Saturday, 31 December 2011

Twist and Shout

Current Position at 3.30pm UTC
12:07N 35:20W  Speed 6knots, Wind 20 - 25 knots NE, Confused 3 - 4 metre seas, Course 280

Well there was a big twist then a fair amount of shouting during our morning net as a rogue wave gave Balvenie a fair slapping causing things to go into orbit inside the boat and cockpit.  Luckily we had the windward clear zipped down in the cockpit so it kept out most of the water, and things were back to normal after a clean up.

The Northwest swell has arrived and combined with the Northeast swell and wind direction to make a very messy sea so we are heavily reefed down and taking it easy till things start to settle down again, hopefully tonight.  Looking like a very quiet New Years Eve onboard Balvenie.    Hope you all have more fun than we are likely to!!

Friday, 30 December 2011

As Time Goes By

Current Position at 1400 UTC 30 Dec 2011 12:23N 32:35W, Course 262, Speed 6.5 knots under reefed staysail and reefed headsail, a glimmer of sunshine trying to poke through, 20 - 28 knots ENE and building seas around 3 metres.

It's 2pm, it was 2pm an hour ago also but skipper decided it was time to turn our clocks back an hour, so here it is again.  He is trying to get our night time watches in sync with the hours of darkness, shame really as I rather liked having an hours daylight at the start of my watch, oh well.

My sense of humour has gone missing today, when I look out the back of the boat I have that nasty feeling that the seas are going to look much the same as the ones we had on the way from the Canaries to the Cape Verdes, they are building all the time, lets hope the weather reports are right and they only last a day or two then we get some more comfortable conditions for a few days.

I can't think of anything entertaining to add, I come up with all sorts of ideas when I am on my 4 hour night watch, only to forget the lot when daylight comes.  We are having fun picking song titles for the subjects each day, we have stolen the idea from Brenda and David on Bandit (who are 4 days ahead of us), they saw it on another blog so we are all copying, Brenda is doing Movie titles, I have gone for the easier choice of Song titles.  It's sure more fun than reporting Captains Log, Atlantic Crossing Part Two Day Five - mind you being on the Starship Enterprise right now might be a really good option!!!!   

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Shake, rattle and roll

Current position 12 noon 29 Dec 2011 13:21N 30:02W.  Gybed the boat at 9am and now steering 262 , wind 15 - 20 NE boat speed around 6.2knots.  Have headsail poled out on starboard to windward and staysail poled out on port.

Quite a comfortable night, all still feeling somewhat sleep deprived, but its so much better having three on board.  Tony hauled in a huge Mahi Mahi yesterday afternoon so we are filling up the freezer, smell abit like a Moroccan Fish market though.

Saw another ship earlier, and had to do more running repairs to the radar which keeps jumping off its belt, thank goodness it isn't up the mast.  That is plenty enough entertainment for today, rest of the day at leisure we hope. 

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Starry Starry Night

Position at 1400 GMT 14:48N 28:25W.  Winds around 12 - 18 knots, mainly clear skies, Course 232, Speed 6.1 knots.
Weather finally started clearing just before dark last night, after enjoying our ultra fresh Mahi Mahi for dinner.  I had a sliver of a moon on my watch before it disappeared over the horizon, each night will broing more and more.  We had a great starry sky though, what a difference it makes.  
We could see Ventana and Tactical Directions last night but we have all separted a little more today.  Seas are rolly, so much so that this is about as much as I can type.
Tony has caught another fish for dinner though, well done. 

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Whoa, we're going to Barbados

Position at 1400 GMT 16:18N 26:57W.  Around 15 knots Easterly wind, skies clearing after overnight rain, Course 262, Speed 5.8 knots, messy lumpy rolly seas
We finally departed Mindelo in the Cape Verde Island Group on Boxing Day at 2pm along with Tactical Directions and Ventana.  Our original departure took us through the passage between the islands which provided us with some reasonably flat water for the first couple of hours and then we hit the lumpy bits, and in the lumpy stuff we have been ever since!!
The winds have been fluky changing direction and strength, but mainly light, plus we had rain overnight.  It was the darkest night I think we have ever sailed in, couldn't even see the back of the boat.
First Mahi Mahi was caught by Tony early morning, but I hear now the lure has gone - these fish are somewhat expensive.  Thats it for today.  

Monday, 26 December 2011

Merry Christmas from Cape Verdes

P1010001 Just a short update as internet connection here is expensive and the days have flown by since we arrived in here in Mindelo.

Photos for the previous crossing posts will be added in Barbados or whenever there is reasonable internet access again.  Meanwhile we are leaving tomorrow along with Tactical Directions, Ventana and Toots, heading for the Caribbean!!  Our friends on Eye Candy are waiting for their friend to arrive in a couple of days so competitive Andrew will spend his entire passage trying to catch us, we are sure!PC140012

We had Christmas Eve drinks onboard Balvenie managing to squeeze 14 into the cockpit, so much easier when there is a lovely sandy beach, warm breeze and convenient dinghy landing for us all to congregate, but we managed and had a great get together.

Christmas Day has dawned somewhat murky and windy but Santa Claus’ GPS must have been working ok and he actually found us here in Mindelo.  We have been very lucky this year with goodies brought from New Zealand by Tony, and goodies from England when Marks Mum came out, very spoiled indeed. 

Inbetween precooking passage meals for the next 6 days I managed to slip in a leg of New Zealand lamb, which we had roasted with onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes – steamed beans, broccoli and carrots, gravy and mint sauce.  Served with a couple of bottles of excellent red wine and finished off with christmas pudding, brandy custard and cream.  We shared it with Tony off Tactical Directions.  Its a hard life on the ocean – well from tomorrow on it will be for a couple of weeks.
I’ll do more on Cape Verdes at some stage, but for now its time to get a good nights sleep.

The Final Part of our Atlantic Crossing is about to Begin!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Land ahoy in the Cape Verdes

Very well earned cooked breakfast on arrival
Position 16:53N 24:59W at anchor

Yippee, we have arrived in the anchorage at Mindelo, the Cape Verde Islands, we have knocked off about a third of our Atlantic Crossing. 

We arrived in the dark, something we are always careful not to do but we have had enugh of being out there and didn't fancy heaving to for 5 of so hours so nudged our way in very carefully and slowly into the inner harbour, following our friends on Bandit's excellent instructions.

More to come soon after a much deserved sleep  PS.... WE ARE FIRST TO ARRIVE!!!!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Its a beautiful day

Running radar repairs at sea
Position at 1345GMT 17:24N 23:55W, around 70 miles to run to Mindelo.

It seems we have finally peaked Everest and have slid down the other side, getting stuck on a few of the foothills now and again but mainly cruising along in the lowlands at last.  The high winds and big seas have eased, we now have about 15 knots and less than 2 metre swell but she's a lumpy and rolly old ride until the seas flatten more.

The Aussie boats must think we are having a race.  Tactical Directions tried breaking the multihull speed record yesterday, clocking 19 knots down a wave.  Eye Candy went for the monohull record and blasted down a wave hitting 13.9 knots.  Balvenie has been much more sensible topping at around 9 knots, she loves the big waves and just lifts up and lets them pass under her.  Despite our lack of record breaking we are in the lead, much to skippers joy!!

Our only fish, found once in port!!!
We practised some more acrobatics this morning, shed a few layers of thermals and fleeces and have almost got "tropics" attire on.  At last it is warming up.  We have had sunshine each day, but the wind had been very cool while it was strong, today is much better.

Still haven't deployed the fishing line, can't face a bloody massacre on the deck if we happen to catch one - we have plenty of food.

Last night was so dark, the waning moon has waned to a point of being about as bright a a planet and and not appearing until 3am, not much use at all.  We saw a fishing boat and container ship last night, the first traffic in days.  

Time for a nap, looking very forward to dropping anchor in Mindelo around dawn. 

Monday, 19 December 2011

Groundhog day - again

sleeping on the floor but loaded upside down!!!
Position 19:04N 22.10W Course 220d, speed 7 knots, winds 20-25knots, seas still big but only 208 miles to Mindelo.

Monday afternoon, back to work after a hard weekend.  This morning sadly did not dawn calm and comfortable, it is just the same as yesterday, and the previous days.  Hanging out for a slight ease tomorrow but guess we will get what we get.

We are all starting to sleep a little better, the motion on the boat if fine for sitting on watch or snoozing but impossible for anything else.  I have decided I need 5 arms to be able to function living inside a bouncy castle, 2 for holding on with, 2 more for doing what needs to be done and 1 extra to do things like holding the toilet seat lid up so you can actually get to sit on it before it closes!!

It is getting warmer but still all sitting here with long johns on and plenty of layers of fleeces, thermals and beanies at night.  Somehow we thought we were going to the tropics but maybe we made a wrong turn somewhere.  On that note well done to John our friend and onshore weather man for being the only one to pick up on an incorrect position.

We still have Eye Candy and Tactical Directions reasonably closeby, with the other 6 that left with us spread out.  We are all looking forward to getting our anchors down soon. 

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Still flying along

Current position 21:25N 20:22W course 224 and speed 7.1knots, destination Mindelo.  

It's Sunday afternoon and things have not improved.  Big seas, winds gusting over 30 knots and somewhat difficult living conditions, we live in the hope that it will get better soon.  We are now over half way. 

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Out in the big blue wobbly stuff

Current position is 28:24N 18:34W, we left Las Palmas 51 hours ago and have been sailing under triple reefed main only for most of the journey so far. 

Seas are pretty lively out here and doing anything and that requires movement is a huge challange.  We hope the sea state settles soon, the wind is not bad, highest 32 knots but most of the time around 20 knots, we have travelled 342 miles so at least we are getting there quick!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Ready to depart Gran Canaria ….. December 2011

PC100215 25 November – 13 December 2011

We have now been in Las Palmas at anchor for nearly 3 weeks, heavens only knows what we have been doing besides daily trips to the supermarket and fresh market.  I know that there will be shops in the Caribbean, but while its here and while there is room in the lockers it seems like such a good idea to stock up, and up, and up while the boat goes down, and down and down!!!!

We shared a car with our Australian friend Tony on Tactical Directions on Saturday and went inland for a days touring and incorporated another supermarket and electrical store run.  Our rather new (well only 4 years old) microwave suffered an incurable broken latch on its door last week, which put it into total shutdown mode.  We don’t use the microwave much, but we are leaving 240 volts territory and heading to 110 volts land so if we don’t replace it now it will be a long time before we can, so it was added to the shopping list.  Our little Nissan Micra hirecar was absolutely bulging at the seams with provisionsPC100211 for 2 boats, the 4 of us and the microwave.   I was just looking at all the food receipts from the last 3 supermarket trips and we have purchased over 200 items, the lockers are bursting and I have become an absolute ace at stowing, I have also had enough sense to write an inventory of what is where, all we have to do now is remember to delete items as they are removed!!!

We enjoyed our days touring with Tony and his English friend Lyn, we went inland high up into the mountains and discovered a totally different landscape to what we have seen on the other Canary Islands.  There is much more vegetation here, everything looked very autumnal with trees shedding their leaves, and the low hanging mist made us feel we could quite easily have been driving through English countryside.PC100214

Yesterday our friend Tony Knight arrived, after a long trip via Korea and Germany from New Zealand.  He has come to sail across the Atlantic with us and it is great to have him onboard again.  The weather forecast was looking good to depart this morning and we were on red alert for a mid morning departure……. but then the weather was checked again.  The Azores High is pushing a band of stronger winds and lumpy seas across our path in a couple of days so we will be patient and wait it out, tucked up comfortably here at anchor in Las Palmas.  We are getting extra weather help from our English friend John Bowering who will be tracking us along the way and emailing us the bigger picture and his advice which we value.  Thanks John. 

While we are at sea I can not update our position map on this blog but we have started a blog tracking map we can update via the Mailasail website through our satphone.  If you want to see where we are and how our progress is going out there in the big blue wobbly stuff click here or visit (both go to the same place)  it’s an excellent facility designed for yachts worldwide.  The link is also in the left hand side bar of this blog near the top.

Cruising and touring info to follow when more time

Monday, 12 December 2011

Island hopping in the Canaries ….. November 2011

17 Nov – 25 November 2011

PB180204Moving from Lanzarote to Fuertaventura to Gran Canaria

Before we left Rubicon Marina we organised a get together of all the boats we had heard on our morning cruisers net but had not  met, plus the ones we did know, and invited everyone for happy hour.  We are all planning to cross the Atlantic soon, so it was time to put faces to names, and names to boats.  We squeezed 16 into the cockpit which instantly makes everyone very close friends and a good night was had by all.

It was time to move on again so we left Lanzarote and had a ripper of a sail down the east coast of Fuertaventura.  The winds were solid but the seas were flat so we zoomed down the side and around the bottom and tucked up next to British boat Macushla at Cala de las Playitas. PB220208 Macushla was another boat we had had contact with but never met, so it was great to finally meet Mark and Sue and we spent the next few days in their company.  Cala de las Playitas was a great spot, a tiny village nestled into the hills on one side of the bay, looking all remote and quaint  - but then if look look about 500 metres across to the other side of the bay there is a huge hotel complex, oh well at least it was low rise.

There was some excellent walking in the area with tracks going off in all directions on all the hills.  The island was quite different to Lanzarote, and I am sure I read somewhere that it is known as the flat island.  this can only be in relation to the other islands in the Canaries as is sure wasn’t flat, volcanic peaks were everywhere yet again, but it was certainly not as dramatic as Lanzarote.PB220207    

We stayed a couple of nights in comfortable conditions but then the wind switched mid afternoon to an unforecasted south easterly, bringing with it a chop and swell and putting us on a lee shore – time to find a new home for the night, we just hate it when that happens but at least it was daytime.  We were able to relocate just a couple of miles further west, we had been able to see into the next bay on our earlier walk and it looked to have reasonable protection so around we went.  We tucked up by the town of Gran Tarajal for the night, protected from the wind and chop but it was a rolly old night, yuk!PB220210

So we moved on again the following day, always in search of flat water!  We had a comfortable downwind sail in company with Macushla, nice and easy with just our headsails rolled out.  We headed along to Morro Jable and found where all the tourists go.  The beautiful long white sandy beach was packed with holiday makers – umbrellas up and deck chairs out, the bay was alive with windsurfers and hobbycats and just around the headland there were hundreds of kitesurfers making the most of the strong winds and surf.     

PB220205 We didn’t quite feel in a holiday mood, I suppose if you had just arrived by plane from 4c and ice somewhere in Northern Europe it probably felt warm and sunny out of the wind but each day for us was feeling more and more wintery, the tropics were calling us!!!!  We stayed a couple of nights, had a very long walk along the beach for some exercise, and did more boat aerobics than we would have liked as the swell sneaked around the corner and had us rolling again, oh and then there were some rather violent wind gusts funnelling down the gap between two volcanic peaks that kept our interest up.  Sometimes it would be nice to live in a house and not worry about wobbly floors and jolting wind gusts – but then think of all we would miss out on.

PC100212 One such thing would be screaming along on a beam reach in 20 knots of breeze, watching the speedo hit 9 knots, and the lively seas rise up to meet us as we flew across from Fuertaventura to Gran Canaria, actually it was one of those days that I wouldn’t have minded missing out on but it was good practice for the Atlantic Crossing and we sure covered the miles quickly.

So now we are anchored inside the commercial harbour at Las Palmas where will be be until December 12th when our good friend Tony Knight flies in from New Zealand and will stay onboard with us until the Caribbean.  We are looking forward to his company and to having an extra person onboard for the crossing. 

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Life on Lanzarote - or is it the Moon? ….. Nov 2011

PB080003 01- 19 November 2011

Exploring the volcanic island of Lanzarote

It was time to move on from the small island of Graciosa, we needed to find somewhere much more protected as a 3 – 4 metre swell was forecast to roll in.  We had a good sail around the top then down the east coast of the island of Lanzarote and headed for the protected harbour anchorage of Puerto de Naos at Arrecife.  We squeezed into the upper harbour, certainly flat and protected but it was bumper to bumper, or more appropriately bow to stern and gunnel to gunnel.  It was like being back in the med, find a spot that might just be big enough, drop and set the anchor then put out all the fenders. We were all cruisers, all waiting to cross to the Caribbean and there was always room for one more – just!!!PB090025

We stayed for days, the anchorage was handy to town, there was a beach down the other end of the harbour where a couple of happy hour beach parties were held, cruiser drinks were organised in a nearby tapas bar and the days slipped away. 

The swell had finally dropped and the winds were favourable so we enjoyed another downwind sail - the sun was shining, the seas were flat and the winds were light so the cruising chute came out to play again.  It was a lovely day, and we ended it anchoring in a sandy bay on the southern most point of Lanzarote, Papagayo.  We sat onboard Tactical Directions watching Balvenie silhouetted as the sun set in the west turning the sky from all shades of pink and gold to a deep red – just magic.

We moved into Rubicon Marina on the Southern Coast of Lanzarote. We had a VIP guest arriving, Mark’s mother Jackie was flying in from London to stay for a few days so it was a great reason for us to have a minibreak too, into the marina we went, a car was hired,  and Jackie was collected from the airport.  It was lovely to have her onboard again for her second holiday on Balvenie and to have the chance to join us again before we headed across the Atlantic – so the holiday began.

2011 Canary Isles-6

The amazing lunar landscape within the Timanfaya National Park, Montanas del Fuego (Fire Mountains)

Lanzarote is an interesting island, a perfect destination for a weeks holiday, reasonably small, great roads, excellent natural attractions, a winter climate in the high teens/low twenties, extremely clean and well presented - what more could you want. 2011 Canary Isles-7

So the exploring began, first day we headed for the Timanfaya National Park.  The park covers 51 sq kms with dozens of volcanic cones within it.  You can drive through a good portion of it by car and then there are special coaches that travel along a private one way road, gauged out of the lava.  You traverse around the rims of some volcanoes, into the bellies of others, and through the lava flow of many more, what a harsh environment.  It was an excellent trip through this barren lunar landscape.  The eruptions that formed the current landscape struck between 1730 and 1736 with more as recently as 1824, it must have been one hell of a bang when they all started blowing their tops! 

There are fire pits, seemingly harmless and dormant until a park ranger shoves a few twigs down them and they spring to life with a snap, crackle and flames.  Likewise are a few steam blowholes, lying quietly until water gets poured down them, first releasing a big burst of steam – a crowd pleaser, but then followed by an almighty bang – which sure gets every ones attention!  In another area there is a large circular pit, filled with red hot charcoals that actually live there permanently, makes a great charcoal grill with chicken and fish being cooked on top for the adjoining restaurant.  It all sure makes you wonder what is bubbling away down there, only just below the surface.

 2011 Canary Isles-4

Grape vines in this dry volcanic gravel, sunken in pits

Another day we explored the interior of the island, passing miles of vineyards, but not as we know them.  Early settlers here obviously could not do without their “vino” so developed a method of nurturing their grapes so they could survive in this dry environment and grow in volcanic gravel.  Guess if you want something badly enough you will think of a way!    There really is no soil, its just a volcanic gravel, and they dig out circles into the gravel, enclose most of it at ground level with a rock wall and plant one vine in the bottom of each.  The rock walls trap the condensation created by the huge temperature change here between the heat of the day magnified by the black landscape and then the rapid cooling once the sun sets. The water drips down into the dug out bowl and gathers around the base of the vine, all very clever but it produces a very low yield, albeit an excellent product.  We went to the El Grifo Museo del Vino, a working vineyard founded in 1775, it houses an excellent display of 19th and 20th century machinery and wine making tools.  We even enjoyed a little wine tasting before we moved on.

 2011 Canary Isles-5

Just a few of the amazing cacti at the Jardin de Cactus 

Now to many of you a trip to a cactus garden may not be high on the list of “must do’s”, but the Jardin de Cactus had come highly recommended and Jackie is a very keen gardener so off we went to see for ourselves. PB130075  Well what an incredible display, I never could have imagined so many different varieties of cacti were in existence.  It is very well laid out, compact and interesting and every cactus is labelled with its name and country of origin.  There were teeny weeny ones just a few inches long, to towering prickly ones with solid trunks and amazing flowers.  

Many of the natural attractions on Lanzarote are showcased in surroundings created by designer César Manrique, he had a huge input into ensuring Lanzarote maintained its stark natural beauty and integrated  the attractions into the natural environment.  This garden is one of his designs as is housed in a disused quarry, the steep walls providing a hot house bowl for the cacti to grow. 

PB130083 We were making our way around all the sights but there was more to see. There are two natural caves areas on the island, both have been formed by lava tunnelling through the earths core.  We visited the Jameos del Agua  which has a natural lake within it and is home to blind albino crabs that only grow to one centimetre, unique to this cave.  The geology of the cave area was very interesting, the surrounding setting and entrance blends so well.  There is an adjoining cavern  that is a natural theatre, with amazing acoustics. Many operas and other performances are held here.

On the northern coast of Lanzarote there is the Mirador del Rio, another area created by César Manrique.  It is a lookout area with an amazing panorama over the straits between Lanzarote and Graciosa Islands, and a wonderful vista from high above over our previous anchorage at Playa Francesca at Graciosa.  The lookout is so well blended into the landscape that we had been unaware the whole time at anchor that hundreds of tourists were spying down on us each day!   2011 Canary Isles-8

The days passed, but each day there was somewhere else to go, another of natures marvels to discover.  On our last afternoon we headed across to the west coast late afternoon and visited Los Hervideros, an excellent walkway along the rugged coast that takes in some natural blowholes and caves dug out deep by the crashing surf.  It was quite a calm day when we were there and there was still plenty of water action, I expect it gets quite lively and wet there when a 30 knot westerly is blowing. 

Then we found the Green Lagoon, yep, its the pond in the photo and it certainly was green.  The colours of the cliff faces around it were glowing in the late afternoon sun, terracottas, burnt reds, yellows and olive, the geology and scenery on this small island did not not cease to amaze us.

PB160193It was time for our farewell dinner and we could not have found a more perfect spot.  We carried on to the small village of El Golfo and settled into a beach side table at a local cafe, ordered a selection of tapas and some excellent local wine and  watched as the sun dipped lazily into the ocean setting on fire the clouds and sky above us.

We had a wonderful time with Jackie staying, the weather was kind to us – most of the time, Rubicon Marina had been a great spot to base ourselves and Lanzarote was the perfect island for easy day trips of touring. 

Friday, 11 November 2011

Beach Party Time on Graciosa ….. October 2011

cricket at happy hour, Graciosa 18 October – 01 November 2011

We slipped into the anchorage at Playa Francesca on the northern most island of Isla Graciosa in the Canary Islands chain early in the morning after our 4 night passage down from Rabat in Morocco.  There is nothing more rewarding than a spectacular anchorage and flat water after an ocean passage.  We have completed our 2nd step in the Atlantic and have made it to the Canary Islands.  

This island group of volcanic peaks rise steeply from the sea with dramatic landscapes and an amazing collection of soil colours and earth contours, making for an ever changing backdrop, the time of day, angle of sun, amount of cloud cover; all changed our vista by the minute.  Add to that a deserted beach of golden sands between the rocky lava flows, a temperature in the low 20’s, clear but slightly chilly water, 23 other cruising boats in the anchorage – we certainly felt like we were cruising again.2011 Canary Isles-1

For the first few days we had settled weather, it was a wonderful time.  It is the northern most anchorage in the Canaries and is a very popular first stop for all the yachts migrating from Europe to the Caribbean and South America and so each day there were new arrivals and departures. Sundowners/happy hour was spent late afternoon gathered on the beach, guitars were brought in, as were cricket sets, soccer balls, volleyballs, kites – it was a great time of the day for everyone, especially the many ‘Kiddie boats’the nickname we give yachts with children of all ages who are being home schooled on board, and receiving an education of a lifetime.  

For the boats starting out from Europe it was a great introduction for them to the true cruising lifestyle, away from busy towns or cities, ports and marinas, experiencing their new self sufficient life living at anchor.  For those of us that have spent a few seasons in the Mediterranean it was great to get away from packed anchorages, charter boats, noisy jet skis and nightly discos on shore and remember how it had been before we arrived in Europe.2011 Canary Isles

The village of Caleta del Sebo was just under 3 km’s away, so a very long dinghy ride or a 40 minute flat walk, there are no roads, just a small network of sandy marked tracks – its great.  We wandered in several times during our stay, it had everything we needed.  After a 7.30am dinghy departure from Balvenie on Sunday morning, with fingers and toes crossed, we were delighted to find a cafe open with the final of the World Cup Rugby on the big screen.  We sat glued to the screen for 80 minutes with some French supporters and, along with over 4 million other New Zealanders were thrilled to watch the All Blacks win the World Cup, well done guys, it was your time.Celebrating the Rugby World Cup victory with Chinnock Wind  Back in the anchorage Skipper ensured that everyone knew the result with a dinghy flyby of the New Zealand flag!

The days just slipped by, we had a day of southerly winds which saw us hunker down and do anchor watch, then that was followed by a few days of a large Atlantic swell rolling in, making landing on the beach impossible by dinghy but the local surfers had a great time. It was the first time we have shared an anchorage with surfers, certainly not ideal conditions to remain there at anchor but it was such a lovely place and we just weren’t ready to leave.   Whenever we could get ashore we would make the most of the great walking, we ended up doing the walk to the top of the volcano, Montana Amarilla, three times, the views were spectacular from up there and well worth the climb.  2011 Canary Isles-2

One day, in company with Tony off Tactical Directions we walked into the village and hired mountain bikes for the afternoon and set off cycling around the volcanoes at the top of the island.  It was a great afternoon out, we sat enjoying our picnic lunch on a deserted west facing beach, the swell was still up and the surf was crashing in, Montana Amarilla sat proudly in the distance, the sun peaked through the clouds – it was just beautiful.  We carried on along the sandy track, quite a workout on a mountain bike; we stopped at a natural stone bridge that has formed a blow hole and watched as the force of the ocean crashed up through this small opening then drained away to nothing; we carried on to Pedro Barba, the only other settlement on the island where some of the properties had the most wonderful cactus gardens; watched a local fisherman haul in a huge tuna while fishing off the concrete dock then, after making it to the top of quite a mean climb it was downhill all the way back to Caleta del Sebo.

2011 Canary Isles1

Eventually we knew we would have to leave and a forecast for a 5 metre swell heading for the Canaries finally pushed us on our way.  There will be time for many more beach parties soon, maybe with a coconut palm or two swaying in the breeze, steel drums sounding in the background, and warmer waters lapping at our feet – we will never get to the Caribbean if we don’t leave Graciosa!

Cruising Info for Isla Graciosa, Canary Islands – October 2011

29 13.004N  13 31.755W 15m sand.  We did move in closer as space became available, some of the bottom was rock and in most of the eastern part the bottom is rock.  Dinghy landing was best on the far left beach, the far right dries out very rocky but the 2nd from the right wasn’t too bad and closer if walking into town.  The path to climb Montana Amarilla (172m) is by the far left beach, it is circuitous and takes around an hour with time out for admiring the view.  It is medium difficulty, a little steep in places and slippery shingle. PA300013 The path /road to Caleta del Sebo is at the far right, follow it around then veer off to the right at some vehicle barriers when you can see the town in the distance and walk along the beach.  It’s about a 40 minute walk.  In town on the waterfront are a bakery and one small supermarket.  In the back streets are a butcher, Pharmacy, ATM machine, Post Office, 2 more supermarkets one of which has a machine in it for topping up any cellphone/datasim supplier and Rosa’s Internet Cafe (not always open but unlocked wifi signal seems to be on all the time so just sit outside).  The backstreets are a maze, but it’s not a big place.  There was Vodafone signal in the anchorage our our worldwide Gymsim worked fine.  Everyone else's Vodafone Spanish dongle worked in the anchorage, but ours didn’t, no surprise there, topped up with €40 from machine in village and it still doesn’t work, more money donated to Vodafone!  We hired our bikes from the place on the far left behind the beach in the harbour, 8€ each, same price at other places.  We did Route C on the map they give out, it took us 3 hours with lots of stops.  There are ferries from Caleta del Sebo to Órzola on Lanzarote.  There did not appear to be anywhere to “check in”, so all yachts waited till their next port of call (eg Puerto de Naos or Marina Rubicon on Lanzarote or Las Palmas on Grand Canaria)

Thursday, 3 November 2011

From Land Cruisers back to Ocean Cruisers ….. Oct 2011

leaving Rabat, 14 Oct 2011

09 – 18 October 2011


We had a marvellous time away on our inland travels in Morocco and enjoyed staying in Rabat but the northern hemisphere winter is fast approaching and it is time to start migrating further south.  Friday the 14th, (thank goodness it wasn’t Friday the 13th) had the lowest predicted swell across the bar entrance to Rabat, and the winds, whilst light, would be favourable for at least 4 days. So…holidays over, it was once again down to the serious business of circumnavigating. We began our preparations. We would sail on the afternoon high tide for the Canary Islands 470 miles away to the south west.Fog rolling in off the land, Morocco - Canaries

Six other yachts also planned to leave using the same 6 hour tidal window and because the check out formalities can take a while the skippers met and agreed a departure sequence i.e. catamarans first because they have less draft. monohulls second as the tide approached its highest point, then any unprocessed catamarans last. We all ensured our paperwork was in order to speed the process. It is necessary to tie up at the small Customs Dock to clear out once you have left your marina berth and, would you believe it, over night a yacht had arrived and was still being held on the customs dock with paperwork issues.  So this meant only one boat at a time could tie up - oh well – and so the procession began. We were 5th to check out which timed well with the tide almost at full height, and we just sneaked onto the dock before two more new arrivals got escorted in over the bar.  The marina staff and officials sure had a busy day. We motored down the river toward open ocean as the afternoon call to prayer sounded out over Rabat, this would probably be the last time we would hear the prayer call during our circumnavigation – we will always associate it with some of the most interesting, exotic locations we have visited.the raising of the MPS 15 Oct 2011

As soon as we cleared the river entrance, full sail was raised and once again Balvenie eased into her work as we pointed her bow south westward towards the Canary Islands. It was great to have the other yachts out there with us, always quite comforting being able to see another set of sails, even if only in the distance, and we kept in touch over VHF and HF radio during the passage.  We sailed until after dark then the wind completely died out so the motor came on for the evening.  We were just two days past the full moon, so the evening was bright and the miles ticked away.  Just before dawn we started sailing again, but it was a fluky morning with the winds coming and going, then the fog rolled in from the land and brought with it an easterly.  Eventually on day 2 we cleared the African coast, left the land and fog behind and picked up the steady Atlantic trade winds that for centuries have carried sailors across this vast ocean and will now be with us for the next few months.  MPS looking good, Morocco - Canaries 15 Oct 2011

It was the moment skipper had been waiting for!  Time to play with our MPS (multi purpose sail, a big coloured asymmetrical sail that floats off the bow).  We haven’t flown this sail since we did our passage from Australia to Indonesia in 2006 and it scared the hell out of me back then, I remember it as being very big, hard to deploy and almost impossible to snuff and retrieve.  Previous to that we had flown it from Vanuatu to Australia and my lasting memory of that encounter was when the halyard gave way at the top of the mast and it just all collapsed into the Pacific Ocean, let me assure you it is quite a handful trying to get all that wet, soggy sail back onboard.  Can you understand my reluctance in flying it again???  But the Skipper was not going to be denied !!!.

The light trade wind conditions were perfect, and even I hate motoring so it was time for me to toughen up and agree to fly coloured sails.  We were lacking in practice (obviously) but eventually we thought we had sorted everything out, raised the sail still with the “sock” down over it (that’s the white cover over it in the photo above, it keeps things manageable till the sail is hoisted, then there is a continuous line on the sock which gets pulled to the top of the sail, then the wind fills the sail and voila!, out pops “Big Red” – when you want to “snuff it” you do the reverse procedure which is not as easy as it may sound!!!).  So up it went, but the sock would not go up, it was somehow all twisted, so down the whole thing came, then up it went, down it came, up it went etc,etc, after about 40 minutes and lots more practice it was hoisted back to the top of the mast, the sock actually went up and “Big Red” appeared in all his glory. its getting busy out here Morocco - Canaries Oct 2011     

And there “Big Red” stayed for two days! or more alarmingly two nights!! The winds were consistent until the 2nd night when they started to build, just a little at a time so we kept an eye on him and kept stretching our cut off point when we would drop him, both of us secretly hoping that we wouldn’t actually have the challenge of snuffing him and dropping him in stronger winds!!  We all hung in there and eventually just before dawn on day 4 the winds eased to a more manageable level and we took a sigh of relief.  By 1pm we didn’t even have enough wind to fill “Big Red”,  so down he came and our trusty green Volvo engine had a turn instead for a few hours.  The one positive in motoring again was that a large pod of dolphins came to play and they stayed with us for a couple of hours, oh and I nearly forgot, we saw a turtle – miles out in the ocean, all by approaches to Graciosa, mmmm

We were able to sail again before dark on our last night, but decided to run with our more manageable white sails as we would be closing on land early morning and experience tells us that land can do some funny things to the wind strengths and directions and we wanted to be ready to deal with anything that came our way.  We had another great evening on our last night - but boy was it dark,.  The moon didn’t rise until around 10pm and it was also very cloudy, as skipper would say - “it was as dark as the inside of a cow”.

As the eastern sky started to lighten on day five the familiar call came from the watch … Land Ahoy!!  The first grey outline of the northern most island of the Canaries appeared on our port bow. We sailed down their leeward coast, giving them plenty of clearance, to our destination at Isla Graciosa.  We made our final approaches to the anchorage at Playa Francesca at day break, hoping that the crashing Atlantic swell we could see on the windward side was not entering the anchorage.  We need not have worried, we turned the final corner and discovered another paradise!PA200005

We travelled 476 miles in 3 days and 18 hours, our average speed was 5.28knots, which we were happy with in the very light winds.  We motored for 15 hours.

Our journey across the mighty Atlantic Ocean has begun.

Monday, 31 October 2011

More Marrakech and Chaotic Casablanca ….. Oct 2011

back in Marrakech in the square 06 – 09 October 2011

Marrakech the 2nd time around was so much more enjoyable.  We had managed to reserve rooms by email at the Jnane Mogador Riad, we had had this riad recommended but it had been full on our previous visit.  This time we had been lucky to get enough rooms and it was an excellent choice in just the best location, under 5 minutes walk down a pedestrian stall lined lane to the main square.  On arrival back in Marrakech from our Sahara trip, Mohammed our driver had called the riad and they gave him directions to the closet road access and sent their “bell boy” (rather more like old chap pulling a cart!!) to meet us and take our bags.  We checked in to our beautifully appointed rooms, and hit the town.jars of pickled everything  

This time the madness of Marrakech didn’t seem so overwhelming, we wandered around the square which just buzzes at night. We took time to stop and watch the different street performers dancing – from all different parts of Morocco and Africa - showing off their local musical instruments and talents.  We didn’t get too close to the snake charmers though, I definitely didn’t want a snake dangling around my neck!!  We dined on a balcony overlooking the square from above, slightly removed from the hustle and bustle but still feeling very much part of Morocco.small outdoor market within the souk, Marrakech

Next morning we found a square side cafe for breakfast then I went walk-about and found the souq (covered market place), and what a find it was.  An absolute Aladdins Cave of wonderful shops and stalls selling some of Morocco's most beautiful wares. This was not a place where you could rush, so after a mini board meeting while supping on fresh mint tea we decided to stay another night and do Marrakech justice.  The skippers had checked the weather and we wouldn’t be able to leave Rabat before Friday so there was no need to hurry back to the boats.  Unfortunately the Jnane Mogador Riad was again full and couldn’t accommodate us the extra night but they arranged accommodation at the nearby Riad Bahia Salam, for the same room rate.  Their “bellboy” re-appeared, our packs went on the cart and off we went down yet another maze of alleys to our 3rd riah in Marrakech!!  colourful pot pourri in Marrakech

This is a new property and I imagine they are promoting it - it was the deal of the year.  The building has been entirely restored, and what was formally two adjoining properties with atriums has now become one large riad, with rooms and suites opening out onto one of the atriums and the dining rooms, sitting/lounging areas opening out on the other.  There was a spa/hammam and massage facility and a very pleasant roof top terrace.  It has been exquisitely refurbished with every attention to detail taken. Rooms had wi-fi and cable tv.  The location wasn’t as good at the Jnane Mogador, but if you are looking for something really special the Riad Bahia Salam would take a lot of beating.  one of the gates to the square in Marrakech  

We spent the afternoon and evening just strolling through  nooks and crannies and soaked up all Marrakech has to offer.  It is another city of contrasts, there are large divides between the old town, souq and medina areas and the Nouvelle town, with wide palm lined streets, handsome French colonial architecture, upmarket sidewalk cafes and restaurants – they are poles apart but live side by side in harmony.

The bonus for Tony and Mark in staying another night was that they now had cable TV and were able to watch the first 2 quarter finals of the Rugby World Cup, sadly England got knocked out but for the best really, now Mark can concentrate fully on supporting the All Blacks!! (not so sure he agrees with that line of thinking!!!)  PA080209 We had both Australia (Tony is Australian) and NZ playing the following morning so finding a hotel in Casablanca with cable TV was a priority, we chose one recommended in the Lonely Planet, the riah phoned them for us, confirmed they had the right sports channel, then booked us two rooms.  We checked out, taxied to the train station and headed to Casablanca.
Other cruiser friends had visited Casablanca and  had not spoken highly of it, but we wanted to go to legendary Ricks Cafe for dinner and it broke our journey back to Rabat.  Somehow Casablanca either didn’t have any wonderful old buildings to be converted into riahs or they just haven’t bothered, all the accommodation was in hotels and our choice of the Hotel Guynemer was one huge disappointment, if this had been the pick of the bunch for Lonely Planet I would not have even ventured in the front doors of the rest.  It was an absolute disgrace; old, smelly, cracked hand basin, toilet bowl that leaked, mould under the window, threadbare towels, not very clean, NO RUGBY coverage, no wi-fi in our room and all for the same price we had paid for the exceptional quality in Marrakech.  The only positives were that the bed linen was clean and we were only staying one night.PA080234

We checked with the helpful reception staff to see how long it would take us to walk to Ricks Cafe and were told around 3 hours or 30 mins by taxi, what???   Seriously doubting their answer we took to the filthy streets by foot, garbage lay rotting in piles everywhere, ‘fresh’ rubbish blew around in the wind,  potholes the size of small cars were a definite hazard for the inattentive, homeless people squatted in doorways, beggars were everywhere, pollution, dust and dirt filled the air – what a dreadful place.  We soldiered on and found Ricks Cafe after about 20 minutes of walking, but alas – it was closed!!!  It was due to open for dinner shortly so we milled around, took some photos, looked at the menu and decided it had gone rather more upmarket than what we expected, certainly no burgers or tacos on the menu any longer, but the Filet Mignon looked very good!   PA080207

Thankfully they let us in, even in our sandy Sahara clothes, and we secured one of the few unreserved tables that evening.  We sat and watched Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman on the big screen,  their Casablanca looked far more appealing and romantic than the one we had seen so far.  We had an excellent meal in company with Tony  in splendid surroundings, they have done a wonderful job of recreating the Ricks Cafe of the movie “Casablanca”, the pianist played in the background, the only thing that was missing was Humphrey himself.  We stayed in comfort as long as we could but eventually we faced reality and caught a cab back to the horrible hotel.  

Marks stomach started doing somersaults in the middle of the night, not a nice place to feel sick.  Tony and I tried our best to get the rugby in the morning, even the wi-fi in the lobby was so poor that radio coverage was flaky too, but we got updates and both our teams won, so a good result for both the All Blacks and the Wallabies.  We bunged up Mark with Imodium, cancelled any thoughts of visiting the 3rd largest Mosque in the world,  got a cab to the train station and got the hell out of there!!