Friday, 24 August 2012


The harbour lies low on the horizon behind a huge stone breakwater to protect it from the Mistral which blows directly into the Golfo del Corallo. However, today the wind is still, the water is calm and we have called ahead and made a reservation with Frederico, the owner of the marina who is on the quay to catch our lines. Fatty is becoming yet more dextrous with our warps and this time she casts the line like a lasoo and a coil of rope drops neatly over Fredericos head and hangs from his neck, causing him and fatty to both roar with laughter. We have arrived in Alghero.

After the usual docking ceremony of pasarels, hose pipes and power leads, we walk into Alghero and up the fortified city walls which defended this city from Spanish invaders in a bygone era, and now continue to brace the town against the equally destructive forces of mother nature. The City was founded by the Spanish in the 12th century and the Catalan influences remain, with Spanish street names and a Gothic style cathedral. However although the setting is Spanish, the occupants are most definitely Italian and the walls of the city provide a dramatic natural stage where the locals and holiday makers can promenade in the early evening. The sun is still high in the sky, the light is sharp and penetrating and we find a bar with white parasols up on the ramparts of the city and settle into comfy chairs and cold drinks.

The following morning we hire a car to take Fatty on the two hour journey to Olbia airport on the East coast of Sardinia. It is the feast of the assumption and a national holiday. Frederico tells me 'eets not jus any 'oliday, eets thees 'oliday. Very beezy'. We are warned of traffic chaos and gridlock on the roads, but this is Italy and at ten in the morning we are the only car on the road and we drive across the dry arid plateau of central Sardinia, punctuated occasionally with a strip of brilliant green irrigated vegetation, arriving in Olbia well ahead of schedule. I drop Fatty at the airport and make the return trip. This time its even easier and I am back on the boat before Fatty has even checked in for her flight.

Andrew arrives from the airport in Alghero and within minutes of his arrival we cast off our lines and point our bows southwest towards Mallorca, leaving Italy behind us. We have a glorious evening sail but then, as so often in the Mediterranean, the wind dies and we motor for the next two days, dropping our anchor at dawn off the beach at Es Trenc on the East Coast of Mallorca where we swim in warm water over white sand. The following morning Andrew gets the bus to the airport, satisfying his hair shirt tendencies, and I am left alone to tackle The List.

It is four months since we set off from Palma in May and the log says that we have covered over two thousand miles. So much for our plan to go gently this year. When asked by friends about our plans for the summer I would wave my hand in a westerly sort of direction saying breezily 'not very far this year. Just across to Sardinia, down to Sicily, up the Amalfi Coast, through the Italian islands and across to Corsica then back to Palma'. Now I know that each one of those destinations is a jewel and an entire summers sailing in itself and I feel that we have only skimmed the surface of this beautiful part of the Mediterranean. Note to self: 'must slow down' or as Fatty says, 'dos nudos' as she wags her finger at me. This originates from a large sign at the entrance to Mahon harbour, imposing a stringent speed limit of two knots which seems incomprehensible to me and I am convinced we are going backwards, but to Fatty it is calm and gentle and most importantly it is the law and therefore must be obeyed.

Some of you have been interested enough to ask how much maintenance a boat like Juno needs, and the answer is - a lot. Inscribed on the inside leaf of the Oyster Owners Maintenance Log is the following:

 Now, many of you might groan at the prospect of all the maintenance, cleaning and polishing to keep a yacht in perfect condition, but to me this is bliss. There is no way that I could impose my desire for order and tidiness on my family at home, but on Juno not only is this possible, but we are instructed to do so by Oyster and it is the law and therefore must be obeyed. So, this week, on my own in Palma, I have been knuckling doing to all the maintenance tasks that the Oyster bible says that I must. I moan to others at the prospect of these chores but in fact I love it and I have spent the past five days like the proverbial pig.

Today my maintenance schedule says that I must 'Exercise ALL seacocks'. It's the insistence of ALL that is worrying, because most of the seacocks, which control the openings in the hull, are reasonably easy to access and I work from bow to stern, working the handles on the big brass valves to ensure that they can be easily opened and closed in the event of an emergency. However there are a few which are buried deep in the bowels of Juno and the temptation is to ignore them and tick the box on the schedule. But it is that word 'ALL' that sits on my shoulder and glares at me, pointing to the dark recesses of the bilge and I find myself contorted into an impossible position in the aft locker, operating the sea cock with my foot, just so that I can sleep easy and put that tick in the box with a clear conscience.

While working though my job list, the air conditioning gasps and goes silent and the temperature in the boat starts to climb. It is 37 degrees outside and the prospect of servicing the engine in these temperatures isn't hugely appealing. Looking up the error code in volume 4 of the Oyster manuals, I see that there is insufficient water circulating in the system and I worry that in my eagerness to do ALL, I have closed the seacock supplying sea water to the pump and it has run dry, melting the impellor and possibly damaging the pump. I call Oyster in Ipswich and I speak to Elli. I explain my predicament and she says that she will investigate and call me back. Within five minutes the phone rings and it is Matt, from Domestic, the company that fits the air conditioning units. We talk though through the problem and he directs me to a small butterfly screw which bleeds the air from the pump. There is a reassuring hiss and when I restart the pump the fan kicks in and cold air once more flows through the boat, restoring my oasis of cool while the sun bakes down outside. Eli calls me back two minutes later to check that everything is fine and I am hugely impressed.

Oyster are renowned for their legendry customer service and I have seen it first hand on several occasions over the summer. When one of our electric winches stopped working one Saturday evening in Rome, I emailed customer services, vaguely hoping for a response on the Monday. Fifteen minutes later an email from Paul, the support manager, lands in my inbox with a comprehensive set of steps to diagnose the problem. Unfortunately I need a new control box but Lewmar tell me that despite being out of warranty this really shouldn't happen and they supply me another overnight at a 50% discount. When fitting the new part in Ostia, I need some help and Paul from Oyster, who happens to be working on a boat in Palma, calls me back and talks me through it. Not happy with the outcome he asks Roland from Lewmar, the manufacturer of the winch, to call me and 5 minutes later Roland is on the phone.

I know that this premium service is all in the premium price of an Oyster but it really is invaluable and I write an email to Sarah Harmer, head of customer services to congratulate her on the quality of her operation. Yes, you've guessed, despite being on holiday she responds to my email within minutes thanking me for the feedback. Although this level of service, for nearly one thousand Oysters around the world, must cost the company a fortune, they end up with ambassadors for the company, like me, telling everyone about my great experience and this perpetuates the Oyster brand.


  1. Glad the aircon is sorted for our looming trip to the Caribbean! Paul

  2. Must have a happy crew. Although the air con might get a bit grumpy mid atlantic.

  3. you bunch of softies!!