Friday, 21 April 2017

Sailing around the Canary Islands

I was surprised how long it had been since we posted. I guess,we slipped into a comfortable zone repairing the boat and enjoying life on the beautiful island of Lanzarote.. I flew back to the UK for the arrival of our grandson, Luke and to see all my Amy who is still on distant shores in Australia..

We left Lanzarote  and headed down the coast of Fuerteventura to test our new anchor which was brilliant. There are so many places to anchor it made a real change.
We anchored off Puerto del Rosaria and woke up to the sound of drummers welcoming a German  cruise ship, Mein Schiff II dressed as red coats with a tricolour, waving a union jack......not sure how that went down!

The sailing was easy with flat seas and variable winds. We had the spinnaker up then reefed the main and half furled the jib, and shortly afterwards full sail again.

 On the trip downFuerteventura we had sheet and fork lightening infront of the boat with the fork going into the sea. You could smell the ozone. We anchored off Gran Tarahal for two nights while the sea turned from blue to a muddy colour from the overflowing baranco. It became painful on the hips as our calm anchorage turned into a surfing beach overnight, so we reckoned it was cheaper to pay for a marina than hip replacement surgery.

We spent a couple of nights in the marina  exploring around Gran Tarahal before sailing down the acceleration zone before Morro Jable.

After a nights anchor off Morro Jable,  we sailed to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. It was a fantastic sail beam on but gentle Atlantic swell. We spent two nights on the reception pontoon until space was available in the Marina.......but the space was too restricted. We didn't have enough turning room without taking out several boats so we made a hasty retreat. We were told 'no room', so we said, keep the money, we're off to anchor. They then found us 'room' in between two big boats. That was fine, we had blow up fenders but getting on and off the bow was only possible with a shove from Tristan!.

We walked miles around the town, to the Atlantic beach then into the old town with a customly visit to Corte Ingles. We also caught up with friends we'd met in Marina Lanzarote which was fun.

Tristan needed to get a medical done by an English doctor so after a lot of searching, we found the flights were cheaper in Lanzarote and didn't involve a  long stop over ( mainly due to Easter), so we headed back.

The trip between Las Palmas and Fuerteventura was very unpleasant. Beam on seas, short chop and not enough wind to plough through. We were like a bucking bronco but fortunately it was only for a few hours until we got into the lee of Fuerteventura. Tristan saw a water spout...moving incredibly fast in front of us out to sea while I hugged a bucket.We anchored again all the way up Fuerteventura doing day was easy and fun.

Off Puerto del Rosario there is a goats cheese can smell the goats.  I had to tie Tristan on the boat.

The power station or desalination plant  was pumping out smoke but the gulls were diving into it, catching a thermal then soaring away.......don't they know how bad the pollution is for them?

We had  plenty of wind and flat seas, then no wind and a Calima. All in all a lovely few days sailing.

We ended up back in the same spot in Marina was like coming home. Tristan flew back to the UK and I was left on the boat on my own .....for the first time. It was so quiet but three days was not enough time to get everything done I'd planned.

We have our bikes out again and keep nipping off for a cycle ride but because its so hot, we take our swim wear. The sea is lovely and warm This time of the year is perfect. Hot but not to hot, not too much wind, and gentle seas.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Swanning around

Its been a long time but we have been busy. We left the Algarve on a Tristan's birthday heading for Sagres, a very pretty anchorage just around the southern tip of Portugal. We had a fantastic upwind sail with  full sail up around Lagos, then it got windier and lumpier so we thought 'Why'? We turned around and flew back to the anchorage at Ferruguda. The next day we tried again and kept going. The sail to Porto Santo was very lumpy and not my favourite. I was ill for three days. We had waves breaking over the top of the coach roof, then two seconds later it was as if someone had switched a tap on inside the boat.. The mast leaked and I didn't plastic bag the fore peak so that was wet as well. I think I left my brain cells in Portugal, but had got out of the routine of having to bag the boat up before a long passage. Stress and seasickness go together.

We enjoyed Porto Santo.

 Time to stop, clean up and restock before we moved on. That was the next problem. The alternator wasn't charging the batteries so that took priority over mending leaks. The solar panels worked so Tristan bypassed the solar panel charger and we switched off the fridge. It's easy really. You just go to bed when it's dark and get up with sunrise.

We sailed to Madeira and anchored of some  beautiful geological features, Baia de Abra.

We spent a few day here while Tristan fitted new  underwater anodes. That was challenging......mainly making sure he didn't drop the grub screws whilst holding his breathe and hanging on because of the current. Also holding his breathe under water meant he couldn't swear until he reached the surface!

After four nights our hips hurt from the rolling so we gave in and went into the marina at Quinta de Lord.  We both had to visit a dentist......a brilliant guy who certainly earned his money.

We spent a day in Funchal .....I never realised that there were so many varieties of passion fruits.

My favourite shellfish!

                                             These Pyracantha reminded me of Cornwall.

We met some wonderful people and we all set sail to the Canaries  together. Keith and Claire on Spirit and Shaun and Pauline on May. The banter was hilarious and we were all envious of May's cottage pie.  Spirit left us standing but we sailed a couple of miles apart with May the entire trip.

We had a couple of weeks at anchor in Playa Franchesca  chilling out, walking and swimming then headed for Lanzarote where we still remain.

 Its been frustrating as we have had so many jobs to do, bits to replace and all of it had involved waiting for a week which has invariably turned into two, often four weeks.
On the upside we have yet again met wonderful people. Caught up with our friends Ralph and Henrika on Dolphin and had visits from Wendy and Leo and Jo and Andy.

I fitted in a quick trip back to the UK to see the big and little girlies, and I miss them all.

Thursday, 11 August 2016


We spent far longer in the Algarve  and international  waters than we had intended. I flew back to the UK for a month to look after my beautiful granddaughters while Lucy was on a course. 

It was fun and sweet innocence, with so many comical comments, 'from the mouths of babes'. I think Tristan has two competitors for talking.

 It was also a milestone in Lily's life as she lost her first tooth, fortunately the tooth fairy remembered to visit.

Sports day was fun, a little different, but it bought back loads of memories and it doesn't feel like 25 years ago that I stood in the field of Archbishop Benson  school watching my girls.

The weather this year wasn't brilliant so the cherries on the tree in Lucy's garden were late. We had pigeon  patrol and spent hours keeping big fat pigeons off  the cherries as they ripened. Then it was all hands on deck to pick, stone and jam the cherries.

I really enjoyed seeing Lucy and Julia but we all missed Amy.

Meanwhile back on the boat. Tristan spent time up the Guardiana river and anchored off Culatra. He put varnish on which was essential as temperatures were soaring above 35 degrees Celsius. Not good for a wooden boat.

As soon as I returned I made a canvas covers to protect the varnish on the gas box, but still need more time sewing. We anchored off Culatra and caught up with friends before sailing to Feruguda to catch up with another friend. 

We arrived at Feruguda in the dark. It was supposedly an easy harbour to enter. The shore lights were bedazzling and there were far too many red and green lights advertising the beers making it difficult to identify the port and starboard lights. Once we were in the harbour it was easy to anchor but there were still a few yachts without an anchor light on.
Feruguda was noisy and we suffered sleep deprivation from the nightclubs in Portimao which went on till 5 am. 

We were able to buy water (albeit a little green) and fuel from the fuel dock in  Portimao marina and use their washing machines. Camping gas was available at the marina only a couple of euros more expensive than hiking miles to exchange the bottles. Worth every penny.  
Two days were spent watching the  F1H2O Grand Prix racing which certainly got the adrenaline going. 

I can see the addictive attraction to speed, and the smell of burnt fuel. It reminded me of Long Eaton Speedway and Donnington race track.

We went for a sail on Tristans birthday with the intention of anchoring off Sagres but with 25 knots on the nose, gusting 35+ we raced past Lagos. The strain on the gear was unsettling so we turned around and beat a hasty retreat, preferring downwind sailing. It took no time to retrace our course and we reanchored off Feruguda. 

We tried again the next day and  made a dash for Porto Santo, a 4 day passage. This was a baptism of fire, we made it in 3 days but had gusts of 35 knots and lots of water across the deck and a very wet cockpit. Meriva bucked and rolled and it wasn't the most pleasant of trips. Even scopoderm patches didn't work. We certainly found out where she was leaking through her cabin tops. Whilst we were in Vila Real during the winter we restocked on towels, €1.50 for a bath sized towel. Just about every one was used on passage but we managed to stem the saltwater intrusion.
More work, but the main priority is another Lee cloth. Tristan was flung out of the berth and landed on me, well that was his excuse. It was rough....he's not moved easily. 

We arrived at the marina Porto Santo only to find out that there was no room but we could anchor for a small fee. I object to paying to anchor but it did at least give us water, showers and a place to tie up the dinghy.  A big improvement on some of the anchorages we've visited this year. The marina had changed its tariff in July/August this year as people were sailing up from Madiera.  They charge a daily rate, but a monthly rate out of peak season was cheaper than six days on daily rate, if there was space.  Checking in was a pleasure, everyone was very friendly.  

The wind howls in this anchorage, gusting 25 to 30 knots  as the air drops off the hillside, then it stops and goes quiet. Meriva swings around and there isn't a lot of space as the ferry from Madiera docks here. We had the option of a mooring  buoy but there didn't seem much room for 16 tonnes of wood and Meriva  behaves differently to most boats. The holding was very good and  there were no nightclubs pumping out 'music' so we slept. One improvement we've made  is extra alarms on both the bilge and  GPS for anchoring. For a wooden boat  the temperatures are better here, a constant 22 degrees Celsius and dew on the decks in the morning. 

It's a 20 minute level  walk along the road or beach into the main town, Cidade Vila Baleira   where there is a very well stocked Pingo Doce, lavanderia and ferriteria.  A taxi ride back to the marina for provisioning is 4 euros, worth it to save further damage to back and shoulders.

I was really impressed by the beautiful beach and crystal clear waters. 

That's where we will be found after we've caught up on essential jobs. 

 Tristans already got stuck into repairing the leaks in the cabin top and trying to find out why the batteries aren't charging. 

We've just heard about the awful fires on Madiera. I can't imagine how people are dealing with the destruction. 

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

The life of a sea vagabond

What are sea vagabonds?   Give yourself a label and immediately it gets taken out of context.

Vagabond, rogue, gypsy,  No fixed abode and so on. We are livaboards, another label!  We are simply people who choose to live on our boat and travel by our own  means. We are not idlers, we are not lazy, we are certainly not work shy. Our destination depends on the weather. 

 In a world of consumables, political control, frontiers, debt, entrapment, we are expected , throughout our lives, to knuckle down and conform to what is expected of us. But expected by whom and why?

Our parents? Our colleagues ? Our friends? Family? Society? Governments? Countries? 

Some of us have children, grand children and responsibilities. Some of us have no family, no emotional ties, no money. Some sail with a partner, some sail alone.

What we all have is one life, and that life is short. We don't have another chance at it if we get it wrong. We own our mistakes and take responsibility for the choices we make.

Whatever  our backgrounds, the paths of life have bought us together in a common desire to live a life afloat.  A bohemian lifestyle, free from clutter, focusing on what we need rather than want. Living simply. We are not a race, we are an eclectic  mix of like minded people. 

Our home, for us, is our boat, we are livaboards. We look after it, maintain it and ensure it floats. We repair and patch before replacing gear. We focus on essentials for survival rather than surplus, indulgent extravagance, but we all have our weaknesses!

Is this an easy life? No. 
Is this stress free ? No. 

Do we sit around all day drinking gin and tonics? Definitely, No, No, No.

Do we take more than we give? Some do, some don't.

Do we live small? Most try to, some try to replicate the life they had ashore with endless stuff.

Do we respect the environment in which we live? We'd be fools not to.

Are we free? No, but freer than many.

So what is life aboard like? 

We live on our boats moving from place to place, not always without risk. We have what we need on board....water, food, clothes, the ability to communicate and most importantly the ability to propel ourselves from one place to another. Some with sails, some with motors, some with oars, most with a combination. 

We find ourselves in isolated places surrounded by nothing but sea and sky. We learn to live with another person, 24 hours of the day or we live alone. We learn patience, tolerance, understanding, care and compassion. We take responsibility for our safe arrival navigating the oceans, seas and rivers without injury to ourselves or damage to the boat, or the surrounding environment. Accidents do happen but  that's normal whatever lifestyle  you choose to live. Sometimes they are caused by idiots. 

We have to carry enough water to survive. Sometimes we get it for free, but mostly  we pay for it. We carry it to the boat in containers, then lug it on board . Most of this is done by rowing boat and  having a wet bottom is normal. We need to make sure our water is safe to drink, sweet water,  but mostly we need to filter it.  One trip we could only get water from a laundrette  as there was a water shortage, but it was green with algae from the bottom of the tank. We filtered it and it was safe to drink, but the filter needed replacing after two weeks.  We have a brilliant filtration system on board. Two pre filters which remove larger particles and are standard in the Caribbean homes, then a finer filter which removes microscopic particles, bacteria and some viruses. 

When you are at anchor or at sea, you wash with minimal water. There is no excuse for being smelly. A salt water wash and fresh water rinse is always an  option. We found carex hand wash works well in salt water and the most useful item on board is a packet of baby wipes. We often wash our pots in sea water and rinse in fresh but it depends on where you anchor!

Food is easy to provision provided you eat what is locally available and that's good for the local economy. You have variety but not what you may be used to. However, it makes you appreciate produce in season or when you find a big supermarket. The later is not always an option and walking miles to a supermarket and back, dingying it back to the boat, makes you question your needs. The local produce market meets the needs of most things. 

Fresh produce we buy every couple of days, but we keep stores of the basic food items such as rice, pasta, flour, spices, long life or powdered milk and tins.  I don't think we've ever been on board when we haven't had a meal of rice and sardines available, although we have got to the stage where we can't face rice and sardines unless we're desperate. 

We have the luxury of a fridge so we not need to shop everyday and when it's hot outside we appreciate being able to keep water, butter, cheese and milk cool.  We have managed without the fridge but you just eat differently,  and at sea  on long passages it gets switched off after two weeks when the fresh produce runs out.  This is when a variety of tinned food is important. 

We found on a long passage you crave food which you don't have. On one trip we raided the grab bag of chocolate so now we only carry mars bars which we both hate. 

Disposal of waste is the challenge. No plastics in the ocean. Plastic water bottles make good storage containers for plastic waste so you can seal it and dispose of it later. Its better to get rid of surplus packaging before you load stuff onto the boat. We always remove labels , cardboard etc to  try to discourage cockroaches. However it is important to clearly label tins with permanent markers, otherwise it's 'potluck'.

Organic material and punctured tins go back into the sea, depending how far you are offshore.  

Pristine environments  require tighter measures for disposal of waste. We snorkelled reefs in the Caribbean where the most common sighting was empty beer bottles, drinks cans and panty liners.  Long gone were the fishes. Fortunately that was uncommon. There is nothing worse then swimming around a boat which discharges its heads into the sea. This is an increasing problem in crowded anchorages. Although most boats  now have holding tanks which are  emptied offshore. Many marines still do not have pump out facilities for boats to empty their holding tanks. 

Many livaboards help the local communities donating surplus goods, teaching English, sailing, boat building  and involving themselves in community projects. This is especially so in the Caribbean  from Grenada to the BVI's. 
Volunteering to help local groups increases the experiential knowledge and gives something back to the islands but it requires people spending time in one place.

Here lies a major issue. We are controlled by borders and frontiers. If you are British you are only allowed to stay 6 months any 18 months in Spain otherwise the Spanish Goverment will tax you 20% the value of your boat, a matriculation tax.  In Portugal you can stay 183 days, then you have to leave the country.  If you are out of the UK for a period of time in any tax year, you have to ' prove ' you are a UK resident and not an expat. 
Every  place you go to you need to present your passport, ships papers and insurance to the authorities. Often you pay a ' tax' which varies from country to country.

It feels the world is out to tax you and it's becoming restrictive. The benefits of what livaboards bring to a country outweigh what they take. They pay entry fees, mooring fees, Marina fees, buy local food, pay for private medical care and dentistry, hire cars, visit tourist areas, buy bits to repair their boats. The contributions to the local economy should not be underestimated.  If you were sat in the UK many purchases are made online or from eBay. Other purchases do not go into local pockets but large multinational companies who somehow manage to avoid paying UK tax exploiting loopholes and putting huge profits into the back pockets of the rich. 

We all depend on mobile phones, the Internet and communication by electronic media. Everyone knows where everyone is either by tracking, spying or censorship. Data is stored and accumulated about us, but we still have to prove our identity, where we've been and for how long. 
So how free are we? We cannot disappear, you will be found. You have to earn money but if you save it you get taxed on it ( but only if you have a small amount, the wealthy can afford to dodge it).  

Surely a more sustainable lifestyle should be encouraged, reducing global footprints and supporting local communities.   We hear about global warming, the hole in the ozone layer and pollution as if it had just been discovered. For years we have voiced our opinions, proved beyond all reasonable doubt that we are damaging our environment but nothing really changes. Greenwash abounds. 

The Hawaiians have the right attitude. " Live life like you are on a canoe".  

Where do we go from here ?  I'm an ecologist who has struggled to live to my principles ashore, but will try to live small on our boat.  So if you see me. I'm the sea vagabond with sun bleached greying hair, wrinkled skin,  mossie bites, patched trousers and our wooden boat is dressed in any covers I can get my hands on to keep the sun off. I'm always varnishing, have no fingerprints from sanding but I'm happy. Most of the time!

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Babylon to Eden

It took ages to escape from La Linea, everyone wanted to talk. Without being rude we finally left at 10.30am. Although fuel was only 28p a litre in Gibralter, we decide we had enough and couldn't afford to fill the tank. We didn't even buy fresh food, sardines it was. We motored out into Gibralter bay, ships everywhere.  There was a huge cruise ship on our stern, the Costa Brava. As it passed us to port, I turned to port to catch the shelter of his wind shadow while Tristan hauled up the mainsail. It felt like playing chicken on the motorway.
I'd just hauled the main sheet in and turning back to starboard, when a dolphin leapt out of the water .....we didn't have time to watch his antics as there were two fast ferries heading towards us, one either side, and holding our course was priority.  Not to mention the twenty odd anchored tankers and container ships.

As soon as we passed the tankers at anchor,  we turned west towards Tarifa. It was a brilliant sail but we knew that it would get windier on the west side of the straits with an easterly wind. We had current and tide against us but wind with us. At times it gusted up 30 to 45 knots with the steady 25 knots of wind increasing. The seas were rough as it was wind over tide and Meriva was a challenge to steer, even though we had the second reef in the main and a partially furled gib. The monitor would not handle such conditions. We were doing 8 knots at times. We had a good system going. I helmed and Tristan did the sheets as we gybed six times on a short trip towards Tarifa. It was exhilarating but very tiring on the arms and shoulders. Tristan fuelled us,  passing olives, cheese, salami, nuts, cake, sweets and anything than we could scoff without an effort or moving from our positions.

We still had to pass around Cape Trafalger into Cadiz Bay when the wind hopefully would abate. That theory was squashed as the weather forecast was gale force winds in Cadiz Bay.

We didn't mind, we were really enjoying the blast, but as usual we wished we'd put in the third reef.  By sunset, the sea had calmed and wind died down. We were able to set the monitor for an early night watch.  Just as Tristan went down to sleep,  we had to reef the main. A blast of wind came out of nowhere. Safely snug, Tristan went back to sleep. 
The following morning we were attacked by millions of mosquitos. This was a first, 50 miles from shore and we had to put the mosquito nets on. 

 The hull was covered, they hid in Dodgers, spray hoods and under the helmsman a seat.   By this time we were both knackered so we tucked into the Belgian chocolates that Patrick gave me.  Tristan did his wild man impression with electric tennis racquet and tea towel. I shamelessly hid behind the mosquito net ' navigating'.  

We turned circles trying to rid Meriva's hull of mossies. The smell of cooked mossies was horrible, but the consequences of having them alive was worse. Although we were both bitten, it could have been worse and at least they didn't have chickungunya .......though any escapees may have now! 

After a few hours sailing we neared  the entrance to the Guardiana river, but the engine wouldn't start.  Tristan worked hard fault finding, and managed to get it going so we quickly motored up river, dropping anchor for the night off Isla canela, opposite Vila Real de San Antonio . We were both absolutely shattered and slept until the tide turned, then we fussed about the anchor setting. 

The following morning we upt anchor and motored past Ayemonte up the Guardiana river.
The worst bit was the uncertainty going under the suspension bridge.

Logically we knew we could get under the bridge but somehow I still held my breath and ducked, not that it helped.

The channel was buoyed so it was easy enough to go up river. We just had to keep our eye on the depth sounder. 

We passed Alcoutim and Sanlucar and dropped anchor after a couple of attempts in wind against tide. 

Birds and running water, peace and tranquility. It reminds me of when I was a child and sent to bed before it was dark. I'd lie in bed listening to the bird song. It's the same but with an inbuilt alarm clock for when the tide changes and we swing around on the anchor, often in a different direction to everyone else.