Sunday, 9 April 2017

Converging in Cuba

Common Sense crew, on the morning of their arrival in Havana

While Terry and the crew were battling their way through the Atlantic swells, I was having a nice land-based visit with my mum in as different an environment as it is possible to be in -the Arizona desert. At least it used to be a desert. During the ten weeks I was there we had so much rain that the whole place had turned green and the dams were filling up. Spring should see cactus and other wildflowers in full bloom and critters everywhere. Already on our daily walks we spotted coyotes, jackrabbits, eagles, roadrunners, quail, ground-squirrels and dozens of songbird species. Mum and I enjoyed ourselves walking, watching movies, cleaning out the house with a huge garage sale and indulging in occasional lunches at the local casino.  Each day I had a call from Common Sense on the satellite phone. I would receive their coordinates, relay them the weather report from Predictwind, then send out emails about their progress to family and friends. Captain Dave Renoll, our old friend from back at Mears Point Marina, very kindly helped me out with interpreting the weather charts and helpful suggestions for the passage – how’s that for quality after-sales service?
Finally the end of the voyage was drawing near. Common Sense had made landfall in the BVIs and was only a few days from her destination, Marina Hemingway in Havana, Cuba. Again I worked through my complex journey plan: catch a bus from nearby Laughlin to Las Vegas, fly Vegas to Fort Lauderdale; fly Lauderdale to Havana; taxi to an AirBnB  I booked as near as possible to the marina. I was concerned about communication in Cuba as internet access is difficult and my US phone sim would not be usable, but solutions were at hand. A WorldSim card worked fine in Cuba, and the lovely family I rented the apartment from turned out to have a taxi as well, and David was there to meet me at the airport. Another hugely valuable resource was Addison Chan’s “Cuba Land and Sea” Facebook page and his excellent new edition of the Waterway Guide to Cuba. His advice to have a letter from the skipper explaining that I would be joining the crew, plus a copy of the ship’s papers, meant that I could take a one-way flight without any hassles or holdups. I also gleaned valuable tips about the currency, protocols of queueing, eating out, gifts, markets and a useful plan of the marina.
Streets of Old Havana
With all the anxieties about getting lost, stranded or arrested settled, I could finally relax a bit and look around. First impressions: third world airport but friendly and helpful staff. The 1950s cars everywhere – rustbuckets held together with wire and gaffer tape belched smoke alongside lovingly maintained and restored American classics. Fine old Spanish buildings, some in decay, some looking like organic growths with added-on bits constructed from whatever was available, some well-tended and surrounded by lush tropical gardens. Contrast these with grey Stalinist concrete boxes and towers, generally crumbling and neglected. Fortunately my apartment was in a small block next to a school in the Playa district. It was simple and comfortable, within easy walking distance of a market and some good cheap restaurants.
My first task was to make my way to Marina Hemingway. On the flight over we had experienced strong easterly crosswinds and I had looked down uneasily at the whitecaps on the seas below. Now at the marina it was blowing a gale. Waves were crashing over the breakwater and the entrance channel looked like a cauldron – and Common Sense was somewhere out in that! I made my way out to the Dockmaster’s Office and explained that the boat was about 100 nautical miles to the east (my best estimate) and that I was worried about them in the current conditions. He wasn’t all that reassuring. “Now I am worried too!” he said. They had closed the marina entrance that afternoon, diverting any vessels to  Havana, 8 miles back. He promised to look at for CS on radar and AIS, and to call me with any news.
I returned to my apartment after buying some fruit at the market and taking a diversionary walk around the neighbourhood. Dinner was a pizza and a glass of acceptable wine for about $3 from a  paladar, small family-run restaurants that are a thriving business in Cuba today. The people I met were very friendly and welcoming, but there was no escaping the sound of the wind howling and the waves crashing on the nearby beach, and the thought of our little boat and her four brave crew out there. I kept reassuring myself that the winds were with them, and that they had the skills and experience to handle it. I finally managed a couple of hours of sleep, then was wakened by a very welcome call from the Dockmaster: Common Sense had arrived in the early hours of the morning, and, after a harrowing entry, was safely tied up in Canal 4 near the coffee shop.
A quick trip in David’s taxi and there she was – what a wonderful sight! A big smile and a hug from Theo who was washing stuff on the deck, then Terry emerged, looking leaner, hairier and utterly exhausted. Johannes and Marie followed, then after a quick coffee and some calls home we set off in search of internet and an early cold beer or two. The chaos and mess aboard could wait.


After a basic clean-up, we headed out to see a bit of the local colour. An evening walk through the nearby town of Haimanitas took us to a cheap bar and (!) a Japanese restaurant on the river. The housing was very basic, but everyone seemed to have a front porch and a few rocking chairs for socialising of an evening, and people greeted us warmly as we passed. Terry decided my apartment was a more attractive option than the boat and he thoroughly enjoyed a few nights sleeping for eight hours straight in a comfortable, stationary bed.

Next day we caught David's taxi into Old Havana, where we took a long walk through all the major tourist sites, most of them featuring Fidel or Che, as well as the curious and quirky shops and markets that seem to occupy every available room, corridor or doorway. It's easy to spot the difference between the Government-run outlets (no service, random goods you don't want) and the small private businesses that are conducted with great enthusiasm. It still isn't easy to overcome the restrictions and bureaucracy surrounding any enterprise, but the Cuban people are hardworking and resourceful. The realities of day-to-day life really hit you when you go to a store for provisions. For a start, the shelves are quite bare, and there is typically only one brand of anything, spread out to occupy as much space as possible. You go in to get milk, butter, eggs, bread and potato chips and come out with none of them. Later you discover that the district's entire supply of milk has gone to a supermarket five miles away, and that bread is only available from the bakery and it sells out early (but the marina coffee shop may have some). You can get cheap eggs from a local restaurant, or expensive ones from the chandler. A large consignment of butter arrives at the butcher's shop the next day and disappears just as quickly. Basic shopping is a constant quest - an adventure for us, and a clear lesson in what happens when the State decides to break the laws of supply and demand - but I imagine it would wear pretty thin after a while.
Threepenny Opera in Marina Hemingway

Next day Pat and Addison turned up, and we got to spend some time with them and benefitted directly from their extensive knowledge of Cuba. The highlight was a three day trip to Vinales, a famous beauty spot about 80 miles from Havana, where steep limestone outcrops rise above a fertile plain largely used for tobacco farming. Of course we got to watch how Cuba's famous cigars are made, and to sample the product. It seems as though most of the private homes in Vinales have become B and Bs and ours was a delight. Marta and Chino provide a comfortable place and a first class breakfast for their guests. The town was full for the weekend as a festival was underway, and we enjoyed walking down the main street watching people celebrate  - something. We never managed to find out exactly what it was, but it involved eating, drinking and music. And speaking of music, our dinner out at a local restaurant, with a brilliant Cuban band called Fantasma, was a really memorable night.
Vinales landscape

A lot of the work is done by oxen

Pat relaxing at our B and B

Of course no trip to Cuba is complete without a pilgrimage to Hemingway's house. We had no great expectations of this when we heard that you couldn't go inside, but it is actually well worth a visit. It's a lovely classic old Cuban house set in extensive gardens, and everything is set up so you can see all the interiors from the doorways and windows. All the original furniture, books, paintings and hunting trophies are there, and he had the best study - a three storey tower with views to Havana. His desk, typewriter and telescope are all as he left them. Hemingway's famous fishing boat Pilar has been fully restored and is on display in the grounds.

By now, Marie had departed for Panama, Theo was back in the UK, and Johannes was helping out at a hostel in Havana. We were enjoying Cuba, the friendly people, cheap restaurants and good music, but it was time to think about returning to the USA. We had decided to head for Tampa, and fortuitously had met up with Nick, one of the sailors on the Cuba Rally, who had very kindly invited us to stay at the Tampa Sailing Squadron. Our weather window was approaching, Johannes came back to see us off and we were ready for a bit of serious American consumerism again. So it was back out through a much calmer channel and a course due north. The weather was fine and we decided on a stop at the Dry Tortugas for a rest on the way.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

There and Back Again - Atlantic Crossing

There are two inescapable facts of a cruiser’s life.  You are either waiting for weather or waiting for parts but waiting you are.

We spent 6 weeks in Gibraltar waiting for parts, with several false arrivals raising hopes but not delivering the goods.  Finally, the skill of Yanmar’s official service establishment in Gib showed through and Kevin machined up the piece Yanmar could not supply.  We were heartily sick of Tariq’s Rock by the time we put it at our backs.  I left with some damage to my left hand after nearly losing the finger pad of my middle finger, and breaking it as well, to a running dockline.  An ambulance run to St Bart’s and £214 later I was deemed seaworthy again.


Common Sense left Gibraltar in late December for the run to the Canaries, some 600+ miles.  Before leaving, I sought out a 3-day weather forecast from the local Gibraltar forecasting service. 
I expected, from the report, a following wind and that we would be out of the end of the straits before it turned against us.

No such luck.  We made good progress across to Morocco initially, as I wanted to be out of the current and hugging the coast, but then we got hammered unmercifully.  We were making 1 ½ knots even before the tide changed, and clearly, when this happened, we would be going backwards.  I turned to Ceuta for relief and we sailed in about 2 hours later.  We tied up in the slip we were in 5 years ago and settled in to wait out the weather front.  Johannes and Marie took the opportunity to go into Morocco and headed off to Chefchouen for a look.  I wandered about Ceuta amusing myself for 3 days before the weather was again in our favour and we headed out once more.  Despite being bumpy and bouncy, we made good progress and rounded the cape past Tangier before sundown.
We stayed well off shore, wary of the Moroccan fishing nets and traps, and made good time down to El Jededah, when we were again concerned about an approaching front.  We opted for a layover to see it out and motored with a great deal of apprehension along through the surf line that surrounds El Jededah.  We tied up in the dirtiest harbour I have ever seen in my life and checked in to Morocco.

El Jededah

We spent two days there, including Xmas Day, and left on the third.  We were definitely the only people who had Xmas lunch in the whole city as there were no other westerners whatsoever.  For $30 a day you don’t get a lot of facilities – no electric, no water, no showers, zilch.

Off again to Lanzarote, with reasonable weather for the first few days and then high winds from the east, on our port beam, for the last. Very unpleasant and very hard to manage. Approaching the tip of the south of Lanzarote, we motored until the corner and the engine cut out.  I doubted that we were out of fuel but evidence was no fuel.  We sailed to the entrance of Marina Rubicon and again tried the engine.  It fired up, but at the entrance cut out again.  I had already called the marina and told them we were in trouble and the marina’s dinghy came out and towed us in to the fuel dock.  We refilled our jerry cans and the main tank and only took ½ tank.  Definitely not out of fuel, so it must have been a blockage.  Off to a very nice slip in a very well appointed marina, with great bars and restaurants and good berthing.

Marina Rubicon at night

Next day, Johannes and I began looking for the blockage.  It took 5 hours to find and if it wasn’t for Johannes’ persistence, I may have given up earlier.  We eventually tracked it to the long main stem draw pipe in the fuel tank, were the blockage had risen to the elbow where it leaves the tank.  What was it?  It was a piece of welder’s flux.  I was beside myself with rage – we had had the fuel tank repaired for a leak in Almerimar, where they also cleaned the tank.  Some slack dickhead of a welder let some flux go inside the tank and it almost caused the loss of the boat.  Not impressed one bit.
Anyway, that over, we enjoyed Marina Rubicon for a few days and I caught up with Micky and Bridgeen Mallon and son Martin and his wife for a nice dinner and sleepover.  Johannes and Marie went off to the north of the island for surf for a day or two.

I went into Playa Blanca a few times, shopping and also to have my stitches removed from my damaged finger that I’d injured in Gibraltar.  Playa Blanca is not all that appealing, being very new and very much constructed as a holiday resort.  Comfortable but there is little to see.

Playa Blanca

We headed out to Las Palmas, 100 miles further away, and arrived to a logjam of boats headed out over the Atlantic.  As with all new arrivals, we had to spend days in the anchorage before a marina spot became available.  The anchorage is not all that pleasant but tolerable, and the marina is much more agreeable.  Theo arrived from Lanzarote to join us.

 Las Palmas itself is a very liveable island and it is easy to see why people flock there for holidays.  Great restaurants, particularly the restaurant El Palillo, run by  two guys in the old town, lots of history, good provisioning and a cheap marina.  I had to wait a week for the Garmin SD card with the charts of the n.e. Caribbean, Cuba and the entire USA.  I had ordered one on eBay and when it didn’t arrive, queried it with the supplier.  They said that PayPal had put a hold on the funds.  This was 3 weeks before, and PayPal had not bothered to let me know.  They seemed to be bothered with an Australian card ordering an item in the USA.  I’ve been using them for years doing this with no problem but all of a sudden it is?  With zero warning?  PayPal used to be a favourite of mine but no longer – they still will not acknowledge that they even blocked the funds so every time they send me a survey now (end of month) about recommending to a friend I put them way down.

Bearkat was in a slip opposite us but Kat and Jim were home in the UK.  Dave and Melinda Gunn on Sassoon were very close by in the same pontoon section, also preparing to cross over.  Laurent was on his replacement Caracal in the anchorage but was helping out a guy on the boat immediately in front of us so we saw him often.

We provisioned at the HyperDino and also at Carrefours, with free delivery to the boat.
Loaded up, we headed for the fuel dock and a top-up and headed for Cuba.
The trip was boring in the extreme.  Rocky, rolly, pitching and dropping.  The forward cabin was completely unusable so it became a store room and I slept in the cockpit wedged between the table and the seats.

Las Palmas markets

3 Vegetarians and me.  So, all mine.

Theo’s skill with sail balance proved to be the most valuable asset we had on board, and Johannes soaked up all Theo could show him.  Both of them being young, their greatest wish was to go fast and we were regularly in the 7s and 8s range.  I, on the other hand, was aware that our insurers had declined to cover the mast and rigging (at the last minute, with no chance of fixing the problem), and anxious to preserve the integrity of the bits that go upwards. 

Generally, we had reasonable Trades in the 19ᵒ area, but did find ourselves with next to no wind for 6 days, which was very hard to tolerate.

Finally, with decent winds again, we arrived in Tortola, BVI and motored into Road Harbour at around 10 p.m.  We took a mooring buoy belonging to Conch Charters, which is permissible provided you go in the next day and make a donation to the BVIs Sea Rescue boat of US$20.
Plug for Conch Charters: -  The people in the office were extremely helpful with information on where to go and what to do re propane, checking in, provisions, weather etc.  They run a fairly large operation and seem to have completely taken over the marina they are in and have boats coming and going constantly.  We weren’t clients of theirs so if they are this helpful to us, I’m sure their client base is even better looked after.  They’ve been in business for something like 30 years now.
We ran into the owner of the marina alongside, HR Penny’s, now run by the son of the founder who has recently retired from the BVI Government.  He is in the process of restoring the marina to full services and only charged us $30 a night.

Island life is expensive and shopping is not for the faint of heart.  US$10 for a single T-bone steak in the supermarket?  $7 for a box of cereal.  Everything comes in by boat so up goes the price.  For itself, the BVIs are pleasant enough but there isn’t a lot to draw me back.  Great place to charter and cruise perhaps but after provisioning and resting, we were off on the next 1,000 miles to Havana.
Two days out from the end, we were hit with 50 knotwinds which made life a little uncomfortable.  They didn’t let up for the whole time, and the day before we arrived, Marina Hemingway closed for entries.  Carol was already in Havana in an apartment and when she visited the marina she told the dockmaster that her husband was out there and she was worried.  The dockmaster said that he would be worried too.

Nevertheless, we arrived off the sea buoy at around 4 a.m. the next day and very carefully picked our way along the narrow channel between the reefs.  Johannes and Theo were set one on each side with torches keeping me straight – helps to have extra eyes as the marks change in the US system to red on the right going in.  Marina Hemingway has a diamond white light at the end of the channel and if you keep this straight-on, you are in the middle.  Staying exactly in the middle is the trick.  With the two young eagle-eyes on the lookout, it was far easier than I imagined it was going to be and we were soon in slack water and turning left to our first taste of Cuban officialdom.

The Immigration, Harbourmaster, Medical dude and customs drug checkers were most efficient and extremely polite (contrast with our departure where I was hit for a “present” but didn’t supply).  It was a great welcome to Cuba.  We eventually found our berth way out on Canal 4 – the marina was full as the Tampa Rally with about 80 boats was in town.

Marina Hemingway

Common Sense survived the voyage with only minor damage – a couple of tears in the spinnaker, a lost boathook, cups, buckets etc.  The fuel gauge stopped working and the batteries couldn’t keep up with the draw but mostly things of inconvenience rather than concern.
Of most concern to me was that some @#$# shark now has my favourite lure, a Rapala Redhead.  We caught a large tuna – 49lbs – with it, and then a week later, the same lure disappeared completely from the line, bitten clean off with not even a murmur from the drag.  I put on a soft plastic with a single hook and within a day, that was bitten in half by something that missed the hook.

All up, it was about 3,560 nautical miles, plus 600 from Gib to Lanzarote and another 100 from Lanzarote to Las Palmas, say 4,300 nautical miles. 

I’m glad it’s done with.
Approaching Tortola

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Christmas at Sea, and in the Desert

Common Sense is finally on her way to the Canaries, and as of last contact, all is going well. The reconditioned gearbox is working fine and Terry's injured finger is slowly healing. They pulled in to El Jadida in Morocco for a day to shelter from adverse winds, but are now just a couple of days out of Lanzarote.

Meanwhile I've done a marathon journey from Gibraltar to London, London to Las Vegas, and fianlly a Greyhound bus from Vegas to Laughlin, Nevada which is close to my mum's place just over the border in Arizona.
Golden Valley AZ
I flew from Gibraltar to London, then direct to Las Vegas via Norwegian Airlines. It's a low cost airline, but that is more than compensated for by the plane - a new 787 that is faster and much more comfortable than the old models. After an overnight in Vegas I took an early Greyhound bus to Laughlin. We've done a Greyhound trip before, and it really is an insight into a kind of hidden underclass of American life that you don't encounter as a tourist. I'd suggest a cross-country Greyhound trip as an education for the political classes of both parties before the next election.

I enjoyed a quiet Christmas with my mum at the Tropicana casino - free due to her accumulated comp points. We're now working our way through the house, sorting and selling off possessions so mum can easily move back to Australia if and when she chooses.

Winter in the desert this year is surprisingly cold and wet, but that bodes well for a desert in bloom in Spring. Already we see rabbits, coyotes and quail, hawks, ground squirrels and hummingbirds during our morning walks. This desert is full of life.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Day Trip to Ronda

The sad saga of the gearbox continues, with the latest news that it is now being held hostage by Customs in Madrid. No, wait – in news just to hand, half of the gearbox has made its way here with the other bit missing in transit somewhere. Is that good news or not? I think I’m past caring.

Anyway, we planned a welcome day of escape from Gibraltar, where the big Rock continues to cast its little cloud of miserable weather over the town and the marina. You start by taking a stroll across the runway of Gib airport into Spain, where the general atmosphere instantly lightens. You catch the bus over to Algeciras on the other side of the bay, then board the train to Madrid. We have our Gold passes, so we get a nice discount on the trains in Spain. This time we are heading to the pretty and historic town of Ronda, a couple of hours away up in the mountains. This bit of line is Henderson’s Railway, constructed back in the 19th century for soldiers to enjoy a bit of R&R from the garrison of Gibraltar, especially during the heat of summer. The line runs through fertile farming country and forest. The towers of the powerlines are all topped with stork nests, fully occupied at this time of the year with the vivid black and white birds guarding their eggs. The land gradually rises and vertical outcrops appear suddenly. Villages of white villas and stone farmhouses flash by. Clouds still nestle in some of the gorges and around the peaks of the hills.

The best way to travel (when your boat won't go)

Ronda itself sits high on the rocks overlooking a massive gorge – you would not have to worry about defending the old town from the north, east or west. Three bridges connect the old town to the newer settlements across the river. All three bridges offer breathtaking views of the gorges, the town and the lovely farmlands in the valleys beyond. The ‘new’ town is a huddle of typical white Spanish villas, while the ‘old’ is mostly golden stone, much of it Moorish in origin. The sky is winter blue and swathes of golden poplars cut across the countryside. It is one of the most beautiful towns we have seen in all our travels.

We begin with a walk from the station to the old bridge, with a brief diversion into a little gourmet shop for a baguette with jamon y queso made on the spot – yum! It’s a steep walk up the hill but every few steps offers an amazing view so there is always an excuse to stop for a photo. We divert into a Moorish palace and garden, built right into the side of the gorge. It features an old ‘mine’ which doubled as a secret passageway for the women of the house to travel unseen down to bathe in the river. I believe ‘palace miner’ was a popular profession back in the day. The old town is full of interesting old buildings from the different stages of its history – its earliest records are of a Celtic settlement, “Arunda’, conquered by the Romans and the Moors in turn before the Reconquista saw it back in Spanish possession. You would need more than our single day visit to explore all these layers properly.

We make our way to the ‘new bridge’, an engineering marvel constructed between 1751 and 1793. This iconic bridge gives head-spinning views of the gorges and the river as well as both parts of the town and miles of countryside beyond. We are so lucky to be there on a perfect clear winter’s day.

Ronda has several other claims to fame, including a residence of the ubiquitous Ernest Hemingway and the burial place of Orson Welles. His ashes lie in a well somewhere in town, but we don’t have time to search them out this time around. Bullfighting is very big here, and the new town has one of Spain’s oldest bullrings. It is famous for helping to develop the flamboyant ‘Goyaesque’ style of fighting, featuring swordplay, capes and the ‘suit of lights’. If bullfighting is not your thing, a good substitute is a steaming hot plate of oxtail stew with spicy patatas bravas, from the Toro Tapas   Restaurant.

A pleasant downhill stroll back to the station for the afternoon train (which is unaccountably much cheaper than the morning train) and a restful journey back to Algeciras. Spanish transport works very well, though it is sometimes difficult to get a straight answer on times and destinations. In the end, it is pretty easy to get from anywhere to anywhere else at a reasonable cost. Our day out on four buses and two trains cost us about 40 Euros.

 Ronda is a must see in Spain. I think we’ll be heading back there in the camper van for a closer look at this lovely historic town.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

2016 to Gibraltar

Early morning approach - Gibraltar's famous cloud

Since we returned to Common Sense in Cartagena following Terry’s heart surgery, this couldn’t have been described as our most active sailing season. First, we had quite a few leisurely weeks exploring this fascinating old city as well as enjoying the company of the small but congenial liveaboard community in the marina. We also took the opportunity to go back for a better look at Barcelona and a catch-up with cruising buddies Laura and Olivier (and of course the charming Mae!) and I had the amazing experience of being in Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia at sunset to take in his sculpture in light, an experience I will never forget. We had side trips to Murcia and then to London and Ireland as well, as described in previous blogs.

Triana Markets in Sevilla

Terry told the story of our ill-fated first foray out to sea, which resulted in a stay in Garrucha for repairs. Unfortunately, this story has been repeated a couple of times and we now find ourselves not much further down the track in Gibraltar, engaged in the time-honoured cruisers’ pastime of ‘waiting for parts’, to be followed by ‘waiting for a bloke’ to assemble said parts.

But it hasn’t been all bad by any means. Spain has been warm, friendly, interesting and full of good things to eat and drink. We had a wonderful month at home to celebrate our son’s wedding  to the lovely Claire and to catch up with friends. Bridgeen and Patricia joined us for the trip from Almerimar to Gibraltar and it was such a shame that the boat problem and their schedules prevented them from sailing through to the Canaries with us. We did get to share some good times with them, however, including a busy day in the beautiful city of Seville. We really hope they both get to fulfil their sailing dreams in the near future! 

Patricia and Bridgeen lunch on board Common Sense

While waiting for our repairs, we met Johannes and Merle-Marie, two young German backpackers who are keen to crew on Common Sense for the passage to Lanzarote, and, if all goes well, the Atlantic crossing to Cuba.

So, despite our very few nautical miles, we have seen some amazing places and met some really wonderful people, and that’s what it’s all about in the end. 

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Into Garrucha under Sail (Terry)

We left the small harbor anchorage of Aguilas at around 9am last Friday looking forward to a gentle sail south and a little west.  We were fooled once again by that forecast thing that promised wind from the NE.  Nope, this is the Med so it was from the SW, right where we were going, although with a tiny bit of allowance for a beat.  Exiting the harbour, our gearbox made some grumbling protests, combined with some clanking and groaning and I turned to go back to the fisherman’s harbour.  However, the noise stopped and all returned to normality, same as it has been for the last 5 years.

We’d made about 38 miles and were off Carboneras when I realised that our forward progress had sharply reduced from 5/6 knots to 3 knots to 2 then to 0.  With wind on the nose and no drive, we had no choice but to look for a safe harbour for repairs. Carboneras was no help – it is a private port and has no facilities for yachts, and the fishing harbour did not respond to requests for assistance.

Garrucha was our next best option and was downwind, so with some hope we headed that way, 12 miles distant.

Of course, as soon as we turned for Garrucha, the wind turned also and was once again on our nose.  I was less than impressed but as I do not believe in any sky fairies it was pointless blaming one or another.

It took us from 17:00 to 12:15 to make the harbour at Garrucha.  We had emailed our friend David in Cartagena for some land-based assistance and he had confirmed with Garrucha that they were standing by.  However, we understood this to be dinghy assistance into the docks, as we could not manoeuvre at all.  Not to be – the marinero was on the docks with a torch waving us in but we could not get “in”, we could only skim past then turn around and head for sea again before we hit the beach.  Without being able to see, and with no propulsion, we had no choice but to anchor in less than ideal conditions off the beach.
A small section of the 1,500m marble banisters along the promenade
The swell didn’t allow for sleep and by 7am we were still in some trouble, with the swell irritating and the wind scheduled to build.  We managed to get the anchor up, though not completely, and made for some deeper water to begin tacking for the harbour.  Luckily, the wind was not quite NE by this stage but more ENE, putting it on our starboard beam.  We made good progress over the last 2 miles to the harbour entrance and laid the last tack for the right of the harbour, then eased away as we moved inside and lost wind.  We pulled the genoa down about 100 yards from the dock, and coasted to the jetty.  Cal undid the gates and stepped off to tie us up.  Nobody had responded to our calls on #9 so there was no welcoming party.  We secured and went below for a proper sleep for a few hours.  First time we have ever entered a marina under full sail and tied up.

When we went in to the marina office, the young guy there on day shift rang the mechanic for us and organised for him to come on Monday morning.

He arrived just after 11am and we went through the issues of the previous day/s.  The windlass was an easy fix, it had just come loose under strain and we tightened this easily – a couple of test drops of the anchor to the marina floor and all in that area was found to be ok.

The drive problem was more of an issue, with some testing to be done.  Engine was determined to be in good order, gearbox too.  Clutch was also found to be OK.  Jhoan, the mechanic, needed to eliminate a problem so I had to dive on the prop and see if I could move it by hand, either way.  Of course, my reg was nowhere to be found and required the removal of the entire contents of both lazarettes to turn it up.  Then, of course, it decided it needed a service and would either free-flow or not flow at all.  Eventually, I hit the water and did the required fiddling then packed everything on the deck (but did not put it away) and went to tell Jhoan the results.  He said he had hoped this was the case and said he’d come the next day to extract what he now knew to be the offending parts.  He didn’t come – he’s under some pressure work-wise – but came the next day and removed a section of the drive train that I did not recognize.  He wanted the Yanmar manual, examined it, found that the piece he had was not in it and declared it to be “optional”.  I have no idea what this means but the housing seemed to contain some sort of reduction box arrangement which was all burnt out.

He took it away with him and has ordered replacement parts from a firm in Madrid.  Hopefully, they will arrive in a day or two.
Looking towards town
So, where are we?  We are in the holiday resort of Garrucha, just into Almeria province.  The marinero tells us it is the dividing line between Costa Calida and Costa del Sol.  It’s a pleasant enough town but has absolutely zero things of interest for tourists.  It is for Madrilenos to come on their annual holiday and they are here in their thousands.  The dozens of restaurants are full every night, the fun park lights are shining all night and everyone is having a great time.  There is a general feeling of relaxation and enjoyment – the hung parliament and endless reruns of elections in Madrid seem a long way away
Our noisy neighbours

The harbour is host to a very large Gypsum operation, with one or two bulk carriers in constantly.  Because we can’t move, we are on the outer palanca on our own, with all the other yachts two or three pontoons away.  We have front row seats to the work going on on the freight wharf.  Hundreds of truck trips go on every day, with 18-wheelers racing along the outer wharf with their loads.  They do a 60km round trip, as the gypsum comes from a town called Sorbas, a little inland from here.  They dump their cargo on the ground, bulldozers round it up and drop it into conveyors which load the freighters.  It is a little noisy at times but we’re used to this from Cartagena and it does add some interest to the surroundings.

The harbour water, out where we are, is quite clean so we are able to step off the back for a swim in the heat of the day.

Loading gypsum

Today, Friday, was Market Day!  Big news in any Mediterranean town and this is a big one.  The first, top street, was all clothes, mostly female as they supposedly purchase 80% of fashion items.  The second street, and the connecting street, were all fruit, vegetables, meats, nuts, chips, roast chicken vans etc etc.  It was wonderful – certainly one of the better markets we’ve encountered.  We walked away with home-made potato chips, roast chicken, a huge jar of Orange Blossom honey from Murcia, asparagus, bananas, cherries.  Nothing from the Jamon van – there were about 20 people around it waiting.

Hopefully, we will be back under way in a few days and will head directly for Gib and organise flights home from there instead of from Rabat.

We might not always get to where we thought we were going, and we might very often end up somewhere we have never heard of before but you can’t say it’s boring.

Many thanks to David of the Moody “Golden Hours” for some reassuring shore support during the ordeal.


Sunday, 28 August 2016

50 Shades of Green

It’s a spectacular contrast to fly from the parched golden-brown of a Spanish summer to the vivid green fields and forests of the Emerald Isle. A patchwork of greens, bordered by darker green hedgerows and dotted with stone houses and barns – are we caught in the opening credits of ‘Father Ted’? Padraig kindly collected us from Dublin airport and we drove up to Newry, just across the border in Northern Ireland. By the way, there is now an expressway to Dublin, no longer the ‘rocky road’ of the old Republican anthems. Next day we woke to the sounds of birdsong, the sight of more green fields, hills and grand trees and the incomparable taste of Irish wheaten bread, Irish butter and a proper cup of tea! We were settled snugly in Padraig’s little stone house along with Caroline who was preparing to swim the North Channel, and Patrick and his son who were having a camping adventure in the camper van parked out the front. Up the road was another stone cottage, home to Padraig’s folks, Mickey and Bridgeen along with assorted grandkids, mates and family at various times. This was one of those great places where you never knew who was going to turn up to dinner, but they would be welcome anyway!
Bridgeen outside her cottage

Padraig was busy with the channel-swimming crew so we took the train into Belfast for the day - and what a welcome surprise that was. I think we must have been under the influence of newsreels of the Troubles from the 70s, but we were expecting a grim, grey wasteland of a city and it turned out to be anything but. Not that the past has been forgotten, but it has been integrated into a handsome and reinvigorated city. At this time of the year it was also filled with flowers, with each city block trying to outdo the others with planter boxes, hanging baskets and flower-filled parks. There are fine historic buildings and even the old hotspots of the Falls Road and the Shankhill Road are brightened by shops and cafes and of course their famous murals. The docklands are an interesting place, and a museum there commemorates the building of the Titanic (‘Sure she was in fine shape when she left here!’) On Bridgeen’s recommendation we headed for the Smithfield Markets for lunch, where we found all sorts of goodies including locally made pies, cakes, sausages and curries. Back for a lovely quiet night in the Newry countryside…

The next day Bridgeen took us in hand for a visit to the Cooley Mountains, commanding a great view from Slieve Foy over Carlingford and Greenore (yes, with the song running through our heads – ‘… and I’ll say farewell to Carlingford, and farewell to Greenore/ And I’ll think of you both day and night, until I return once more’).  And by the way, we had an excellent view across the ford to where ‘the mountains of Mourne run down to the sea’. There’s a lot to be said for knowing your Irish folk songs and stories by way of enriching your travels! The mountains remain quite wild, with wild flax, blackberries, raspberries and beautiful heather, along with peat bogs that are still harvested by hand. On a fine day you can see six counties from the summit. We enjoyed a delicious lunch down at Ruby Ellen’s Tearooms in Carlingford village, and I heartily regret not leaving enough room for cake, though I have it on good authority that the cakes are outstanding. We had a wander around the historic old town and introduced Bridgeen and Caroline to the art of Geocaching with a couple of good finds.
Peat harvest - wild flax

Sunday was a big day, with Mickey competing in the Belfast Iron Man and Bridgeen in the Belfast Harbour Swim. Both performed like champions, then, rather than collapsing for the afternoon they took us around to enjoy some of their favourite Belfast experiences – the Cathedral, a couple of beautiful historic pubs and hotels, and some great murals celebrating local culture.

On our remaining days in Newry we visited Camlough Lake, Padraig’s local swimming hole and site of the world record relay swim (one of his many remarkable achievements, along with solo English Channel and North Channel swims, ice swimming and much else); Bridgeen’s highly successful childcare centre, also the building site for Padraig’s newest venture, a pool and swim school; an ancient church and burial ground; a picturesque ruined castle – and of course several fine eateries. We spent the evenings around the Mallon’s ever-expanding dining table, or at one of the two favoured local pubs. On our final night we celebrated Caroline’s successful solo crossing of the North Channel (Ireland to Scotland) at Doyle’s Pub, which is also a funeral parlour! According to Padraig, it boasts Northern Ireland’s Grumpiest Publican, and he was in fine form. On our way out, he nodded towards five of his faithful customers and suggested that we take “this shower of shite” back with us to Australia – though on reflection he decided that they were such damaged goods they wouldn’t last five minutes - even the sharks wouldn’t have them. They all loved it of course!

When it came time to leave on the train to Dublin, we really felt as though we were leaving family. If all goes to plan, however, we’ll meet up again in Lanzarote in December!

The train journey took us along the coast and through more delightful green fields. We found our way to another great Airbnb, this time a lovely modern apartment right on the banks of the Liffey next to Phoenix Park. Getting to know our host, Cristina, a multi-lingual biochemist from Brazil, was one of the many pleasures of our stay in Dublin.
The Liffey

For me, Dublin is a city of literature, and of course it makes the most of this in targeting tourists, though many of its literary greats were not appreciated in their day. We saw the Abbey Theatre where playgoers rioted after John Synge’s “Playboy of the Western World” and again during Sean O’Casey’s plays - Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw avoided Irish audiences by staging most of theirs in England and Beckett saw himself as an internationalist; the many pubs that claim a connection with James Joyce, his alcoholic father, or his most famous character Leopold Bloom from Ulysses. Then there’s Yeats, Brendan Behan (more pubs), Oliver Goldsmith and my personal favourite, Jonathan Swift, so a pilgrimage to St Patrick’s Cathedral was essential. Swift was Dean of St Patrick’s and he is buried there, beneath the famous Latin epitaph that translates as “savage indignation can no longer tear his heart”. The church also holds several manuscripts and death masks, which somehow make the great satirist seem very present. We visited the Writers’ Museum which celebrates all these remarkable writers and more.  I learned that Laurence Sterne, another personal favourite and author of Tristram Shandy, also wrote in Ireland. Later we found the strange and remarkable poet Gerard Manley Hopkins’ grave in the Jesuit corner of Glasnevin Cemetery. I’ve always wondered how one small place managed to produce such a disproportionate number of writers (not even counting the songwriters) but just wandering the streets listening to the musical language, the humour and wordplay in conversations and shop signs, you start to get a sense of where it might originate.

Spring in Temple Bar

St Patrick's Cathedral

If you look carefully, she copped a bullet above the collar bone during the Easter Rising in 1916

Dublin is another wonderfully walkable human-scale city, full of cosy pubs, fine buildings, monuments and landmarks that recall its often tragic and violent past. We enjoyed a production of the musical Once and the classic pub night with traditional music at Nancy Hands, our local. And of course there was a lot we didn’t get to see – the massive Guinness factory from the inside, the Book of Kells at Trinity College, lots more theatre and music, not to mention seeing more of the countryside and the west coast – so we have no choice but to come back next year in the camper van!
Nancy Hands