Wednesday, 28 June 2017

More cruising excitement in Ibiza

We've had an exciting, wonderful, and terrifying few days in Ibiza.

We had friends from Brittany with us for a few days and after picking them up in San Antonio, we sailed south to Cala Hort, where we had spent our first night in Ibiza after the passage from Denia. The holding is good, there was plenty of room, we were protected from the winds, and the water was limpid and turquoise. Patrick decided that the moment was right to attack a jellyfish with his shoulder.

Patrick meets jellyfish.
We had seen a few floating around but it seemed rather easy to avoid them. Patrick swam smack into one judging by his new jellyfish tatoo. Not to make light of it… it hurt like hell and Patrick was quite unwell for an hour or so. I gently wiped the area with a paper towel soaked in vinegar (opinions differ about the use of vineager… probably should have just used seawater), then applied a generous helping of biafine crème (for burns) followed later by another wash and an antihistamine crème with cortisone. Since Patrick had never been stung before and we didn’t know if he would have an allergic reaction, I gave him a big dose of antihistamine and some paracetamol for the pain. After a couple of hours he was feeling well enough to laugh about it.

The next day, with light winds, we decided to take the narrow passage between Vedra and Vedrella islands on our way to Formentera. The winds dictated that we anchor on the west coast and we managed to find a good spot behind the green channel markers not too far from Port Salvina. We weren’t alone but all the boats maintained a respectful distance and half of the boats in the area left by 6 pm. We took the dinghy to the small beach and the beginning of the stone jetty and took a bus tour of the island. The south part of the island is really beautiful but unfortunately we couldn’t take the boat there because of the winds. The best part of the island is the coastal areas and beaches, with really nothing worth visiting inland.

After a couple of days lolling around Formentera, we worked our way north again into the Ensenada of San Antonio and the Cala Bassa. This surely has got to be one of the most beautiful calas of Ibiza. It is crowded and the holding is poor in patches. To anchor with serenity, you have to find a sand patch and they are usually in 10 meters or more. Ashore is the swanky Cala Bassa Beach Club and there is a gorgeous hike around the point over to the west side with beautiful views towards Isle Conejera. The cala is flanked by several grottos large enough for a dinghy.

After a couple days in our new favorite cala, the wind direction made it clear to us that we wouldn’t be taking the boat to the old town of Ibiza on the other side of the island, so we decided to anchor near the San Antonio port and take a bus. Big mistake.

The area east and south of the green channel markers is now laid to buoys so extensively that there is little room to anchor and the holding is poor. After several attempts, we found a good spot and set the anchor well, then left for the day on bus to visit the old town of Ibiza on the other side of the island. I wanted to get back on board by 6 pm because the winds were supposed to get stronger.

We made it back to the boat around 7 pm and by 8 pm the huge 50 foot boat in front of us was dragging his anchor directly back on to us. It happened so fast that we couldn't pick up our anchor to get away since our chain was under his boat and hitting against his keel and rudder. Of course, the owners were not on board.

We let out more chain to try to get away from him and another person came over with a zodiac to try to push him off, but he was too heavy and the winds too strong. I called both ports for assistance and they both said they had no responsibility for people anchored in the bay. After about 20 minutes, the owners came back and pulled away from us then began pulling up their anchor. But they also pulled up OUR anchor in the process, and we slid back onto the boat behind.

Those owners came out with their zodiac to help push us apart, while the guy in the first zodiac went over to the first boat to try to get our 2 anchors unstuck. After more than one hour of battling, we finally got away from everyone and got our anchor back, with no damage and no injuries. One of the more philosophical of the sailors involved told us that it was a good experience.

The chart trace of the battle.
The guys on the boat behind us offered us a mooring buoy of a friend for the night so we had a relatively calm night. Lesson? Don't trust anyone around you? I don't know how you avoid other people's mistakes without becoming completely paranoid. As we discussed options, we decided that if the owners of the first boat had not returned, our best course of action would have been to cut our own anchor line (with several fenders tied to the end to be able to recuperate it later) which would have allowed us to get away from him. Our anchor line may still have been wrapped up around him, but at least we would be free. We would then have to pick up a mooring buoy (risking the wrath of the yacht club) or find a place in port until we could come back for our anchor. Anyway… that didn’t happen and I hope it never does.

Our friends left yesterday and we pulled into the port to fill up with water and food for the next week or so. A gale was foreseen for the next day and the port said it was full, but they would put us on a waiting list. We looked for other options in the bay to shelter from a gale from the west that would turn north during the night, and there were very few possibilities. We checked with the yacht club to see if we could have a mooring buoy and they said we’d have to be on a waiting list for that as well. This morning, gale day, the wind was blowing stronger than foreseen. The good news about that is that the boats that had reserved places were unable to get here, so a spot opened up for us for the night. Whew!! Feeling VERY relieved.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Finally, Ibiza

After our delay in Denia, we had a choice : motor sail 11 hours (20 litres of diesel / 25 euros) or stay another night in Denia at 40 Euros per night and hope for better winds the following day. Since the forecast was not encouraging, we left at 8:30 a.m. for a very calm day. We pointed our nose in the direction of Cala Hort, a large cove 50 miles from Denia.

We did it !  Es Vedra, Ibiza.
Towering over the Cala is the natural cathedral of Es Vedra, a rock surging out of the southeast coast of Ibiza, once a religious site honoring the goddess Tanit. Our guide also said something about this bay being the little Bermuda triangle of Ibiza, but with no further explanation. I should have paid more attention.

As we arrived, there were only 5 or 6 boats and we found a gorgeous spot in turquoise water surrounded by ocre cliffs and scrub pines. After a celebatory drink, we decided we needed a rest and would stay 2 nights here.

The next morning, I lifted the floor boards between the motor and galley to find, once again, the cans and bottles floating in a puddle of diesel. Re-remove cans, re-pump diesel, re-wash cans, etc. We pumped another 1/4 litre of diesel from the surrounding bilges, cleaned up everything we had touched, and dealt with the slippery greasy pile of wipes, newspapers and bottles. We realize now that the diesel will continue to leak out for quite a while, each time the boat moves in some new way.

Anyway… time for a swim in this gorgeous cove. The fish had already gathered in anticipation of a feeding.

I dove in, felt the diesel and sweat dissolve, my spirits reviving. I pulled on my mask and fins.

That’s when I saw it.

A piece of fishing net, wrapped around the propeller. Shock, fear. How long has that been there ? Is it going to block the propeller ? Is it going to wedge deeper around the shaft and cause a leak ?

Even in warm turquise water this is not a sight anyone ever wants to see...

The next hours were really nasty. I dove and dove and dove and dove (note : need desperately to buy a scuba tank) to pull and cut away as much as a could from the shaft. The biggest part came off easily but a few turns of line were (are) stuck deep under the zinc. The propeller turns, there is no sign of a leak. Exhausted and cold, I decided to stop after about 30 minutes. Patrick poured me a gin-and-tonic with chips to replenish my resources. The alcohol in the gin, the citrus acid in the lime, and the salt of the chips told me I had hundreds of little cuts in my hands from my diving job. I looked at my hands and noticed a big bruise growing on my thumb where I had tightly gripped the pliers to pull out the lines. More gin, please.

The first cut
 After that, I had the bad idea to look under the floor boards again...ya know, just to check. More diesel puddles. Crisis time. Cursing and tears in paradise. Patrick banished me to the cockpit, mopped up the puddle, and went for a swim. We agreed to a 24-hour halt to all propeller or diesel repairs and tried to pretend to be on vacation.

Did I mention that it’s breath-takingly gorgeous here ?

Because of the high cliffs around the bay, our internet was out. We suspected that it was a topographical problem, but the potential stress of losing our link to the outside world just added to our sour moods.

We’ve now moved on to Cala Tarida and have recuperated enough to begin enjoying life again. I’ve cut away as much of the line as possible and am convinced that the remaining frayed bits aren’t causing problems. The diesel continues to leak out at a rate of 1/4 litre per day but we know that it must stop soon. Our internet came back to life as soon as the cliffs got smaller.

Did I mention how beautiful it is here?

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

15 Litres of Greasy Yellow Hell

No sooner had I posted the last blog saying something like “thoroughly enjoying ourselves in Denia” than Patrick says “let’s fill up the gas tank from the jerrycans to have a full tank for the trip to Ibiza.” It was almost 9 p.m., the sun was setting, the temperatures were cooling, and we had not yet had dinner. But it’s always good to get those jobs done with before settling down for the evening, right?

We added almost 15 litres to the tank before we heard that characteristic gurgling / burping noise that tells us the tank is full. I went to start dinner while Patrick cleaned up.

When Patrick entered the aft cabin, he says “I smell diesel.” Cue menacing 3-note musical passage of doom.

We immediately opened the sliding hatch that exposes the fuel gauge sensor, which was repositioned in Aguadulce a few weeks ago in an attempt to get more realistic readings from the gauge (it was always reading ¾ full). Diesel was weeping out in waves around the seal. Patrick began frantically tightening the screws and discovered that one of them turned in the void, digging into nothing at all. The other three screws were tight. I pulled back the mattresses and placed dishtowels everywhere to protect the bedding. Clearly, the gauge was badly seated.

This is when we had the bad idea to take out the screws to see what was going on. As Patrick unscrewed the loose screw, a geyser of diesel gushed up to a height of about 15 cm. He put his thumb over the spout and after much kerfuffle we managed to get the screw back in place and the leak reduced to a more manageable hemorage.

We realized we had a big job on our hands so we quickly washed the diesel off our hands and arms and began shifting all the bedding and mattresses to the forward cabin. We then unscrewed the wood planks that cover the gas tank to have a proper access to the problem. The boat started to look like a war zone.

We knew we needed to reduce the pressure on the tank by draining some of the fuel away. We decided to try to siphon off some of the diesel by using our new fuel pump given to us by new sailor friend Johannes in Aguadulce. We stuck the intake tube about 1 meter down into the tank fill hole, plugged the pump into the 12v socket and...(cue sound of crickets)...nothing. No, not nothing. A small click, then nothing. We soon realized we had blown the fuse of the 12 v socket. We reset the fuse and tried again. Same thing. When we pulled the pump tube out of the tank fill tube, it was dry. It wouldn’t have worked anyway. (But Johannes, any ideas of what to try now? It worked so well in Aguadulce !)

Our next trick was to drain off some of the diesel through the fuel filter assembly. This was messy and we probably only managed to capture about half of the diesel in the collection of bowls and cups placed under the filter in the small and irregular spaces available. After what felt like a very long time, the hemorage finally slowed then stopped. It was now 2 a.m. and we still hadn’t eaten dinner.

With the pressure off, we could finally remove the fuel gauge sensor to see what the problem was. The problem was evident: 5 screws, 7 holes. Apparently, the technician in Aguadulce, in repositioning the sensor, created new holes when he screwed it back in place. When the gauge was seated, it managed to cover one of the unused holes, but one was left open to the air. We took photos in disbelief, rescrewed it correctly, covered the patient, and left it for the morning. (What? It IS morning already…).

With 4 or 5 buckets full of diesel, paper towels, sponges, towels, and bowls hauled outside, I began the nasty job of cleaning the greasy diesel off the tank and bilges. The odor was too strong to leave it and just go to bed. I used my Spanish “Fairy” dishwashing liquid, which seems to have a good reputation among cruisers for cleaning up diesel. When I was in college, I worked summers at the Texas A&M Oil Spill Control School in Galveston, Texas, moving boats around to demonstration sites and cleaning up oil spill tanks after student exercises involving dumping a variety of oil into the tanks and trying to contain the spill with absorbent pads or chemical dispersants. What miracle product did we use to clean up crude oil spills? Dawn Dishwashing Liquid, of course. Best stuff ever. Fairy did an okay job, but I would have paid big money for a little Dawn that night.

Patrick limped off to the shower at 3 a.m. I took a rapid sponge bath in the cockpit and made dinner (ham and cheese for him, corn flakes for me). We re-shifted the aft-cabin mattresses to the saloon and dug out a place to sleep in the forward cabin.

The next morning, we went to see the Jeanneau dealer here in Denia and asked to have a technician come by to advise us on what kind of product we could use to fill in the two extra holes, something that works on plastic and doesn’t mind being soaked regularly in diesel. The tech said that Kent’s Assembly Adhesive MS Polymere Multi-usage silicone was the right way to go, and he resealed the gauge using the correct holes this time. He also helped us chase out the air bubble from the fuel lines caused by our using the fuel filter to drain off the diesel. (I am still keeping my fingers crossed that we don’t have some lingering air bubble waiting to choke the motor…). After 24-hours of drying time for the silicone, we timidly refilled the tank from the jerrycan and declared the leak fixed.

The diesel odor lingered. I looked under the floor boards in the bilges again and saw a new puddle of diesel where I had already cleaned ! I quickly realized that there was still much more diesel hiding UNDER the fuel tank and the water tank and in the labyrinth of bilges and drains around the motor compartment, and that it was slowly making itself known each time the boat rocked.

With me watching the bilges, Patrick began rocking the boat outside by leaning in then out from the shrouds, like a kid on a swingset (or seesaw?). The small puddle turned into sloshing waves, and I realized there was more than could be simply wiped up with a sponge.

Patrick pulled out his trusty hand pump that we use for oil changes and we fit a small plastic tube into the larger existing tube to give us a long and flexible intake to snake under the tanks and into the bilge drains. Thus armed, we sucked out a mind-boggling 5 litres more ! After getting out all of the diesel, we decided it was best to flood the area with Fairy liquid in hot water, followed by more rocking the boat. (I’m sure we amused the spectators but no one asked any stupid questions). The odor was still fairly strong, so I attacked again with Don Limpio (Mr. Clean). This time, we were sure, we had pumped out all of the diesel and the odor had disappeared. We slept in the forward cabin again to give the aft cabin time to air out with all of the boards up.

This morning, everything was fresh and dry. As I prepared for a big shopping trip, I pulled up one of the floor boards in the galley to make an inventory of our cans and bottles stored there and… you can guess...DIESEL EVERYWHERE. How could that be??? I already checked that compartment earlier and there was nothing !!! I took everything out, one can at a time, dripping diesel and threw everything onto old newspapers in the cockpit (note: a collection of old newspapers is mandatory cruising kit.) I opened up all of the floorboards in the area and found diesel in 3 other compartments. I called Patrick and his pump back into action and we drained off another 2 litres of a frothy panaché of diesel and Don Limpio. Re-fairy liquid, re-Don Limpio, re-dry, wash the cans and bottles one by one, replace.

But wait… this story just keeps getting better !

A six-pack of coke in its plastic wrapper was thoroughly soaked in diesel. I took a kitchen knife to cut away the plastic and, with the greasy diesel everywhere, the knife slipped and pierced one of the cans. A coke geyser sprayed out but I managed to get my thumb on it fairly quickly. I moved the can into the kitchen sink (bad idea) and it slipped out of my hand. Now the can was REALLY angry and spewed everywhere, like a backyard water toy, spinning and spraying. I took it full in the face first, and groping half-blind, finally managed to grab it and crack it open to release the rest of the pressure. When the battle was over, the sight was truly impressive: small droplets of coke over ½ the saloon ceiling, the curtains, the aft cabin door and wall, the companion ways walls and stairs, and the bathroom door. Did I really need this? I’m just sorry Patrick wasn’t around to see the spectacle.

We are exhausted but we THINK we have finally sopped up the most of the 15 litres we lost. Three days later, I am still finding little coffee-spoon sized puddles here and there and I suspect the battle will continue for quite awhile. We both look like we’ve been in a fight with angry cats with our arms scratched from the wooden compartment hatches into the bilges around the tank and those bloody cut-off tie wraps (why do we insist on cutting them off? Why not just leave those soft dangly bits as they are?) Patrick had a migraine last night from the diesel fumes and I felt like vomiting this morning.

Of course we are complaining to Jeanneau about the technician in Aguadulce who made two extra holes for us. The technician created the problem when the boat was still under warranty, but now the boat is no longer under warranty as the Denia technician tries to repair the mistakes of his colleague. We are arguing with Jeanneau to take this into account, as well as the 2 extra nights we had to spend in port to fix the problem.

Bright side? I have the cleanest bilges ever. Lessons learned? Watch technicians like a hawk, even if it makes them uncomfortable.

Addendum: Bright side Number 2 !! The email written to Jeanneau France got immediate results !! They are going to pay for the work here in Denia, even though the boat in officially no longer under warranty, AND they are going to reimburse us for our extra 2 nights here in the port. Woo Hoo !!

Patrick says we need a vacation.

Just checked the weather for tomorrow. No wind, or light wind in the nose. Oh well – we’ll have to motor most of the way. We have too much diesel on our hands anyway.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Cartegena to Denia

We left Cartegena with light winds perfectly in the nose and “motor-sailed” along the coast. Other sailors motor-sailed directly into the wind and swell, while we tried to keep the main somewhat filled, which still required us to veer off at a 25 – 30 degree angle. It’s better for the sail and speed but not so good for the course. Heard on the radio: 34 people on a rubber boat somewhere in the vicinity of Cartegena. Keep an eye out, etc. Patrick saw a sea turtle. So much for the excitement for the day. After a demoralizing short-tack of 20 miles, we finally rounded the Palos headland and took a northerly turn up the coast, which finally allowed us to cut the motor and really sail, making 6 knots on a smooth sea for the next 20 miles. We anchored in the Torrevieja harbor just at the entrance where the pilot book says that anchoring is officially prohibited but tolerated. As we timidly rounded the corner to see what it looked like, we saw 4 other sailboats anchored and lots of space for us. Very calm night.

Watermelon break at the helm.
The weather report called for “sand haze” today. We had what now seems to be a typical day of Med sailing: calm and motor sailing for 2 hours, followed by excellent sailing for another 2 hours, followed by the wind building rapidly from 12 to 15 knots. This happens over a period of about 20 minutes. NOW is the time to put TWO reefs in the main. By the time you finish this exercise, the winds will be up to 20 knots. We were also treated to a crossed sea swell that was like hitting speed bumps on the highway. We sailed in this uncomfortable way for the next 4 hours. I read in the pilot that we could anchor off the beach of Campello with the jetty from the marina offering protection from the east winds. No such luck. As we reached Campello, the beach was completely roped off for swimmers up to the entrance of the harbor and there wasn’t even any place to shelter from the winds to take the sails down. We dropped the main and let it sit in its lazyjacks while we wobbled along the deck to put the fenders on. I tried calling on the vhf to see if the marina (small, private) had space for us but they didn’t answer. As we headed in, two marineros were waiting for us and signaled us to pull in to a berth next to the fuel station. They had seen us on the water and prepared an easy entry spot for us. The price was steep (39 euros) for the few hours we intended to stay, but we were both very happy to have a place for the night out of the wind. Weather update: thunderstorm warning with gale-force gusts. Skies steel grey. Very happy to be here indeed.

Lots of fish farms in this area.  Well marked but almost always placed on a direct line between your two ports.
To make up for the difficult day, Neptune and Eole gave us one of those rare, perfect sailing days that took us to the beautiful Cala Mascarat. We waited until the winds turned a bit southerly in the afternoon to leave Campello, and although we were on a close reach, we didn’t have to tack and sailed at 5 knots on a smooth sea the whole afternoon. Just as we arrived, we crossed the Greenwich Meridian, passing from West to East. (After a bit of study, we realized that we cross the Greenwich meridian each time we go from our home in Brittany to Paris, but that’s much less fun than crossing it at sea.) The Cala Mascarat was completely camouflaged in the cliffs and we triple-checked the gps positions as we pulled up blindly up to where it was supposed to be. Slowly we saw a patch of turquoise water appear around the corner that led into a small (1-2 boat max !) cala, perfect for the evening. Anchor down, photos, drinks, splashing feet in the 24 degree water. This is why we came to the Med. Around 2 a.m., the rocking and rolling woke us up. The swell had begun to wrap around the headland and enter the cala. We didn’t feel like trying out the new flopper stoppers at this hour, and the swell wasn’t so bad that we could sleep, although your could only really sleep on your back or stomach.

We allowed ourselves to sleep in a bit and took off expecting to motor sail at least half of the day. We were pleasantly surprised with 11 knot winds on a beam reach that grew to 16-19 knots winds on a broad reach, allowing us to cruise along at 7 knots ! I saw two moon fish (weird creatures). As we rounded Cabo de Nao, the winds slowly slacked off and we finished the last two hours motoring along some of the most beautiful cliffs we’ve seen. We pulled into the large, modern port of Denia and promptly decided to stay for at least 4 days. The showers are THE nicest anywhere on the Spanish Med coast. The quays are concrete and very high, so we had to use our trusty plank even with a stern-to berth. It ain’t cheap here, but it’s a great place to wait for the hop to the Balearics, with a charming old town and lots of ship chandlers around (although a bike is very useful here).

We left La Linea almost exactly one month ago now. We have sailed approximately 65% of the time, although we have sailed on a few days where others probably would have waited or preferred to motor. Our average cost per night for this first month is about 20 Euros, although there is a significant jump from May to June prices. We hope to avoid marinas as much as possible in the islands, of course. We’ve seen some gorgeous sites, put the boat and ourselves through the necessary warm-up routine, made new friends, met up with old friends, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. And now - off to the islands !
Posted on Sunday, June 11, 2017 | Categories:

Thursday, 8 June 2017


As we pulled into Cartagena, we saw a couple of friends waving and taking photos. Pulling into port is stressful already but being photographed while doing it added a new dimension to the experience. After a few big nervous smiles and waves, we realized we had to ignore them and stay concentrated. The first picture below tells the typical arrival story: Maria with the binoculars trying to find the marinero (port assistant) who is supposed to show us a free spot and Patrick with his head thrown back, looking up at the wind vane to see which way the wind will push us as we manoeuver through the labyrinth of narrow passages.

After a successful “popa al muelle” tie-up (stern-to), we could finally greet Victor and Dorette appropriately. We met them last year in Cadiz and sailed down the coast to La Linea together. They continued on and wintered over in Cartagena. It was great to see them again and to have local guides.

Patrick has really become quite good with stern-to docking even though my face shows a bit of concern for that last turn in…
Dorette's strawberry lemonade hits the spot.
We stayed in Cartagena for 5 days, but we only managed to sight-see on 2 occasions and left before we felt like we had seen everything. Laundry, grocery shopping, and general boat maintenance take up a mind-boggling amount of time.  My first task the next morning was to climb the mast to untangle our spinnaker halyard.  I quite enjoy going up the mast and the view is always interesting.  

Mareda from 14 meters up.

Cartagena is a very bike-friendly town with bike paths around many areas and they seem to be tolerant of rule-breakers like us who ride at a walking pace through the pedestrian areas. We went to the municipal market, which was a bit of a disappointment. Richard and Rosanna, our English / American friends that we met in Almerimar, pulled into Cartagena the next day and they went to a different market, which they reported was equally disappointing. We were saved from certain starvation by the huge Carrefour market, an easy 10-minute bike ride away. One of our favorite tricks, which seems to surprise some cruisers, is to have groceries delivered to the boat. Most large grocery stores will deliver if you buy more than 100 Euros worth of groceries.  For Carrefour, you have to go to the service desk and fill in a form to obtain a Carrefour card (which they give to you immediately), and then you can use it at any Carrefour in Spain.  The Carrefour delivery guy in Cartagena delivered everything directly to the boat – we didn’t even have to meet him at the gate !

The other task we completed, thanks to a suggestion from neighbors Jackie and Chris on Synergy, was to sign up for the Balearic Islands "Ports IB" reservation system.  This on-line system is used to reserve berths or mooring buoys in the islands at the municipal docks (much cheaper). We had heard that the system was confusing and that we should tackle this job well before getting to the islands.  It wasn't so bad, but a good spanish dictionary helps.  The first trick is to find the registration form, which is somewhat hidden in the "make a reservation" section.  It throws up a page that starts asking you questions about which port you want, your boat's length, etc.  Blow past all of that and go down to the bottom part where is says "new user?" and this will take you to the registration form.  The form itself is straightforward except for the last bit that asks for some documents that don't translate into anything recognizable.  We just threw them everything we had (and the documents that are typically requested when you register at any port): photocopy of ID, photocopy of boat registration, and photocopy of boat insurance.  Less than 24 hours later, we received an email saying that we were successfully registered. 

Lazy photojournalist time: here are some miscellaneous tourism photos with no commentary or description. Much history in Cartagena. Will read about it when I’m back home next winter. (Yes, I do realize that’s the wrong way around, but I’ll try harder next year to study for the tourism bits and not just the navigation bits.)

Posted on Thursday, June 08, 2017 | Categories:

Monday, 5 June 2017

Halyard Havoc and More About Refugees

After a calm night at anchor in the harbor of Aquilas, we knew we were in for a calm day for the 30 mile sail to Cartagena, so we decided it was time to break out the gennaker. After much heaving and gruntinig to extract the puffy sack from the forward cabin and after rigging all the pulleys and lines needed to make it work, we discovered that the spinnaker halyard that we use to hoist the gennaker was somehow trapped in between the genoa halyard and the mast. It had clearly been this way since we left Gibraltar. With the binoculars I could tell something was wrong but with no details. A photo from my trusty Olympus Tough Camera set to 16 megapixels revealed all once the image was blown up on the computer screen.

Apparently, when we hoisted the genoa, we didn’t think about the spinnaker halyard because all seemed clear, and, well, we just didn’t think about it. Our options were to either take down the genoa headsail far enough to pass the spinnaker halyard around, or to climb the mast and pass the spinnaker halyard around the genoa halyard by hand, neither of which I was keen to do at anchor.

We headed off, disgruntled, in light winds and prepared to put up the main sail, more for show and a little shade than for its wind-capturing abilities. Today was to be the day when all of the halyards conspire against us. The main sail halyard had wrapped itself around the deck lamp on the front of the mast and was, as we say back home, “stuck but good”. I must have left too much slack in it after taking down my riding sail and the feeble winds in the anchorage were just enough to loop it around the lamp. We tried a variety of tricks, turning the boat into the wind, to the side, to the rear with no success. Finally we used our longest boat hook and Patrick climbed our 2 mast steps to reach as high as possible to try to swing it out and around the lamp. After a few painful attempts, he managed to loosen it enough that we could pull it around. No fun, but no harm done either. Afterwards, I thought another method would be to hoist a fender (with lines attached to both ends) and the bulk of the fender would force the halyard to go out and around. Anyway, it’s always something.

And then we were in for 7 hours of motor “sailing”.

Heard on the radio: 20 people adrift on a rubber raft approaching Cartagena, exact position unknown. Everyone asked to keep an eye out for them and report any sightings.

I knew that the Med was having a refugee crisis. We hear about it on the news in France often, but I had no idea of the extent, and no idea that Spain was on the front lines, although it makes geographic sense. Here in Europe, we always hear about Italy’s crisis, but judging by the radio calls, Spain is responding to daily rescues.

The recommendation for sailors who see a refugee raft is to stay as far away as possible and to call the authorities to report their position. When the refugees see boats, even a small sailboat like ours, they assume it is safer than the rubber raft they are in, and they have been known to jump into the water and try to swim to your boat. More extreme stories report that the refugees set fire to their raft, trying to force you to respond. But rescuing them puts YOU in danger. Our sailboat, for example, is stability rated for only about 8 adults. Putting 20 panicked adults on board risks capsizing your boat and there’s no way to control such a situation by saying “women and children only” in that kind of drama.

Here in Cartagena, a Dutch friend who wintered over began working as a volunteer for an NGO that deals with these refugees when they arrive. She teaches basic Spanish, but mostly ends up translating from French or English into Spanish for the various aid organizattions. She has some horrific stories about what the refugees are fleeing and what they went through to reach the Spanish coast. It seems crazy to most of us simply watching the drama unfold on the tv why they keep coming here when they are almost always picked up by the coast guard and returned back to where they came from.

In fact, it’s not that simple. First of all, as my friend points out, most of the ones making the journey don’t have television and don’t know the real risks or what happens. There seem to be two or three outcomes depending on where the refugees are from and their situations. They typically destroy all of their identity documents so that it is not possible to easily identify where they come from. Anyone who is clearly Moroccan usually gets sent back since it’s close by. But often the authorities simply inform the refugee that he does not have the right to stay on Spanish soil and that he must go home. Huh? No plane ticket, no bus ticket, no rubber dinghy… just “go home”. Then there are the refugees that ask for asylum and begin a long and uncertain process of trying to legalize their claims to stay. Spain is a particularly attractive landing place for refugees since it is faster to qualify for health care, get jobs in the fishing or agriculture industries, and nationality is attributed to foreign spouses of Spanish nationals after only 3 years. My friend says most of the fruits and vegetables grown in Spain and eaten all throughout Europe were almost certainly picked by workers who were once refugees. So many of the refugees are getting through and are able to eek out a living once the ordeal of the crossing is over (and much to the benefit of the European economy, I suspect).

Patrick and I asked ourselves what we would do if we saw a boat, or worse, a body. It’s hard to accept that we are here living a dream in a place where people are literally dying all around us. My knee-jerk reaction is to say we’ll leave the Med and go somewhere else out of some confused sense of solidarity, but how would this help anyone? As we make our way along the coast, we get further away from the passage points and the refugee crisis will likely fade into a scrapbook memory. It leaves me feeling sad and helpless and a little bit ashamed. 

And now, back to our vacation.  News from Cartagena forthcoming... we thoroughly enjoyed it.