Sunday, December 18, 2011

Canary Islands, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria, La Gomera

After a particularly lumpy (beam on) passage from Madeira we arrived at Lanzarote. Great island with awesome volcanic landscape, and we had a free anchorage at Puerto de Naos in Arrecife, which unexpectedly turned out to be a very pleasant Spanish ( sorry Canarian) town. Janet joined us for 10 days and we explored the weird and wonderful landscape, extinct volcanoes, lava fields and tunnels and architecture c/o Cesar Manrique,  by car and bus. Enjoy the photos :

Volcanoes, thankfully extinct
La Graciosa

Vines, in individual wind bunkers. No wonder it's so expensive!

Architects have the best swimming holes - this one is in a lava tunnel
Never underestimate your landfall!

Enjoy the surf when you are not on board your yacht...

In the volcanic park we met the guy with the best job in the whole world. How could you get bored pouring water into a hole, to make a geyser explode for the delight and fright of tourists from around the world. I have a great video of it, but it's upside down thanks to my smart-ass phone and one day I will work out how to right it and post it here.
It's really cool and he can't stop grinning. I want that job.

Gran Canaria, Las Palmas, saw the departure of the ARC, Atlantic Rally for Cruisers. Happy to watch the 210 boats sail over the horizon with all their hype and market created paraphernalia, the cash tills singing love songs as they left, creating their own credit crisis in their wake. See the boat leaving to cross the Atlantic fully prepared with sun loungers ready on deck :

Steph's mum had an exciting holiday on board here. Narrowly missing a impromptu swim in the harbour, as the boat rolled in the Atlantic swell. Stu rugby tackled her into the dinghy and all was well! Crisis averted.

Next stop La Gomera. We can't recommend it highly enough. Beautiful scenery - rocky coastal paths (read we did an 8 hour walk) enormous 25km downhill cycles ( we took the bus to the top), gruelling uphill cycling ( 3 hours in lowest gear, got the route wrong), and fab walking in rain forest with cedar trees, mossy paths, perpetual mists, emerging into cactus, date palm and goat country.
The terrain is so severe here, that the locals developed a whistling language of 4000 words to communicate across the barrachos or ravines, as they are impassible (hence the 8 hour walk!)

The uphill!!!!!!!1350m ascent
So, not really feeling that we have done La Gomera proper justice, we are off again, but it is high on the list of places to spend more time in....someday.

We have shopped and stowed, shopped and stowed all the way out of the Med, then eaten 90% of what we bought for the crossing. Now every locker is stuffed to the brim and there are bags and baskets all over the boat,nowhere to sleep, so I guess it is time to cast off tomorrow and head out to sea. Maybe Cape Verdes ( where there will be national mourning for the loss of their most famous singer) or if conditions are right we will turn to starboard (right for landlubbers) and head for the rum factory in Barbados. Perhaps the worlds second best job !!!
Gotta go, yet another group of old guys with guitars has just turned up outside to play folkloric songs in return for a warming glass of something.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Atlantic Islands, Madeira and Porto Santo

We escaped the cool and mouldy Rock of Gibraltar and made a slow 5 ½ day passage to Porto Santo and Madeira. We had very light winds, and didn't see many ships, so it was quite a boring introduction to offshore Atlantic sailing. Stu saw two whales, but as usual I missed them ( I think he makes it up). I read 2 books and had a really sore bum from sitting around day and night. Must find a way to adapt the yoga routine to the small and constantly moving cockpit.
Stu got so bored he investigated the plumbing under the floor. First he found a crab living in the pipe, which must have got too fat to get back out through the strainer. We kept him in a pot (to save him from swimming to the bottom of the ocean 4000m below) and gave him fresh sea water and a piece of fish as big as himself, but he escaped in the night and has not been found since. You just can't please some crabs can you.
Second Stu found a pipe fitting that had cracked slightly and was sucking air into the fridge intake, so he spent a whole day lying on the galley floor pondering that repair. He felt lucky to have found it early, as failure of the fitting could have been a wet sinking feeling (although it would only have leaked slowly) .
Anyway we arrived at Porto Santo, not feeling too bad despite the deprivation of full nights of sleep. We got the bikes out to counteract the sore bum feeling, but managed to cycle the entire island in a lot under one day. It really is a one horse island. Nice beach though and very slow pace of life. Too slow, even for us gypsies of the sea.

We slowly wobbled in more light winds over to Madeira and came straight into the Quinta Do Lorde marina. They sure know how to charge for their marina, and anything else they can come up with, but if  you want to see Madeira, there's not many other options, as anchoring off is a very rolly experience and Funchal harbour is permanently full. So we booked in for a week and tried not to think about the bank balance. We did a days walk that involved 5 bus journeys, and after that hired a car for 2 days to see more of the island. It is very stunning and beautiful, so now we know why it attracts so many people on walking holidays. It is an old volcanic island, and being high and  surrounded by the Atlantic ocean, gets a lot of rain and mist. Cunningly they built levadas or water channels all around the hills, so that the rain is collected and used to irrigate the very fertile volcanic soil. This makes for a very pleasant green island, lots of exotic foliage, and good walking opportunities, as the levada tracks all over the island have been restored and preserved.  It is a lot like walking in NZ, except that the bird life in NZ is much more lively and noisy. We did find this little robin enjoying his worm though.

So enjoy the photos. We have to move on tomorrow to go to La Graciosa island just north of Lanzarote.

Water water everywhere.

Long way down!

It has to be done!

This barrel of 3200 litres, costs 600 euros a bottle. So this one barrel is worth 2.5 million!!! We didn't get to taste this one.

Track our position through the winlink link in the top right corner of the screen.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fish 'n' chips 'n' English beer

Ooh our blog is so out of date. We are now suffering English weather (well not really cold) fog, cloud, damp, and now rain. Sea 17 degrees and totally unswimmable.
Well we have plenty of other things to do. Gibraltar is at least a place where we share the same sort of values with the local vendors, and they speak the same language. In general the cost of getting stuff here duty free plus shipping is about the same as paying full RRP and VAT, but at least you can get it, and it seems you don't have to bribe the customs officials to get your goods that you have genuinely ordered for your yacht in transit. And they probably won't go missing forever...
La Linea anchorage is safe and fantastic on the Spanish side and no-one in the last 2 weeks has been forced to leave the anchorage (as previously  has happened according to blogs). The Spanish YC looks after your dinghy for 5E per day if you want to go ashore, and walk across the border to Gib.
After 5 days at anchor, we came into the marina to get boaty stuff done (diesel tank clean, liferaft service, batteries tested) and haven't left since. World Cup rugby on in the bar most mornings (very healthy apart from the English Breakfasts), Morrisons just up the road - cheddar cheese, marmite, Thai crackers, real bacon.... the yum list goes on and on. You guys in UK and NZ just don't know what side your bread is buttered - we have been seriously deprived in the Med. A short stop in Gib will help to fill our lockers for the next 5 years with unusual stuff to alleviate the boredom associated with local exotic foods that go on a tad too long. Long live : Marmite, Vegemite, Mango chutney, Thai curry mix, Cup a soup ( I kid you not), sweet chilli sauce, lime cordial.
It is hard to understand when you can just go to your local Tesco/Sainsbury and buy whatever you want, but we do appreciate our short period of gluttony and availabilty. I have never bought convenience food before, but faced with 5 - 30 days at sea in  rolling waves, I've coming to the conclusion that eventually they may have a place in our day to day kitchen. So bring on the bechamel sauce in tetrapak. Never would have been seen dead with it in my Waitrose basket before. To understand, try cooking your next meal with one hand  and on one leg. And then wash all your utensils in sea water. 
Now I know why we don't have any visitors...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fornells, Menorca

Currently anchored in Fornells, Menorca, after spending a few days in
Mahon. 47 boats in a very tight space of Cala Taleura, with a forecast
for strong winds, and we were all on the minimum anchor scope to
prevent us swinging into each other. We found an unoccupied corner and
tied back to some small rock, to get out of the way, and all was
well, once we found some rocks that didn't fall apart.
Fornells is busy but beautiful. Attractive town and wooded hills. The
bay reminds us of Poole Harbour on an August Bank Holiday. It is
packed with windsurfers, kayaks, dinghies, superyachts, stink boats
(motor boats) and swimmers, all enjoying being on the water. I
spotted some blue stingy things, so am keeping out of the water here.

We are headed to Pollensa on Mallorca in the next couple of days to
meet up with some old friends there.

Friday, July 15, 2011


15 July 2011
Anchored in Carbonara Bay marine reserve, South Sardinia
39-07.8N 009-28.3E
Why is the blog not up to date? Well what would you rather do - swim in crystal clear water, eat Italian food, socialise with friends on other boats,
play music in the cockpit....or sit at a pc and write stuff?
Guess what my choice is. So you'll have to wait till we only have boring alternatives.
Steph and Stu xx

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Methoni, Peloponnese, SW Greece

Full update coming soon, and I will take off the yotreps position
reporting, which is not working.
We are currently at Methoni, 36-48.94N 021-42.49E and will shortly be
heading for Syracusa, Sicily when the wind blows in the right direction.
Then we plan to head around Sicily clockwise and head to SE Sardinia in
mid July.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Be careful what you wish for.....

Panormitis Bay, Simi, Greece
36 33 10.00 N, 027 50 73.00 E
3 May 2011

We escaped the sticky pontoons of Yat Marin and the sticky mud of Marmaris bay about 4 weeks behind the plan, but plans are made to be changed. The spring weather has been really pants, so if you were planning to come out in April, you really made a good choice not to come just yet. Marmaris will be forever raining in my memory and swimming is a far distant thought concept.

We did get lots of jobs done, including one that I've been putting off for 2 years. At long last I've put the contents of the old website ( which is now long gone, onto a second blog site called - there is a link on the top right of the page. It took ages, and I was wondering if anyone would ever look at it, but for me it was like flicking through an old photo album and journal, and was a good opportunity to reminisce. There's a link to a photo album too.

We celebrated St Georges day with British roast beef and yorkshire pudding, watched the Royal Coupling, and spent ANZAC day with the ANZACS, aboard Storm Vogel, a beautiful classic sailing yacht enjoying its 50th birthday - it featured in the film, Dead Calm, if you want an idea of what the boat is like.

Our shake down sail on 1st May was to Rhodes, as we thought we hadn't given it a fair chance to impress us. After trying to squeeze into spots that had some combinations of 20 knot cross winds, crossed anchors, lazy line conrete blocks and various obstacles, we decided we couldn't stay in Mandraki harbour after all, so we used the last 4 hours of daylight to head for the lovely Panormitis bay in Simi. Rhodes had its chance and failed!
It was full of fat pink, underdressed tourists as usual anyway.

The weather is still very unsettled, it seems to be about a month behind schedule this year, and this is a good place to sit out the latest series of weather fronts coming across the Med.
The bay is delightful, and the monastery here has a small shop for real basics, but we needed more substantial supplies, like wine and beer, so we took the bus across the island to Simi town. Unlike the numerous dolmuses that ply the streets of Turkey, Greek islands usually have just 1 or 2 buses a day, and Simi is no exception. As we wound our way up the preciptious road to the top of the hill I thought it was such a shame that I couldn't get a photo of the spectacular views through the dirty windows that are fixed shut. Well, be careful what you wish for, especially in Monastery Bay! After our shopping we waited for the one and only bus back to the boat, with about 18 other hopefuls. Alas the bus would not start, despite the attentions of most of the male population of Simi. After about an hour of trying, the bus was declared kaput. We feared an 8 hour trek over the hills,or an expensive taxi ride, but the bus driver and his colleague had by this time brought in their own personal vehicles and we were squeezed into a small hot hatch and a cattle truck. So we got a wild and windswept trip back to Monastery Bay with plenty of opportunities for pictures after all. He was very apologetic but we told him his cattle truck was much more fun than the bus, and paid him our bus fare all the same.
I will share the photos with you when we get to civilization as the monks don't provide wifi, and we can't get any internet. In the meantime this update is sent via the dark arts of Ham radio, from the computer it is turned into beeps and scratchy noises, to the radio, up the antenna, up into the ionosphere, back to Athens, down another antenna, radio and computer, and then by normal email to google's blogger, wherever that is in the world. Clever init?

Hope to move on to Crete as soon as we have fair winds or no winds.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Ashore Yat Marina, Marmaris, Turkey

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and after a 36 hour flight with Etihad we are back in Marmaris. We didn't fly on an Etihad plane at all, but with Qantas, VAustralia (can't recommend them highly enough) Turkish airlines, then Pegasus. At every stage, after much worrying head-scratching by the officials, we could only check in for one flight, and had to retrieve our luggage at each airport and check it in again. This meant going through immigration at Australia, so I needed a last minute visa and we had to declare loads of stuff in our hold luggage that wasn't expecting to see the light of day in Oz. However they were in a good mood, and let us through without confiscating anything.

Back 'home' we were pleased to find Matador looking dry and dusty, not soggy and damp after our 3 months away, thanks to Bob and Liz's (Birvidik) watchful care. We are totally landlocked by boats and it doesn't look like we might launch in the next couple of weeks as planned.
Spot the boat launching in 1 week!
Ali (Aldo Marin)has done a superb job of scraping and painting our hull. A rare example of a Turkish job done well, with no hoodwinking or cheating, and for the agreed price he actually did more than we asked.  Nice guy too.

Marina swimming pool

Yat Marina is a huge and strange place. Some fantastic facilities and there are thousands of boats here, most much, much bigger than ours, having hugely expensive refits done. The 300 ton crane is up and down the runway constantly passing within millimeters of the stored boats. The crane drivers are really skillful and experienced here, unlike many other yards we've seen. As the supersized yachts glide gently along hanging in the slings towards the launch site, people walk, cycle and drive cars between the wheels of the crane and the suspended boat. I like cycling through like this, in the knowledge that anywhere else in the world someone would be hollering at you to keep away.
There have been a number of injuries this year; a broken back from falling off a boat ladder, broken ankle slipping off scaffolding, broken foot from jive dancing(!), double hernia from overenthusiastic gym work, a couple of slight electrocutions from dodgy earthing and a few yoga induced injuries too. Oh yeah, and some burns when a boat blew up! A worker was vacuuming the solvent filled bilge with a normal electric vacuum, when it sparked an explosion, and the top of the boat flew up and the funnel fell over. Turkish boat yards are great places to do risk assessments, once a manager in the UK risk-obsessed workplace, one can't help pondering the 1001 accidents that by some miracle are not actually happening despite the many blind-eyes turned to health and safety.
Now the underwater jobs are all done and we are itching to get back on the water, quite literally itching. The corner of the yard where we are is so dusty and grimy a thick layer of dirt covers every surface inside and out, due to countless boat bottom scrapings, and endless sanding. I dread to think what the heavy metal content of the dust is. The local pollen and fungal spores from the hills around us are driving our allergies crazy and the mosquitoes are truly mafioso. They know where we live, and they know where we sleep. They pay us regular visits all night, and are resistant to spray and all plug-in mossy killers. We put up the mossy net over the bed, but they bite through it. As soon as we put the light on to catch them they play an extensive game of hide and seek, until you give up and just get back to sleep, when they start divebombing our heads and ears relentlessly again.
We will be so glad to be bobbing gently back on the water, well away from all the noise and chaos.

We did a chart exchange and photocopy today to enhance our Caribbean chart collection, and I could almost smell the rum and coconuts. I just measured on the chartplotter, and it is just over 6100 miles direct (51 days at 5knots) to the first islands – but of course we will be taking a lot longer than that to get there, and we will be able to fill our lockers with interesting Mediterranean specialities from each country we revisit on the way  out of the Med.

 With a blaze of triumphal trumpets.....
At long last the Black Sea Experience blog is finished and online. It is long winded and dull – just like the trip, at times! Read and enjoy so you don't have to go there yourself.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A short interlude in New Zealand avoiding rainy Marmaris

We spent a short and very chilly 2 weeks in the UK for Christmas with family and friends. Thanks Jenny and Paul for generously hosting Christmas dinner for us all.
Sue and Martin took us out for a boat ride at New Year in Poole Harbour and put paid to any thoughts we might have had about ever sailing in England again. It was actually snowing. Cheers guys.
After getting thoroughly chilled we were off to warmer climes, a parallel universe in the New Zealand summer.

Our previous trips to NZ had been 3 weeks and 2 weeks due to annual leave restrictions. This time we had a whole 10 weeks stretching out before us. Heaps of time to tour the whole country I thought. Stu stubbornly insisted on limiting us just to the north island as we travel very slowly these days, so we were fortunately nowhere near the terrible earthquake in Christchurch, though we lived through the extensive daily news coverage, until it was totally eclipsed by the awful earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
After spending a couple of weeks in Auckland helping Stu's dad, Phil, and his wife, Yvonne, move house, and buying a car, bikes and clothes, and borrowing camping gear we set off on our adventures around the north island. Not a lot is cheap in NZ anymore, except cars, diesel and good wine.
We were fortunate to have an Auckland base for so long, as a cyclone hit the east coast with flooding and many remote routes were cut off by land slips. Campsites were abandoned  and it would have been a real miserable reintroduction to camping.
As we are mariners, we looked at the long range real weather forecasts, and knew when we should stay home. During our camping trip many friends kindly put us up for a night or two, and cooked for us, so we had lots of nights not blowing up airbeds or stumbling around in the dark looking for the toilets. Strangely, most Kiwis seem to go to bed at 9pm, and there were 'lights-out' and 'no noise' rules in all the campsites from 10pm – just when we're getting ready to go out normally! A bit of a culture shock. We even got told off for having a glass of wine in front of the TV at  9.30pm in one camp. We'd been caught on the security camera - naughty naughty indeed!Good thing we weren't up to anything else.

There is a wine glut in NZ and Australia at the moment, so to accompany the fantastic food available we had cheap and excellent wines – now we are spoiled for ever and I will never touch another drop of Turkish wine as long as I live.
There is a vibrant immigrant community in NZ, so as well as the interesting faces of the indigenous Maori, and Pacific Islanders, there are many people from South America, India, and Asia. You can travel without moving in the city. We ate at food halls where you could eat cheap authentic Thai, Malaysian, Korean, Chinese or Indian food for peanuts. This was real bliss after all the Med food we've had for 4 years. Many NZ restaurants are busy trying to recreate fancy versions of Med food but we took full advantage of as much Asian food and chilli as our tummies could handle.

We thought it would be good to get fit and do a bit of cycle touring, but we were quickly disabused of this notion after just 30 minutes cycling on one road. NZ is the only country where I have had a beer bottle thrown at me from a car, or young people who think its a laugh to stick their head out the window and shout boo as they go by to try and make you fall off. Even without these shenanigans, kiwis are not cycle friendly,and there a frequent fatalities on the roads. Most roads are just the 2 lanes, and not that busy, so people take stupid overtaking risks, and don't realise how much space cyclists deserve.  So, we took advantage of the excellent offroad rides made available in forests and national parks. Many of these parks have segregated areas for horse riders and walkers and the bike tracks are signed and graded for expertise, and one-way so you don't have head-on surprises, and new tracks are constantly being added to the network. Shame these guys don't design the roads like that.

One other less than pleasant aspect of NZ society is the threat of car break-ins in car parks. Not just remote ones either. You can't leave any valuables in your car while you go walking (unless you're in a campsite), so I often lugged a heavy backpack around the beautiful native bush walks. Broken glass was in evidence pretty much anywhere we left our car. I guess in the UK you would be paying to park, so there would be some security provided and therefore car crime has become less evident of late. We had no incidents ourselves, but this apparent undercurrent of crime is a sad dent in the otherwise wholesomeness of NZ. The green of the bush, the dense blue sky, abundant birdlife, air so clear you constantly squint, the warm sun, rolling surf and improbably infinite sand beaches more than make up for the slight nagging worry that your personal effects might right now be being traded for drug money, and the car will be a bit draughty on the way home.

We put our fitness to the test at Tongariro National Park, and did the famous Tongariro Crossing of the not long extinct volcano. It was a hard going 18km, especially as I got a heel-sized blister in the first hour of seven. I was not alone, in the backpackers where we stayed there were many bandaged wounded feet, happily clad in flipflops for days afterwards.

We also took shuttle buses to some remarkable downhill (overall!) off road cycle routes. The 'Fishers Track' a mere 28km 2 hour warm up for the more serious and remote '42 Crossing' a full-on 5 hour 46km adventure in gear changing. Lovely scenery and a very welcome pub at the end of it.

Talking of pubs. They are very strange places in NZ. Not like cosy meeting places in Olde Englande. They have long high tables for throwing your fighting opponent over, high chairs for falling off after too many beers, a number of loud drunk people looking like they're about to fight or fall over. The rest are out back playing the 'pokies' or electronic poker slot machines. For normal people who don't need to fight or fall over while drinking, socialising is done at each others homes, with BBQ food or nibbles, and very pleasant it is too.

NZ toilets deserve a mention too. On the 10 point scale that marks features such as locks, paper, water, seats, soap, flush, and absence of biology, they come out highest on our international scale so far. Southern Italy and France are joint lowest by the way. Even in the Department of Conservation campsites in NZ the long drops were not the objects of horror one might imagine. These  sites were to be found in many beautiful spots, in forests or beaches and have just the basic facilities, usually only cold water for showers. Only £4 per night per person. The other campsites have fantastic facilities and higher prices £15-20 pppn, but with kitchens, with free use of crockery, pots and pans, microwaves, kettles, BBQ's, TV rooms (with rules)cheap laundries, some with swimming pools or adjacent to a natural spa.
We tried to visit as many spas as possible. Some are sulphury and smelly, some cleaned and filled daily, others large pools with added chlorine for hygiene. None of them were easy to swim in though, I think due to the minerals.

The sea lacked swimming opportunities too, other than diving under the surf. The beaches on both coasts were too surfy for that head down-go for it-front crawl type swimming that we're used in the Med. We were expecting beautifully crystal clear water too, but it had been mulched by the landslips and cyclone. When a local guy was excitedly telling us how he can usually see his ankles we realised how spoilt we've become for visibility. In Khalidiki last  year I could clearly see a jellyfish at more than 20m !
There are very strong tidal rips and currents on many NZ beaches too, as the high rate of drownings testifies in the summer. I guess in the Uk we have strong tides too, but a lot less people brave the water there. Most NZ beaches have a lifeguard on duty, and you have to swim between 2 flags, usually only about 20m apart. You can often see the rips in the patterns of the waves outside the flags, so you don't mess about there. The guards are very skilled at riding a rescue RIB with outboard in large waves, and there are annual contests to challenge their skills.

With Andy and Rachel, who migrated from the UK a couple of years ago, we went to see the racing at Paeroa, a town famous only for its fizzy drink, L&P,the rest of the year. The main highway normally goes through the town, but this was closed off and fenced for the racing. Fatalities are not unheard of at this event i.e. it's a bit mad! The bikes were racing down the high street at 240km/h,(you can get a feel for the speed in this video clip) and the sidecar racing is just suicidal.  We saw a few spectacular wipe-outs, but thankfully all the riders walked away from the crashes.

So after all this sunshine, fine dining and wine drinking, we have to haul ourselves back to the real world where there isn't an ensuite bathroom and hot water doesn't gush out of the shower, and there is no dishwasher or washing machine or car. But once we've done the boat jobs and have relaunched we will be surrounded by our clear blue infinity swimming pool, and we'll take our simple Mediterranean inspired lunches and suppers in the cockpit looking out at a new bay each day, I guess it won't be so bad.