Friday, December 31, 2010

We're not alone

Passage to Barbados, day 3. Within hours of the end of day 2 John spotted sails behind us and quickly got on the VHF to make contact. VHF radio has a range that is essentially line-of-sight. The boat was Saba, one we didn't know. They left the Cape Verde islands about when we did, but they're headed to Martinique. We agreed to call them again after we got weather from Herb since they don't have SSB radio, but by then they were out of range. Besides Saba, we know of five other boats in our vicinity, but we haven't seen any of them. It's a big ocean.

All is well aboard Solstice. Little dog Märzen is still limping, but seems OK otherwise. Our end-of-day position at 1500 UTC was 14°36.797'N, 030°29.875'W. The wind isn't letting us go straight to Barbados, so although our total distance was 148 nm (6.167 kn avg), our way-made-good was only 129 nm (5.375 kn avg). Not bad, but we hope to do better.

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Trouble with SailMail

Passage to Barbados, day 2. We continue to have difficulties connecting with SailMail, and when we do connect, the transfer rate is very slow. As a result, we are not picking up our inbound messages right now, not even the grib files that show the weather forecast. If you need to contact us urgently, please put URGENT in the subject. Otherwise, we'll have a lot of catching up to do when we get a fast connection.

Fortunately, our contact with Herb (South Bound II, 12,359 USB, 1930 UTC check-in) has been excellent, and his forecasts are better than grib files anyway. We also continue to connect with the Rum Runners Net (8131 USB, 1000 UTC), so we hear what weather those ahead of us are having and keep track of our friends' progress. Both of these radio contacts get our position, and we continue to send position reports to YOTREPS, but we don't know if the problem with those position reports has been worked out. We aren't the only ones who had problems.

All is well aboard Solstice (and Orinoco), but the little dog hurt her foot, so we're babying her even more than usual. Our end of day 2 (1500 UTC) position was 14°58.885'N, 028°18.879'W. Our average speed was 5,33 knots, but we only made 117 straight line nautical miles.

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Fresh mahi-mahi restocked

Passage to Barbados, day 1. John caught another mahi-mahi on his 9 o'clock watch yesterday morning. That was preceded by a small something yummy that we ate the next before and a small mahi-mahi that he let go. He still has a hand line out, but it's catch and release until he gets a wahoo. We need to eat some of the other provisions we stocked.

End of day 1 (1500 UTC 12/29/10) we were at 15°26.544'N, 026°21.572'W. We netted 117 nautical miles in a straight line, but we had some course changes along the way. At the end we were heading west.

All is well aboard Solstice, and we heard Orinoco on the net this morning, and he's fine too.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Beyond Cape Verde

Passage to Barbados, day 0. We left the fuel dock at Mindelo at 1440 UTC Tuesday with about 15 knots of easterly wind and higher gusts in the channel between the islands. That was a nice, fast ride. Unfortunately, the winds have eased considerably now so that we're probably only averaging around 4.5 knots. We're also heading south of southwest right now, so it's probably time to jibe pretty soon. When we talked with Herb earlier, though, he said there's more wind further south. The seas are pretty lumpy, so we aren't having a very comfortable ride.

Jinja and Alua left ahead of us. Free Spirit and Avocette are leaving Wednesday.

All is well aboard Solstice. Our position at 0240 UTC on Dec. 29 is 16o23'N and 025o51'W. (There's no degree symbol in SailMail.)

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Monday, December 27, 2010

A mahi-mahi Christmas

Tomorrow we continue our Atlantic crossing, heading to Barbados and then on to Grenada. Our week in Mindelo has been spent working on the boat, doing laundry by hand, and visiting with friends. Although we’ve wandered around town a bit looking for the best grocery stores, we haven’t done anything touristy.

Christmas eve the crews of several boats went out on the town. It was fun to meet new people, some of whom (Alua, Free Spirit, and Connect 4) we had heard on the Rum Runners Net, this year’s informal transatlantic crossing short-wave radio group. Christmas evening John cooked more of the mahi-mahi, and we took it over to Avocette of Portsmouth to share with Chris and Roy. Just before we headed to Avocette, our Israeli friends, Liat and Assaf, arrived on Jinja, so we had them over for dinner last night with their friends Noam and Yosephina, and we’re now out of mahi-mahi until John catches some more.

Today we’ll top off our provisions, give the boat a little wash-down, and do our official check-out. In the morning we’ll top off the water and fuel, and then we’re off. Several other boats are planning to leave about the same time, so we’ll have company out there. We’re looking forward to our first sail in the trade winds, and they look good for at least the first week. Daily updates will continue when we’re underway, assuming we don’t use too much time and get locked out of SailMail. Our Yotreps position reporting quit working just before we reached Mindelo, but that seems to be squared away again now. Just in case, we’ll add our position to the end of our blog posts.

P.S.: John heard Orinoco on the net this morning, and all is well with Jim.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Arrived at Mindelo

We arrived at Mindelo, Cape Verde, yesterday, but I had neither Sailmail or Internet, so couldn't post an update. It was lovely to make landfall on the solstice. As we motored through the anchorage here on our way to the marina, we passed close enough to our friend Jim on Orinoco to say hello. Then we moored right next to our new friends Mike and Linda on Aquila. This morning both of those boats left to continue their passage, but we'll listen for them on the SSB (short-wave) radio. Last night we gave Jim his long-postponed mahi-mahi dinner (promised in Costa Rica in early 2008) and then we all went next door for drinks on Aquila. Jim gave us tips on reefing while sailing downwind, and John gave Mike and Linda a short course in filleting mahi-mahi.

We made two trips yesterday to check in, but immigration wasn't open either time, so we accomplished that this morning. Our friends Chris and Roy on Avocette of Portsmouth also came into the marina yesterday, so we'll be getting together with them, if not today then for sure on Christmas. Liat and Assaf on Jinja are somewhere in the Cape Verde islands, so we're hoping to see them too.

All is well aboard Solstice and friends' boats. Daily posts will resume when we set sail again next week. Happy holidays to you all.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Passage to Mindelo: Day 7

The stats for day 7 are the same as day 6: 133.2 miles, 5.55 knots average. Maybe that's because we had the same light wind conditions and motor-sailed almost the whole time. When we use the SSB radio, we have to turn the engine off, but then our speed has been less than 4 knots, not good enough to get to Mindelo before dark tomorrow, so we turn the engine back on. (Now on day 8 we finally have enough wind to keep the engine off again.)

Besides checking in with Herb for weather in the evening, we use the SSB to check in with the Rum Runners Net, an informal radio network of English-speaking cruisers crossing the Atlantic to the Caribbean. Our friends on Orinoco and Aquila are on the net, and that's how we keep up with them. We've also met a couple of the other boats but really haven't gotten acquainted yet. One boat, Stardust, is from Portland. They're circumnavigating but didn't seem too interested in getting to know us since they're cruising with people they've known for many miles now.

One difference today was that the dolphins were back. I'm pretty sure they were different ones because I think I'd recognize the wounds on one from the other day.

All is well aboard Solstice, but we're definitely looking forward to landfall tomorrow--on the solstice--and catching up with friends on Orinoco, Aquila, and Avocette, who is arriving on the 22nd.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Passage to Mindelo: Day 6

If we're able to post this, I'll be relieved. Last night when we were trying to get new grib files, Sailmail refused our connection request. We hope whatever caused that will be cleared today. It's a reminder, though, not to worry if you don't hear from us for a few days.

Last night we were able to sail much of the time, but this morning the wind really slacked, and what remains of it is too variable to use, so the motor is back on. We expect it to continue this way through the night, but we have hopes for a little wind tomorrow. We're about two days out from Mindelo at our current pace.

This morning before dawn John landed another mahi-mahi, quite a big one this time. It was a relief because his old jig was lost, and it was a proven fish killer in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Mediterranean. Perhaps that pilot whale took it after all. Whatever, it's good to know that the new jig works too.

All is well aboard Solstice, and we're having pizza tonight despite the fresh fish.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Passage to Mindelo: Day 5

We're finally actually pointing toward Mindelo again after almost three days of sailing south. Last night Herb advised us to go even further south--or even east--and we tried all night, but it was very slow. What little wind we had was directly behind us and not doing us any good since we aren't configured for true downwind sailing. Finally, this morning we decided to sail for awhile at 90 degrees off the wind. That took us west of south (yay!), but it was fast, and when the wind eased even more, we set a track west for a waypoint near Mindelo. That's been working out fine so far, and we can always turn south again if necessary.

Yesterday after the dolphin show, a pod of pilot whales came by. I was just as glad that they didn't get too close. And this morning we saw a big turtle. (John saw one yesterday too, but I was busy at the time.) Other than what I've reported, most of the sea life we've seen has been ships. We've been surprised how much traffic there is along the African coast. Meridian 18 west is almost like a highway, and the ships seem to move in convoys. (They probably don't, but it looks like it.) Now that we've turned, we expect to less traffic.

Yesterday was a slow day: only 109.5 nautical miles (4.56 knots average), but that's in a straight line, and we did turn.

All is well aboard Solstice, and by the way, we're officially in the tropics having crossed the Tropic of Cancer on day 3.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Passge to Mindelo: Day 4

We just had a visit and show by a group of 50 or more spotted Atlantic dolphins. They arrived quite suddenly. John spotted one on the starboard side just as I noticed a bubble circle on the port, and then they were all around us with more racing in from the distance. At one point I counted 12 in our bow wake, but a minute later there must have been 20 or so. Meanwhile, along the sides and off a little ways, a trio was practicing high jumps for their debut at Sea World. We thought the show was over and were heading back to the cockpit when a soloist performed the finale: a series of two 3+-meter jumps with twists and somersaults in the air. Spectacular!

On to the mundane: our 24-hour distance for day 4 was 133 nautical miles, all in a line heading south. That's a decent average speed of more than 5.5 knots, but it was two-thirds motor-sailing. Herb, our weather router, told us last night to continue along the 18W meridian to 18N latitude before we turn west. This is disappointing since it adds miles to the passage, and we're now looking at 8 days or total since a calm is expected over the weekend.

All is well aboard Solstice (and Orinoco too).

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Passage to Mindelo: Day 3

In the past 24 hours we covered 122 nautical miles measuring in a straight line. That's an average speed of a little better than 5 knots (but we really went a little farther and faster because we had a course change as explained below). Most of that has been motor-sailing because the wind is light and still from the southwest.

While dining on fresh mahi-mahi in the cockpit yesterday evening we spotted a whale on the horizon. It was our first confirmed sighting in a couple of years. It was too far away to tell for sure, but judging from the blow and the silhouette, we think it was a sperm whale. This morning a pilot whale was investigating John's jig. Smarter than a mahi-mahi, it didn't linger. Also, we've discovered what we suppose are jellyfish that are new to us. We only see them at night when they look like beach-ball-sized flashes in our wake.

At the end of day 2 we were heading straight for Mindelo on a bearing of 230 degrees. However, last night we were successful in connecting with our weather guru, Herb of South Bound II. We couldn't hear everything he said very clearly, but we did get that there's a little weather system between us and Mindelo. Boats on the other side of it are getting nice sailing with northwest winds. Herb advised us to head straight south until Friday evening, so that's what we're doing. But I hope he changes his mind tonight and lets us go west. The grib files are totally wrong about the wind direction now, so we have to trust Herb.

We learned on the Rum Runners Net this morning that lots of boats are headed to Mindelo. It was news to us since, as I mentioned before, we were isolated from other cruisers in Las Palmas. I don't know how long they're all staying, but most of them will beat us there. I sure hope the marina saves our reservations.

All is well aboard Solstice, but we'd really like to turn the motor off and still get to Mindelo before Christmas.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Passage to Mindelo: Day 2

Day 2 ended with some excitement as John caught a keeper mahi-mahi just as I was doing the end-of-day log entry. Our dinner plans have changed; we can have pizza anytime, but not fresh fish.

Our stats for day 2 were also good: 135 nautical miles for an average speed of 5.625 knots. Unfortunately for day 3's prospects, most of that speed was early in the 24-hour period when we sailed for hours at better than 7 knots. Now the wind has changed, as predicted, and we're motoring with the main sail up into 10-knot winds from the southwest. If the forecast remains accurate, we'll be sailing again in a few hours, though.

Clouds obscured the meteor shower last night that had been so spectacular the night before. We were able to hear Herb on South Bound II briefly as he talked with a nearby boat, but then the signal faded. We did discover, though, that he heard us try to check in the first night, so he knows we're here and is ready to talk with us. This morning John checked in with the Rum Runners Net for the first time. It's an informal group of boats crossing the Atlantic, all equipped with single side band (SSB) radios. We could hear our friends Jim on Orinoco and Linda on Aquila, and they're also motor-sailing and are fine. We haven't been able to get a grib-file update since last night, but no real weather is expected in our area.

All is fine aboard Solstice, and we're eating well tonight!

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Passage to Mindelo: Day 1

The forecasts were good, and we had hoped to leave Las Palmas on Saturday for Mindelo, Cape Verde. Alas, we still had way too much to do, so we planned on Sunday. By Saturday afternoon, all the major chores were done and the provisions loaded on board, albeit not yet stowed, so I decided it was time to build our route in the chart plotter. Until then we had only looked at the big picture. But as I zoomed in on Mindelo's island (Sao Vicente), I wasn't getting the detail I expected. Could it be? Indeed. We didn't have charts for the Cape Verde Islands. So we postponed our departure until Monday and enjoyed an evening out at Sailors Bar chatting with other cruisers.

We officially turned to leave Las Palmas at 1435 Monday (2:35 p.m.). The first 12 hours we motor-sailed because we want to get as far south as possible before the forecast southerlies arrive. I turned the engine off just before 0200 this morning, and we've been sailing fast ever since. Our first 24 hours we covered 141 nautical miles at an average speed of 5.875 knots. That's pretty fast for us, and we're averaging over 6 knots now. The seas started at a meter or less, but have grown a bit lately. John caught one small mahi-mahi right away and let it go, and he just caught another, also too small to keep, but that was technically day 2.

All is well aboard Solstice, and we now have charts.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

I started to write a post about Las Palmas almost a week ago, but then John wrote his thrilling tale, and that was pretty much the most exciting thing that has happened here. This stop has been all about getting the boat ready to cross the Atlantic, and that has meant that we’ve done a lot of waiting: w in line at the chandlery to find out what on our list they had—or didn’t have, waiting for vendors to show up at the boat, waiting for a part shipped from the States to arrive and clear customs. The vendors don't make fixed appointments, or if they do, they're late. Sadly, that has meant that we haven’t explored Gran Canaria except to find big supermarkets for provisions. On our major shopping expedition yesterday, we did see the old town of Las Palmas from the freeway, and the cathedral looked impressive.

We did get a lot done, though. Besides fixing the head, John fixed the generator (after the part arrived), and we had the tri-color light on top of our mast replaced. The socket for the top light bulb was loose, so the connection broke in rough seas. We have alternate navigation lights, but they’re at deck level and simply not visible at any distance in seas over a meter. The life raft and EPIRB were also due for re-certification, so we got that taken care of. John also got new glasses. He’d been holding his old frames together with tape for a year or more, but it was the need for a new prescription that drove him to take care of this, finally. Märzen got her nails trimmed and new supplies of treats and special dog food and stuff we can only find at a vet's office. And, of course, there were the mundane boat chores.

We had been hoping to meet lots of other cruisers here, but that hasn’t happened either. We’re on a dock with mostly local boats or foreign boats that are here long term. Our next-door neighbors, for example, are spending the whole winter here. They’re very nice people from the Alsace region of France, and we’ve exchanged names but very few words because of the language barrier. German is our shared language. Also on our dock is a nice Swedish couple and a boat being delivered to New Zealand by a British skipper and crew. We’ve had drinks a couple of time with James, Joe and Ju and have enjoyed their company, but once they finish their repairs and leave here, they’ll be hurrying to make up lost time.

Fortunately, we were also able to reconnect with some people we met in Gibraltar. Moira was crew on Avocette, a boat we’ve become friendly with and saw again in Madeira. Now she’s on Salt Dragon. Lucky for us she got her new skipper, Shane, to bring her by on the dinghy before they took off on their crossing. We’ll try to find her again on the other side, and she’s on Facebook, so that will make it easier. Also through Facebook, we were able to connect with Liat and Assaf on Jinja. We only met this young Israeli couple briefly in Gibraltar, but we hit it off, so we were glad to catch them here. John even had them over for quesadillas since we found some reasonably priced flour tortillas. They left Friday for Cape Verde, and we have tentative plans to see them again around Christmas.

Meanwhile, our friends in La Palma (Jim on Orinoco and Mike, Linda, and little boat dog Lucy on Aquila) left for St. Lucia yesterday. I got Linda started with a blog while we were in La Palma, and she plans to update it daily. Here’s a link for anyone who’s interested in following another boat across the Atlantic. Mark and Kimberly of Swanya, who we met in Cartagena over the winter, are waiting in La Gomera for a better weather window. A system is approaching this week that will be a hassle to those on the transatlantic passage, but it shouldn’t inconvenience us as much.

And tomorrow we too are making our get-away to Cape Verde. (We had thought we would leave today, but then realized that we don't have charts, so we're waiting for the chandleries to open tomorrow.) We won’t be exploring all of the islands. Without a water-maker, I’m reluctant to add a lot of time to our crossing. The quality of the water in Cape Verde has been reported as questionable, but we’re going to a marina in Mindelo (the only marina in the country, so far) that is owned and run by some Germans, and I’m pretty sure the water will be fine. Our hope is to rendezvous with Avocette and Jinja there for Christmas. It looks like we should arrive on the solstice unless we get no wind or adverse wind and have to motor.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Another Gripping Cruising Tale

Yesterday was head rebuild day. One must take it all apart and scrape out the scale that accumulates and restricts the proper functioning of the head. So I'm standing on the swim step banging a couple two-foot sections of hose together to dislodge the scale and one of the hoses slips from my grip. I have no replacement hose and the chandlery won't be open for two more days and we are in 25 feet of water.

First thought was Shit!
Second thought was Sinking!
Third thought was DIVE!

I whipped off my glasses and jumped in after the sinking hose. I managed to grab the hose and got back on board.

The head is back together and functioning like new. Oh the glamor of cruising.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

La Palma: repairs, tapas, volcano, and wine

Happy Thanksgiving! At this point it still looks like we’ll be leaving La Palma in the morning, so I’d better write about this place before we go on to new experiences. We’ve enjoyed our time here, but haven’t done all that much.

First, it took a couple of days to get together with the mechanic to fix our fuel leak. He found a couple of things and fixed them all, but couldn’t find a coolant leak that John has noticed, so we let that go. While we were waiting for the mechanic, John figured out the problem with the generator, but we need a part to fix it, so we’re deferring that to Las Palmas (de Gran Canaria), our next stop. If we can’t get the part, he has a work-around.

Besides hanging out with Jim we’ve been doing some stuff with another couple from California: Mike and Linda on Aquila from Ventura. They invited us over for sun-downers one evening, and then I discovered that a ruta de las tapas was going on here in Santa Cruz. This is the tapas competition that we enjoyed in Cartagena last spring, and I was pretty excited to find it here now. So the five of us (Orinoco, Solstice, and Aquila) went out for tapas last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

The group sans John, the photographer: Shirlee, Mike, Linda, and Jim

The tapas we were eating, called Pescado salado a la crema de boniato. That’s fish salad something. Yummy, for short.

Yesterday we rented a car so that we could see a little bit of the island. Among the Canary Islands La Palma is known as the green island or the pretty island, and it’s both. Like all of the Canaries, it’s a volcano. We headed straight for the top and the collection of observatories that are there. Well, not straight. There is no straight on this island. In order to get to the top, we traveled an amazingly twisty road, even for people who are used to mountain roads. The views were spectacular.

Who knew the Atlantic was so blue

Tenerife in the distance

The mountain drops sharply to the water with not much arable land in between.

Telescopes for observing gamma rays

Multi-national observatories lined up on the ridge

And the caldera is right behind them

Looking north toward Madeira

On our way down the mountain we continued toward the west and stumbled upon the wine country of the island. We stopped for a bite to eat at a little restaurant and ordered tapas that had John raving: fried cheese (queso asado) and riblets with potatoes (costillos con papas). The sauce (called mojo) that they used on both dishes made all the difference. We even found a winery (Vega Norte) with a sales and tasting room and bought a few bottles.

Costillos con papas

This evening the group went out for tapas again to celebrate Thanksgiving. We managed three stops before our tour was cut short by a real downpour. We’d had dark clouds, wind, and sprinkles all day, but tonight it really dumped. As those of us from Oregon know, it takes rain to make things green; we just hope that the weather will clear for our departure in the morning.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Madeira to La Palma: We’ve arrived!

We made it! We arrived at Marina La Palma this morning in 20-knot winds and rain. Welcome to the sunny Canary Islands! It isn’t cold, just wet, and we’re glad to be here. In the pre-dawn hours yesterday our generator refused to start, so our passage became a little more tense because we had to run the engine a few times and lose fuel in order to charge the batteries and keep our instruments working. Otherwise, we would have been like those early explorers (except by then we had actually seen La Palma in the distance and we have a hand-held GPS).

The winds kicked up just after 6 o’clock this morning, my watch, and we were doing 4 knots downwind at times when I wanted to go slow so that we would reach the harbor in daylight. Sunrise was at 7:33 behind heavy clouds, and we tied up at the marina’s reception dock at 8:30, so the timing just worked out. We’re now in a regular berth, two down from our friend Jim on Orinoco. As soon as we tied up, we took our coffee/tea over to his place to do a little catching up. He has a very nice enclosed cockpit, a cozy feature that is fairly common on boats from Canada and England. We can’t see the marina’s wireless Internet from the boat, but somebody just turned on an open router so I can send this and catch up on e-mail and Facebook before taking a nap.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Where are we going? The doldrums

We were headed to La Palma, Canary Islands, when we discovered the fuel leak and then the wind died. At the moment we're less than 100 miles from La Palma and have a little wind. If the wind dies or changes direction, we may decide to go on to Tenerife where there are reported to be more yacht services. John thinks we can get the needed repair made at La Palma, and right now that's still the favored destination.

After only a couple of days bobbing around out here, our respect for the early explorers has really grown. (We always did appreciate the dangers of what they did.) Can you imagine floating around for days without wind? Those guys didn't even know how far they were from anywhere. It's a big empty ocean. We haven't seen another vessel in the past 24 hours, but I did think I heard an engine (sound travels quite far). John wondered if it might be a submarine...or my imagination.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Madeira to La Palma Day 2: Becalmed

We left Marina Quinta do Lorde yesterday morning a little before 11 o'clock on our 250 nautical mile passage to La Palma in the Canary Islands where we will be meeting up with our friend Jim on Orinoco. The wind had more southerly in it than predicted (easterly was the forecast), but it wasn't bad, and we could motor-sail our rum line. In fact, at about 2 o'clock, I shut the motor down and we kept sailing at over 5 knots. Yippee!

John took the opportunity of the motor being off to have another look at the engine compartment--and discovered diesel in the bilge. Drat! We have a leak. After testing (engine on/engine off), he determined that the leak was in the fuel return, which has happened before (we had it fixed in Olympia, WA, and Cherbourg, France), but he can't fix it himself. The engine runs fine, but we can't tell how much fuel we're losing, and we need the engine to dock, so we'll be getting to La Palma on sail-power alone.

Except that the wind died at 7 o'clock this morning. We've been bobbing around since then, drifting a bit in the right direction. Our chartplotter says that it will take us about 2,000 hours to get to our next waypoint at the rate we're going. Not to worry. We have plenty of food and water, and the wind will come back sooner or later. The latest forecast calls for 20-knot favorable winds in a day and a half. Before then we hope to get a little something. All we need is something over 5 knots to move this heavy boat.

Meanwhile, we've alerted Jim that we'll be late, and this is really no big deal. We've been becalmed before. It's good practice for our patience.

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Monday, November 8, 2010

A week in Madeira, so far

Dinner on Avocette was great. What a beautiful boat! And excellent hosts. We were sorry to see them leave Tuesday morning, but we understand. They had already been here more than a week, and it was time for them to move on.

Following Chris’s advice, we rented a car for three days of touring the island. It is spectacularly beautiful even in November, past the peak time for flowers. The first day we made a quick stop at the chandlery in Funchal where we found one item on our list of four. They had harnesses, which we didn’t want, but not tethers, which we did want. They had fuel line, but not the clamps to hold it in place. Altogether an odd shop. We really wanted serious biocide to treat our tanks, but they didn’t have that either. We hope we’ll have better luck with that in the Canary Islands.

Past peak but still pretty

Don't know what this is, but it's nice

From Funchal we drove west along the south side of the island as far as Calheta. I wanted to see the marina there to compare it with where we are. Although the marina at Calheta has a town with it, it also has surge, and we’re happy where we are at Marina Quinta do Lorde, especially now that the marina manager is going to be a cruising station host and extend a discount to members of our cruising association, Seven Seas Cruising Association.

Quinta do Lorde is way out here on a peninsula

On the way to Calheta we went to the top of Cabo Girão, the highest “sea cliff” in Europe at 580 meters and second highest in the world, or so the tourist brochure says. We aren’t sure what qualifies as a sea cliff, but it’s certainly very high and the views are awesome. (I’m having difficulty finding words to alternate with awesome and spectacular. I’ve been saying “wow” a lot here.)

Cabo Girão as we approach it

Looking down from the top

After Calheta we headed up to the central plateau, Paul da Serra. There are lots of places here where you can see across the island from north to south simply because there are so many tall peaks. The sides of the plateau also drop off steeply so you see the ocean surrounding you and feel like you’re on top of the world.

John jumping off the top of the world

You can't see these rugged mountains from sea level

The Madeirense, as the people here call themselves, are quite the road builders. There are so few flat areas, and roads must go up or under the mountains. The result is highways through tunnels with steep grades and bridges across valleys. These are the fast highways. Lots of two-lane roads simply use switchbacks to climb the nearly vertical slopes. Even the runway for the airport is suspended over the ocean and straddling a valley.

The vineyards are something to see too. Like everything else here, they’re vertical. (We haven’t done a serious tasting of the Madeira here yet; maybe tomorrow.) We knew about the grapes, of course, but we were surprised to see fields of banana trees on the lower slopes on the south side of the island. They also grow sugar cane and avocados.

Madeira vertical (that's a vineyard next to the house)


The second day we went to the north side of the island. The destination was a theme park that the tourist info lady said was like an outdoor cultural museum. We were expecting something like the Zuider Zee Museum in Enkhuizen, Netherlands. Instead it was a mostly cheesy theme park without rollercoasters. One of the exhibits, though, did have a lot of history of the island, and we enjoyed that. The scenery along the way there and back was, of course, spectacular too, so the day wasn’t wasted.

Stunning view on the north side

The last day with the car we did a levada walk. The levadas are a system of concrete ditches that bring water from the mountains of Madeira to the fields. Footpaths run along side them, and levada walks are one of the must-do things on this island. We picked an 11 km walk of moderate difficulty and drove to the bottom of it to see what facilities were available. Fortunately for us, there was a taxi stand, and a taxi appeared as we were getting out of the car. For 30€ the driver took us to the top, where he pointed out that we should do the short walk (3 km round trip) to an overlook first and then head downhill. The view from the overlook was breathtaking and definitely worth the extra steps. In fact, vertigo is one of the hazards of the levada walks. The easy and moderate walks have cables to hold on to where the path is especially narrow and the cliff steep. The difficult ones don’t.

Overlooking everything

This is how steep it is

Something to hang on to in case of vertigo

Catching the water from a waterfall

Even the levada has tunnels

Yet another awesome view

Now we’re back to doing boat chores and errands until Wednesday. Then we plan to take the bus into Funchal and ride the cable car up the mountain in order to ride the wicker sleds down. We should also have time to do some serious Madeira tasting. It looks like Thursday will be a good day to leave. (Big swell from storms up north is expected between now and then.)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Rabat to Madeira

People did give us quizzical looks when we said we were going from Rabat to Madeira. I don’t remember asking why not. If I did, they didn’t have an answer. Madeira is mostly west and a little south of Rabat, and the prevailing winds between the two are northerly. Before we left, the forecasts all showed northerlies, except for a few hours of light westerlies one day, with harbor-closing swell forecast for Rabat after Thursday. We thought it would be a relatively easy 500-mile passage, so we left Rabat at high tide Wednesday afternoon.

At first it was everything we thought it would be: light air that required motor-sailing in the beginning. Then at some point in the first couple of days, we had good wind for sailing without the motor, and life was good. I even e-mailed the marina to be sure that it was OK for us to arrive a day early. We were keeping a westerly course so that when the forecast northerlies arrived we would be able to do some real downwind sailing at last. Then the forecasts — and winds — changed.

We got the westerlies, and they were light for the first few hours, but then they kicked up to 15-20 knots. And the seas started building with swell from the north-northwest. The Met forecast (a forecast out of the UK that we receive as e-mail on the SSB radio) gave the conditions and forecast for the areas we were crossing as “not gale.” That’s because all of the areas north of us were having gales or even storms. That’s why our swell kept growing.

In order to make a speed over ground in excess of one knot, we had to zigzag. We did this running the motor and with only the mainsail because with just the two of us we didn’t want to run tacking drills all day and night. That got our speed up to 3 or 4 knots most of the time, but it definitely lengthened the trip. I figure we made about 50 miles net during that nearly 24-hour period.

When the wind finally moved to the north enough that we could actually turn off the engine and sail, we were consistently making 6 or 7 knots, and John saw the highest speed of 8.3. That was great! The only problem was that the sea, which was 2 to 3 meters (6 to 10 feet) when we were motoring, became 3 to 4 meters. Solstice handles the seas just fine, but it’s noisy with lots of banging and moments of weightlessness. Not good for resting when off watch. Adding to that discomfort was that we were on a close reach or beam reach most of Saturday. (Apologies to non-sailors: the important part is that it kept the boat tilted at a difficult angle for moving about.) Märzen always had company on her settee since our v-berth was untenable. Now we hope she’ll sleep alone in her regular bed tonight.

The sail actually became pleasant again around sundown on the last night. Once we were in the shadow of Porto Santo, the seas flattened right out, and we were still speeding along. Unfortunately, we reached Madeira before dawn, so we drifted around until light. During that time we could have returned to the v-berth (one at a time), but it felt damp up there, and Märzen cried when we left her alone.

This morning, after we docked, I discovered that the leak we noticed in the v-berth during the passage extended along my side of the berth. No wonder it felt damp! The cushion and sheet are dry again now, but the weather here has been threatening rain all day, so we had to dry everything inside. Thank goodness for the dehumidifier. It wasn’t the only leak we discovered, so we’ll be doing some repairs before we leave here. We also discovered that the fuel in one of our tanks still has problems, so John will also be working on that. We promise that we’ll do some sightseeing while we’re here too, though, even if the photos end up looking like Oregon because of the weather.

The marina here, Quinta do Lorde, is quite nice and very quiet. The marina staff is also friendly and helpful. The best thing, though, was seeing our new friend Chris Smith waving to us from Avocette of Portsmouth as we finished tying up. We knew they were here, but we didn’t know if they’d still be here when we arrived. Even better, they invited us to dinner tonight!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Moroccan Intrigue

Today is our last day in Morocco. We are setting out for Madeira. It should be a four to five-day sail to get there. What a time in Morocco we've had!

We met another cruiser who was willing to look after Märzen, and that enabled us to make an overnight trip to Fez. The medina in Fez is a World Heritage site. They still make leather by hand using pigeon poo for the tanning process. It's an amazing labyrinth of old world skills
and traditions with a satellite dish on every roof.

It was a long day with a four and a half hour train ride followed by a cab ride to our lodgings then a four-hour walking tour of the medina. Afterward we made our way to a large fountain outside the walled medina to get a cab. The plan was to have the cab take us to a store that sold wine (none to be found in the old city) then take a cab back to the room. There are two types of people waiting for cabs at the fountain. Those that are smiling as they are being driven away and those who left standing on the curb thinking, "It's elbow time for the old lady behind the veil."

Another empty cab approaches and we lunge for it. A man to our right arrives at the cab at the same time and begins speaking Arabic. We do our best with French and English. The stranger to our right then starts speaking English. Oh yeah!

We tell him the name of the super market (got the name from the guide) we want and that our goal is wine. He tells the driver and the driver agrees. It is common to share a petit taxi in Morocco, so the English-speaking native takes shotgun and Shirlee and I slide into the back seat. As we start circling the fountain the English-speaking native suggests a closer store for buying wine and asks if we'd like to join him at a bar for a drink so that we could have a conversation about culture, life, and everything. We agree.

First stop was a Moroccan version of a liquor store. You point at what you want and it is wrapped and bagged then handed to you after you pay. BTW, Morocco makes outstanding Cab Sav. We get two bottles of wine then it's back to the waiting cab. Then a short trip to a hotel with a bar. Inside the hotel is a very smokey, dimly lit room with mostly men filling the tables. The tables are covered with 25 cl empty green beer bottles. Up to a case of bottles on some tables. There is also live music provided by a keyboard playing singer doing the latest in pop Moroccan tunes.

We get a table and a round of beers. The automatic round is two beers per person for a grand total price of eight euros. We continue our conversation from the cab about sailing, his business, food, etc. All the while I'm looking around the room and noticing the few women who
are there. Not only are their heads not covered, but they're drinking, smoking, and displaying a whole lot of cleavage. I figure out that there is a symbiotic relationship between the hotel and the women. Shirlee does not notice.

We finish our beers and Abdelmalek (yes, we have his name by now - Abdel for short - and have learned that he's a Berber) invites us to his shop for tea the following morning. We get the approximate location of his shop in the medina and accept his invitation for 10 a.m. tea. His shop is near the Blue Gate and next to the Banc Populaire. I buy the round, and we pile into a cab and he takes us to our hotel. What a day!

Next day after breakfast we head out to the medina in search of Abdel's shop. We find the bank and Abdel's assistant finds us and invites us into the shop to wait. Abdel then arrives and sends out for tea. We sit and visit and sip our sweet mint tea. I mention that I need to get some Moroccan olive oil before we leave, and Abdel offers to act as our buyer to get us the best price for the "best olive oil in the world." After some time we decide that we should have lunch
together before our 4:50 train. It is also decided that we should meet at 2:00 and go for chicken tangine. Shirlee and I wander off into the medina and the souk with visions of the fine Moroccan lunch to come.

Promptly at 2:00 we arrive at Abdel's shop and Abdel leaves to get the oil. He returns with a 1.5 liter bottle of olive oil and two 0.5 liter bottles of argan oil. Abdel explains that one of the argan oils is for external use only and the other is to be used sparingly on food like sesame oil. He asks me for 250 dirhams to replenish the stores working capital and we'll settle the entire transaction over lunch. I don't have the exact change and give him 300 dirhams. Then we go off to lunch.

Together we starting walking in a direction that leads out of the medina. As we pass a street food vendor in an alcove in a building Abdel stops and begins a conversation with the owner and employees. He is smiling and chatting away when suddenly a man lunges at him and hits the right side of Abdel's head with an open hand. Then an other man joins in the attack. Both are hitting him about the head and shoulders and pushing him into the food vendor's alcove.

There is much yelling and flailing, and a crowd quickly grows. People are trying to intervene and separate the attackers from Abdel. Ultimately the initial attacker is pushed out by a woman who is yelling at him and the other attacker is pushed out by two men. The two attackers head off in a direction that leads to the heart of the medina. Then Abdel emerges from the alcove, shaken, but under his own power and not bleeding. He tells Shirlee that he is OK and says that
he'll meet us at the station. Then he quickly starts walking out of the medina.

At this point we are standing there in slack-jaw shock trying to assess what just happened. Abdel disappears into the crowds, and I'm wondering what station: the police station or the train station. It also occurs to me that my oil purchase is with Abdel. We decide to head for the train station. We walk out of the medina and get a cab. The cab driver is an interesting fellow who wants to speak Russian with us.

We get to the train station and get our tickets and settle into a café that has view of the entrance to the station. We get some train station food (not chicken tangine) and wait. There is 10 minutes left before our train leaves, and Abdel rushes into the station carrying the oil. I wave him down and he joins us. There a couple of bumps on his head and his lower lip is bruised. He says he is more emotionally upset than physically hurt. He explains that he has been at the police station filing a report. He also said the the initial attacker was from a large Berber family in Fez and that he wanted Abdel to provide him an alibi for a theft. Abdel refused to lie to the police.

At this point we are out of time. We say our goodbyes and wish each other the best. What a day!

Fez: the big adventure

Trains to Fez run about every two hours, so we picked the one that put us at our destination around noon for check-in at our guesthouse at 1300. It’s an approximately two-and-a-half hour trip, but it took us more like four hours. We never did find out what the problem was, but the locals in our second-class car were also getting impatient with all the delays. Second class, we decided, is OK for short trips, but here wasn’t any air conditioning, and the seats were pretty hard. We booked first class for the return.

We were very pleased with our guesthouse (or riad), Riad Damia Fez. Riads are the traditional Moroccan house built around a courtyard. The floors, walls and ceilings of ours were covered with ornate woodwork, plaster and mosaics, truly a showcase of Moroccan artistry. Our room, a suite actually, also had beautiful handmade rugs, blankets, pillow and bedspreads. It was quite spectacular.

Courtyard—covered in our riad—as seen from our balcony

Our suite

Once we’d dropped off our backpacks, we used the map and directions the innkeeper had provided to head for the heart of the medina and the blue gate, Bab Boujloud. If we’d had a magnifying glass, maybe we could have read the map. We made several wrong turns, and even had lunch, before we asked directions close enough to the gate to be able to find it. None of the streets are straight, and many don’t look like streets at all since building go right over the top of them. It was kind of fun looking for the gate, though, and I bargained for a beautiful caftan and we had that wonderful tangine lunch on the way.

Our tangines: one meat and vegetables and the other chicken with almonds and lemon

The blue gate

Still, once we found the gate and confirmed that we had been in the medina the whole time, we were ready for a guided tour. Fortunately for us, a young Canadian couple (Mike and Jennifer from Ottawa) we spoke to had a guide for the afternoon (four hours) and invited us to tag along and share the cost. It was great! We got to see everything and learned our way around a little in the process.

One of the must-see sights in Fez is the tannery quarter. I’d been planning to miss it because of the smell (they use pigeon poo to bleach and soften the hides), but our tour took us there, and the next day we could tell the hustlers that we had already seen it. The smell wasn’t too overwhelming because they thoughtfully provide fresh mint to crush and hold under your nose to block the other odor. I used it a lot. The guide also took us into a medersa (alternate spelling of madrasa) and an herbal pharmacy and showed us the mosque and mausoleum of Moulay Idriss and the Al Qaraouiyin University, among many other sights. It was definitely worth the 100 dirhams, equivalent to about $12.50 USD, that was our share.

One of many mosques. The balls on the top, we learned, stand for Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.

Tannery work area. Open air is important.

Tannery co-op store with Mike bargaining for a pouf

A view of the interior of the university

John’ has written a post to tell the rest of the story of our Fez adventure, so stay tuned. It will be posted in short order.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Adventures in Morocco: Rabat and Salé

While I’m doing laundry before our day-trip into Casablanca, I’d better start to catch up with what we’ve been doing since we arrived, especially since we’re probably leaving tomorrow.

The marina (Marina Bouregreg) is on the Salé side of the river that divides Rabat, which is the capital of Morocco and relatively westernized, from the older, more traditional Salé. When we arrived, our pontoon was filled with boats with English-speaking people. Not just Juno, who we met in Gibraltar, but also Squander (British flagged with an Australian owner/skipper, another Australian crew member, and a woman crew member from Portland, Oregon), and Sunflower, another Australian boat that is spending the winter here with the crew on board. A day or so later a big U.S. boat, Moonshadow, and another Australian boat, Gone with the Wind, came in. On the dock we can chatter away at will. Ashore is a different story.

Looking back at the harbor entrance with Rabat on the left

Our first full day here we got approximate directions to the ATM machine from Sunflower. (The marina is lined with guards, many of them armed, but they speak Arabic and French, not English.) So we headed off to get some local currency, the Moroccan dirham (MAD), and take a look around. We found the entrance to the medina (the walled old city) and had paused to look around when I heard someone ask what we were looking for (in French). Delighted to understand the question, I told the young man we were looking for the bank (also in French), and he asked in English if we spoke English. (Yes, my French is that bad.) I was very happy that he spoke English until he led us through a maze of little streets to the ATM and then kept hanging out around us wanting to show us the mosque. John thought I shouldn’t have talked with the guy as it was becoming obvious that he was looking for a paying gig as a guide. That would have been OK, but his English was only marginally better than my French. We finally bid him a farewell that stuck at the covered market. “Not today” did the trick. We got what we needed, wandered around the medina some more and found our way back to the boat, but I was a bit daunted by the experience. Salé is definitely a Muslim town in Africa, and we’re not in Europe anymore.

A fish vendor in Salé medina. No, we won't be buying anything there.

The next day we walked into Rabat with the crew of Juno to visit the National Archeological Museum, have lunch and take a look around. This excursion restored my confidence a bit. I’d taken some notes about street names from Google Maps, and we found a hotel where we asked for directions and scored a map of sorts. When we were near where we thought the museum should be, we saw some sort of building with armed guards, and I went up to one of them to ask directions. From there it was easy, and the museum, although small, was interesting. Lunch was also good at a restaurant that I’d found in Lonely Planet online, and we walked back to the boat through Rabat’s medina with Edee while the rest of Juno’s crew took the train from Rabat to Salé.

Really? You can almost see it from here? Where?

Just one of the outstanding Moroccan dishes we tried at lunch. Rigel didn't seem that impressed.

Closer look at the cannons guarding the harbor from Rabat

We had talked about going to Casablanca with Juno’s crew on Saturday, but overnight rain created mud, and both crews stayed home. I spent much of the time trying to find a room for us in Fez for Sunday night. While I’d been awaiting a response from one website, rooms within our budget had filled up on another, so I was a bit worried. Edee had volunteered to stay with Märzen so that we could make the trip, but Juno’s sailing plans meant that we had to go Sunday or not at all. I could finally relax when I scored us a room in a guesthouse (riad) in Fez’s medina.

Our trip to Fez gets its own post later.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Gibraltar to Rabat, Morocco

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Gibraltar! After two nights in the anchorage, we went into town and stopped by Ocean Village Marina Bay to find out about their marina rates. They were reasonable enough, and they have free wireless Internet, so we decided to go in. Of course, with free Internet you usually get what you pay for, and that was the case there too, but it gave us an excuse to visit a pub in the evenings that had good free Internet.

We met some nice people at the marina: Chris and Roy on Avocette of Portsmouth were especially friendly. They were just a couple of boats away, so we saw them a lot, and we might see them again in Madeira or somewhere else along the way. They’re headed in the same basic direction. We also talked briefly with Shirish, Edie, Orion, and Rigel on Juno, an American boat. We’re likely to get to know them better in the next week because they’re here in the marina with us. We could see Juno most of the way from Gibraltar because they left about when we did and go approximately the same speed. That was nice to sail in company for a change.

We also bought some stuff in Gib: new dock lines, a new main halyard, some single malt, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first Stieg Larsson book. Linda on Islay Mist gave me the second book, but everyone said not to read it until I’d read the first one. I hadn’t had any luck finding it used, so broke down and bought it new. Now I’m saving them for the big passage.

To me the best thing about Gib was being able to understand what was going on around me. I hadn’t realized that I’d felt isolated by not speaking the ambient language, but I guess now that I had. At the grocery store, for example, it was nice to be able to tell the one with only two items that she should go ahead of us. I’d been miming it for over a year.

We left Gibraltar the same way we entered it a year ago: in the dark. The timing of the tide meant that we needed to leave at 3 a.m. on Monday to minimize the adverse current. Fortunately, there was a moon, and we have lots of instruments to help us in the dark. It worked out beautifully. We crossed the shipping lanes just west of Tarifa, and once we got past Cabo Espartel we were able to sail for the next 18 hours. Most of the time the wind was aft of the beam and about 10-15 knots. Just right! John also caught three mahi-mahi and kept two.

To put a perfect end to the passage, we arrived at the mouth of the river at Rabat on a rising tide and were met by the marina’s dinghy to guide us in. (Juno got there ahead of us and told them we were coming.) The authorities weren’t bothered about the dog, and our slip in the marina is a side-tie with water, electricity and wireless Internet all included in the rate of less than 10€ a day. Woohoo! Solstice is truly out of the Mediterranean now.

(Sorry, no pictures. We took some video, but John will want to edit it. It’s a gray day here now, or we’d pop out and take some snaps for you.)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cartagena to Gibraltar

Our almost two weeks in Cartagena were productive and relaxing. We got some boat things taken care of: John polished the fuel in the starboard tank, I washed the boat, and we hired a mechanic to replace two pumps that had been leaking (we had the spares). We also had Toldos Segado ( do some repairs to our various canvas accessories and make us a sunscreen for over the salon or doghouse or whatever you call the main living area of a boat. Finally, the pup needed a good health certificate for Morocco, so we also had her teeth cleaned since we knew an English-speaking vet in Cartagena.

As we were finishing up these projects, we were looking at the weather and watching our window of favorable winds shrink. West winds were forecast for Saturday evening, and we're very tired of sailing into the wind. We decided to leave on Thursday, as soon as I got back from the vet's with the dog. There were a couple of little delays, but we did set out for Almerimar marina early Thursday afternoon. We almost went right back to Yacht Port Cartagena because we hadn't even left the harbor when our engine alarm went off. John tracked it down to a loose connection left by the mechanic.

After that we had a very nice afternoon. The mountains along the coast are beautiful, and we had good wind at first and could even sail for a few hours. When we reached our waypoint to turn off for Almerimar the next morning, we were several hours ahead of schedule, so we decided to push on for Gibraltar. The westerlies were still forecast for Saturday evening, but John had spotted an anchorage on the chart where we could duck in if need be. So we plotted a decision waypoint and kept going.

When we reached the decision point, we were still hours to the good, but we were going pretty slowly with current against us and no wind to help. The grib files now showed the westerly wind arriving mid-afternoon rather than evening. We decided to chance it. The anchorage didn't sound very attractive, and the forecasts said we might be there for days.

And we almost made it. After an excruciatingly slow night (2-3 knots, sometimes almost 4), we finally got some wind and picked up the pace. We were just over six miles from Point Europa just after noon when the wind, which had been easing and changing from east to southeast to south, suddenly moved to exactly against us and kicked up to 25 knots, gusting to 30. Cursing ensued. We brought in the jib and started zigzagging to get enough off the wind to maintain a little forward momentum. When the wind switched, it also started raining, so the Rock of Gibraltar, when it cleared enough to see it, looked very British in rain and clouds. Fortunately, the wind soon eased back down to 10-15 knots, and we were safely anchored at La Linea, Spain, just on the other side of the airport runway from Gib, shortly after 4 p.m. Saturday.

Our first night in the anchorage got exciting when a squall blew through in the pre-dawn hours. Our anchor alarm went off. We weren't dragging, but John was up to see another boat dragging down on us. The alarm went off a second time, but both alarms were due only to major shifts in the wind direction, not any problem with the holding.

We don't know how long we'll be here. It depends on the wind. Several boats left this morning, but, of course, we don't know which way they're headed. I'm guessing into the Med. We're thinking we'll spend a few days, so we'll at least get a little rest and check the forecasts before we go. We want to stop in Rota, Spain, before we go to Morocco to say good-bye to our friend Richard, who lives there now. We met him when we first reached Europe (Flores, Azores, July 2008), and it seems symmetrical to see him as we leave.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Back in Cartagena

In all we spent three nights at the Marina Botafoch in Ibiza. When we first thought about stopping at Ibiza again, the idea was that we would rent a car and see some of the island. Instead John had to work on the boat. It seems that the fuel that we had so much difficulty acquiring in Sicily was dirty. At least, somehow the fuel in our tanks became contaminated, and we assume the batch from Sicily was the culprit. Maybe that’s another reason no one was using that fuel dock. I won’t bore you with the details, but John spent a lot of time cleaning one tank and trying to clean the fuel in the other.

We thought we were good to go and filled the empty tank and set off for Cartagena Wednesday morning. However, the engine died just outside the entrance to the Ibiza harbor, and we couldn’t get it started again. There was no wind, and after many attempts to raise someone on the VHF radio, we finally got a tow back to the marina. There we called a mechanic who was recommended by the marina (a great guy by the name of Sosu). He discovered some small things that combined to prevent fuel from being delivered to the engine and fixed them in short order, and we were able to set off again in the morning.

It’s very nice to be back at Yacht Port Cartagena. We arrived on Friday, which was a local holiday celebrating the defeat of the Carthaginians by the Romans in 226 B.C. That meant that the office and stores were closed, but the marinaros were expecting us and had a place for us right across from our old spot. We expect to be here for a couple of weeks taking care of some things on the boat in preparation for our Atlantic crossing in December. What can’t be done here, we’ll take care of when we reach the Canary Islands. We’ll also use the time to visit the rest of the museums here that we missed the first time.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A bird, a fish, more than one squid, and the Italian coast guard

What do these things have in common? All of them visited us on our 530 nautical mile passage from Sicily to Ibiza. It isn’t unusual for songbirds to hitch a ride on a passing sailboat. It’s very sad because usually they’re exhausted, but you don’t really want them pooping all over the boat. This little bird, a swallow, flew into the cabin a couple of times and had to be chased out before it finally settled down under the dinghy on the foredeck. We assume it isn’t still there because we later had some fairly rough seas (they call them moderate in the Med) with waves washing over the foredeck.

John found the dead flying fish in the cockpit when the Italian coast guard came up next to us at 4 a.m. and shined a powerful spotlight in his eyes. I was sound asleep below when I heard John yell, “Shirlee, get dressed and come up here!” in a tone that discouraged questions. I stuck my head into the cockpit just in time to hear John on the radio asking them to turn the light off. At that point we didn’t actually know who they were, only that they had a very fast little boat without much of a radar shadow. They turned off the light and soon zipped across our bow and stayed off our starboard side while they asked us some questions and thanked us for our cooperation. Then John told me about the fish and disposed of it. Who knows when it landed? Without the bright light, we might not have noticed it until morning.

We found a dead squid on the deck yesterday morning with brown splotches all around it. Guess the squid ink didn’t work so well that time. On the other hand, on the other side of the boat we found the messy brown spots without a squid. That one got away. (Since then we’ve learned that squid ink is really, really difficult to remove. Wish us luck with that one.)

We safely anchored at Ibiza about 11 p.m. Sunday, but it was pretty uncomfortable this morning because the swell—heck, it wasn’t swell, it was waves—was coming right into the bay. We didn’t even feel comfortable taking the dinghy off the foredeck so that we could go to town. So when we went into a marina for fuel, we asked how much it was to spend the night. At the beginning of our Mediterranean summer we wouldn’t have considered spending so much, but we’ve been desensitized to the exorbitant rates here, and it was raining and rough out, so we decided to splurge, and now we’re at the dock. With very slow Internet, but…

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Between Sardinia and Tunisia

As I write this, we're in the Sardinian Channel about halfway between Sardinia and Tunisia with less than 390 nautical miles to go to Ibiza in the Balearic Islands. We have no wind at the moment and calm seas, and we're doing a little better than the 4.5 knots we average using the motor. It looks pretty certain that we'll reach Ibiza early on Monday if not Sunday night.

Our last morning in Mazara del Vallo was a bit of an adventure. We needed to get fuel and had already located the fuel dock and checked with the little yacht club that diesel was actually available there. You wouldn't think there would be a question about that, but we never saw anyone at the fuel dock, so we wondered. The pumps were posted with telephone numbers, so we guessed we would have to call to get an attendant to the dock, and we hoped that he would understand English.

I had the fenders and lines ready as we came into the harbor, and I was watching a little run-about that was sort of in our way when we stopped. I thought John was just waiting for the little boat to move, but, no, we had run aground. Hmmm. Not a good sign, but not a big problem at the moment because it was soft mud and easy enough to get free. John went around the little high spot and started working Solstice up to the fuel dock. We went aground again. One more try. No way.

Apparently there isn't much to do in Mazara on a Wednesday morning because we had an audience of about a dozen people at this point. Half of them were on a fishing boat tied to the wall. There was still room for us on the wall, so we tied off there. One of our audience members was issuing instructions to me in Italian, which I smilingly ignored, and graciously caught our lines and secured them until I could scramble ashore. Then John said the guys on the fishing boat wanted us to move forward. Oh, that's why that little tug was drifting around out there: the fishing boat needed a tow. We managed to make enough room between the fishing boat and Solstice that we didn't collide and then re-secured our lines.

Now to find fuel. I was relieved when the guy who answered the phone number from the pump finally understood that we wanted fuel and where we were. It was a real bonus that he spoke some English. He'd be there in 10 minutes he said. Our spot on the wall was close enough that a really long hose could have reached us, but since they didn't have a long hose we had to jerry-jug the fuel from the pump to the boat. It took seven trips, plus a walk to the ATM for cash because they don't take credit cards, to fill our tanks plus our reserve jerry jugs. The guy manning the pump told John that they might dredge out the approach to the fuel dock in a couple of weeks. Actually, we've been pretty lucky, and this was the first time we've had to jerry-jug fuel. We're still lucky that it was so close.

All of that was yesterday and 140 miles ago. We did have some nice wind yesterday and managed to sail for about four hours. According to the forecasts, we should get a little more favorable wind tomorrow. Don't look for another post before we get to Ibiza. I just wanted to share our little adventure.

All is well board Solstice. -Shirlee

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Valley of the Temples

We stopped at Porto Empedocle, Sicily, in order to make a little trip inland to see the Valley of the Temples near Agrigento. Sicily was part of greater Greece for centuries, and it still has a surprising number of Greek ruins such as the ones we saw at Syracuse.

The Valley of the Temples is actually on a ridge below the town of Agrigento. The temples are in varying stages of collapse and restoration. The Temple of Concordia is the most complete, and the Temple of Juno is also in pretty good shape. But the Temple of Jupiter is mostly a pile of stones, some of which have been realigned so that you can see the huge statues that also helped support it.

The ridge with the Temple of Concordia

Temple of Juno

Shirlee in front of the Temple of Hercules

Not just temples, but also crypts

We were lucky when we visited the temples because an exhibit of contemporary art was running there. Most of the art was sculptures and was displayed outside in the garden and in the Temple of Concordia. Because we paid for the exhibit, we got to go inside the temple, which isn’t normally open to the public.

Statue in the courtyard of a villa

Temple of Concordia and one of its statues

Although we visited the temples last week and were ready to continue on our way west, gales in the Sicily Strait kept us anchored in the harbor for several more days until we finally decided to sneak out at night when the winds are normally calmer. Now we’re anchored just outside the harbor at Mazara del Vallo. We’ll get fuel here and wait for another weather window. Depending on how large the window is, we may make it all the way to Cartagena in one passage. On the other hand, we could stop in Sardinia or the Balearic Islands if the conditions turn against us. Such is sailing life. You just have to be flexible.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Syracuse and beyond

We ended up spending almost a week in Syracuse. A couple of the days there were thunderstorms, and a couple of days we did tourist things. We wandered pretty much all over the old town, which is called Ortigia. It’s the first place, as far as we know, that we’ve seen papyrus growing. It’s a pretty plant.

Papyrus in the fountain

Temple of Apollo in downtown Ortigia

View of the fort and waterfront of Ortigia

Of course, we also visited the archeological museum and the archeological park. The park has both Greek and Roman ruins including a huge Greek theater where classical Greek plays are sometimes performed.

Ear of Dionysus, an old quarry at the archeological park

Greek theater panorama (click to get a better view)

Roman amphitheater

A surprise for us was that Syracuse has famous catacombs below one of the first Christian churches in the world. (The guide said it was the oldest church in the western world, but we don’t know where he was dividing the world. We’re guessing somewhere between Italy and Greece.) Since we didn’t visit the catacombs in Rome, we were glad to find out about these and visit them.

Columns of the old church of San Giovanni

Before we left Syracuse, we did meet the people on Moonshadow from Portland briefly, and we spent a nice evening visiting on Marguerite with Jim and Barbara, plus Barbara’s brother, sister-in-law, and niece from Germany. It was tagging along with the Marguerite crew that we visited the archeological park and catacombs.

Now we’ve made it just over halfway up (west) the south coast of Sicily and are stopped at Porto Empedocle. The reason to stop here is to visit the Valley of the Temples (Greek) at Agrigento. We just came into the yacht club dock so that we would feel safe leaving the boat. We also wanted to get water since our last fill-up was in Corfu almost three weeks ago. We have a nice side-tie here because they really, really didn’t want us to moor bow-to.