Tuesday, 24 May 2016

4 Countries, 1 TV Programme.

Four countries visited so far - Austria then Italy to ski. Antigua to race Classic Week. France to deliver my best friend's boat (and him) to Morlaix via Yarmouth, IoW, and Dartmouth.

Earlier this year the BBC asked me to help out...

Photos to follow.....

Monday, 6 April 2015

Three Men in a Boat

A last “sherbet” in the Lounge, a farewell kiss from Michelle the landlady, and it was back to the boat for a dawn departure. Dawn in Gibraltar is always at 0830! We were ready and waiting. The marina staff removed the boom that each night, closed the marina entrance, and we slipped out.

Blue sky, a gentle 6kts on the nose gradually building, we crossed the bay – a beautiful start. By Tarifa we were banging into 22kts, a lumpy sea, and 4kts of foul tide! Progress was painfully slow. 18 miles and 4½ hrs later we finally rounded Tarifa Light.

The sun was shining, Cape Trafalgar slipped passed, and we made for the Algarve coast of Portugal, slipping in to Lagos with time for a brief run ashore.

Watching the weather plays a key part in the leg north ‘up’ the west side of Europe. Both the prevailing wind, and the prevailing currents are against you, and gales are frequent, but it was looking good for a dawn departure. 0630 saw us slipping quietly out of the harbour, turning west, and motoring for Ponta de Sagres, and Cabo Sao Vincente.

Rounding Cape St Vincent the weather always changes. We left the balmy comfort of the Mediterranean -style climate of the Algarve, an swopped it for that of the North Atlantic Ocean. Within twenty minutes the flat blue sea became a boiling turmoil of grey sea, the spray flying. Double reefed mainsail and staysail replaced full main and genoa. Foul weather gear replaced t-shirt and shorts. 30+kts blasted out of the east. On course, sailing at 8kts, we revelled in the conditions.

Progress was good. We gel as a team. Competition in the galley hots up.

As the High pressure system built the wind remained light. We pressed on hoping to make Lisbon, or perhaps even Nazare. Still the weather held. Finally we hove-to, drop sails, and slipped into Povoa de Varzim, a fishing port with white sand beaches stretching north and south as far as the eye can see.

Concrete apartment blocks surround the old town and stretch, like the sand, in both directions. In the harbour, a warm and friendly welcome, cheap berthing, and good facilities with high-tec security meant finger-print recognition at the marina, onto the pontoons, and even into the heads!! As for the welcome that awaits others, I wasn’t so sure! On the beach, in a square, surrounded by bars, cafes, and a pizza hut stood a ghoulish stage…...

The sun is shining, the breeze a little cooler. We pass Portugals only offshore ‘windfarm’, it’s single turbine turning slowly in the wind.

As the Rio Minho slips past abeam, down comes the red & green ensign of Portugal. Up goes the red and yellow of spain. Baiona, Finnistere, and Biscay are only days away.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Cruising along the Costa Del Sol

Above us, the snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains glistened in the first light of dawn. Alongside, our only companions, the dolphins raced, jumped, and played in the glassy sea.

The run along the Costa Del Sol from Gibraltar to Almerimar, past Marbella, Torremolinos and Malaga, was like crossing a millpond. The Mediterranean was living up to its reputation for wind – all, or nothing. Arriving in Almerimar was like arriving at a sailing club rally. Portsmouth boats, all old friends, lined the quay - Dragonsong, Mayra, Leslie Frank, and ……………….

Avocette’s lift-out was accompanied by much shouting, and animated discussion by the many Marinieros, but the care and attention was excellent, and soon Avocette was settled on the hard. They pressure-washed, scrubbed, and polished, and all for a fraction of the cost in the UK. Antifouled, and another coat of polish (by me this time) and four days later were back in the water. There’s a lot to be said for hot sunny days!

Almerimar doesn’t have an “Old Town”. The marina is big and surrounded by bars and shops, but many of its modern buildings lay empty, victims of the financial crash.

Surrounding the town, and stretching as far as the eye can see, the land is covered in plastic sheet. The Dutch saw the potential. They taught the Spanish how to use hydroponics - plastic tunnels, all climate controlled, and that now grow much of Spain’s vegetables - the same vegetables we see on our supermarket shelves at home.

Seventy-five miles south of the Costa Del Sol is the north coast of Africa, and the authorities are constantly on the alert. Drug smuggling is quite rightly, taken very seriously. The Guardia Civil intercepted this Grandbanks Trawler Yacht. When it tried to out-run the patrol boat a hail of 12mm cannon brought his clandestine run to a dramatic halt. This smugglers drug run had cost him his life!

One of the great joys of cruising is exploring the countryside, unearthing the real country, meeting local people, and enjoying their customs, food and culture. Using the excuse to return Jim to Almerimar I hired a car and we drove up into the mountains, along the coast, and into the old towns. Spanish roads are a joy. Wide empty motorways speed you through the dramatic scenery, winding narrow lanes creep up the hills into old towns, or to cliff-tops and craggy rocks and quiet harbours.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Ticking Off the Day's

Ticking off the day’s to my flight back to Gibraltar, I watched the wind. For ten days it had been a gentle westerly, perfect for sailing into the Med, and along the beautiful Costa Del Sol, to Almerimar. Back on the boat, it’s 22’C sitting in the sun. Just a pair of shorts and a cold beer, the tan is returning – but the wind had seen me coming.

When the Levanter blows it comes from the east, it’s unforgiving, 30kts, 40kts, then 50kts, day after day. It’s still shorts weather, but I’m stuck here again! Never mind there’s a boat to polish, and shopping to be done.
Better top-up whist I’m here……

That’s per litre, and some places are even cheaper!!

PIRACY? Industrial espionage? Or has the Victory Class gone into property development?

Finally the wind drops. It’s time to go.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Untenable Anchorage - Warm Welcome

Quite predictably the weather in England is cooler than Gibraltar.

It is also ‘That time of Year’ when almost everyone seems hell-bent on emptying the shops and supermarkets of their entire contents.

I had two options –join the frenzy, or retreat to a quiet sanctuary.

Gatwick was empty, the flight to Shannon on time. A quick one in “Durty Nelly’s” in the shadow of Bunraty Castle, and it was off to Ennis for the craic in Brogans, a great little bar. The guinness was good, and so was the session – I even had a little play myself.

Eire is a beautiful country. Its rugged west coast conceals snug anchorages, open bays, and wild wave swept rocks under towering cliffs. This coast is serious sailing. When the wind blows the Atlantic Ocean vents all its pent-up energy on the Emerald Isle. It can be fearsome, anchorages untenable, yet always it remains quite beautiful.

Killkee Bay

Winding around the mountains and hills, on its way down to the sea, the River Shannon drains the lakes and peat bogs, in heart of the country, with the sound of the fiddle wafting down from a session.

It snowed on the way back from the session in Larkin’s Bar -- another great night. In the morning ice covered the car, and snow capped the hills.

I fell in love with the country, and the people, whilst cruising round the UK in 2001 – and it hasn’t changed.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

From an Ocean to a Sea

Throw him in….Throw him in… they chanted. Firework night was celebrated in style. Little Bay was packed with children – young and old! – for the bonfire, hot dogs, sparklers, and, of-course the fireworks. The bonfire crackled and spat, sending sparks, and flames, high into the moonlit sky.

An orderly queue, safely marshalled, of kids dragged their guys – pirates, spacemen, monsters, and more, to the fire. On the count, and to the chant “Throw him in…. Throw him in…”, together with a great cheer, the guy’s were thrown. One at a time to the flames they flew. With a background of The Rock, Africa, Spain, and the Bay of Gibraltar, it was a memorable evening.

The Romans called Gibraltar, Calpe, and recognised the rock as one of the two Pillars of Herakule, the other being Jebel Musa, in the Atlas Mountains, Morocco, on the other side of the Straits.

Neolithic man lived here. The Phoenician’s called it the end of the known world, and it has been fought over by many others, each leaving their imprint, but it was the Moors who gave Gibraltar its present name. Jebel means mountain, Tarik was the Moorish leader who controlled this area and who built his castle on the rock – Jebel Tarik. There are Moorish baths, great bastions, tunnels from the Great Siege and WW2, Victorian and Spanish style housing, the docks that Nelson used, and the airport marking the border with Spain, and still the arguements over ownership rumble on.

Avocette is safely moored in part of the old RN Dockyard. The sun is shining, and temperatures still climb into the low to mid- twenties. This year’s sailing is now at a close. Next years is in the planning; Lift-out and anti-foul in February, then into the Mediterranean in March.

The planned route is Costa del Sol, then crossing to explore the Balearics, Sardinia, Sicily, and on to Malta. From Malta we head north to find active volcanoes and ancient ruins, art and history, islands and the Rivera.

For once we can be a little more planned in our route and timings, though with sailing nothing is set in stone, and we look forward to lots of family and friends joining our adventure….. but now it’s time to go skiing.

Monday, 27 October 2014

To the Immortal Memory

More sea trials took us back to Cadiz, a vibrant city, full of life. Spanish, German, and American voices on the VHF alerted us to naval ‘goings-on’ as we sailed through the night. An hour before dawn we changed the watch. Graham caught some zzzz’s, and I watched the lights of Cadiz. Windfarms surrounding the bay made spotting navigation light a joke. Each turbine was lit with a flashing white light, cranes and buildings added to the fun with both fixed, and flashing, red lights. The shore-lights just added more colour.

As I searched for the leading lights that would take us safely in I became aware of a gap in the lights – it was moving. Then another, and another. I slowed Avocette down, and watched as, in line astern, a NATO squadron of naval ships returning from their exercise, crossed ahead of us – not a single navigation light showing on any of them!

I used to see sights such as this as the Royal Navy sailed in and out of Portsmouth. Now I have to go to Cadiz. What would Nelson have made of it?

So onto Barbate, its brand new marina, empty, and the town much the same, but they did do a good line in anchors!

We slipped out, sailed around Tarifa,the southernmost tip of Europe to port, Africa to starboard, and back into Gibraltar.

Next stop – the Mediterranian.