Tuesday, 25 November 2014

ARC 2014 Day One

We are underway at last. Our mainsail is set on our port side, our big genoa poled out on starboard and our smaller jib sheeted in to give us that extra half a knot, a new innovation suggested by Eddie at Oyster that we like a lot.  Half a knot over two weeks could get us to the rum punches in St Lucia almost a day earlier.


The morning of the start dawned bright and sunny with a fresh breeze but none of the shrieking squalls of the previous day. The brass band had been recalled for another performance, the stirring brass section and rattle of snare drums adding further to the mood of nervous excitement, palpable around the marina. Crews dressed in their tribal uniforms, dinghies being stowed, hose pipes coiled, pasarels retrieved; all the usual paraphernalia of departure but with a frisson of tension as each individual went about their tasks, anticipating the moments ahead.


At last it was time to cast off; nervous smiles and good wishes to the crews on either side, a brief exchange with Mervyn and then we slip our lines and join the procession of boats filing out of the marina, past the big breakwater lined with spectators, all waving spectators of this unique sight of two hundred yachts, about to disappear over the horizon to distant shores.


We hang back at the start; a tanker is moored in the middle of the improvised start line and we go behind it so as not to fall into its wind shadow. The committee boat is a bright orange tug, marking the middle of the mile-long start line. We hear the five-minute warning, then the three-two-one countdown to the start, which is marked by the crack of a gun. Cheers echo around the water from boats in the huge fleet and we are off and trimming Juno for speed, but sailing conservatively, keeping our distance from other boats as best we can. As we round the outer breakwater the big swell caused by the storm is running high, bringing further drama to the moment but the wind is fresh, the sun is out and we are all excited to be part of this, the biggest ocean rally in the world.


As the afternoon wears on, the wind strengthens with over 30 knots gusting off the hills in the acceleration zone and we are making ten knots. I reef early remembering a big broach last time when Kim and I were overpowered on this very spot. Some boats have set spinnakers and we watch them struggle to contain these fluorescent monsters, which attempt to rip themselves free as the wind builds and feeds their ferocious appetites. Then suddenly the wind drains away as if by magic and all is calm; we are in the wind shadow of the island and soon completely becalmed. After a brief and fruitless spell with the spinnaker we start the engine and in ten short minutes we are again out of the shadow and into the breeze, turning off our engine to minimise the time penalty.


It is a bumpy first night as we continue to sail south, gybing west at midnight once we are clear of the island.  Despite the broken sleep, dawn brings its generous helping of optimism and soon Paul and I are having breakfast of hard-boiled eggs with toasted baguettes and coffee in the cockpit.  We are sailing due west and I am keen to make some more south as an area of lighter airs is forecasted to develop south of Tenerife.  We have practised setting the spinnaker pole in the marina but it is always more challenging on the pitching deck in a big sea but we are all harnessed on, wearing lifejackets and our rehearsals prove worthwhile as the pole goes out without a hitch. Kez and I are on the foredeck with Fatty and Paulus running the boat from the cockpit and handling the guys and sheets.  Soon the big genoa is poled out on starboard, the main on port and we are surfing down the waves at nine knots steady as a rock.


The sun is starting to dip in the western sky now so before dark falls we will set Juno up for the night and then our six pm ritual of peanuts and drinks before supper.  Good progress today, more tomorrow.
























Sunday, 23 November 2014


This is my third ARC and the second time that the race has been postponed on my watch.  Last night the wind howled through the marina, shrieking in our rigging.  Yachts in the bay outside the marina dragged their anchors and one boat was on the rocks by the morning. In the nearby Santa Catalina hotel a car was crushed by a falling tree. Angry black squalls charge down off the hills and as they hit, they unleash wind and rain that bounces off the sea, whipping up the surface.  Despite our initial disappointment it’s a great decision to postpone until tomorrow.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

We leave tomorrow!

Its the night before the start of the ARC and a gale is blowing through the marina making every one feel slightly jumpy. In fact the forecast for the start is very good with 20 - 25 knots from the NW, slowly veering and decreasing over the next few days.  The elusive Azores high is becoming well established over the mid Atlantic which should bring us those perfect trade winds for the crossing.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Las Palmas preparation for ARC 2014

We have finally made it to the start line of ARC 2014. Phew.

The ride down to Las Palmas from Lanzarote was fast. We left at 4am and covered 100 miles in 12 hours arriving at the reception pontoon in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria at 4pm. We filled up with fuel, spilling smelly diesel all over the decks as usual, trying to squeeze an extra few litres into the tank: this despite the absorbent pad fashioned ingeniously by Fatty from a personal hygiene product. We head for our berth and in the falling light we tie up next to our friends Mervyn and Amanda on El Mundo.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Lanzarote at last

At 0100 local time we round the breakwater in the pouring rain, into the calm and sheltered setting of Puerto Calero marina.  My prediction that we might outrun the weather front was premature and we have spent the last 8 hours dodging squalls in a wild ride down to Lanzarote.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

100 Miles to Lanzarote

One hundred miles to run to Lanzarote and we are sailing fast, consistently over 9 knots in 11 knots of wind. It is impressive that a fat cruising boat (sorry Juno) weighing 32 tons can convert wind into boat speed so efficiently.

Monday, 3 November 2014

En route to the Canary Islands

We are sitting in the Waterfront CafĂ© in Queensway Quay marina, Gibraltar. Three meals a day, it has replaced the galley on Juno while we prepare for our trip down to the Canaries.  There is a large cloud that hangs perpetually over the Rock, casting its shadow over the marina while all around bright sunshine blazes down on the Spanish mainland.  The European summer is definitely on the wane and we are looking forward to sailing south to warmer climes.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Westward Ho

The List is almost done, the engine has been serviced, the sails are back on, crew covers have been fitted over the gleaming white leather upholstery: finally its time to leave Palma. Looking back at the magnificent cathedral dominating the skyline I wonder when we will next return. All romantic thoughts are quickly dispelled by the large swell that hits us the moment we leave the shelter of the breakwater. Despite there being only 10 knots of wind, a short chop has developed in the bay of Palma. 

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

World ARC Preparation

Another directorship resigned, another tie severed. It is now the start of October and only days until we leave the shores of Europe. However, I don’t feel excitement or relief, but instead butterflies in my stomach, reminiscent of the feeling of going back to boarding school on a Sunday evening. Despite my best efforts, there are still a thousand things to do before we leave Palma de Mallorca. But when I consult my list, I reassure myself that the important items will be completed and the rest aren’t essential to crossing oceans.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Mistral brings the fish

The saying goes that sailing in the Mediterranean largely involves motoring from storm to storm, but as we motor across the mirrored surface it’s hard to believe that a big Mistral is on its way.  We slide through the shallows of the Fornelli Passage in the flat calm of dawn, saving us a 30-mile journey around the northern tip of Sardinia, and enter the harbour at Alghero to wait out the Mistral in the marina at Ser Mar, owned by the charismatic and charming Federico.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Living the Dream

Sailing around the Mediterranean on our beautiful boat, not a care in the world; a number of people have commented that we are ‘living the dream’. And so we are, but this phrase has developed a new meaning on Juno. I don’t expect any sympathy from those who are reading this standing on a commuter train, but life on a boat isn’t always as you might imagine.

Saturday, 30 August 2014


Rome looks like any other European city as the taxi turns off the motorway and trundles through the outskirts.  The usual mix of apartment blocks rubbing cheeks with suburban low-rise cubes is like so many others.  Everywhere there are signs of under-investment: another victim of La Crisis, now six years old and with no signs of improvement – worse if anything.  Then out of the corner of my eye, high above, something catches the suns rays.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014


We leave Ischia behind as we sail north towards Rome, a large swell running from the south, pushing us on our way. We stop briefly for lunch on the remote island of Ventotene, and swim in the deep clear water before motoring the last twenty miles to Ponsa. From our last visit I know that a long southerly swell creeps into all the anchorages so I head straight for the port and anchor in the protected main harbour with twenty other yachts who have also been here before and experienced the Ponsa roll.  Once the ferries stop for the night the water is thankfully calm and the wind dies away; a blanket of hot and humid air settles over the boat.

Sunday, 17 August 2014


The urban sprawl of Naples, and its one million inhabitants, spreads across the horizon, from the green slopes of Vesuvius down to the bay of Naples. We are in the middle of the city where our friend and hotelier, Paolo, has secured us a berth at the marina in Santa Lucia, positioned under the battlements of Castel dell’Ovo which takes its name from the the legend that it was built over an egg placed here by Virgil in Roman times: it is believed that if the egg breaks, Naples will fall.  

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Amalfi Coast

We are on the Costiera Amalfatana, just outside Salerno, working our way north along the Italian coast towards Naples and then onto Rome.  We are berthed in Marina d’Arechi, a brand new marina that isn’t even on my chart, where we spend the day cleaning Stromboli ash from the decks.  Hertz delivers a car which Fatty dubs a Fiat Ugly, and we set off in the hot afternoon sun, air conditioning on full, through Salerno and onto the coast road that runs along the south of the Amalfi peninsula. Our destination is Ravello a small town up in the hills above Amalfi, but first, that crazy coast road.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Stromboli Erupts

We are in the Aeolian Islands off the north coast of Sicily.  Not far from mainland Italy, yet too remote for most. Grouped by name but each resolutely individual: the isolated brothers, Alicudi and Filicudi; the bohemian and glamorous sister, Panarea; the wooded and fertile mother, Salina and the moody and unpredictable patriarch, Stromboli.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014


Cefalu is a medieval town on the north coast of Sicily, perched on a rocky promontory under the dramatic backdrop of La Rocca, a huge rock that towers over the town. It is so picture-perfect that it was used as the setting for the famous Sicilian film, Cinema Paradiso, and tourists from all over Sicily flock to Cefalu to stroll the narrow cobbled streets. We anchor in milky blue water outside the small marina and wait for the wind to back to the west to take us to the Aeolian Islands.  It also give me a chance to catch up on admin after a frustrating few days in Palermo where we suffered more gear failure than in our entire three years afloat.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014


As we approach Palermo the shoreline turns from soaring cliffs and wooded slopes to dusty roads and bricks and mortar. The urban sprawl of Sicily's largest city reaches out through the valleys and stretches its fingers down to the sea. The wind is still gusting at over twenty knots and we rocket into the bay of Palermo at 10 knots on a broad reach with Fatty testing the cockpit cushions for comfort.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Egadi Islands

We have been living a Spartan existence. Since leaving Cagliari a week ago we have spent not a single Euro.  We have been at anchor ever since, eating aboard from our supply of fresh produce from the market, and our dwindling supplies of San Miguel and Prosecco.  After a few days in Villasimius in southern Sardinia the forecast is good and its time to head for Sicily.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014


Cagliari is one of our favourite Italian cities.  The elegant facade of the Avenue di Roma which lines the water front; narrow backstreets adorned with washing hanging from rickety balconies, winding up the steep hill towards the citadel; and the panoramic view, north into the mountains and south across the huge bay of Cagliari towards the African coast.

Thursday, 26 June 2014


The Mistral is still lurking in the central med and we have sailed for cover behind the marina breakwater at the head of the bay of Teulada, on the southern coast of Sardinia.  While setting the anchor, a grey rib surges along side and the driver politely asks if we want to enter the marina for the night. When we decline he looks up at the cloudless sky;  'Very dangerous, the Mistral' he warns with furrowed brow. Of course, we end up in the marina, with a whole pontoon to ourselves, our ensign hanging lifeless in the still evening air.

Sunday, 15 June 2014


A line of white buoys stretches across the horizon at the entrance of the channel between the island of San Pietro and Sardinia. It is the Mattanza festival, a bloodthirsty affair when the migrating tuna are herded into large nets, and then slaughtered. Fortunately the slaughtering is over by the time we arrive but the nets are still in place, bulging with tuna which we assume are being saved for later.  The channel is gusty and shallow,  more acute because the water is gin clear, magnifying the rocks in dangerous hues of green and brown. 

Saturday, 14 June 2014


I find the wind fascinating.  The breeze that cools our skin and flows over our sails is created by a complex combination of natural forces that shift and change continuously: there are the constant global factors such as the rotation of the earth, creating the spin that produces benevolent trade winds and ferocious revolving tropical storms; the impact of the equator as a huge heat store that causes air to rise constantly, creating the equatorial low that sucks in cooler air from both north and southern hemispheres; and then against this backdrop are the high and low pressure systems that develop like mountains and valleys in the atmosphere, generating gradient wind as air flows from high to low attempting to equalise pressure.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Blood on the mainsheet

At last, after six months of preparation, both at home and on Juno, it is time to leave the dock.  We order meat for the freezer, six crates of provisions for the galley, fresh fruit and vegetables from the market, settle our bills at the marina and finally, finally, disconnect from the pontoon and head out of the bay of Palma. It feels great to be back at sea on Juno. As this is our first sail of the season it is just a short hop to Calla Vells, a small bay on the southwest coast of Mallorca that is usually sheltered from the prevailing winds.

Friday, 16 May 2014


The sprawling city of Palma is an amalgam of districts, each with its distinct personality. From the postcard architecture of the old town with its dark mysterious alleyways, to the brash neon strip along the waterfront, home to bars and nightclubs; Palma is diverse and cosmopolitan.  Commercial areas line the ring road, dominated by huge slabs of hypermarket with acres of car park, but the real charm of Palma is the residential sectors that are the soul of the city and reflect the character of its occupants.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Winter Haul

For the past two weeks we have been staying in an apartment in Palma. A stone's throw from the magnificent cathedral, we are in an old town house with high ceilings and stone floors divided into three apartments set around an inner courtyard.  Each morning I set off on my bike on a short commute to the boatyard while Fatty has Spanish lessons with Rosa.  In the afternoons, Fatty works on our sailing itinerary for the World ARC and I return at around 7pm, covered in dust from the yard and ready for a cold San Miguel on the terrace, which catches the evening sun. 

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Palma in Winter

Today has been like any other day in the Solent.  Halliards hammer against masts, gusts whip the surface of the sea into white crests, seagulls wheel overhead, cawing indignantly as they lean into the breeze. Only this isn't the Solent, it's Palma de Mallorca and the locals are dressed for extreme conditions as they celebrate yet another fiesta.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

The Plan

Its seems auspicious that as I write this blog after a long absence, forty five boats have crossed the start line in St Lucia for the World ARC, bound for the Panama Canal and the Pacific Ocean beyond.  In exactly one year from now, that will be us, insha‘Allah, and I feel my pulse quicken.  I remember not so very long ago, crossing the English Channel seemed a huge adventure, but since then, the Bay of Biscay, a Mediterranean circuit, an Atlantic Crossing and now the possibility of heading into the Pacific on a circumnavigation – gulp.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Formentera with the boys

We spend the day cleaning the boat, making beds and reorganising the cabins in preparation for the arrival of the boys and Lucie, who are going to spend a few days with us at the start of their holidays. We collect Jamie and Lucie by rib from the beach and after dinner we take the water taxi back to the Blue Marlin where we have arranged to meet Tom whose flight arrives late this evening.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Ibiza Bounce

We wave down the water taxi which sweeps up to our stern and we step aboard, dressed in what we think are our coolest Ibiza clubbing outfits. It is only a short trip to the beach where Murphy the taxi driver drops us at the wooden dock. I tip him generously hoping that he will remember us when we need to be rescued. A board-walk from the dock leads over a beach of white boulders to an enormous deck, where row upon row of oversized sun loungers draped in white cotton and shaded with huge white parasols, are covered with bodies wearing large sunglasses and small swimming costumes, all bouncing to the beat of the club music which booms out over the bay.