Saturday, 24 September 2011

Made it back to Morocco ….. Sept 2011

16 – 18 September 2011  

Time to say goodbye …………. Not so easy to leave probably the best anchorage we have had in 4 years but autumn is here, the birds are migrating – and so must we.
Our passage from Culatra in Portugal to Rabat in Morocco was around 190 miles, and we needed to time our arrival into Rabat just before high tide and preferably in daylight.  Of course you never know how fast or slow you will sail, and will there even be wind – maybe we will need to motor.  We needed a forecast of light winds because if there is too much wind and Atlantic swell setting on the Moroccan coast then the bar entrance, even at high tide, is unsafe and the harbour is closed.  The skippers had mulled over it for many hours (and beers),  Clare and I had turned into galley wenches and prepared meals and snacks for the journey, with spare meals made just in case the bar was closed and we had to continue on.

1pm on Friday the 16th of September was deemed to be the optimum time to depart Europe's shores and head south to the African mainland and back to Morocco.  We had some interesting tidal whirlpools in the Faro/Olháo channel as we departed but once we cleared the entrance and headed out into open water all was calm, we pointed to windward, raised sails, set our course and had a very pleasant sail south in the light afternoon seabreeze. 

We really could not have wished for better conditions, the seas were flat with very little swell, the light winds just in front of the beam, not a cloud in the sky, a perfect sunset, and an almost full moon, magic.
The wind died out around 4am, but we had had a very good run so accepted our fate and continued under motor.  At dawn we noticed a school of fish swimming along besides the cockpit, we think they were getting a free ride in our slip stream and they stayed with us all day until we got just enough wind to sail again at 3pm. 

Our 2nd night kept us on our toes.  The winds were still light but we had the shipping coming and going out of the Gibraltar Straits to contend with and then just over 20 miles off shore we hit the fishing boats with long surface nets.  P9180017

Actually we didn’t hit them, but we came very close to some of the nets and without the two of us up on watch we might well have ended up in the fish market for sale the following day.  The nets were a couple of miles long, with a big flashing light on one end and the fishing boat at the other, some of the floats had little lights that were impossible to see.  With much care and skilful sailing by Skipper we navigated our way safely through the maze of lights and popped out the other side into clear water and headed straight for the river entrance.  We rendezvoused with Eye Candy, radioed the marina and awaited their escort to guide us over the bar, up the river and to the Arrivals Dock. 

Day was just breaking, the tide was high, the swell was low so there wasn't too much surfing required to get over it, the kasbar (fortress) at the harbour entrance was silhouetted by the rising sun, the city was coming to life for another day. 

It had been a tiring but good trip - and an excellent welcome back to Morocco.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The end of Europe ….. Sept 2011

12 – 16 September 2011IMG_0027

We stayed at anchor off Isla de Culatra for our entire stay in Portugal, it was such a great anchorage, the weather was lovely, the company good, we just couldn’t justify moving - so we didn’t.  The days slipped by, we decided to visit Faro one day with Andrew and Clare off Eye Candy, so planned  to take the ferry to Olháo then the train or bus to Faro, as there is no direct ferry.  The Olháo ferry came and went, without us on it – they said they would be back in an hour and we must wait here (well that was our interpretation of it anyway!!).  So off we went for a coffee and we duly returned in an hour, however the ferry did not.  But there was another small ferry there so we asked if they were going to Olháo, no they said, wrong ferry – they were going to Faro.  We had a hard time convincing them we wanted to get on and that we really did want to go to Faro!!!!

The ferry trip was quite interesting, it’s a real maze of marshes at low tide and the ferry wove its way up through them, ignoring many channel markers.  We arrived at the small ferry dock located just outside the old town walls and stepped through into a world of rambling bougainvillea clinging to dilapidated buildings on a tiny lane which led us onto the open main square framed by the Town Hall, Bishops Palace and the Cathedral.

As with much of Portugal, Faro has been rebuilt many times over the centuries, following raids by Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, the Moors, Spanish and then the English.  Then along came earthquakes in 1722 and 1755, basically its had a hard life, and it shows!!!   The Cathedral dates from 1251 but has been rebuilt many times over the years.  Located in the Cathedral gardens stands the 18th century “Bone Chapel” built out of skulls and bones to ‘remind us of our mortality’.  The view from the top of the Cathedral over the rooftops out over the marshes was excellent.

We adjourned for lunch after exploring the walled town, and confess that we ordered 4 excellent burger and fries at a pleasant little waterfront cafe, we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to go “local” and have grilled whole sardines!!!!,  As the wifi was allmost non existent at the anchorage we had come prepared for a very anti-social lunch complete with 2 laptops, an iPad and iPhone, how on earth did we ever manage without all these toys???  We were on a mission though, we were looking for a weather window to leave Portugal and head south either to Morocco or the Canary Islands so the two skippers mulled away at all the weather information while Clare and I did the emails and business end of things.IMG_0045

The weather window was looking good for a Friday departure so it was time to do our final preparations. The northern hemisphere autumn is upon us and soon the North Atlantic lows will begin tracking toward Europe. It was time for us to leave. Once again Balvenie would sail before the trade winds carrying us southward and eventually westward.  This was the end of a huge chapter in our circumnavigation, we have enjoyed Europe immensely and our 4 summers here have left us with countless magic memories ….. but it’s time to move on.IMG_0054


Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Balvenie in Portugal – Country No 30 ….. Sept 2011

04 – 11 September 2011
And so we have said our final farewells to Mainland Spain.  We very much enjoyed our months in Spain and there are many things we will miss, one being the wonderful little tapas bars!!  The Spanish people have been wonderful and we even understand and speak ‘un poco Espanol’ now, but there is the 2nd half of the world waiting for us out there so we exited the Rio Guadiana  and headed west.  P9120006
We tacked out way along the Algarve Coast, again in light westerlies with flat seas,  it was around 30 miles to our first Portuguese anchorage at Isla de Culatra.  With the sea breeze starting to strengthen and the breakwater for the entrance to Faro in sight, I in my official capacity as Admiral (which does outrank Captain !!!)  exercised my right to put a stop to all this tacking - well we had done 11 already and needed 3 more.  So we put the motor on, dropped sails, entered through the well buoyed and deep channel, turned right and found paradise! 
And that was a week ago, we are still here.  Sometimes the wind kicks in late afternoon for a while just to remind us that there is a wind, but for the rest of the time, Balvenie along with about 40 other yachts sit happily in calm, flat water and watches the world go by.  What a lovely welcome to Portugal. 
2011 Portugal1
For the first time this season we feel like we are cruising again, yachts come and go daily, the cruising community spirit is again in the air, it is so different to ‘marina life’.  Then two days ago our Australian friends Andrew and Clare on Eye Candy arrived, they have been cruising in the Med for 7 years and are making the big break too and will be amongst the fleet crossing the Atlantic with us later in the year.  It is great to catch up with them again and I am sure some competitive sailing will resume once we are both out again in the big blue wobbly stuff. 
Meanwhile we have filled our days doing little jobs, our Powersurvivor Watermaker has finally been recommissioned and will now have a busy season meeting our fresh water requirements, all the galley supplies have been logged and stowed, safety equipment has been rechecked and is in easy to access locations, small canvas repairs have been completed – each day that passes signals one day closer to leaving mainland Europe, flip!!!P9050011   
The small settlement ashore on Isla de Culatra is rather cute and quirky, there are no cars or bikes – just a tractor or two – it’s just one big sand dune island, most of the houses are small single storey dwellings, there are several cheap and cheerful cafe/bars and a couple of small mini markets.  It is very much a local fishing community, the mainstay being cockles.  The area supplies over 80% of Portugals cockles, did I mention things smell a little fishy at low tide when the cockle beds dry out!!!
Over on the mainland is Olháo, we took the dinghy over at high tide a few days ago, there is a bustling waterfront area comprising of a large fruit and veg market and very busy morning fish market.  It is all so different to Spain, the buildings are different shapes, the people look different, the spoken language is totally unrecognisable – but the written is very similar, we have definitely arrived in Portugal.
P9050010 P9120002

Monday, 12 September 2011

Making a U-turn & a peek into Portugal ….. August 2011

27 August – 04 September 2011P8270002

Departing from Mazagón was straight forward, timing our arrival into the Rio Guadiana was definitely not.   We needed to go over the very shallow bar no more than 3 hours before high tide, preferably in flat seas with  no swell and in daylight.  We confess that our first attempt did not meet enough of those requirements!!

For the first time EVER we sailed 17 miles towards our destination then made the call to return back to where we had come from.  We had a 34 mile day sail for Balvenie to stretch her legs, and a lesson for us not to under estimate just how quickly the sea state can churn up in these shallow waters with a sea breeze of over 20 knots coming in from the Atlantic.

We had a great sail to start with, around 10knots hard on the wind with flat seas and we were whizzing along.  That was one of the problems, we were going too fast and the tide would not be high enough for us, then the sea breeze really kicked in and the waves and swell built very quickly.  With about 10 miles to run we had a quick board meeting and decided the sensible option was to return to Mazagón, so we did and had a very fast downwind sail back to the anchorage.

We did “take 2” a couple of days later, starting again with a great sail along the coast in light winds and flat seas.  This time the wind died out completely and we ended up motoring up to the river mouth in flat water about 30 minutes before high tide, perfect timing.  We had a 3.3m tide and we saw a minimum depth of 4.1m so we were very pleased that we had aborted our earlier arrival.

The Rio Guadiana is the river that marks the boarder between Spain and Portugal, on the Spanish side is the town of Ayamonte and on the Portuguese is Vila Real de San António.  All seems at peace between them now, but there are ruins from Roman and Moorish forts on the Portuguese side a reminder of a more turbulent past.  We anchored on the Spanish side just past Ayamonte and all was well.  We stayed at anchor a couple of nights, but we were nearing spring tide and the tides combined with the strong river flow created quite a current. For the couple of hours a day at slack tide all was peaceful and serene, but for the rest of the time the anchor chain was as taut as a guitar string and down below was the familiar sound of bubbles roaring passed the hull.  It felt and sounded like we were underway and doing about 8 knots !!. 

We couldn’t leave for a few more days as we needed an early morning high tide to depart on, we didn’t like to leave Balvenie at anchor to explore ashore so we decided it was time to check into yet another marina.  We chose the Ayamonte one over the Villa Real option, we were ready for a change of country but the Spanish marina had much less current running through it - so Spain it was.P9050007

We spent the next few days in Ayamonte, literally waiting for the tide to come in!!!  We had originally hoped to go up the river as it had come highly recommended, but the clearance under a bridge about two miles upstream was a very tight fit for us so we had ruled that out.  Instead we explored the small town of Ayamonte, it doesn’t look much at all from the river front but just inland is a delightful town full of pedestrian lanes and shady plazas, really rather pleasant.

One day we caught the local ferry across to Villa Real and walked on Portuguese soil.  It is a lovely town and they have made a huge effort with a palm tree lined promenade along the marina and river, some long cafe lined pedestrian streets and a very pleasant town square.  The town was rebuilt in 1774. It, along with most of coastal Portugal had been devastated by the 1755 earthquakes and subsequent tsunamis.  The town was rebuilt in a grid pattern, one of the first in Portugal – I prefer all the little higgledy-piggledy rabbit warrens of lanes myself.  But it was all very nice and just so different to Spain.

We had a couple of days of very heavy rain while in the marina, now normally rain in these parts deposits dust and sand all over everything but for the first time since arriving in Mediterranean Europe four years ago, the rain was clean !!. Certainly cause for celebration. Sunday morning we slipped out of the marina and then crossed the bar just on dawn and with the tide about 20 minutes away from high, we saw 3.8m – gosh 1.3 metres to spare!!!  Adios Espana….. for now anyway!!   

For Cruising Info both at anchor and in Ayamonte Marina on the Guadiana River, onshore facilities and ferry info across to Villa Real click here to go to Balvenies Cruising Info blog.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Grumbling Anchor Chains and Cristóbal Colón (who???) ….. August 2011


15 – 27 August 2011

We ended up staying in Puerto América Marina in Cadiz for a week.  We planned to do a quick supermarket run then head on out, but alas, yet another public holiday in Espana and everything was closed, oh well.  We decided to leave anyway and head over to the north western corner of the Bay of Cadiz and anchor off the town of Rota.   It was a beautiful day and I’m sure that everyone that owned a boat in the area had let the lines go from their marinas and also headed for Rota, it was jam packed.  We found a good sized empty spot (the fact that it was empty probably should have been our first warning), but we dropped and set anchor in the sandy bottom.  By 9pm everyone had left except for a large powerboat nearby then just before dark they attempted to lift their anchor but it was snagged.   It took them an hour to free it and we suspect their anchor windlass motor may never be quite the same again.  (This should have been our 2nd warning).  During the night there was a slight breeze off the land which swung us around and we started to hear the anchor chain grumbling and then it snatched tight – (3rd and final warning!!) not a good thing at 3am so we let out some more chain and looked forward to dealing to it in the morning.

Morning dawned damp and foggy.  Sadly a miracle hadn’t occurred overnight and the anchor was still snared.  We tried the usual back, forward, this way, that way – then Skipper jumped in to dive down and investigate, visibility was very poor and his ears wouldn’t equalize so I volunteered.  Swimming at 9am in the Atlantic in a foggy bay, what was I thinking?  I could see the chain going to the bottom but then just disappearing, it was wrapped tight around or under something but I couldn’t stay down long enough to investigate properly.

P8190075 It’s times like this when you wish you’d learnt to dive and had dive gear onboard, or at least a hooker (power driven apparatus that pumps air down a tube), or another boat nearby that has one, or had trained our lungs to hold breaths for much longer.   But none of these were options, so we set off into the nearby marina to see if we could arrange for a diver to come out.    Must add here that finding the marina was a challenge, it was maybe 500 metres away at most and the fog was now that thick we couldn’t see it!!  The marina staff were very helpful and called a diver for us, but it’s August, in Spain, and he is on holiday.  They direct us to the nearby chandlery who also have a diver.  A quick phone call and guess what …….. he is also on holiday.  Feeling somewhat dejected we return to Balvenie.  The tide was going out, the wind had completely dropped and the fog was clearing – these were all in our favour, visibility was now much better with the sunlight on the water and the water level had dropped over 1.5 metres so not so deep to dive, and with no wind there was no pressure on the anchor chain.  Lets try again!!  Skipper tried first but was still having trouble with his ears, so in I went again, 2 Atlantic swims in one day – good grief.  First time down I got to the bottom and could see it disappearing under a big flat rock, second time I managed to start pulling it out from under and freed a couple of metres which Skipper pulled up onto Balvenie.  Third time down I gave it all I had and freed as much as I could, Skipper took it all up and the anchor windlass just kept on going, yippee, free from Mother Earths clutches at last.  We re-anchored, hoping to be in a huge sandy patch and celebrated with an espresso coffee.  IMG_0020

It was now too late to leave so we dinghied back ashore, went for a very long hot walk to the supermarket to stock up on much needed fresh provisions, treated ourselves to lunch out after our hectic morning then took the afternoon off.   Next morning was far less eventful, we lifted anchor, hoisted sails and sailed out of the Bay of Cadiz heading north.  We had lovely conditions, clear skies, flat water, light breeze off the land so we put a little westing in, in preparation for the afternoon seabreeze which came in every afternoon from the west.  Well every afternoon except this one, the wind dropped out completely and we ended up motoring the last 4 hours of our 43 mile trip to Mazagón

IMG_0022-1 It was a pleasant surprise to see 4 other yachts in the anchorage inside the wide river entrance, but next morning they all left!!  The small town of Mazagón sits at the entrance to the Rio Huelva, further up the river it joins the Rio Tinto and it was from this area that back in 1492 Cristóbal Colón set sail to discover ‘The New World’.  When exactly his name got changed to Christopher Colombus I have no idea, it’s on the list of things to google one day!!!  We spent a day visiting the Muelle de las Carabelas, a museum that has replicas of the 3 ship fleet.  Barely longer than Balvenie but much more beamy and higher, you just can’t imagine how all the supplies, livestock and crew managed in such small confines.  Inside the museum there were several interesting exhibits, charts and treasures but unfortunately all the information was only in Spanish. 

We ended up spending a few nights in the marina - just can’t seem to keep away from them this season – we had checked the weather and saw over 40 knots forecast from the southeast, the only quadrant we were exposed to so moved in and tied up.  We ended up getting 47knots so were pleased with our decision.  We also got covered with sand from all the beaches south of us and we looked like a boat shaped giant sandcastle, we are getting used to it now but great to have the chance to clean it all off again before leaving the marina.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Seville – Simply Stunning ….. August 2011


13 – 14 August 2011

There was one more Spanish city on our ‘to visit’ list before leaving Spain’s shores - Seville.  We had the option of a) taking Balvenie up the Guadalquivir River which snakes its way nearly 60 miles inland to Seville, or  b) leaving Balvenie in the marina at Cadiz and taking the train.  We decided to go for Plan B, so once the strong winds had eased and we had cleaned the layers of dirt off Balvenie, we organised our next ‘citybreak’

It was another long hot walk to the train station in Cadiz, but we allowed time for a quick cafe before catching the train.  I have to add that the Spanish Train System has been exceptional, the stations are all clean and well presented, timetables are displayed and the staff helpful (we always try in Spanish, they often answer in English), all the trains we travelled on were quite new, comfortable and clean, and they all ran on time.  It’s just under 2 hours by train to Seville, the scenery wasn’t anything special but pleasant enough.  We walked to the Hotel Alcantara in the Barrio de Santa Cruz area of the old town, its tucked away in a tiny lane, within a maze of similar lanes, but amazingly Skipper the navigator found it first time.

Tapas time in Seville

After dropping our bags then frequenting one of the local tapas bars for lunch we were off to hit the sights.  In honesty Seville is just one big sight to behold, it is truly a beautiful city.  Hours can be spent just wandering the streets and tiny lanes and taking in the magic of it all.  It is full of handsome buildings, the outstanding Cathedral,  bullring, riverside walk, the impressive Plaza Espana and the glorious Alcázar, to just name the main ones. 

They say that August is “off season” in Seville as it is too hot for most tourists, it was busy enough but certainly not manic, and it wasn’t TOO hot!P8130026 

We joined the short queue for the Alcázar, a “must see” with origins back to the 10th century.  Having visited the Alhambra in Granada over winter, an outstanding example of Moorish architecture and craftsmenship we weren’t expecting to be quite so impressed.  This was every bit as spectacular as the Alhambra and I actually thought the interior of the buildings were in far better repair and displayed such fine examples of tile work, engraving, panelling and carvings.  Everywhere you look is an absolute masterpiece, they certainly knew how to design and build to last all those centuries ago.  We wandered from room to room, very impressed with each one.P8130015  

We explored the large shady gardens - small private areas with cooling pools lay hidden between the hedges, knarled old trees make you wonder if they have survived the hundreds of years since the first plantings in the 16th century. 

Back inside we discovered the Casa de la Contratación,  it is written that it was here that Magellan’s exploration of the world was planned.  Hanging on its walls are enormous tapestries,  produced from the explorers charts, it took us some time to work out the Mediterranean one as it is depicted upside down and really didn’t look quite right!!P8130057

We did a quick tour of the Cathedral enroute to the hotel.  There was a church service on so we did not spent much time in there.  I have visited it before and it is surely up there with the best, and it definitely it up there with the biggest being the 3rd largest in the world.

Seville by night is just as impressive as by day.  All the major buildings are beautifully lit, street performers gather crowds on corners, evening diners spill out into the cooler evening air; it is just lovely.  The walk from our hotel into the main Cathedral Plaza was about 400 metres, yet within that short space - on a direct route - there must have been about 30 cafes, well it just would have been downright rude to just walk on by.  And so the tapas and wine tastings began, very pleased to report that they were all excellent. 

P8130058 We managed to find our way back to our hotel by 10pm, but no – not for an early night.  Next door was a Flamenco Dance Show at La Carboneria, and we had bought tickets for the hour long performance.  We had enjoyed our flamenco show in Cadiz and were eager to see another.  This one was quite different, the setting was more atmospheric however it was a little over subscribed and visibility wasn’t as good as it should have been.  Because there is alot of foot work in flamenco dancing it really is important to be able to see those feet flying around the dance floor.  Still we managed to see everything (by sitting on our chair backs!!!)  and it really was an excellent performance.  Again there was a guitarist, a solo singer and two dancers.  First the male danced alone for about 20 minutes, then they had a very short break then he danced with a female partner.  I found the atmosphere electric between the performers, the dancing was superb and it seemed to have quite a story to it, of perhaps a lost or forbidden love.  It really was very good and I thought it better than the show in Cadiz, whereby Mark preferred the Cadiz one – just as well we went to both!

It had been awfully hot in there though, no aircon, fans or open windows – phew, so there was nothing for it but another stroll around Seville by night, and another tapas bar – or two.2011 Spain1-1

On Sunday we walked a little further afield, along the river, past the bullring and the Torre del Oro.  At one time it was supposed to also be the Maritime Museum but it seemed well and truly closed up.  We continued on through some lovely shady gardens, the Parque Maria Luisa and ended up at the Plaza de Espana.  Every Spanish village, town and city has a Plaza de Espana but Sevilles is really something quite special.  Much of this spectacular collection of buildings were built for the Hispo-America Fair back in 1929, there is a colourful array of tiling depicting all the different regions that were represented at the fair. P8140061

It was time for an early tapas lunch so we headed back to the Barrio de Santa Cruz area.  The Cathedral doesn’t open until 2.30pm on Sundays so that was left for our last stop.  At 2.30pm we wandered over to the entrance, the queue must have been about a mile long, in the sun.  We decided that our short visit into it the previous night had been adequate and crossed it off the list!  We spent the extra time just wandering aimlessly through the little lanes and alleys, discovering hidden treasures, ornately carved doors, brightly tiled entranceways, internal courtyards crammed full of lush palms and tiny plazas.  Seville has it all and showcases it in its natural splendour.

We caught a late afternoon train back to Cadiz, did our regular walk from the train station to the marina and were back onboard Balvenie well before dark.  It had been an excellent citybreak in a stunning city.