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

Saturday, 23 July 2016


Still stuck here in Cartagena waiting for a new switch and for a diesel mechanic to finish replacing our corroded exhaust pipe, so we decided another little excursion was in order. This time we just took a day trip on the bus to Murcia, the capital city of the Murcia region of southern Spain. After a pleasant hour cruising through farmlands and over the mountains, we arrived just a short stroll from the centre of town for a late Spanish breakfast of coffee and tostas. Like everywhere in Spain, you are rarely more than 100 metres from a café, bar or restaurant, which are hard to distinguish because they all serve coffee, beer and food at any time.

First off we headed for the Salzillo Museum, as it is only open in the morning. Francisco Salzillo was a Spanish sculptor who lived and worked in Murcia (then a kingdom) through most of the 18th century. He trained as a painter, but later took up sculpture in clay and wood. He specialised in church effigies, particularly the icons that are carried by worshippers around the old towns on saints’ days and at Easter. Many of these are collected here at the museum, which is also a chapel. The first display we come upon is an extraordinary Nativity scene which is also a vignette of Spanish village life. 556 figures include the usual shepherds, wise men with entourage and holy family with angels, oxen and donkeys but also the local markets with sellers of every kind of produce, bakery, fishermen, winemakers, pottery, butcher … all beautifully painted and crafted in incredible detail. You could spend hours looking at it, both for its beauty and the record it provides of the clothing and customs of times past.

Moving on through the display, the life size figures of John the Evangelist and St Veronica with the shroud of Christ appear, looking as if they could step down off their pedestals any moment. Several of the figures on display are dressed in sumptuous silk clothing, a product for which the local Murcian mills were famous. Even these superb figures can’t prepare you for the chapel, however, which contains full size effigies of the betrayal and crucifixion designed to be carried by penitents during Easter week. With vivid costume, and powerfully evocative gestures and facial expressions, Salzillo has captured all the drama and emotion of the story. In times when few were literate, these tableaux would have served to educate/ indoctrinate the populace with the correct ideas and attitudes. It is surely no accident that all the bad guys – supposedly Roman soldiers - look decidedly Moorish.
St Peter takes down a guard

Amazing detail
The museum is designed to allow you close views of the figures, so you can see the details such as eyelashes and lacework. Salzillo’s clay ‘sketches’ are on display, along with drawings, embroidered church vestments and interesting things like the glass and precious stone eyes used in the sculptures. Well worth a visit if you’re near Murcia.
The Cathedral

Palacio Episcopal

Also worth seeing is the cathedral, its façade an amazing baroque confection of saints, demons and symbolic figures; and near it the Palacio Episcopal. The cathedral square is surrounded by pleasant shopping and café areas, with the Placa de Flores and its restaurants close by. We walked down to the river Segura with its avenue of trees and variety of bridges, then back to the station via some of the city’s public gardens. Well worth spending a day in town.

Segura River

Sunday, 10 July 2016

10 Helpful Items for Living on a Sailboat

Life on a sailboat is simple, but not easy. On the one hand, you don’t have to worry about the complexities of living and working with multitudes of people and lots of possessions. Your focus narrows to the weather, keeping the boat afloat, feeding the crew and how to get to your next port of call. On the other hand, constraints of space and limited power, gas and water mean that you need to conserve, you don’t have a lot of labour-saving devices and you must be quite resourceful in your approach to everyday tasks.

The following items are not specialised boat gear, but ordinary things that have proven useful in adapting to the challenges of the cruising life.  They are in no particular order, but the pressure cooker is the only one that could be considered a significant expense.

  1. Pressure Cooker
    This was one of those purchases that makes you wonder what you did without it. A pressure cooker enables you to increase the cooking temperature (Charles’ Law or its corollary, from memory) so that cooking time can be dramatically reduced. This is a great asset on a boat where you may have limited gas and you don’t want to heat up your cabin, especially in hot weather. We often prepare a simple dish of chicken, stock and vegetables before we head off on a longer passage. Once you’ve brought it to the boil and let it steam for about 10 minutes, you simply leave the closed cooker in the sink, wrapped in a towel. When you need a hot meal after a long day at sea, voila! Your chicken stew is ready and waiting. Thanks for the recipe, Jane!
  2. Hercules Pegs                                                                                                                                                                I haven’t lost a single towel or pair of undies overboard since we discovered these in a Greek supermarket. I think they are a response to the fierce Meltemi winds in the islands, perhaps, but whatever their origin they live up to their name. The nice rounded clasp seems to be designed for boat rails, and unlike ordinary pegs, they don’t break easily and they seem quite resistant to sun damage. Hercules pegs are also great for rigging up a sun shelter from your bimini using a sarong or a Turkish towel.
  3. Small Canvas Bags
    These are great for separating and organising your tools and materials for specific uses. They save having to drag out a heavy toolbox and sort through random stuff to do a simple job.
  4. Zip-Lock Bags
    Everyone knows how handy these are, but on a boat, where certain things really need to be kept waterproof, they are essential. We use them to protect food in the dry store (they also prevent the spread of bugs both to and from stored food, as well as moisture damage) and also tools, electronic cables and parts, papers, and lots more. Strangely they are virtually unavailable in some European countries, so order a good supply of several different sizes on-line. They are much cheaper on-line than in supermarkets.
  5. Flexible Plastic Tub
    This is our washing machine when we’re not in a marina. You put in the minimum amount of water you need, then use the grape-crushing method (ie your feet) to get the clothes clean. They are also great for washing ropes (a bit of fabric softener works a treat on stiff crusty old lines) and for carrying stuff. Ours fits into a corner of the dodger and is used to store things you might need in a hurry like mask and fins, bits of rope, cleaning cloths, clogs, clothes pegs. When you’re at anchor they can also be used as a water-conserving way to have a good wash as a kind of standing bath. (I have tried to sit down in one, but that didn’t end well. Not recommended.) They fit inside one another so you can have several without wasting space and they only cost 3 euros in Ceuta – thanks Marg!
  6. Bialetti Coffee Maker
    This is probably just a personal preference, but I think the good old Italian classic coffee pot makes the best coffee quickly, easily and without waste. I can make a pot of coffee before I actually wake up! It is small and compact for storing and replacement filter funnels are available everywhere.
  7. Hanging Shoe Storage
    This one is from Ikea in water-resistant nylon so it is easy to clean and doesn’t easily succumb to mildew. Shoes, belts, headbands and other everyday items are stowed yet visible, easily accessed and less likely to moulder away as they tend to do in dark airless cupboards. You can roll the whole thing up and stow it if you need it to be out of the way to make room for guests or when you’re a long time at sea.
  8. Cable Clamps
    These are especially good for preventing tangles in stored lines that are used infrequently, like our dinghy hoist and boom brake. They come in several different sizes.
  9. Stretch Cotton Fitted Sheets
    Making beds on most boats is really hard because you can’t get down the sides to fit or tuck in sheets. You end up doing all sorts of contortions on or in the bed to get the sheets on so once you’ve finished you really need a lie down. Oddly shaped bunks also make it difficult to find sheets the right size (our forepeak bunk is shaped like a fat coffin) so these stretchy king-size ones, found in Spain, have been a great find.
  10. Eraser Sponges
    I discovered these when we were at home, cleaning my mother-in-law’s house for sale (thanks Pauline!) Sorry to anyone I bored witless going on about them - I became a bit of a fanatic. Made of melamine foam, they are the most amazing cleaning product I’ve seen for a long time. They are brilliant for boats as you don’t need anything except water to remove scuff marks, oil, ingrained dirt and serious sticky grease. The melamine absorbs dirt and gradually wears away, so you do need a good supply, and fortunately they are available very cheaply on-line. Just be careful of things like loose paint (they will strip it) and test surfaces you’re not sure of. They also remove stains from clothing really well, so take one along for when your partner orders spaghetti or curry at a restaurant.
This list doesn't include blindingly obvious things like cable ties, superglue and duct tape, but I hope there's something useful here for you, or that it gives you a little insight into the cruising life. I'd be very keen to hear other people's suggestions for useful things to have aboard.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Terry's Beer Tour of the World #15

There's more to life than beer



A Belgian but unremarkable.  I suppose they can’t all be good.  Had it in a bar in Siena.  Perhaps the keg offering is not as good as a bottle?  Would have it if it was given but I wouldn’t outlay cold hard for it.



Fahnen Brau


Supermarket beer bought in a chain simply called “CoOp” in northern Italy.  They are very cheap.  Surprisingly, the can has all the details of its Australian importers??  What gives?  This is northern Italy?  Anyway, it is wet and has a taste of hops but other than the fact that a 500ml can cost €0.71c there is little else to recommend it.  Not unpleasant, like an overhopped “peach/fruity” IPA but not much punch behind it.



My friend Stephen was given one of those assorted 6-packs that are popular at Xmas.  Being a friend, he waited for me to arrive before we hopped into it.


Ballast Point.  Big Eye India Pale Ale.  7.0% We poured it down the sink.  Undrinkable and not unexpected of an American IPA.

Pintail Pale Ale.  San Diego again.  Called a Pale Ale but really more like an IPA.  A bit too "floral" for mine.  Almost got poured down the sink but we just made rude comments about the brewer’s parentage.

Vale/Ale Australian Pale Ale.  McLarenvale.  Strange hint of smoke?  Adelaide Hills fires?  OK to try but not near as good as the SA stuff that comes out of Coopers.

Nail's "Golden Nail"  5%.  Called a "Hoppy Summer Ale" but again a sweetish overhopped beer.  What is driving this obsession with a massive hop input?  I can't abide it.

James Squire Nine Tales Amber Ale.  Less hoppy, a bit more caramel.  Not bad at all. Despite now being part of a major brewer of rubbish, they have left the Squire taste to itself and it is a very worthwhile pursuit indeed drinking Squires of several styles.

Leffe Blonde. Didn't like it all that much but it was interesting.  Sharpish.  Initial taste was a bit of an assault but the aftertaste was quite pleasant.  Not the “craft beer” you might imagine – owned by AB and made from a “pretend” ancient recipe, which was actually resurrected not that long ago and made to seem old.

Moretti la Rosso.  7.2%.  I don't mind a red or three.  Peroni's is quite good, as is Greece's Vergina (even though I do not like their lagers).  This Moretti is just a bit nothing.  No taste, no caramel, just alcohol.


In Scario, there is a restaurant at the end of the quay that specializes in Risotto.  The chef and his wife, who spent 10 years in Sydney before returning to Italy, claim that their risotto is the best in Italy. It is good.

The King of Risotto and his Queen

Birra Pietra - Corsican.  Nothing remarkable, just rich and well rounded.  No over-hopping so no fruity stuff.  Decent head that goes quite quickly.  Recommended if you see it.

Birra Dell Elba.  There are about 8 of these.  Not cheap at €7 a small bottle but that's the price for small breweries. I had the Maestrale but it had a little too fruity a taste for me - peaches from the hops.  They even have a Stout.

Elba on Elba


In Genoa, in front of the 518 Submarine, is a small bar.  I had this there from La Spina.(The Tap)  In fact, I had two as it was so good.  The lady said it was Dutch but apparently it is Argentinian.  Bubbles last for ages, like a good champagne.  Rich and smooth with a slight bitter aftertaste.  This is to be hunted for.!!


Konig Ludovic Weissbeer

Another Dark wheat beer, which I don’t mind.  Up front, lots of caramel but it fades quickly and not a lot left after that.  OK but nothing special.

Facial expression is a subtle gauge of quality

3 to be forgotten

We found a small gourmet shop on the waterfront in Genoa, under the covered archway that runs the length of the quay.  Tried three of the rather expensive craft beers there,

Geans American Pale Ale 5.5%  a beer by Che L’Inse, a Genoese micro-brewery

Bronze Ale – Officially “Bronzin” Ale, another Che L’Inse offering

Isaac 3.3%.  The 5% seems to be the most widely available but this was definitely 3.3%.

The Geans was “peachy” and sweet, the Bronze was OK but not worth €3.50 a 330ml bottle and the Isaac was OK but only just.

However, it was pleasant just sitting out in the walkway watching Genoa go by.



Birra Dana.

Can’t believe I haven’t commented on this before.  Been drinking it for a year now.  A “Made for” beer for Conad.  Don’t know who makes it but it’s not all that bad.  Perhaps a little on the flat side (cans only) but the bottles are good.  It’s sold in Conad Supermarkets for 0.67€ per 500ml can.   If you’re looking for something to take to a BBQ, pick this.  It’s fine.


St Thomas Abbaye

Had this in a bar alongside the Petanque rinks in Bormes e Mimosas. We put in to Bormes when we lost propulsion and had a mechanic work on CS.  The Petanque courts are well used in the summer holidays and many of the French tourists (it’s not a foreigner destination) had organised teams and a tournament. You can sit quite close to the action to watch the games, and the seriousness with which the players take the outcomes.


I had a litre, in fact, for €13.80.  That’s about what some Perth pubs charge for a glass.  This was very good indeed, a great example of a light-ish Abbey beer.  Look for it.

Hertog Jan Grand Prestige

Can’t remember where I got this but it was in the Engel for a while before I tried it.  Not as old as the labelling would pretend it is but nice enough.



Birra Italiana


This is one of those “made-up” beers that supermarkets in the Med have on order from major breweries.  You just don’t know which brewery makes up the store brand for them.  This one, despite its name, is actually quite good.  It is on the edge of getting sweet but not there yet.  It is made for a Co-op in northern Italy called….. Co-op!  Surprise surprise.  These guys have good, very low cost grocery items and this is one of them.  0.69c per can, 500ml.  Seriously, you could do worse quite easily.  If you find yourself in a B&B in Italy, and there is a Co-op around, stock up on this stuff and fridge it. 


Back in Australia beers

Hawthorn Brewing Pale Ale.

They say Pale Ale, and describe it as “A unique Pale Ale boasting a harmonious blend of specialty malts infused with fresh fruity hops.”  In other words, they lied, it’s an IPA.  And I hate IPA’s of the sort “young” brewers are making today.  Atrocious stuff.  Should have looked at the description and not the stated type. Not a Pale Ale at all.


Burleigh Brewing Company”s “My Wife’s Bitter

My mistake here – I had it on a hot Bunbury evening.  Should have been kept for a winter’s night with a casserole or a roast.  In season, it would be an excellent choice.  Mark it down as a buy in winter.





Wimbledon Common Ale in The Prince of Wales.  OK but at English prices I wouldn’t bother too much.


Hop House Lager.  A lager from Guinness.  Nothing to write home about.


Drayman’s Drop.  Had this ale in Wibbas Down (a chain bar).  Not too bad.  Would line up for more without a problem.  Wibbas Down is cheaper than its competitors – can get a bit willing on Pension Day but good cheap food and a great selection of tap beers and cider.  They don’t put on enough staff for the demand, though, and you usually have to wait a while.  Good breakfasts, too, at way lower than most London prices.


Theakston XB.  Had this in the King’s Arms in Greenwich (we put a bad review of this place on Trip Adviser for other reasons).  I assume the XB means extra bitter.  Very nice ale.  Don’t mind Theakstons Old Peculiar, either.


Boddingtons – they sell this in large quantities, not small batches.  Easy drinking ale you can depend on.  Very drinkable.


Carling Lager.  One of the few large-volume English lagers.  Very nice, if getting a tiny bit towards sweetness.  Good choice for a take-home pack in the supermarket.


Old Crown Bitter.  Went into the Old Crown on the corner of New Oxford Street and Museum Street (just before Drury Lane).  Pub is 360 years old.  This was a very nice accompaniment to our fish-and-chip lunch.  So nice I had two.  Nothing “in” it, like extra anything.  The brewer, reportedly a young chappy, has shown admirable restraint by not loading this up and letting it be a simple bitter.  Would that more “young brewers” did the same and put away the shovel they put the hops in with.


Pistonhead Kustom Lager.  Made in Sweden.  Nothing remarkable.  OK but not at Gatwick Airport prices of £5 a 330ml can.


Back in Spain again……


We stayed overnight in Alicante as it was too late for the bus back to Cartagena.  Needing some food, we wandered around our neighbourhood and found a small bar run by mum-and-dad.  (he had braces in the colours of the Spanish Flag!).  They had a casserole dish of something on the bench and I asked what it was.  He said three things I understood – chorizo, jamon and garbanzo.  Three out of whatever was in there sounded good so I asked for two bowls, caliente.  He agreed and took the dish over to his wife to be heated up in the microwave.


He must have thought about this a bit and decided that two bowls of the same thing was a bit of a waste of time, so he came back over and asked me to come behind the counter to the fridge.  There he showed me other dishes of food, some of which I had no understanding of.  I asked which were patatas and he showed me two.  I selected one that looked like the French dauphinoise dish. 


The potato dish turned out to be garlic and lemon bashed-up potatoes which was superb, and the bean ham and chorizo dish had a great gravy in it for us to soak up with our crunchy bread.  Carol had a glass of red (he left the bottle on the table) that cost €2 and was magnificent.  I had my usual Estrella Levante for €1, but I had two. Total cost - €14, or about the cost of 1 beer in London.


Gordon Highland Ale

There is a bar in Cartagena called the Yellow Submarine.  It exists for the cruise liner tourist trade and is right where all the touristas enter town.  It does have a large range of foreign beers.  They are a little expensive but that’s understandable given the lower turnover.  This one was quite nice but would have been better farther north of here with a roast dinner instead of tapas.


Estrella Galicia, Estrella Damm, Estrella Levante and CruzCampo.


Spanish beers usually defined by region but in a modern world they can turn up anywhere.  Pick any one of these and you have a good quaffing lager.  Estrella Damm is called “The Beer of Barcelona” but it is widely available down here in Cartagena, which is supposed to be Estrella Levante territory.  Of the three Estrellas, I probably lean towards the Levante as it is a bit sharper, while Galicia and Damm are a bit more towards sweet.  CruzCampo is very nice indeed and now comes in a trendy can which has a “button” on it that goes blue when it’s at ideal coldness.  Wonders will never cease my mother used to say, but that was mostly when I did something good.  Which was not often I might add.


Moritz – a nice enough Barcelona beer but again tending towards a little sweetness.  If your choices are limited and this is on the tap, it will be fine.  Sweeter in the bottles I think.  First came across it when we entered Spain last year in Palamos.


Carrefours – 13c a can.  Ok, so it’s a bit on the light side but I do draw your attention to the price.  Unfortunately, it can range to stratospheric heights and it is often 0.21c per can.  No shit, Sherlock, even the ½ litre can is only 0.38c.  Drinkable for sure.


All yours Cal, I'm drinking beer 6 euros a jug.

They  wouldn't sell this to me in Burriana - display only


 If you're going to run a bar, you really have to get serious about your beer storage