Monday, 30 May 2011

Oh no – we need a tow!!!! ….. May 2011

 leaving almerimar 23 – 25 May 2011
We finally departed Almerimar Marina around 11am once a light easterly breeze had filled in, we raised the main, poled out the headsail and even rolled out the staysail too, just to make sure we caught all of the breeze that was coming our way.  It was a beautiful day, this is how it is supposed to be, blue skies, almost flat seas, light winds, snow capped mountains in the distance and even the occasional dolphin.  But of course good things never last, the wind either dies or you get beaten up, at least today we weren’t due for a beating!  We sailed for as long as we could, but the wind just died away and with over 40 miles to cover to our anchorage we had to eventually give in and we ended up motoring for 5 hours.  

We were headed for Herradura , one of the few bays on the coast and we hoped we would be able to tuck into the corner away from the ever present south easterly swell.  Just after 8pm we passed the nearby Marina del Este, rounded the next headland and pulled into the bay.  With the engine in very low revs we slowly nudged our way in towards shore looking for the best spot to anchor the night, and then the unthinkable happened, Olive our trusty Volvo engine just stopped without even a hiccup of a warning.  So without any further debate we decided that where we were was by far the best spot to anchor, and over it went!! P5230045

Now attached to the bottom, it was time for skipper, Mark the Mechanic, to get the engine going again.  After owning Balvenie 8 years now and undergoing most of the maintenance and repairs ourselves, there is really not much that Mark does not know about Olive (his other woman!), but this time she had us totally stumped, the engine would turn and turn, but just would not fire.  So after checking everything at 11pm we admitted defeat and headed for a much needed sleep.

We awoke the earliest we have in ages, even managed to check into our morning Cruisers Net for a change and say hi to a few friends dotted across the Med.  Then with crossed fingers toes and everything else and hoped for an overnight miracle.  But it was not to be our lucky day, still plenty of rrrrrrrrr’s but the ole girl just would not start.  More checks were done, fuel filters changed, engine bled, air filters changed, then tried with no air filter, lift pump checked (for the technical amongst you) engine bled again and again….. but no joy.  Nigel Calder's “Boatowners Mechanical and Electrical Manual “ (otherwise known as “what does Nigel say??) was consulted yet again, and still we came up with no answer.   P5240051

Plan B was to wait for the wind or afternoon sea breeze to arrive then hoist some sail and sail the 2 miles into the marina. Skipper was itching to give it a go…after all… he’d done it before… yeah right, but that was a 34 foot race boat with half a rig and 6 blokes on board (you know who you are).  I was not quite so enthusiastic. My built in alarm system, honed over the past 7 years, was ringing in my ears. Skipper is the first to admit that he has a propensity to turn a bad situation into a very bad and expensive situation if given too much scope to act unsupervised.  However, as the morning progressed the wind just would not fill in.

Plan C was to call the nearby marina to see if we could arrange a tow, they were extremely helpful  but unfortunately their own tender is only for use within the marina complex and they were not able to find anyone else that could help us.  Coastguard could come and get us, but for the 2 miles it would be €300 – we would save that as a last resort.  Our dinghy with its small outboard just wasn’t up to the job of towing nearly 20 tons so we decided to sit and wait, hoping for the wind to finally fill in so we could sail around to the marina entrance then be assisted in by the marina tender.

While we waited skipper kept trying.  We phoned Volspec in the UK, we have purchased several spares and our new turbo through them so thought they may have a technical side that could help us.  They were excellent, and spent nearly an hour on the phone with Mark, talking him through several options, most of which he had already tried.  Although they could not shed any light on our problem either, we found them extremely helpful and appreciated the time and advice they gave us.

P5230050And so we waited, but the wind didn’t blow – so the boat wouldn’t go – we definitely needed a tow.  Just before 3pm a large local inflatable came into the bay and we managed to wave it over.  With a little persuasion and enough euro's to fill his petrol tank a couple of times, it was anchor up and off we went.  We called the marina and they were ready for us when we were towed in, our little towboat did a great job and we got tied up on to the fuel dock without incident, phew.  

Within minutes the marina had organised mechanics and they arrived within an hour.  And so the tests started over again, but still Olive refused to start.  With all options exhausted, the air filter was removed and a can of miracle spray produced, one squirt straight into the turbo fan was all it took and we were back in working order, absolutely amazing – we want some of this stuff!!!!  It creates a mini explosion in the engine and fires the pistons … so I’m told. They tell us it should only be used when everything else has been eliminated, for obvious reasons.

We moved over into a berth for the night, Olive was starting well but she wasn’t running smoothly, the cavitating revs we had experienced before arriving in Cartagena in October had returned.  We had hoped the new Turbo and cleaned injectors had solved the problem, but clearly it hadn’t.  It was time for the fuel injector pump to be removed and serviced, it was last done over 4 years ago in Singapore after our engine problems in Indonesia, but that was many miles and engine hours ago.  We will stay a few days and get it sorted here. 

For Cruising info on Herradura and Marina del Este click here to go to our Balvenies Cruising Info blog

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Waiting for the weather in Almerimar ….. May 2011

15 – 23 May 2011P5150001
The days just seem to pass by as we stayed tied up in the marina at Almerimar.  For the first few days the wind just kept howling out of the north east, bringing with it cloudy skies and even some rain.  The Costa del Sol (Coast of Sun) was certainly not living up to its name. 

After working every day on boat jobs in Cartagena we now felt somewhat idle, but that feeling doesn’t last too long until you kick back and enjoy the leisure time.  Almerimar is situated on a long pebbly beach, going for miles and miles, the shoreline has been developed over the years with a huge range of accommodation for the Northern European sun seekers.  There are some  upmarket apartment complexes with manicured grounds, swimming pools and tennis courts,  then there are blocks that have certainly seen better days with most of the paint flaking off and the buildings crumbling at the corners.  In addition there are developments that have clearly run out of money and stand unfinished, scaring the landscape, and amazingly even more developments still with building underway – just who they are expecting to sell these to when there are so many empty properties on the Spanish coastline is beyond us. 

We got plenty of exercise P5200006 and walked everyday, covering a fair few miles in all directions.  One afternoon we explored the neighbouring Puntas Entinas Nature Reserve in search of the pink flamingos and white headed ducks that have found that these wetlands are one of the few places where they can reproduce successfully, thereby avoiding extinction.  It was an interesting walk through the sand dunes and into the wetlands, but maybe we shouldn’t have gone at siesta time as not a feather was spotted!! 

At last the strong winds eased, but of course then there was no wind.  The weekend was coming so we decided to stay put for a couple more days so Mark could catch up with all the sport including the Spanish F1 Grand Prix and I could join the local walking group and hike off into the mountains.  Sunday morning dawned clear and warm so off I went. 

There was a small group of 7 of us, we drove off inland and upwards into the Sierra Nevada foothills for about an hour then embarked on a 13 kilometre walk.  Part of the walk was following an ancient water canal system first built by Moorish settlers hundreds of years ago.  It was used until quite recent times when the steep heavily terraced land was still planted but now lies overgrown and decaying, most the land is no longer used.  P5210032 
However there were still a few pockets of farmed land, some small vineyards, horses grazing, wild flowers waving in the gentle breeze, streams cutting through the rocks and even some waterfalls.  It was an enjoyable walk, great to get back inland and up into the hills, everywhere was still green after winter but I suspect the hot sun will having it all looking rather dry in no time at all.

Meanwhile Skipper had enjoyed his sports fix, having had the added bonus of English commentaries on television.  Due to the large expat community living both in and around the marina there is a selection of English/Irish establishments to while away a few hours with a pint, and perhaps even some fish n chips!!P5210039

We enjoyed our time in Almerimar, even throughout the period of strong winds there were boats coming and going all the time so always new neighbours to talk to.  All of them were heading east, into the Med and into the headwinds and big seas.  None of them were enjoying it much, but the ones that kept going were all crewed boats and the owners wanted the boat in a particular place, by a specific time – and it was the crews job to get it there.  We value having the time and flexibility that our cruising life allows us so we can minimize the unpleasant passages we have.  P5210022

Monday was forecast to be 10 – 15 knots from the east, clear skies and slight seas.  It was time to say goodbye to all our new friends and move forever westward.   

Cruising info for Almerimar Marina is on the previous posting.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Marina hopping on the Costa del Sol ….. May 2011

07 – 15 May 2011

The wind eased at Cabo de Gata with the setting of the sun, the anchorage even turned to glass for a while as we enjoyed our dinner after a tough day.  Skipper checked the weather and saw that we were to get a westerly change through early afternoon the following day, so we decided to leave early and get across the Bay of Almeria before it changed.  Just after dark our tranquil anchorage returned to its former self, with wind gusts up to 30 knots again, but somehow now we had wavelets coming in from the southwest, slapping us on the stern, while the wind blew from the north east.  Quite clearly it was going to be “one of those nights”.   

P5080013After finally getting to sleep at 1am Skipper awoke at 4am, things felt a little different.  The north easterly had been replaced by a westerly, about 8 hours early!!  Although the wind wasn’t yet too strong the sea state was already chopping up, and as we quickly prepared for a “dark o’clock” departure the wind strength steadily increased.  Great to get some practice in so early in the season at lifting anchor in the dark, lets hope we don’t have to do it too often!!  Across the Bay of Almeria we motored in the dark, the occasional ferry bound for Morocco or Algeria crossing our path. 

Daylight broke as we closed on the west coast of the bay and the town of Aguadulce,   the winds eased closer to shore and the seas flattened yet again.  We weren’t to be fooled in a false sense of security though, this whole coastline is void of good sheltered anchorages but full of marinas.  It was time to change our cruising mindset, the marinas are there for a very good reason, and we shall be using them until we find safe all round anchorages again.   We pulled into the marina and tied to the fuel dock to await being allocated a berth.  We moved across to our berth on the breakwater, tied up and relaxed, and it was only just gone 8am, way too much excitement to start the day!!!  By mid morning we had thunder storms rolling through, we were very happy we had moved when we did.

P5080004We slipped back into marina life quite happily as the winds howled through,  first from the west and then from the east.  There are miles and miles of golden sandy beaches to walk along, big screen TV’s to watch Football and the Grand Prix, a visitors dock with a good mix of cruisers passing through, even some other New Zealanders and Australians to share happy hours with.

One day we caught the bus the short distance to Almeria.  The morning we went the local  road was closed so we ended up having quite a tour as we headed miles out of the way to join up with the motorway instead.  Almeria is a pleasant town, as with so many of the towns along this southern coastline it has been rejuvenated in recent years both by tourism and agriculture.  The coastline is covered in millions of shade houses that grow a huge proportion of Europe’s vegetables. 

The big attraction in Almeria is the spectacular Alcazaba Fortress, dating from 955 it still dominates the skyline behind the town centre. The Alcazaba was originally built as a military camp in times of siege.  It’s mosque was converted to a chapel when overrun by the Catholic Monarchs in 1489.  There are also remains of the Muslim palace, but earthquakes and natural decay have certainly taken their toll over the years.  The views from up here were stunning.  Back down at sea level the Cathedral  is yet another impressive building, its almost new compared to the Alcazaba, built in the 1520’s.  It has 6 prominent watch towers, to keep an eye on those Northern African raiders.   

We found a small local tapas bar and enjoyed a great late lunch in the shade, the first time this season we have sought the shade, summer must finally be coming.   Finding the bus stop back to Aguadulce was a bit of a challenge so we headed out to the bus terminal and eventually got a bus, it was a quick scenic trip back along the local coast road.

We stayed while the wind blew too hard, then we stayed because there was no wind!  A couple of days ago we had perfect downwind conditions of 15knots and nearly flat seas so we have moved on another 20 miles and are tucked up again in the huge marina complex at Almerimar,  an easterly wind is whipping through  - at times over 30 knots, with no signs of easing soon.  We are tied up all snug, I’m getting to like these marinas!!! 

For Cruising info for Aguadulce and Almerimar including marina waypoints, costs and shore facilities click here for Balvenies Cruising Info blog  


Saturday, 14 May 2011

Champagne Sailing to start the Season – then the bubbles burst! ….. May 2011

05 – 06 May 2011

At last it was time to leave our winter home in Cartagena, Southern Spain.  All the jobs on the “to do” list had actually been completed, there were really no more excuses to stay.  We had a weather forecast of 10 knots from the east for our first day, and then 15-20 knots from the east to get us on past Cabo de Gata the following day.  I am always filled with great trepidation when untying after months safely spent in a marina, but in order to sail around the world, one must keep heading ever westward!

So this was it, water tanks filled, power disconnected, mooring lines released, hooters rang out in farewell from the live-aboard community and we were on our way.  The 2011 Cruising Season had officially started.  This season would be a long one, the broad plan is to cruise westward along the Spanish/Portuguese southern coastline with maybe a month in Morocco, then jump off from the European mainland to Madeira before sailing south to the Canaries in the Autumn then onward via a pit stop in maybe the Cape Verde islands before crossing the Atlantic (gulp) in December.  The start of 2012 will hopefully see us kicking back cruising the Caribbean until around this time next year when we will probably head up the Eastern Seaboard of the USA for the summer of 2012, then who knows?  So we will be on the road, so to speak, for at least a year now, and will cover many many miles. P5040020

With this in mind, a gentle downwind sail in flat water the 30 miles to Aguillas was just what the Admiral had ordered to ease back into cruising mode.    We arrived into the small port of Aguillas early evening, set the anchor off the sandy beach, opened the bar and sat back to enjoy sundowners watching the sun dip over the fort on the headland.  As with nearly every natural indentation on the coast in Europe, if there is relatively easy access and shelter from the elements then over the centuries it has been used as a port, whether it be tiny or huge.  Aguillas is quite small but had enough room for a few boats to anchor to the east of the inner harbour entrance.   The water was flat except for the wakes of returning fishing boats, the wind just a gentle zephyr, the new moon not much more than a sliver above the setting sun.  Day One of Season 7 had been a success.

Sadly the bubble burst and Day Two decided to remind us just who is in charge.  We had set the alarm for 7am.  We were looking at making Aguadulce over 80 miles away, so with over 14 hours of daylight now, and 15-20knots forecast we were expecting a long day of good down wind sailing.  As Skipper was lifting anchor, I looked outside the harbour and saw a rather large fishing boat crashing into waves like a bucking bronco, instantly my positive outlook somewhat diminished!!   Just what on earth had happened to our flat water???  I consoled myself by accepting that he was going to windward and we would be off in the other direction, but I knew I wasn’t kidding anyone.  P5040021

And so the day began, with 2 reefs in the main and the headsail poled out we pointed the bow south, running slightly higher than our course to try and keep the boat reasonably comfortable.  The wind wasn’t more than 25 knots but the seas had stirred up completely and made for a very lively run down to Cabo de Gata, the hours ticked away as did the miles.  The further south we got the more the swell came in from behind so we took up surfing instead of rolling, neither of them being my favourite pastimes.  Just as I was getting used to surfing it was time to gybe to go around the Cape.  Gybing is always a serious manoeuvre on Balvenie, even with the main double reefed it was still powered up and we have a very long heavy boom.  So we rolled in the headsail, gybed the main and flew off around the Cape with gusts of 35 knots apparent speeding us on our way, phew!! 

Thankfully as we moved further west around the Cape the water started to flatten, but the wind kept whipping through, accelerated now by the gusts off the land.  We decided that our intended destination of Aguadulce may be too difficult for us to get in to with the onshore wind so made our way around and up the west side of the Cape into some flat water.  We anchored just off a long sandy beach, over 60 miles in well under 12 hours.  What a day – certainly good practice for getting back in the swing of things, but just how much practice do we really need???

For Cruising Info on Aguilla and Cabo de Gata, including anchorage waypoints and depths click here to go to Balvenies Cruising Info blog


Monday, 9 May 2011

Wintering in Cartagena ….. Oct 2010 – May 2011

P4140018 When we decided to stay another winter in Europe we looked at several options of where to spend it.  We had heard positive reports about Cartagena on the south east corner of Spain.  It is just out of the firing line of the westerly storms that can shoot through the Straits of Gibraltar heading east, tucked in enough to miss the autumn and spring north easterlies, has around 300 days of sunshine a year and a reasonably mild winter climate and an airport serviced by all the cheapie airlines close by at Murcia/San Javier.  It sounded perfect.  This blog update is mainly for those that may wish to stop by or winter over.
About the Marina ….
There are two marinas there, adjoining each other both right on the town quay and only a few minutes walk into the centre of town.  We stayed at Yacht Port Cartagena, it is the newer of the two and is home to mainly foreign flagged boats.  The older more established marina seems to be filled mainly with local craft and had few vacant slips.  They do, however, offer short stay berths on the town wallP4160074 - everyone promenades past there and there is no security.
YPC is the one on the right as you enter, it is away from the waterfront cafes and set further back from the promenading locals (and behind a very long glass fence). There is excellent 24 hour security and access is gained only by key card, it also has a much more substantial solid concrete breakwater which also serves as the Cruise Ship dock.  However some berths do not lie behind this breakwater but are still reasonably protected, and there are enough empty berths that you can have your choice of position.  There is also a choice of med mooring with laid lines, side tying and finger pontoons – something for everyone.
The marina staff are an absolute delight to deal with, both the office staff and the marineras are extremely helpful, all speak English, assist with berthing, they even deliver any mail or packages right to the boat.  They put in the extra effort to make your stay as enjoyable as possible!!  We emailed them at  to make our winter booking, they did not require a deposit and were very flexible with our arrival date.  On arrival call them on VHF 09, as you make your final approach - ensure you call Yacht Port Cartagena to get the right one! (tel +34 968 12 12 13).  Cartagena is a large harbour and has a huge area of sheltered water to sort yourselves out before entering the marina.  This is a commercial  and naval port but the Navy yards and Commercial docks are far enough away to not be of any bother.P5030007  There is no anchoring allowed anywhere within the harbour.   
The facilities are good, there is a laundry with two large washing machines and one dryer all taking tokens valued at €4,  there are just 3 showers and toilets in 2 blocks but we only had 7 live aboard boats that were onboard all winter so this was enough.  There is the “internet shed” home to one computer with free internet access, a vending machine and book swap.  There is also a bar-b-que which we made use of on some warm sunny days during winter.  There is wifi access included in the long term rates for one computer per boat.  The signal is not great but ok.  Short term rates do not include wifi it is €5 a day.  Our winter rate also included water and power.  Catamarans currently get the same berthing rate as monohulls but pay for water and power.   
There is a fuel dock with 24 hour easy sheltered access and payment is made by card into a machine.  To access it enter YPC and keep the Cruise Ship Dock/breakwater on your left, carry on till the Yacht Club Building (large wooden modern building) is in front of you, turn sharp right and tie up just after the dinghy/laser launching slipway.  There is no fuel sign/logo but the pumps are in a small white shed.  There is good turning space to get back out and depths well over 5 metres.  Diesel was around €1.33 p/l in April 2011.
Facilities in town …
Well you will not go hungry.  There is an excellent selection of supermarkets – they are all closed Sunday.  The office will give you a map and mark all of these, but just in case - The closest one is a small Spar, come out the entrance by the laundry, cross the road, up the big steps, go left and follow the road around till it comes to a T, the Spar is just over on the right.  They don’t have fresh milk but have most other things. P50300155 minute walk, open 0930 – 2100 I think)  My favourite was Mercadona, there are several but the closest is about 10-12 minute walk, open 0915 – 2115.  Go out the vehicle entrance, cross the road, head up Calle Gisbet, past the glass elevator, just keep on till the road veers to the right at the Artillery Museum.  Turn left and Mercadona is just on the other side of the road next to a play area.  Carry on along here for the Fresh Produce Market just another couple of minutes at the end of the street and over to the right on the other cornerStill not found everything you need? well next is Lidls.  Out the vehicle exit again but turn right past the new mutli coloured building to the roundabout then head up the hill (slight incline) along the cycle path through the grassed area.  At top is the bus station on  the right and the little local train station.  After these cross the road and go right (main part of road goes onto the motorway, stay on the slip road on its left), this will put you in Lidls Car park.  About 12 minutes walk, open 0930 – 2130 I think.  From Lidls you can see Carrefour, go out the other gate from Lidls, the main train station is on your right.  Walk inland (north)  Carrefour Hypermarket is right in front of you.  About 15 minutes walk, open 0930 – 2200 I think.  Carrefour deliver free if you spend over €200
P5030019Local bus No 4 (every 20 minutes or so) leaves opposite Carrefour for the Parque Mediterranean Shopping Centre, its a short ride by bus but too far to walk, maybe 30 minutes by bike.  There is a huge Leroy Merlin Hardware/DIY store, a couple of electrical appliance stores, Decathlon, another Carrefour, and plenty plenty shoe and clothes shops.   In the area on Avienda Luxembourgo (Parque Med end with 5 flags flying outside) is an Accastillage Diffusion Chandlery, they are a French Chain and although the outlet is small they can order anything in and it arrives within a couple of days (some English spoken),    There are a couple of chandleries by the marina, one is in the haul out facility (English spoken), the other is further on the same road along the port about 3 minutes further on the left hand side (some English spoken).  Both are helpful and have an adequate range.  Just before the 2nd chandlery go up the steps and turn left, on the right hand side the is a plumbing supplies store with all sorts of bits and pieces(No English spoken) .  We bought several things locally but generally found it cheaper to order online from England, shipping was about 5 – 10 days.
There are a couple of options for hauling out.  We didn’t use either but some of the boats that wintered with us did.  There is a small crane lift that hauls up to 15T located next to the Fuel Pumps.  The other is located just to the east of the marina and has a very big travelift (approx 70T), they haul all the fishing fleet, but do deal with private boats also.  There yard is well organised and tidy but small.  There are no facilities for leaving yachts on the hard for any length of time.
Entertainment …
We organised a weekly get together at a local tapas bar El Barrill on Wednesday nights, and had the odd bar-b-que when the weather was warm enough.  Other than that it was a quiet social scene.  There were a reasonable amount of goings on in town, and we enjoyed free concerts and cultural events throughout the winter.  There is an English web site that does it’s best to collate all the information and sends out a weekly email newsletter, but even they miss things from time to time and you really need to check at the Tourist Info as well.   Cartagena is full of history, there are many museums, the Roman Theatre, Augusteum, Decumanus and  many many more ruins.  The main plaza and Calle Mayor have some lovely Modernista buildings, they there is a huge amount of restoration work underway around the town.  We spent nearly 7 months here and enjoyed it immensely.