets outside the boat (rather than through the sheet travelers), thus turning the genoa into a small gennaker.  By keeping the genoa sheets attached to the sail at the same time, I can bring the genoa back to normal (for quick hauling in / rolling up) without the hassle involved in dealing with a spinnaker pole. 

Pocket hose:  I loved my little pocket hose but it didn’t withstand its second season.  The problem is the textile casing, which gets fragile when too exposed to UV.  Once there is a rip in the casing, the inner tubing blows up like a goiter and explodes.  We’re back to a regular garden-hose type now, which is certainly more robust but also takes up much more space and is much heavier.

Lessons learned

You CAN sail in the Med, but you have to have time and be motivated.  You often hear that in the Med there is either too much wind or not enough.  This all depends on what “too much” and “not enough” mean to you.  We managed to keep our motor hours down thanks to the gennaker and accepting to drift along at 3 knots at times, but we did crack and fire up the motor more often than was really necessary and there were quite a few occasions where we SHOULD have put up the gennaker but didn’t.  The typical day is calm in the mornings with good sailing winds for a few hours in the late morning / early afternoon, then up to 20-25 knots in the afternoon, all of which can come from just about any direction, especially around headlands and cliffs.  You have to be willing to make lots of sail changes and to make them fast if you want to sail here.  Often what happens is that you opt for a “ready for anything” approach, which means 2 reefs in the main with the motor.  You motor-sail in the mornings, sail with 2 reefs and full genoa in the early afternoon, then sail with only the reefed mainsail and maybe a tiny handkerchief-sized genoa in the afternoon (or fall back to motor-sailing if the wind is too much in the nose).  It’s not ideal but it is the best lazy approach!  We tell ourselves we WILL make more use of the gennaker and try to just leave it out as much as possible so that we can’t whine and gripe about who has to go below and haul it up from the lazarette, hook up the furler, etc.  Eliminate the excuses as much as possible!

We’re more bourgeois than we imagined.  We like to think of ourselves as intrepid adventurers, but we’re much happier when we have good internet, good food, and beautiful or interesting surroundings to visit while we’re out.  On several occasions we were ready to head out in unsuitable weather conditions because of dissatisfaction with a port:  nothing interesting to visit, no internet, no good food markets nearby, ugly industrial settings, etc.  We may adopt the strategy of a few cruisers we met this year and make some long overnight sails to jump over the boring or ugly bits.

Clouds over Gibraltar,

Mareda, nestled down for winter behind the rock.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Our passage through the Straits of Gibraltar

Passing through the Straits is one of those mythical navigational feats that leaves its mark on you.  When we bought Mareda, our plan was to go to the Med via the French canals, saving time and stress.  A friend tsk-tsk-tsk’d at our plans, saying that we had an excellent boat, that we were both good sailors, and that it would be a real shame to miss out on sailing around the Iberian Peninsula and through the Straits.  That remark planted a seed (fertilized by equal parts ambition and shame) that led to our decision to take the long / hard route around Spain and Portugal. 

There are entire books dedicated to strategies for passing through the Straits with a lightly-motored sail boat.  I somehow missed this in my research for our trip this past winter, but thanks to other bloggers, I managed to find the most important information to help us plan the least painful passage possible.

Patrick thought it would be funny to have a picture of the French flag flying over Cape Trafalgar, but the flag wasn't as enthused as he was.

Because of the busy shipping lanes, the capricious and often ferocious winds, and strong currents, the Straits has a reputation for being a place where sailboats can get into trouble quickly.  Our first task was to find a weather window with westerly winds to push us to Gibraltar.  In September, the climatology tells us that 60% of the winds are northeasterly, and those westerly windows have been few and far between over the last few weeks.  We finally found a 3-day period with light westerly winds and started looking at the currents.

It turns out that we are close to the neap tides (lowest tidal coefficients of the year).  The current normally flows from east to west starting at 3 hours before high-water in Gibraltar, but during the neap tides, they turn even earlier, starting between 4 or 5 hours before high water.  This is great news as it gives you an even larger time slot for planning your passage.  The currents are also weaker at this period of time.  Extracts from the Straits Handbook say you can expect 1.5 knots at neap tides, and we had up to 2 knots a few days before neap tides set in.

According to friend-of-friends Nick Ellis who posted his passage notes on Noonsite, there are 2 major pieces of advice to follow: 1) from Barbate to Gibraltar, stay in-shore of the banks.  The currents and swell are much less confused here and the passage smoother; and 2) take whatever local weather forecast you trust (we, like he, used wind guru) and double the forecast for winds at Tarifa; and whatever wind speed you actually have at Tarifa, double those for the winds you will have leaving the Straits and rounding up into the Algeciras bay.

Our weather window of interest gave us light winds (westerly 8 – 10 knots) and eastward flowing tides over a large range of hours. The last piece of the puzzle was sunrise and sunset. This is where everything broke down.  There was no way to coincide the current without either leaving in the dark or arriving at dark.  Because of the fishing nets and crab pots in the area and because we didn’t want to miss the beautiful scenery, we worked to find a solution for day-time sailing only.

If you don't put a wind generator park here, you may as well not put one anywhere.  300 days per year of over 30 knots.
Patrick (he wants it to be known) came up with the following plan:  Cadiz to Barbate, 40 miles of daylight sailing arriving with a favorable current; Barbate to the anchorage of Isla Tarifa, 20 miles, all daylight, all favorable current, arriving at sunset and leaving at sunrise; then about 18 miles from Tarifa to Gibraltar, from sunrise to around noon, all light, all favorable current. 

I would highly recommend this strategy except for one caveat:  the anchorage at Tarifa is uncomfortable even in good conditions.  You have to anchor far enough into the bay that you don’t disturb the high-speed ferry traffic.  A pilot boat comes out every hour to secure the zone for the ferries, and apparently we were deemed inoffensive since they left us alone (a relief after our experiences in Rota).  We arrived half-an-hour before sunset and left before sunrise.  The holding is excellent but we rolled all night long.  That, combined with the anxiety of the coming passage, led to a mostly-sleepless night.

** note:  we were told a few days later by a sailing school instructor from Gibraltar that we were very lucky to have been able to anchor in the harbor at Tarifa.  Apparently anchoring there has been banned since last year.  They had too many problems with boats impeding the passage of the ferries.  I suppose they let us slide through since we arrived at sundown and left at sunrise.

Refreshments in Tarifa with the sun setting on Africa in the background.

"Africa is just over my shoulder !"

Leave room for the high-speed ferries in Tarifa harbour.

But let's start from the beginning:  On the passage from Cadiz to Barbate, we had 2 1-hour periods of thick fog that were a bit disturbing, and at the exact moment that the first fog bank hit us, we heard a loud and repeated “boom – boom – boom”.  After a moment of panic, memory kicked in… this is not the first time I’ve heard that noise at sea.  I ducked down to look at the chart plotter:  we were in a military firing range.  I had heard Spanish war ships talking on the radio earlier in the day.  We have a similar zone in Brittany and were once chased off by a pilot boat clearing the area before a bombing exercise.  We weren’t disturbed further by the continual booms since there were lots of small fishing boats around us and we figured we weren’t in the direct line of fire.

Barbate was a very nice, nearly empty port with a large supermarket about 15 minutes’ walk from the port.  The big fishing nets that nearly block the entrance of the port in summer were already gone and we had smooth sailing on a direct course to Tarifa.

The handbook got it absolutely right.  The previsions were for 8 – 12 knots winds, and we had 18 knots as we approached Tarifa.  The winds grew from 12 to 18 within an extremely short period of time, and thanks to being forewarned, we put 3 reefs in the mainsail expecting the worst.  (We didn’t really think we would need 3 reefs but we wanted to test our little-used 3rd reef and decided this was a good time.)  With 2 knots of current pushing us along as well, we were often sailing at speeds of 7 knots with only the deeply-reefed mainsail.  We were somewhat protected behind Tarifa and doused the sail with 13 knots in the nose as we set the anchor.

Straits sunrise.
The next morning, the forecast was for 8 knots of wind.  We had a very variable 10-15 knots as we left Tarifa.  Since we had 2 knots of current and the wind was from 177 degrees behind us, we opted to just unroll ½ the genoa with no mainsail.  This configuration worked well and allowed us to adjust our sail area as the wind went from 15 to 6 knots, then back up to 15 again as we progressed down the Straits.  Right on time, as we rounded up into the bay, the wind suddenly accelerated to 18 knots, and did a bit of a pirouette, turning first to a close reach then falling off to a beam reach.  Our lovely tail current went away and even turned against us slightly.  We continued rolling and unrolling the genoa to adjust our speed to avoid cargoes and ferries, but as we progressed further into the bay it became necessary to launch the motor.

Mareda, bottom left under Tarifa.  Me: "I always thought the Straits would be more crowded.  Where is everybody?"  Wait till you turn the corner...
...And there it is: The ROCK !

We pulled into La Linea (on the Spanish side of Gibraltar) and were surprised to find that it was relatively full and busy, after having had nearly-empty ports since leaving the Algarve.  The waiting pontoon is the same as the gas pontoon to port as you enter, although after 5 years in service, the marina has still not put up any sign signaling that it is, in fact, the waiting pontoon.  The dock is very high and concrete, with large widely spaced bollards rather than cleats, so it’s a good idea to put your fenders up high and prepare long lines if you aren’t a 15-meter boat.

The most beautiful berth we've ever had.

My wind chute, unwittingly in Gibraltar colors for Gibraltar National Day.
After lunch and a well-deserved siesta, we made contact with our new Dutch friends Dorette and Victor sailing on Mamira Fenna, who left Cadiz on the same day as us but preferred a one-hop over-night sail to Gibraltar.  Comparing notes afterwards, they also confirm that the wind was double what was predicted for Tarifa, and double again for entering the bay at the end of the Straits.

All in all, we had a very smooth passage.  The anxiety was worse than the actual event, and I wish I could turn that experience into something that would serve to lessen my anxiety in the future.  My hands bothered me a bit, and I was slow in some manoeuvers as I tried to use the winch instead of my hands as much as possible.  It’s going to take some time to get used to new ways of doing things, and unfortunately, the knowledge that my hands are slow and weak now adds to my fears about sailing in potentially difficult situations. 

We are THRILLED to be here !  Our berth is the most beautiful we’ve ever had: a full front-row view of the rock.  We learned as we signed in that we were arriving on the eve of Gibraltar Day and festivities are in full swing.  The port is modern and comfortable, attractive and CHEAP !  After having paid around 32 euros per night for most of the ports in the Algarve and southern Spain, we are in this beautiful spot for less than 20 euros / night.  For a 30-euro fee, we have internet on the boat, we have a large farmer’s market about 15 minutes from the port, and of course, we have Gibraltar and all that duty-free fun at our doorstep. 

After a week of research to decide where to leave the boat for the winter, we’ve decided to winter-over here in Linea.  The marina prices and travel prices from Malaga are much better than anything else we’ve seen along this coast (even though it’s still expensive… 7 months costs the same as 1 year at home).  It is a strange mixture of sadness and relief to think about leaving the boat already, but staying here will save us more than 1000 Euros compared to pushing on up the coast.  In the meantime, we are really enjoying Linea / Gibraltar.  It’s the first time we’ve experienced “house boat living” where we stay in one place for 3 weeks.  It’s calm, friendly, beautiful, and we have lots of tourism and entertainment options around (but note: it’s important to have bikes here !).  We have made friends here and we, of course, have lots of work to do to prepared the boat for 7 months of abandonment. 

It feels like an abrupt ending to the first leg of our big Mediterranean adventure, but sailing is all about patience and opportunity, n’est-ce pas?  We’ve packed a lot of experiences into the last 4 months and feel better prepared for the next leg of our journey.  We’ll call that a successful season.