Our friend Catherine arrived in Alicante on 29 th July and we set off the next day heading south west to our next port of Torrevieja. After an initial hour of motoring, the wind came up and we had a splendid sail on a broad reach the rest of the way to Torrevieja, a sail of 32 miles. We berthed on the waiting pontoon whilst checking in and were told that for the one night we could stay alongside it which was ok except being rocked by all the boats in and out of the marina on a busy Sunday night. There was a lot of noise from a stage set up on the harbour side opposite to us but we later found out that we were excellently positioned to hear the concert later that evening which was Earth, Wind and Fire! All for free! The next day was on to Tomas Maestre marina a distance of 28 miles and we had to access it via a bridge that opened every two hours. We aimed to ensure we made the 1600 bridge but we had such a good wind of force 4 that we got there in time for the 1400 bridge. Again we tied up on the waiting pier but were unable to raise anyone on the radio and could not get inside the marina fence to access the office. Pat managed to hail a Marinero working on the inside and he let me in to go to the office and we eventually got a berth. Unfortunately they did not give us a key to get to the toilets or out of the gate so another long hot walk to the office round the marina to get one. The coastline in this part of Spain is totally full of unattractive tower block apartments and hotels for mile after mile. This marina borders on an inland sea and we had an evening drink overlooking the enclosed waters which was pleasant. However, the sand spit of land between lake and sea is totally crowded with buildings and the sand covered in sunbathing people by the hundred.We escaped the marina by the 1000 bridge and set sail for Cartagena some 17 miles south around Cabo de Palos. Again the wind came up and we had a downwind sail in force five winds to the huge harbour where we had already booked a space for the night. Since we arrived relatively early we were able to explore the town which is truly beautiful with many spectacular Roman remains and exquisite buildings. A lot of restoration had been done since we last came five years ago which was good to see. It is a good job we did our sight seeing that day as a huge P and O cruise ship slipped in over night with thousands of tourists the next day. All we had to do that morning was some shopping before we set off for a short sail of 17 miles to Mazarron. There were two harbours at Mazarron and the pilot book suggested the most westerly of the two. Having had another splendid sail down and arrived in the now force five wind we found that harbour full. The anchorage off the beach was not an attractive option in the rough sea but a local Spanish boat suggested we try the other harbour which was the main fishing harbour but with some yacht berths. It was only a mile around the point but being upwind we bounced our way round in the choppy sea. We saw the end of a pontoon empty and went for it, hoping that it was not a berth for a trip boat or something. It turned out to be perfectly ok and once the harbour master came back on duty at five we were able to pay our dues. The only downside was the noise from adjacent bars which started at about 2200 hrs and finished about 0700 the next morning. I was by this time sleeping on deck as the temperatures in Spain were soaring in August and the humidity was so high, but I still managed some sleep in the noise. We also managed to get a swim in the sea as the beach was close by even though it was virtually impossible to find a space between the bodies on the beach or in the sea!We left early for the nearly 40 mile sail to Garrucha the next day . We started sailing well on a beam reach but the wind died in the middle of the day. It recovered later more from ahead of us and we sailed close hauled to the harbour on a very hot sticky day. Once moored alongside in the harbour we melted in the stifling heat and retired to a bar to sip beer to cool down and get Wi Fi . Another uninspiring town which we were not upset to leave early the next morning. The next leg to Almeria was some 50 miles as we had been unable to secure a berth at the intermediate port of San Jose. Initially the coast was full of buildings as we had come to expect, but as we rounded Cabo de Gata the scenery changed to one of mountains and empty coastline. One notable headland before Almeria was called Black Head and it had a striking white rock inclusion at its base which stood out stark against the black rock.It was a hot windless day and we had to motor the whole way 51 miles, but at least moving along kept us a bit cooler. Approaching the harbour the town looked sad and neglected, but the yacht club harbour and facilities were very good indeed. How wrong we were and we soon saw a beautifully kept interesting town with wide tree lined boulevards with some wonderful fountains and statues.We decided to stay two days and explore the castle and town as well as spending some hours in the air conditioned club bar and restaurant. Although the castle involved a hot walk up it was worth the effort and inside the moorish style building there were many cool gardens and water features where one could stop and rest and admire the views over the town.Much money had been spent in protecting and restoring the heritage industries of the town such as the old railway which brought minerals to the harbour and was now a feature over the main tree lined plaza. There was a Thomson cruise ship in the harbour so clearly it is an up coming tourist destination and we enjoyed our stay.From Almeria we sailed to the new harbour development of Almerimar where we had reserved a berth. The coast was again what we called the Costa Concrete and we had a mixture of sailing and motoring for the 18 miles to Almerimar. The harbour was pleasant enough but very purpose built and our berth was amongst buildings that had not been sold or let out and were slowly deteriorating. The good side was that we could again walk to a beach and cool off in the sea having picked our way through the throngs again. We were not sorry to leave Almerimar for the 45 mile leg to Marina Del Este, however we had tried to reserve a berth there only to be told they do not take bookings but you have to ring at 0900 hrs on the day. Since we left Almerimar before 0900 hrs it was difficult as we would have no alternative option once there. I rang at 0900, 0930, 1000, and 1100 only to get a Spanish answer phone upon which I eventually left a message. We arrived early at 1400 hrs after 49 miles . I asked for a berth for two nights as it was our wedding anniversary the next day and they said did you ring for a reservation that morning. Of course I said yes I did several times and we got our berth! It is a beautiful small marina tastefully built with many nice restaurants around it.We were able to swim from the small beach , not quite as crowded as other places, and we chose a lovely restaurant looking over the harbour and sea for our anniversary meal the next day. Together with Catherine we all had a fabulous meal watching the moon set through the palm trees on a magical night.After Marina Del Este we set course for Caleta de Velez a sail of 21 miles. There was little wind but a huge swell coming from wind further away up the Mediterranean. We rolled our way there and got a berth in the yacht club moorings . The harbour was a large fishing harbour and full of rubbish which all seemed to be driven by the wind down to our end. However, a lot of work was going on to improve the town and harbour and no doubt it will get better. Walking along the beach front later in the day we discovered it was a clean tidy beach, well maintained and backed by a row of very well built expensive houses and apartments. Clearly it was a sought after resort for holidays. Our final leg with Catherine was across the bay of Malaga some 25 miles to the large harbour of Benalmadena where I had tried to reserve a berth.I was not sure if I had been successful but on arrival I boldly said yes I have a reservation and was allocated a berth in the very full harbour. The berth we were given turned out not to have a lazy line as it was broken and after tying temporarily to two other boats the side of us we went and pleaded for another space. Luckily another boat had left and we actually got a better berth this time well away from the crowded area and noise. We chose Benalmadena because of its proximity to Malaga airport for Catherine to leave but the marina is a massive conglomeration of weird style apartment blocks surrounded by bars and retail outlets around which the boats are moored. It is rough, noisy and pretty unpleasant so we kept away from it all as much as possible except for food shopping.This leg from Alicante was another 302 nautical miles over the two weeks making a total this year logged of 1786 so far. Pat and I now have to make our way the remaining distance to Gibraltar and there await a suitable window of wind and weather to exit through the straights back into the Atlantic and on towards Portugal. Going west out of the straights is not easy because there is always a flow of water into the Mediterranean of up to two knots so even with a fair tide you may be fighting against it. In addition the winds are more normally westerly and you may have to wait for favourable east winds which sadly build up choppy seas against the incoming current. Ah well it is all in the life of the cruising sailor!
Monday, 11 September 2017
Saturday, 2 September 2017
We had a fast sail up to the Gibraltar rock in the now force five wind and gybed the sail as we rounded the south end at Europa point to head more north up into the bay. It is interesting to note that the Europa point lighthouse is the only one outside the UK which is managed by Trinity House.The seas were large and confused as we rounded the point. We were sailing well up the west side into Gibraltar bay through the dozens of anchored ships when vicious gusts of wind in excess of 30 knots peeling off the top of the rock hit us side on. The humid air from Morocco was driven west by the wind over the rock causing cloud to form on the top and violent gusts to cascade down the west side across the bay. We still had our largest Genoa jib set and I had to run off downwind sharply to avoid being laid over. As we tried to reef the Genoa it got fouled with the spinnaker halyard at the mast top and refused to roll! We flew westward, luckily with still enough sea room in the bay, until I got the tangle sorted and we could safely reef the Genoa. The sky was black and foreboding as we headed for La Linea marina in the Spanish area just north of Gibraltar airport. There is a sandy bay at La Linea and rather than try and enter an unknown marina in these conditions, I anchored off the shore hoping things would calm down. The wind still varied in strength and direction from 10 to 30 knots and it was uncomfortable in the bay even though it was out of the biggest of the seas so we decided to go for the marina for a night. We had logged 24 miles.
La Linea was an uninspiring town of blocks of flats as far as the eye could see and bordering the Gibraltar airport runway. The marina was ok for a night but their Wi Fi was not working so we decided to go anyway the next morning without an up to date forecast. That morning the cloud was still over the rock and it was grey but with lighter winds. The predicted favourable tide did not start until 11.00 so we set off about 10.30 and headed across the bay towards Algeciras to go into the straights . Many ferries operate between Algeciras and Ceuta in Morocco and we stayed on engine negotiating the anchored ships and ferries until we had cleared the bay. One high speed ferry coming from Ceuta direction appeared to be heading to pass us astern as we had right of way and I could see there were no anchored ships that would cause him to deviate so was confident of our safety. He continued on course to pass astern until some 100 feet away when he turned to his port side deliberately towards us. For a few seconds I thought he would turn back then when collision looked likely I turned sharply to starboard away from his path only feet away. As he passed us I had to continue my turn a full 360 degrees so that my bow faced the wash as I did not want the massive wave to come over the stern. As it was the wave washed right over our deck and up the windscreen as he receded into the distance at about 30 knots. I have no doubt that he was laughing as we shouted obscenities at him unheard of course. He then turned back to his original course to starboard that he would have been on had he not aimed at us. I believe there is a lot going on around Gibraltar between the British and the Spanish which causes such dangerous and unnecessary behaviour on the shared water between them.
Once out of the bay we set course for Tarifa some 15 miles away and with the now easterly wind we made good progress sailing west as the tide started to run in our favour. Tarifa is almost at the narrowest part of the straights and making seven knots over the ground we got there at about 13.30 and turned north west to head for Barbate .
We could see that the sea further out in the straights was covered in white crests as was the sea ahead and it looked like wind over tide effects but that should not be with the tide with us. We were soon to find that we had at least one knot of tide against us caused by the enormous amount of Atlantic water feeding into the Mediterranean at this time of year to replace evaporated water. The tide remained stubbornly against us all the way to Barbate but the wind strengthened to force five to six behind us and we had a superb sail all the way for a logged 40 miles as the blue water changed to the green Atlantic waters. All day we had heard on the radio distress messages about missing boats with maybe 30 people aboard. The narrow straights has become one of the favoured routes for refugees from Africa to Europe and we hoped not to see any. One ship, the Zenith Spirit, picked up a life raft just 15 miles from us with five survivors in it. They claimed to have come from Morocco and had been adrift for five days with no water food or engine! A Moroccan war ship made course for the rescuing ship and said they would take the survivors back to Morocco to who knows what fate. Poor souls had endured all that time for nothing but at least they were alive as they could have drifted well out into the Atlantic with the easterly wind and never been seen again. Our port of Barbate was a well sheltered transit port where we rested for the night before moving on to Cadiz.
Cadiz was about 35 miles northwest around Cape Trafalgar. This Cape, so famous in our history, is treacherous as the cliffs and lighthouse of the Cape look so easy to pass but beneath the surface shallows and rocks abound making it necessary to stay well offshore.
How Nelson and his ships navigated safely around here is a miracle. The wind was very light and we motored nearly all the way to Cadiz bay still experiencing the tidal stream effect of the day before with a tide of one to one and a half knots against us. Approaching the entrance channel to Cadiz we saw what appeared to be a block of flats being towed in front of us. We still have no idea what it was but something that big was very daunting in front of you. We rounded the buoys and entered Cadiz harbour late afternoon after a logged 48 miles of very tedious motoring.
It was time for a couple of days rest after our exit from the Med. The old city of Cadiz was only a short walk away from our harbour and we set off in early morning mist over the sea which cleared by the time we reached the old city walls. The old city dates back to 16 th century although much was rebuilt in the 18 th century. We managed to walk all around the walls in the morning by which time it was getting very hot and we ducked into the Cathedral for a tour in the cool.
The Cathedral is huge but quite plain and uninspiring inside and much of the sandstone roof is starting to crumble. The notable features are the fine carvings, statues and paintings by many famous Spanish artists over the centuries. Walking then through the middle of the town you wind through narrow streets lined with fine houses and an assortment of interesting small shops beneath them. A huge market building occupies a central square and it is filled with fish sellers exhibiting a massive range of Atlantic fish. Many plazas were planted with trees and flowers creating shady walks through the town
We looked for a decent restaurant but many seemed very touristic with fast food but we did spot one near the town main beach which was small, clean and seemed well presented. After looking in amazement at the numbers of people on the beach squeezed onto a small patch of sand we retired to the restaurant for a late lunch. It was a good choice and we enjoyed a superb meal with a grilled tuna steak for main course. Our desert of course had to be accompanied by local sweet sherry which was fabulous. Cadiz was said by Lord Byron to be one of the most beautiful cities in the World. What it was like in his day I do not know but now it is certainly well worth a visit.
After three days rest in Cadiz it was time to move on to what would be our last Spanish port of this year. The town of Chipiona at the entrance to the river that goes up to Seville was about 20 miles north and said to be a pleasant holiday town. Light westerly winds gave us reasonable sailing speed until later when a foul tide set against us again and we motored into the shallow estuary. We berthed in the marina which seemed well maintained but later we found it was not all as clean and good as we thought. We had logged 22 miles. The town was packed with Spanish tourists spread across the beaches but the town itself was scruffy and full of litter. The interesting features of the town were the lighthouse built in1862 which is surprisingly very tall considering the land here is totally flat. I guess it acts as a guiding light from far out to sea towards the river estuary for the many ships passing up to Seville.
At low tide you can see areas off the beaches that are enclosed by rock walls that are ancient fish traps. Some are believed to be from Roman times or earlier and are now preserved as part of the ancient history of the area. Fish would come into the area at high water and could not escape as the tide went down although the water would slowly recede through small gaps in the walls leaving only small pools where the fish could be collected. We felt extremely hot in this town as the strong breeze over the land was about 37 degrees and it was like being in a fan oven on slow roast.
We had reached the last leg of this year, a straightforward sail of 110miles direct to Lagos in Portugal. A simple overnight sail due west along the Algarve and we had a good forecast for weather, wind and swell. We left mid morning from Chipiona because we did not wish to arrive too early at Lagos in the dark. We started with a wind astern of force four to five and were skipping along with only a slight swell. The winds decreased during the day as forecast and we had a mixture of sailing and motoring as the evening came on. Nearing the coast at Faro at dusk the wind died and we motored through a smooth though undulating sea. We had not seen much shipping traffic apart from some anchored off the Spanish port of Huelva but more fishing vessels appeared off Faro and we were kept occupied trying to work out what each craft was doing and how to safely pass them. We were ahead of plan on time and so we were going slowly as we watched many aircraft coming into Faro to land against the backdrop of lights on a very clear starlit night. Suddenly I saw across our path a row of plastic buoys that could only be floats for a net. They were totally unlit and only showed up in the glare from our navigation lights. As they noisily hit the bow causing much alarm to Pat, I hit the stop lever for the engine dreading a net entanglement on the propeller. Pelagia continued to drift forward amongst a gathering of the buoys on either side and we both thought we would be caught ourselves in the dark 5 miles off shore of Faro at about 11.00 p.m. We let the boat drift on and gradually the net and floats drifted away to our stern. It was some time later and with baited breath that I started the engine and found it ran sweetly. We had indeed had a lucky escape. The ships log however was not reading anymore and later I found the impeller underneath the bow was smashed beyond repair by the ropes of the net. This was a small price to pay for what would have been a long hard job to extricate ourselves. Unmarked nets are a curse on the Portuguese coasts and we certainly cursed them that night.
Very sensitive to fishing boats , the next hour was spent avoiding many as much as we could until their numbers diminished and we relaxed a little and had a cup of tea. Pat suddenly spotted a black cloud approaching and before she could ask what it was we were enveloped in thick damp fog unable even to see the end of the yacht. We resorted to radar and AIS to see if anything was around us and proceeded slowly into the disorientating gloom. Luckily there was not much shipping but one small fishing vessel passed very close after we saw him on radar and this misty apparition of lights glided down our starboard side only yards away. The fog came down at just after midnight and we had 30 miles to go to Lagos so we were both stressed out for the next six hours. None of the coastal lighthouses were visible and no shore lights until very nearly at Lagos when a mile away the town lights showed hazily through the gloom. A group of dolphins decided to accompany us on the last stretch and they were blowing and diving in the gloom right the side of Pelagia, as if to say we will guide you safely in. Relying on chart plotter and radar we steered for the harbour entrance encountering numerous small fishing boats on route. We saw at least two fishing floats pass a foot or so past our stern and we could do nothing to avoid them but trust to luck. Entering the harbour channel we slid slowly up channel in the dark to the waiting pontoon for the marina which was almost full but luckily we found just enough room on one end to tie up at 0600 hours Spanish time or 0500 Portuguese time after six hours of strain in the damp cockpit. We dropped into our bunks after a heavily whisky laced drink of tea and slept for a few hours.
That was not the ideal ending to our 2017 cruise but we and Pelagia had arrived safely after another leg of 276 miles making a total of 2062 miles for the season. We will now give her some well deserved attention before flying home and leaving her in Lagos until next season.
Tuesday, 25 July 2017
Pelagia’s cruise 2017 part four Menorca to Alicante
Leaving Mahon harbour after a few days was quite sad as we had enjoyed it tremendously but with our latest crew on board, Beverley and Ann, it was time to move on. The first leg was to be about 40 miles across to Mallorca. Once out of the long harbour and having waited for a Costa cruise ship to enter we set sail for the south east corner of Menorca in a pleasant following wind. Having sailed between the main island and the offlying Isle de Bel Aire we set course west. The wind remained astern and stable so we set the cruising chute and sailed gently for the next three hours. The wind then died to a whisper and we had to motor the remaining half of the way to Cala Ratjada harbour, a logged trip of 46.2 miles. As we entered we were waved to a berth on the outer harbour mole and it was obvious that a swell was rolling in the harbour and all the boats were rolling from side to side. Where such a swell was coming from was a mystery as the wind did not seem strong enough to cause it, however it rolled all night but a little less by morning. The town was pleasant with reasonable facilities and the harbour staff friendly. It was incredibly hot behind the harbour wall and we all sat in the harbour side bar with a beer until the sun started to sink.
A shorter trip the next day took us south west along the coast of Mallorca . Firstly we sailed but the early breeze died and we motored. A breeze came up on our beam about midday and we started to sail beautifully. The breeze gradually came further south and we had to put in two tacks to sail to our destination of Porto Colom where we had sailed 25 miles although the log was stuck again so did not record. I had chosen this place because of the enclosed nature of the bay where no swell should get in. The entrance was enchanting with fine houses and a stately lighthouse opening on a beautiful if somewhat crowded bay. A club Nautico boat and sailor met us and informed us we could not anchor as we wished but could use their buoys for mooring which was simple and easy and we were soon moored in a most delightful spot. It was very sheltered, calm and good swimming in the water which was now 26 degrees. We intended to push on the next day but decided to stay another day and explore the town especially as we could get the club boat to give us a lift ashore for free. Also we met another Hallberg Rassy owner moored next to us who was sadly now alone after his partner recently died and he told us how nice the place was when we shared a gin and tonic with him on our boat. We spent the second day walking to the local town and church which was being bedecked with netting decoration for their forthcoming festival of the boats service. More swimming occupied the afternoon to cool us down again.
Leaving Porto Colom the next morning there was a lively north easterly wind and we ran down the coast with the Genoa sail giving us good speed in the somewhat turbulent sea and force five to six winds. The first fifteen miles was all with the Genoa set on one side but the wind was such that we were getting set in towards the coast as we approached Salinas point. We carefully steered the yacht so that we avoided having to gybe just before the point and still stayed clear of the shallows . As we came round the point the wind was more on the beam and we ran up the coast with the wind gradually dying towards Rapita. We had been told that berths were difficult to get in this marina at this time of year and we certainly could not raise anybody on the radio so we went in and tied alongside a signed waiting pontoon. It was some time before a marinero came and ordered us out saying we would have to anchor outside until 4 p.m. then radio for a berth. The anchorage was a bit exposed and uncomfortable and we also needed a supermarket so we hoped we could get a berth later. Sure enough at 4 p.m. we were told to come in and were given a berth tied stern to the quay right at the harbour entrance. This was not easy or particularly comfortable as the now strong wind was blowing straight in on our beam. At least we berthed without a hitch whilst a Swiss boat coming in later alongside made a right hash of it and had no ropes or fenders prepared and all four persons on board seemed to have little idea what to do. With our crew and the marineros it all ended safely. However, we had a nights berth and we could shop even if the fee was the highest we had paid to date! The showers were very good so that made up for a lot. Rapita looked to be a very modern and unappealing place so it was good to leave early.
Another 20 mile sail was planned next up to El Arenal bay which is part of the great bay of Palma. We had little wind on the way but when we came to anchor the sea breeze set in and made it rather lumpy. The backdrop of town along the coast was continuous blocks of houses and hotels in high rise stretched along the wide sandy beach. At least we had plenty to watch as the sea thronged with water sports . The highlight was to see one of the Americas Cup catamarans racing up and down the bay sometimes up out of the water on its winged keel. There were also kite surfers alarming us by their desire to go so close to our rigging even though they were very good. A windsurfer also had a board with a keel such that it would ride up out of the water and fly at an incredible speed. The wind died at night and we were calm but a bit rolly all night.
Another 20 miles the next day across the bay of Palma took us to Santa Ponsa bay where a very sheltered anchorage allowed us to enjoy swimming and relaxing in fairly beautiful surroundings albeit with many other yachts.
I had decided on this bay as our last relaxing point in Mallorca because it was only five miles from Andraix port and we needed to get a berth in there as our last leaving place from Mallorca and we had to shop and water up for the trip to Ibiza. Again It is said to be near impossible to get a berth but we arrived early and got a good berth in the yacht Club. This again was eye wateringly expensive but it had excellent showers and a swimming pool included!
We left at first light for Ibiza island heading for a marina on the south east coast, a trip of about 60 miles. The wind was mostly easterly starting at force five to six but gradually easing during the day to force four. It was a stupendous sail and we made good time of about 10 hours. We hoped again that we could get a berth as the bay outside was very lumpy and after tying up at the reception quay we were granted a suitable berth in Santa Eulalia harbour. The prices in Ibiza island were even higher than in Mallorca, but what options did we have. The town was a very scruffy heavily built up area and we did not wish to explore too much. The aim was to do the 10 miles on to Ibiza town the next day where we hoped to get a berth to explore the beautiful old town of Ibiza. The sea conditions had deteriorated significantly overnight and we had a very wet bumpy ride downwind to Ibiza town. Apart from three cruise ships and many ferries in the harbour there were a plethora of other motor boats and yachts manoeuvring around. I called the marina for a berth, having received no reply to my e mailed request the previous day. After a long wait it was confirmed we could have a berth in 10 minutes time ! Oh what joy! Whilst waiting for our time to go in we heard yachts pleading for berths on the radio even resorting to stories of sick crew and run out of water, all to no avail they were told all berths were full. Once we got berthed up the next shock was the price. I thought I might have to take out a mortgage on the boat to pay the fee! How all the huge motor boats and yachts pay this extortionate amount we did not know, but it is certainly a place for the rich and famous.
Ibiza old town is very beautiful and walking the walls within the old fortress and wandering through the narrow cobbled streets is a treat that made it worth the money as well as having a tasty Spanish style lunch served amongst the tree covered walkways.
We had to leave the marina before 12 the next day or risk another extortionate fee and the marinero was around to make sure we had properly paid before we left. We motored out of he harbour amongst all manner of craft coming in or out and set course for the channel between Ibiza island and Formentera island. It felt worse than trying to cross the M 25 at rush hour with the added dimension of huge swell and wake from massive stinky motor cruisers. With all these craft heading the same way as us we began to wonder if there would be any room at all at our chosen destination anchorage. Luckily many of them found anchorages nearer than ours and it thinned out as we approached Sahona bay although there were still many boats anchored here. We found a spot close to the beach and dropped anchor into the unimaginably clear turquoise coloured water down into soft white sand.
Here we stayed for the next twenty four hours except for having to move anchor position because of an unreasonable Dutch sailor anchoring his yacht too close and refusing to move before nightfall. This was a relaxing swimming day prior to our passage to Alicante and was only marred by Ann getting stung by jellyfish which were of the type ironically named "Pelagia Noctiluca"!
Midday the next day we set sail for Alicante, an overnight passage of about 100 miles aiming to get there in daylight the following morning. Light breezes enabled us to sail a bit at first although slightly off our intended course. Periods of sailing were interspersed with periods of motoring when the wind fell lighter and the sea remained very calm. There was a high number of ships around particularly during the night but it helped pass the time on watch. The last 30 miles to Alicante was flat calm and we arrived off the harbour entrance at first light in the morning having logged 107 miles. Although we had booked a weeks berth at the marina, we were a day early and as they were full we had to stay on the reception pontoon for 24 hours until our berth was available. After our 18 hour passage we were happy to have a shower, just go out for a meal and then sleep! At the end of this stage we had completed another 335 miles so totalling 1484 so far this year.
Our crew man James Dick left us in Sciacca in Sicily and Pat and I then sailed the next day on to our last port in Sicily, Marsala, a sail of 43 miles. Marsala is of course famous for the fortified wine of that name which was first manufactured by an Englishman , John Woodhouse. Although our berth in the harbour was good with excellent facilities it was a long way into the centre of town. Pat and I started to walk it but the busy roads with no defined pavement scared us to death. We decided that we were not that keen to see the obviously dilapidated town and ducked into a small bar where we got coffee and a sweet Marsala. Using the Wi Fi in the bar we discovered that the wind pattern was perfect for our trip to Sardinia over the next few days so decided to leave in the morning and end our Sicilian adventure.
We left at first light from Marsala harbour and set course for the Egadi islands just west of Sicily. These islands are very high mountains in contrast to the low lying western end of Sicily and we could see the furthest island clearly as we left the harbour. However, the sun was bringing up a mist off the sea and before we had gone 10 miles we were plunged into thick fog with about 100 yards visibility. Worryingly there were a few small fishing boats about so we motored slowly with our eyes straining to see into the fog as it swirled around us. It lasted an hour by which time we were level with the last of the island group and the sun burned the fog off and exposed the sheer granite structure of the island in all its beauty.
At last we could set course safely for Sardinia and let our jangled nerves rest. A light following breeze established itself and setting our cruising chute gave us a speed of about four knots.
Pods of dolphins joined us on occasions one pod was eight individuals and they played with us for half an hour. We were able to keep that sail up all day and into the evening when the breeze became more fickle. We motored through the night making good speed but in a strange quartering sea the motion was not ideal for sleeping and the waves seemed larger than the wind strength warranted. The sunset was perfect as was the sunrise and no repetition of the early morning fog. Many ships in the night kept us busy checking our safe clearances using AIS and radar and it was soon morning.
A clear approach to Sardinia helped us negotiate the rocky islets on the south east corner and make our way into Villasimius marina, a very well protected harbour. We last visited here five years ago on our way across the Mediterranean and the marina has improved and developed since then.
We had logged 175 miles in 29 hours and neither of us had slept much so after hosing the boat down and tidying away we had a couple of hours kip. A wonderful shower followed and then we tried the rather splendid looking restaurant. It lived up to its appearance and we enjoyed huge starters followed by a main course of lobster and salad, all eaten overlooking the setting sun over the mountains behind and the sparkling sea in the bay. Boy did we sleep well that night!
We stayed in the marina for a few days as we had plenty of time to spare in our plan and it was a useful shopping and washing place. Then we left the marina and anchored in the bay just outside where we could swim and relax for free for a couple of days. The bay is wonderfully protected by the surrounding islands and the warm clear sea as clean as any you see in the Mediterranean. There are hotels along the shore but tastefully built and with a wonderful backdrop of verdant high mountains beyond making it a beautiful setting. The
water is crystal clear and the bottom pure white sand with good anchor holding.
After two days there we awoke to a light easterly breeze and decided to sail to Marina di Capitana about 12 miles up the bay towards Cagliari. Setting our Genoa we sailed at good speed west along the coast then north west round the corner as the wind strengthened and veered in our favour. It was now blowing force four and we were having a tremendous sail when in an instant the wind died. We were now only five miles from Capitana so we motored the rest of the way and were greeted in a friendly manner by the marina staff who showed us to a berth. Whilst checking in at the office we noticed that the sea outside was white with surf and the wind had risen from the south blowing up to force seven which it continued to do until nightfall when it dropped equally quickly. The winds here are extremely unpredictable even to the locals and a couple of local boats coming in had great difficulty berthing up in the blustery conditions.
After a couple of days in Capitana it was time to make the last leg to Cagliari itself ready to meet our next crew , Corine, who would then be with us for the sail to the Balearic Islands. The last leg was short, 12 miles only and light winds after which we berthed in the Marina San't Elmo. The huge harbour of Cagliari has water of a deep brown colour which was such a contrast to the clear blue we had experienced so far. The old city was much praised by D H Lawrence in his book the Sea and Sardinia and it turned out to be rightly so. We started our tour at the Elephantine tower, built in 1307 as part of the then city walls by the Pisans who established a large walled city here.
It has fantastic views all around the city and harbour and looking as far as the large international airport here now. The portcullis is still in place as is the small elephant carved on the stone outside the entrance. Many of the piazzas and grand buildings and churches have been renovated providing interesting views all around the city with beautiful tree lined boulevards and open squares to sit.
We happened upon the university library and saw that it was free entry to visitors so went in. It is an amazing room built in 1780 which houses 550,000 books dating back many centuries and all on display to the visitor.
We very much enjoyed the beauty and friendly ambience of the city even though it was incredibly hot!
Pat and I had logged another 246 miles since James left us making the total this year so far 852 and about a third of our total plan.
Pelagia 2017 cruise part 1
Pelagia was ready waiting anti-fouled and polished when we returned to Preveza in May and we launched her two days after arriving . The day we launched it rained all day! A week’s hard work is involved in getting everything back up and running before we were ready to sail and luckily the weather improved. We left the marina early on the Sunday morning bound for the Levkas island channel and before we had cleared the Preveza channel we were hit by a thunderstorm and rain. It cleared as we reached the bridge which opens for entry to the Levkas channel and we motored through with grey skies and little wind. We motored all the way towards Nidry town to enter an anchorage at Vlikho but as we approached the town another storm hit us and visibility was reduced to zero by the torrential rain and hail interspersed with lightning. We held off entering until we could see ahead of us and it gradually cleared enough for us to anchor safely for the night. The ships log was not working so I had to do a little maintenance to try and clear it before the next day. We enjoyed a relaxing afternoon on board as the sky cleared to sunshine.
The next day we tried a short sail in the light winds and everything worked OK except the log still refused to show any reading. We motored to our favourite bay Spartachori, and tied up at Taverna Spilia where we again met the wonderful team that run the Taverna and it was a big welcome all round.
Since this was to be our last visit we stayed two nights and enjoyed their wonderful hospitality. The sea in that bay is clear and calm so we had our first swim of the season although mine was prompted by the need to examine the log impeller under the boat. The problem was revealed as a large blister of anti-fouling paint obscuring the impeller so it was soon removed and all was working.
After some sad farewells to Spilia we set sail to Ithaca Island and had a splendid few miles close tacking down the channel between Meganissi and Levkas islands . Once more the wind dropped and we motored into Frikes harbour where we met Catherine who had rented a holiday house there for two weeks with her family. We berthed on the harbour wall, soon to be surrounded by a flotilla of charter yachts, and we stayed there for four days. Whilst there, we enjoyed the hospitality of Catherine and saw a little more of the interior of Ithaca island.
On Sunday the 28th may we set sail for Poros town on Cephalonia and covered the 20 miles in good time to get a berth in the harbour quite early. The day started fine but deteriorated into a blustery showery afternoon. However, the next day dawned fine and an early start saw us on route for Argostoli. The wind was perfect, changing direction as we needed and never more than force four so we romped the 32 miles to Argostoli harbour in warm sunny conditions in five hours.
Here we stayed to await the arrival of James Dick who crewed with us to Sicily on the 270 mile leg across the Ionian Sea. In some ways it was sad that this was our last port in Greece, but we were ready to move on.
With a good forecast for the next few days we left Argostoli early on 1st June and soon cleared the harbour setting course for the south western corner of the island where our passage would take us out into the Ionian Sea. The day was good but a bank of mist seemed to hang around the islands and there was little wind with which to sail at first. Having cleared the headland we set course slightly south of west directly towards Sicily and continued to motor through a slight sea. A light north westerly breeze ruffled the surface and as it slowly strengthened we set the sails and began a slow tack. We managed to sail for some hours on into the early evening and it was very pleasant slowly making way even if not quite on the right direction. The wind became more flukey as we left the land behind us and regrettably we were forced to resort to engine as our last views of the Greek islands faded behind us. We motored through the night in calm conditions from a very spectacular sunset through to an equally beautiful sunrise with no company other than two ships passing by. The second day was similar although the sky was not as clear and we managed some sailing morning and evening with motoring in between. Approaching the Italian coast of Calabria in the early evening the wind became quite strong and we flew westward just as we were trying to eat our evening meal, now at 30 degrees to the horizontal. That wind continued as we approached the toe of Italy but reversed direction and was blowing from the area of the Messina straights which always produces weird conditions. As we went into the night we were beginning to pound into short uncomfortable seas and had to reef the Genoa before the wind later faded again. Many ships now appeared heading either in or out of the Messina straights and all three of us were up on deck for a couple of hours in the dark trying to safely manoeuvre through the traffic. Eventually with about 40 miles still to go to our destination the number of ships diminished and the sea quietened down now that we had passed the lead in to the Messina straights. Motoring through the remaining night hours was uneventful but the sky was heavy with thick cloud pouring off the heights of Mount Etna in the distance as we closed the coast of Sicily. The last few miles were calm as dawn broke and the sun rose through a clearing sky. We entered Riposto marina at 0800 hours having completed 297 nautical miles in 49 hours. It is five years since we last entered this marina and it is good to see they have extended the breakwater and you now get all round protection making an excellent sheltered marina with good facilities. After refuelling, we had our breakfast whilst waiting to be allocated a berth and then spent the morning cleaning up the ship before going into town.
Riposto is a very poor town but with many buildings that had been fabulous in their day. Rubbish abounds in the streets and the Sicilians seem to be oblivious to it. It is one of the few towns in Sicily not given over to tourism. It is a vibrant working town with a pleasant somewhat decayed feel to it whilst Etna broods sulkily over the town in a black haze. However, it is lively and interesting and is full of fish and fruit and vegetable markets that are so colourful and varied that it is a delight to browse and to hear the stall-holders loudly shouting their wares to any prospective buyers in a way that only Italians could achieve. The fish stalls are stacked with the largest tuna and swordfish that you have ever seen as well as a variety of shellfish, cuttlefish and squid. This area is the best in the Mediterranean for fish of all kinds because of the proximity to the currents in the Messina straights. After a very good night’s sleep by us all to recover from our period of watches on route we awoke to stupendous views of Mount Etna smoking copiously up into a clear deep blue sky. D.H.Lawrence once said, ....then Etna, that wicked witch resting with her thick white snow and slowly, slowly rolling her orange coloured smoke. The Greeks called her the Pillar of heaven.
From Riposto our next leg took us south to the town of Siracusa. A beautiful sunny quiet morning accompanied us as we left but Etna in petulant mood was putting out generous plumes of smoke. After motoring for some time the wind came up and we were able to sail close hauled almost on our desired track in perfect conditions. Shortly after there were five Italian warships playing war games around us and they seemed reluctant to leave us, constantly weaving across our path. We managed to sail closely past one of the headlands with four yachts passing us and the navy still all around. Finally we had to tack out as we were too far in shore and it brought us close to two of the warships again. I called one on the radio to make sure we were safe to pass in front, but failed to get an answer. However, he did then speed up and enter Augusta harbour abeam of us. Another couple of tacks and we were within closing distance of Siracusa grand harbour, entering around the beautiful old fortress. We finally got a berth in the town marina and moored up after logging 50 miles.
Siracusa was once called Ortiga and in 734 BC it was a powerful city state rivalling Athens . It controlled Sicily and the southern Mediterranean for 200 years by which time it was arguing with Rome. Archimedes was resident here and devised ways of setting the Roman ships on fire by using mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays on the ships. He also had four large bronze cast sheep set in the high fortress with each facing one of the four compass directions. By a system of holes in the castings the wind would pass through the sheep and emit from its mouth with a bleating noise when the wind was in that direction. Each sheep was slightly different and therefore you could tell the wind direction by the different bleating sound! Despite the damage done to the town in the Second World War there are many archeological remains including one of the best Greek amphitheatres in the Mediterranean. We spent a day here exploring although it rained most of the day.
The next day dawned fine and we sailed 25 miles down to a port near the south east corner of Sicily called Marzamemi. It had a good little marina but the rest of the town was all devoted to tourism and not tastefully done.
We therefore pushed on the next morning for 42 miles along the south coast to Marina di Ragusa. This coast is low lying and a continual spread of unattractive towns and developments interspersed with industry and agriculture, not at all like the north coast. Ragusa was a good marina but again the town was devoted to the beach loving tourists with many fast food outlets. The weather was perfect with light winds in the afternoon and we motored and sailed again the next day to Licata another 40 miles. On route we passed the oil platforms and refinery of their large oil business and approached the harbour of Licata backed by some very dry hills and dominated by a 17th century castle and the huge mausoleums of the town cemetery. Actually the marina here was superb and so well sheltered we decided to stay and rest here and explore the town for an extra day.
Licata was the first town in Sicily to be liberated by the American forces in 1943 and consequently many of the fine buildings were shattered by heavy bombardment and still remain in poor condition. The tourist office had a collection of memorabilia from that period found in the seas around. Slowly some buildings are being renovated and make fine homes and business premises. We walked in the heat up to the castle with superb views over the bays and the harbour and explored the narrow streets with their complement of elderly gentlemen sitting in groups chatting over affairs of the day as the Sicilians love to do. Our final sailing day with James was to Sciacca where we logged 56 miles with a mixture of sailing and motoring as the breezes allowed. This ancient town has houses built on the steep slope from the town square at the top to the harbour below and a steep set of steps which was much too hard in the heat of the day.
There is Moorish and Spanish influences in the town and a thermal baths which is testament to the volcanic nature of the area. Mooring facilities were more primitive here similar to our experience of five years ago. James left us the next morning to find his way to Palermo for his flight home and we took a day out to do washing and cleaning before our next stages of the trip. We have logged 606 nautical miles since leaving Preveza and probably about a quarter of the way on our plan this year.