Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Aguadulce to San Jose, Garrucha, and Aguilas

While in Aguadulce, we met up with Johannes, an Austrian sailor (who spoke perfect french) with an amazing 30-year old aluminum boat fully outfitted for a world tour although in need of some upkeep. He had recently bought it and was giving himself 5 years to fix it up during his vacations. While sailing in the area in rough weather, his steering chain broke and he was towed into Aguadulce. We went over to hear his stories, offer him a drink, and helped him fish out the two ends of the broken chain from the steering column. Over dinner and sea-stories, we were inspired to finally try out our own emergency tiller.

Emergency Tiller and Patrick's sandal-tanned foot.
We also decided it would be a good idea to finally investigate how we could unblock the lifting centerboard if ever it were stuck in the up position. We had heard there was a thru-hull but had never really thought to look for it. After fruitless internet searches and an email to our dealer, we found it under one of the floorboards near the galley (where the tip of the centerboard would reach in the up position). I’m embarrassed to say that I had seen this thru-hull before and dismissed it as … well, maybe an extra ball valve in case we needed a change? (Seems quite silly now, doesn’t it?). The way it works: 1) put the red handle on the ball valve and verify that it is in the shut position; 2) take off the nut on the top of the thru-hull and screw in the hose assembly; 3) lift the hose assembly vertically so that the height of the tube is greater than the waterline; 4) insert the long thin metal tube laying in the bottom of the lazarette underneath the bikes, the dinghy, snorkeling gear, tool boxes, etc.; 5) push. Patrick wants to try it for real. I’m eager to wait, since a blocked centerboard doesn’t represent an emergency situation but a poorly connected seacock does. I’m thinking maybe we wait until we pull the boat out of the water in Corsica this fall?

System for unblocking a stuck centerboard.
The next day we left Aguadulce on oily seas and motored for 2 hours before the winds picked up enough to sail: 6.5 knots on the beam allowed us to sail at a slow but comfortable 4 knots. As we approached the Cabo de Gata, the wind progressively turned in the nose and strengthened. We rolled up the genoa then started reefing the main. We finished with 18 knots in the nose and tacked back and forth around the famous cape.

Happy boat (black top left) in port after a day of tacking around the Cabo de Gata.
We were accompanied by some (huge !) Atlantic bottlenosed dolphins (I think) who were not particularly impressed with our speed and knew the bow wake would not provide adequate surfing fun, so they left us alone and went off to hunt. Heard on the vhf radio: 34 people adrift on a small boat in the area, heading towards the Spanish coast; everyone asked to keep an eye out for them and report any sightings. Practiced Digital Selective Calling on the vhf radio with friends. We can send but can’t receive. I think I remember shutting off all the bells and whistles on the vhf… will have to investigate. Will write a blog post later about using DSC. It’s good fun and quite useful.

The port of San Jose is charming but very small. They say they turn people away starting in June since they simply can’t handle more than a few visitors. We arrived late and left early so we didn’t have time to explore. Friends said there is good hiking in the area. The evening news reported that the 34 people adrift had been towed into Motril, the small port we were in just a few days ago.

We left San Jose knowing that we were probably in for a rough day. We put 2 reefs in the main to tackle 19 knots in the nose as we headed out with swell from the front quarter. We continued on a close reach “a la anglaise” (e.g., with the motor), trying to maintain a good balance between course and speed. We slalomed between the swells to try to avoid the worst of the bashing into 2 meters of swell. After 2 hours, we both took ½ of a sea-sickness pill (sturgeron) just in case things got worse and we needed to go below (to look at charts, make lunch, etc.). While we were doing our own battles, we heard a call on the vhf in a panicky Arabic, a long monologue and then nothing. The Spanish authorities tried to make contact in Arabic, Spanish, French, and English. No response.

The winds finally drop to 17 knots and turn favorable; we unrolled all of the genoa and after two more tacks we are able to finally make a straight shot into Garrucha. Two miles from port, the winds died completely so we prepared the boat for arrival and motored in. Instead of the 30 miles anticipated, we covered 42 with all of our tacking back and forth and we were ready to stop. Garrucha is a huge port, so large that visiting boats tie up along-side instead of Med style. I wasn’t prepared for that and my fenders were a bit too high, but the wooden railings on the pontoons made for a gentle landing. We heard that Garrucha is known for its jumbo shrimp so we headed out to find them, but after the day we had, we were too tired to go far and ended up having a rather disappointing paella. Friends following up behind us did find the famous shrimp and reported both being sick afterwards.

The weather report suggested that it wasn’t worth heading the 18 miles from Garrucha to Aguilas until the early afternoon when the winds turned more easterly instead of northeast and fully in the nose. We headed out at noon and just as Patrick began bad-mouthing the Mediterranean and its lack of wind, the wind picked up steadily and rapidly from 9 knots to 17. The wind stayed between 16 and 18 knots most of the way, finishing the last two hours with 19 to 21 knots and the now infamous swell growing from 2 meters to 4. The east-going current against an East wind pushes up big wind-over-current waves that are quite chaotic. We were happy that we were able to make our course without tacking, but the price to pay was a rollercoaster ride in the 3 to 4 meter swell, complete with two water cascades pouring over the nose and completely soaking us both. As we were dripping, I tried to remind Patrick that people pay big money for this sort of treatment at water parks. He was not amused.

Heard on the vhf radio from Malaga: a pneumatic boat with 30 people aboard on fire, trying to reach the Spanish coast. We stopped complaining about getting sprayed. We very happily tucked into the relatively calm Aguilas bay, where we decided to anchor at the east end of the bay near the beach. There was good protection from the swell, but winds were still around 15 knots. They slowly died down to an occasional gust. I installed my riding sail and will have to look back at my own pictures to remember what line I used for the foot of the sail. All calmed down beautifully in the evening and we had a good night, despite going to bed with salt crystals in our hair. Beer and snacks well-deserved before cleaning up all the stuff that got thrashed around. 

The coastline here is gorgeous - mountain ranges plunging into lapis lazuli blue water, ruined castles on hilltops, white-washed perched villages.  Unfortunately, in 3-4 meters of swell, the few photos I attempted don't do it justice. 

Tomorrow’s weather promises a calm ride to Cartegena. 

Eat, sail, eat, sleep;   eat, sail, eat, sleep; etc.

Our first anchorage of the season, Aguilas harbor.

My riding sail kept us from swinging too much in the 15 knot winds.

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 !