Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Palermo


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


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

Malfatano


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

Carloforte


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

Menorca


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

Springtime


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.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Reflections on an Atlantic circuit

Calm seas, light winds, long days and faded blue skies. We are once more in the Mediterranean, sailing from Mallorca to Ibiza. 14 knots of wind just behind the beam pushes us along at 8 knots, and with a westerly current setting to the west we are making 9 knots over the ground. This is a new wind, only a few hours old, formed by the land heating in the midday sun, warm air rising and cool air over the sea rushing in to fill the vacuum, giving birth to this gentle sea breeze. This is also a new sea; when we awoke this morning there was barely a ripple on the water. We motored on a mill pond under a cloudless sky, until the beckoning breeze from Ibiza began to draw us in and now we fly across the flat water towards the hazy shore line and a new destination. What a contrast from our winter in the Caribbean.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Bahamas

'Gimme a cast, 11 o'clock, forty feet'. Our guide, Efraim stands on a platform high above the outboard motor, spotting for fish, a long carbon rod in his hand which he uses to pole us slowly across the sandy flats in a few feet of turquoise water. I am standing on the bow of the flat-bottomed fibreglass boat, line stripped from the reel at my feet, fly rod in my hand, poised ready for action. I cast into the milky water, stirred up by bone fish feeding on the bottom where they forage in the sand for shrimps. 'Let it sink, let it sink ...... ok, now strip, strip'. With my left hand I strip, retrieving the line back onto the boat, the fly on the end twitches in the water, tempting the bone fish to bite - but not this time. 'ok, try again' says Efraim.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Miami Beach

Our route back to the UK takes us via Miami and we decide to spend a day in South Beach where our friend Susie has kindly arranged for us to stay at the Mondrian Hotel, a very trendy hotel with marvellous views from our balcony on the fifteenth floor overlooking the lagoon and across to the skyline of the city.

US Virgin Islands

As darkness falls on a hot humid evening in the US Virgin Islands, a tropical shower passes overhead, splashing large drops of warm rain onto the huge expanse of deck of MV Edamgracht, the freighter which will transport Juno back across the Atlantic to Palma, Mallorca. Juno's hull stands high above us, nestled in a steel cradle and secured with a spider's web of yellow straps which are ratcheted down to strong points on the steel deck. A team of Filipino deck hands in red boiler suits swarm around us and an arc welder sparks as the cradle is fixed into position. We cast one final look over the fixings and pick our way across the deck and down a gangway onto the dock where Hans is waiting. As we climb into his open Jeep the heavens open and a torrential downpour thunders down on us and we head for our hotel.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

British Virgin Islands

We had forgotten how beautiful the British Virgin Islands are. This is the yacht charter capital of the world with reputedly one thousand boats available and it is the perfect sailing ground. A group of around twenty islands line either side of the Sir Francis Drake channel, with Tortola, the largest island and home of the capital Road Town, at the centre. It is no more than 20 miles from Virgin Gorda in the East to Norman Island in the West.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Anguilla

Motoring into Road Bay, masts wave rhythmically like the arm of a metronome, powered by the swell working its way around the headland, pushing long rolling waves into the anchorage. We anchor as close as we dare to the sheltered northern end but the bay is shallow and we roll drunkenly as the wind dies away leaving us at the mercy of the swell.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

St Martin

St Martin is a curious place, part-French, part-Dutch. The apocryphal story is that rather than fight over the island, a Frenchman walked in one direction, a Dutchman in the other, and where they met they drew the border. The island has embraced tourism wholeheartedly and is full of hotels, casinos and duty-free shops. The Dutch capital, Philipsburg is a major cruise ship terminal and as we sail past into Simpson Bay there are no less than four huge liners in the dock with thousands of eager cruisers pacing down the dock in white socks and training shoes, armed with cameras and US dollars, the national currency.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

St Barths


We motor into the anchorage outside the capital of Gustavia and weave our way through fifty yachts bobbing in the swell. We continue into the port, picture perfect, red-roofed white buildings gathered around the sea wall, nestled at the foot of green wooded hills. A marinero in gleaming whites waves to us and points to his VHF. We establish contact and drop our anchor in the middle of the harbour, reversing up to the wall where he catches our lines and ties us off to the bollards on the quay.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Antigua and Barbuda

Barbuda is a flat line on the horizon, its highest point only 125 feet above sea level. The island is 30 miles north of Antigua, strewn with 200 shipwrecks which have foundered on its reef-infested waters. We pick a waypoint off the west coast and then turn east towards Cocoa Point, the sun behind us so that we can make out the reefs which lurk just below the surface, betrayed by patches of green and brown. Paul and Consuelo are on the bow, Fatty is at the chart plotter and we communicate by handheld VHF radio, using eyeball navigation and the echo sounder to feel our way into the anchorage.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Les Saintes

Les Saintes is a small group of islands just south of Guadeloupe, too hilly and dry for sugar plantations and no need for slaves. As a result the islanders can trace their roots to the early seafaring Norman and Breton colonists and this gives the islands a distinctive European flavour. There are eight islands grouped around a lagoon, each within a mile of each other and Terre de Haut is the largest, although only 5km long and 2km wide, with the village of Bourg Des Saintes home to most of the residents. The roofs are red, the houses whitewashed and from the dinghy dock a narrow street lined with stylish boutiques works its way up the hill to the church where mass is being said on this Sunday morning in February.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Dominica

We are flying down the West coast of Dominica at 9 knots in flat water in the lee of this big mountainous island. When Columbus was describing Dominica to the King of Spain he used a crumpled sheet of paper to illustrate the dramatic form of the island and as it sweeps by on our starboard beam it is easy to see why this land is so difficult to cultivate and commercialise. With only 70,000 inhabitants it is calm and peaceful, a paradise of thick rain forests, rivers and waterfalls, where trees hang heavy with fruit, and vegetables sprout by the roadside.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Carnival

A hundred dancers dressed provocatively in red and black burlesque, shuffle along the street, their bodies moving in perfect time to the hypnotic staccato beat of the drums. As they reach us, the procession halts but the drums beat on and the dancers continue to grind their hips on the spot, stepping from toe to toe in time as if in a trance. Then on some unseen signal and a crescendo of noise from the drums, they move off in unison down the street, bottoms twitching from side to side and the next troupe comes in to view, vying to be yet more exotic and outlandish.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Martinique

There is something of a village atmosphere here. We are anchored off the little town of St Anne, on the south coast of Martinique, near the harbour of Marin. The boulangerie sells soft white baguettes, pains au chocolat and buttery croissants that melt in your mouth. Everyone speaks French, we buy camembert and we pay in Euros.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Bequia

Bequia has a welcoming feel as we motor against the wind and up into the shelter of Admiralty Bay, a huge natural harbour which provides protection from the trade winds and the northern swell. From the entrance to the bay up to its head at Port Elizabeth is over a mile and the deeper into the bay we venture the calmer becomes the anchorage. On the southern side of this wonderful harbour is Princess Margaret beach, a deeply shelving sandy shore and it is here that we drop our anchor.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Mustique

Britannia Bay in Mustique is full of clear blue water dotted with white mooring buoys. We slip two lines through the swivel on the top of the buoy and switch off the engine. The clouds have vanished, the sky is blue and the scene is perfect - well, almost.

Monday, 14 January 2013

The Grenadines

We have a marvellous day on the beach on New Year's Eve with the boys and the Oxies before they catch the evening flight back to the UK. I head back alone to Juno in Port Louis marina feeling rather glum but then I am invited by a neighbouring boat for dinner and things start to look up. We have all bought tickets for the News Year's eve party in the marina and we have a rather boozy evening dancing in the rain to a well-known band from Barbados and I weave my way back to Juno at 3am.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Christmas in Grenada

‘Line!’ a loud shout from the back of the bar and a delighted figure bounds up to the stage. It is Bingo night at the Tiki Bar in Prickly Bay and about four hundred locals and a smattering of cruisers sit at trestle tables around an open air bar in a mood of noisy, happy laughter. A modern stage gleams incongruously under a chain of white Christmas lights where Coogi, a large Grenadian who happily announces that he is also the local mortician, holds court, calling out numbers in a deep lilting bass that is further amplified by the sound system.