Sunday, October 30, 2005

Isla Graciosa

A blog instalment is long overdue but we have been very busy in our new roles as true cruisers. Reaching the Canaries has been a landmark for us - we have sailed so far south now, and we have reached those little islands we used to regularly point at with casual confidence on the world map. Those little jumps our fingers made as we explained our route are actually pretty big! 6 days from Gibraltar to Graciosa or 600 nautical miles (give or take). We have reached latitude 29 and counting.

We STILL have a few essential things to do to Kika (along with a million non-essential). The solar panel is now resting on the new arch and will soon be pumping power into the batteries, and we are hoping to get the bimini sorted on Lanzarote. The fridge insulation is pending and we need to do some sail repairs before we can consider leaving for the Cape Verdes.
Unveiling the solar panel
Unveiling the solar panel

Charging: Battery monitor showing the combined efforts of the Solar panel and wind generator delivering 4.1A
Charging: Battery monitor showing the combined efforts of the Solar panel and wind generator delivering 4.1A

We made landfall on Tuesday on Isla Graciosa - north west of Lanzarote. It was an exciting approach - a clear, hot day and an exotic, unfamiliar landscape (I've never been here before). We had managed to make contact with Free Spirit the night before on VHF and it was warming to see their starboard light over to the east on my last night-watch. Mark and Nat were sailing from Lagos and our routes had been converging as we had headed south. We sailed into port practically side by side. Howzat for timing! Surf beach
Surf beach

On the approach, Nick and I had showers in the cockpit to spruce ourselves up, and prepare for civilisation once again. It felt very good to arrive and even better to arrive clean! The island is barren with startling volcanic rock formations. The sea is of a blue we haven't seen so far on the trip, and the heat is serious. It's very hard to believe it's halloween soon. The small town of Caleto del Sebo is quiet and pretty. A sandy track lined with palm trees acts as the main road through town and, strangely, under each tree is parked a sandy coloured landrover, the only motor vehicles on the island.
Daily commute into 'town'
Daily commute into 'town'

The facilities are limited (no washers) but we can cope with that as we're fully fledged cruisers now (sure there's washers on Lanzarote).Our time has been spent working aboard, swimming and doing pontoon networking which is quite hard work as it involves much drinking and eating (fortunately every other shop in town is a gem of a supermarket so provisioning isn't a problem). We plan to stay a few more arduous days which we will hopefully fill with some more thorough sightseeing and Kika prepping, and then we have a date (or 3 to be precise) in Lanzarote which we are very excited about. More guinea pigs to try out new recipes on (they've probably never tasted jam sponge and custard!)'Town' and 'Marina'
'Town' and 'Marina'

Exploring Graciosa by bike
Exploring Graciosa by bike

Moroccan Mouthful

Nick enjoys his cooking, as you well know, and one afternoon on passage from Gib to the Canaries, he announced that he was going to prepare a surprise dish. How exciting!

To port somewhere in the haze we could just make out the mysterious coast of North Africa - Morocco to be precise. Assuming the dark continent had inspired him, I began to imagine dishes of kebabs and couscous, perhaps a hearty meat tajine (the pressure cooker is very adaptable) or a refreshing salad of tabouleh - oh the joys of flavours from around the globe. How inspirational this trip is!

I waited impatiently, listening to the clatter from the galley below and the regular slamming of the starboard locker door. 'Gosh, what a lot of ingredients there are in this secret, sumptuous dish, and how complicated it must be with all the pans he's using!' Lunch had been cancelled as 'the dish' would almost certainly make up for it, and when it finally arrived into the cockpit, paraded proudly by Kika's masterchef, I was Hank (Marvin - Starvin') 'Wow' I breathed, my words muffled in my salivating mouth - 'what is it?' 'Ter-der, jam sponge - delicious!'
Fresh from the pressure cooker
Fresh from the pressure cooker

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

In the Canaries

First sight of land
First sight of land
We arrived safely in Caleta del Sebo on Isla Graciosa at 1.30 this afternoon. Followed in by Mark and Nat on Freespirit.

All in all a fast and enjoyable passage with some great sailing and near successful fishing.
Hooked: the one that got away
Hooked: the one that got away

What it would have looked like
What it would have looked like

We plan to spend the next few days exploring the volcanic island, before heading on to Lanzarote.

We're exhausted after quick explore of town; it's unbelievably hot here.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Rolling around off Morocco

We motored offshore yesterday morning to hunt for the wind which Freespirit where enjoying. By mid-afternoon we'd found a good F4-5 NE - fortunately just as we ran out of diesel in our main tank (we're now onto our reserves). Under cruising chute and full main we stormed along reaching peaks of 7.5knots and cruising around 6.5knots. The fishing was postponed as there was enough to handle with the sailing. Over night we put in a couple of reefs in the main to try to quieten things down, but were still comfortably making 5.5-6knots.

Ellen put in another heroic watch from 12.00 - 6.30am - apparently I was impossible to wake at 6.00am. Not much shipping to report last night, but plenty of shooting stars. I spent a good deal of my off-watch time stuffing lockers with tea-towels to try to stop their contents rolling around with the boat. The rolling averages about 10-15deg in either direction, but at times can be considerably more. It makes cooking a challenge - I managed to inadvertantly make treacle while cooking some pasta last night when I hadn't noticed the sugar fly out of a locker and lodge itself behind the pan on the cooker. Unfortunately the motion is testing the strength of Avomine for Ellen.

We're experimenting with our generator in water mode - in theory at 5knots it should be generating 6A and 8A at 6knots - which should be enough to combat even the worst excess of our fridge.

We're currently under full-main with the genoa poled out on the opposite side (goose-winging) making 5-5.5knots on a course of 210 deg T for Lazarote. We're considering making for the main island and the security of a marina as there's some nasty weather forecast for later in the week, although the weather faxes, show the UK receiving the full brunt of it.

Position @ 8.30GMT N31deg 17.7' W012deg 14.1'

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Self-steering off Africa

Fanastic days sailing yesterday - smooth seas, close-reach, making between 4-5knots in more or less the right direction. Once George II (our wind-vane steering) had been generously bathed in oil, he steered a great course; freeing us up for reading, catching up on sleep and baking.

We'd left Gibraltar without any bread, but not to worry we've dried yeast and strong bread making flour in our stores. Two loaves were duely delivered, but I seem to spend more time cleaning the flour and dough from the galley afterwards, than actually preparing the mixture.Baked Brick
Baked Brick

Not to be put off I thought I'd try out a steamed pudding in the pressure cooker - not quite the success I was hoping for. I was somewhat hampered by the scales packing up and no measuring jug or cone. So had to guess qualities. Also no self raising flour, but found some baking powder and used that. I thought half a teaspoon would be adequate, but the sponge didn't really rise. Ellen suffers from bad memories of heavy school dinner sponge puddings and I'm afraid I didn't manage to change that perception. Not sure if my cooking and the heads being briefly blocked were related - I'll spare you the details.

The dolphins have returned - we've had four visits with between 4-12 dolphins - don't think we were going fast enough for big dolphin revelry - but its always a joy when they join us.

We're converging with Mark and Nat in Freespirit - currently they are about 30miles west of us. We've been staying in touch using the SSB radio transmitting on 2Mhz.

Finished the day off with a solar shower and briefly felt human again.

Current position @ 12.00GMT is N32deg23.1' W10deg 26.7.

We're heading off the African coast for the Canaries. We've currently a light NE wind with some swell which makes it difficult to sail without the sails flogging and loosing way. We're motoring off the coast planning to pick up a strong Northerly that Mark and Nat are enjoying. Ellen is deservedly catching up on some sleep after the long night watches she's been putting in.

Plan to try some fishing today so hope to report tuna steaks for tea.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Off Casablanca

Quick update

05.15 position 34.05.16N 008.38.8W and we are passing Casablanca to the south east though I have to believe the chart that it's there as I can't see any evidence of it - we're about 50 miles off the coast. It's been a quiet night so far, just one huge freighter passed by silently about an hour ago. I say silently though we've had the engine on most of the time, and I've been listening to Phillip (my iPod) as well so it could have been making a racket, but it just 'looked' silent to me. Quite eerie the way they get closer without seeming to move at all, and suddenly they're right beside you, and what was a little cluster of lights a while ago is now a leviathan. Wonder what they think of us? Probably didn't even see us!

Reading the lights on the vessels is a bit of a challenge and judging when best to change course is quite a skill. Thrilling when you get it right, fatal when you get it wrong! Only one shooting star tonight compared to three last night and not a dolphin in sight.

This is the first entry I have managed to do when underway (albeit without the boat heeling) so it's quite momentous. I LOVE Avomine! Yesterday, I also managed to cook a simple meal without a hint of nausea. Nick is asleep and has been since 00.30. I keep doing longer watches than necessary, not because I'm considerate or dedicated or anything like that, but because I'm banking up my hours so that when and if I feel sick, I can cash them all in without feeling too guilty! Looking forward to brushing my teeth and getting in the bunk. Just another 25 mins to go now. More later.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Heading South

We've cleared the Straits of Gibraltar and turned to the south aiming for Isla Graciosa a small island of the North coast of Lanzarote. The course takes us parallel with the African coast, past Casablanca, before continuing out to the Canaries. Our position at 3.50GMT is N35deg 17' W006 50.

We left Gibraltar at 8.50 this morning (20th October) - we had intended to leave a little earlier to make the most of the tide in the Strait, but we took a while untangling ourselves from our berth. The marina used "lazy lines" which run at right-angles from the pontoon out into the murky water of the marina. We tied the bow to the pontoon then attached the "lazy lines" to the stern.

During our stay we'd taken off the push-pit (the rail along the back of the boat) to have an arch for the solar panel contructed on top of it. Only when we were about to leave did we realise that we'd re-attached the push-pit with the lazy lines inside the rail, so rather than simply cast off the stern lines we had to untie the horrendously muddy and horrily tangled "lazy lines" and re-tie them outside the rail. I had a heart-stopping moment when I thought we´d have to take off the push-pit again.
Kika without push-pit
Kika without push-pit

Farewell then Gibraltar, it was easy to be put off by the fish-and-chips on offer round every corner, the terrible puns (eg a pub named "Penny Farting") and the lines of duty free shops, but once we escaped Main St there was much to be recommended not least, the historical associations, stocking up with difficult to find groceries in Morrisons and boat bits in the well stocked chandlery , catching up on UK news via a re-broadcast BBC radio 4 and most of all to meet up with Robin and Heather.

Currently the wind is NWerly 3-4, sea is smooth, and the moon is so bright its almost like dawn.

Mark and Nat on Freespirit set off from Lagos bound for the Canaries this morning so we're hoping our paths might converge or least we'll be able to keep in touch over the SSB.

Monday, October 17, 2005


It’s a rainy Monday in Gibraltar, and the rock is looking cloudy and grey. Feel sorry for those apes!
Intelligent life on 'The Rock'
Intelligent life on 'The Rock'
We have been here almost a week now and it’s……different! Not what either of us expected, so I suppose you could say it’s enriching in that sense! Only a week ago, we were stranded in Barbate about 50 miles up the coast in Spain, and the day of my parent’s arrival here in Gib was drawing near. Alas, it became clear that the weather wasn’t going to improve in time for us to sail here so we hired a car for a couple of days to spend some time with them, driving back to Kika both nights. Meeting them from the plane was a first for me, and so exciting. They had brought quite a few treats (dvds, magazines, lime juice and books) and unlike us, they found things to like in Gib. I think it helped that they had a super hotel! They had to wait another couple of days for us, but finally, last Wednesday morning, we were able to sail here with a favourable wind and tide. The Gibraltar Straits had become the stuff of legend for us (bit like Biscay), with the racing tides, shipping lanes and gusting winds to consider. We ended up motoring gently into the bay, watched by M & D from their hotel window! We had made the passage with 2 other boats from Barbate who had been similarly stranded there, and this was our first experience of sailing in convoy. It was really nice to have Valhalla and Dart Warrior to our port and starboard during the trip, and we were a little sad to peel away from Dart Warrior as we rounded the headland into the bay, but she had plans to head on up north to Spain. Valhalla had a mooring booked through the organisers of their rally. Not so for us though, and we saw the sign ‘marina full’ with dismay. Having picked up M& D from the fuel pontoon we went to anchor out in the bay. It was really quite choppy and poor mum got sick within half an hour of being aboard. The dinghy trip to land was very wet and roly and potentially involved dodging landing aircraft because we were close to Gibraltar’s extended runway. Happily, the following day (Friday) we were fortunate to find a marina space the right size for Kika - just in time as her pushpit (back rail) had to be removed as we had decided to have it modified in order to hold a solar panel. We are going to need some extra power to keep the batteries topped up and this should help. Her rail has now been returned and has a smart arch about 6ft high welded to it. She looks like a serious blue water cruising boat now. Just need to find some blue water!

The week with Mum and Dad whizzed by and it was tough leaving them at the airport. Not sure where we’ll meet up again but the main thing is that we can be in regular contact via email over the SSB radio, even when we’re on a passage, so plans can always be made.
Robin and Heather relaxing outside the Angry Friar
Robin and Heather relaxing outside the Angry Friar
Hoping to leave Gib on Wednesday for the Canaries where we are looking forward to seeing Nick’s parents, and perhaps a couple of friends too.

We’ve got a list (3 pages of A4) of things to do before we cross the Atlantic, the main ones being; sorting out our gas supply (no calor gas fittings here or anywhere else in the world apart from the UK it seems), getting a bimini (sun-shade) fitted, insulating the fridge (it’s the main culprit in using up battery power) and getting Nick to unpack his clothes (it’s a tough one but I’m aiming high!) Wish me luck!

Guest entry: Robin and Heather's report on Gib

We arrived at Gibraltar on Saturday afternoon October 8th and had obviously planned this trip to coincide with Kika's arrival at The Rock. Can you believe it ? Kika was stranded the other side of the Straits in bad weather with a string of other stuff waiting to get through as well so the two of them hired a car and drove overland the 35 miles or so and met us at the airport. Nick had already ascertained the whereabouts of the chandlery but, of course, it was the weekend and so, as they had to return the car on Sunday night and were, in fact, marooned the other side of the Straits until Wednesday, Robin was detailed to attend the chandlery for a multitude of essentials. On Wednesday morning it was really thrilling, from our hotel balcony and the hotel restaurant, to see Kika round the point and sail into Gibraltar Harbour and we have got some marvellous DVD of that. By the time we had finished breakfast, the whole hotel was cheering her in !
Kika arrives as viewed from the hotel restaurant
Kika arrives as viewed from the hotel restaurant

From then on, we had a marvellous three days with them. They had to anchor off in the bay for one night until a berth became avaiable in one of the marinas.
View of 'the rock' from the anchorage
View of 'the rock' from the anchorage

Gibraltar is undergoing massive development in the building and reconstructing of marinas with vast amounts of overlooking properties going up and fetching £ 580.000 for a two bedroomed flat !! Mind you, we liked the place in spite of all its' tourism. The Gibraltarians are very friendly and extremely pro British. We have never seen so many Union Jacks !
Gibraltar with Rif mountains of Morocco in background
Gibraltar with Rif mountains of Morocco in background

The chandlery was several times graced with the presence of Nick (I wish I had shares in the business) and on Friday I was commandeered to help him dismantle the whole rear (sorry, Aft) section of Kika prior to the fitting of a solar panel.

In all, we had a wonderful time with them with very many laughs and it was a very sad departure on Saturday

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Gibraltar Straits

After 5 days of waiting for the weather to improve, we've finally made it through the Gibraltar Straits. We left Barbate on Wednesday morning at 4am in the company of Dart Warrior and Valhalla and arrived in Gibraltar at 11.30am. The gales which had kept us storm-bound in Barbate finally gave way to a gentle westerly, forcing us to motor the 35 miles to Gibraltar. Tarifa - our cape horn - was passed without a noticable increase in wind. Incredible to be able to see Africa as we 'sailed' through The Strait. The mountains of Spain were to our port and the Rif mountains of Morocco to starboard.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Storm-bound in Barbate

Our fears about the wind gods conspiring against us to miss our Gibraltar rendezvous have been realised. Our plan was to sail through the night and arrive in Gibraltar early on Thursday morning. There was a nagging concern about the weather as we had an incomplete forecast - for some reason our usual source of weather missed off sea areas Cadiz and the Gibraltar Strait. However the Grib file which indicates wind direction didn't look too bad; it showed a managable 15 knot easterly wind.
Grib file for 5th October showing wind directions and strengths
Grib file for 5th October showing wind directions and strengths

Initially all went well; as we left the harbour we passed Francis Chichester's beautifully restored Gypsy Moth IV and speeded off down the coast making 6-7 knots with a strong off-shore wind. After a couple of hours of exhilarating sailing the wind shifted to the SSE, the waves became short and steep and we found ourselves pounding into a heavy sea. We were also slowly heading off-shore as the wind direction prevented us making a course parallel with the coast. A second reef quickly followed the first reef and when the forecast arrived it told of force 8+ easterly in The Straights.

A quick recalculation to head for our port of refuge - Barbate - showed that we wouldn't get in until 23.30 and the prospect of unlit tuna nets outside the harbour with the following ominous warning in the pilot, put us off:
During the summer tuna nets tough enough to foul the screw of a freighter can be a considerable hazard, and may reach several miles offshore. It is not advisable to sail over one... Note the cardinal buoys used to mark the nets are frequently very undersized and should not be relied upon, particularly at night.
Instead we decided to head back for Cadiz.

Inevitably after two hours surfing along with the wind behind us, the wind dropped and left the rig crashing around in a heavy swell. We tied up to the berth we'd left just before dark, to the amusement of the guy from the marina. The following day, Thursday, with an earlier start and more careful research on the position of the tuna nets we set off again into a strong Easterly. The weather was remarkably similar and we made it into Barbate, just before dark, wet from the waves breaking across the bow but pleased we'd made it. Despite the rough conditions Ellen's sea-sickness hasn't re-emerged. On our arrival we were greeted by Keiron and Ellie on Dart Warrior who had been sailing from La Coruna with Freespirit and are also waiting for a break in the weather before heading to Gibraltar.

It's frustratingly only 35 miles to Gibraltar, but the forecast shows force 7-8 easterly winds with rough seas until Tuesday. The passage involves rounding Tarifa, "the windiest place in Europe", renowned in windsurfing circles for the consistency of the strong winds and has hotels named Hurricane Hotel, Storm Lodge etc... Rounding Tarifa has taken on the proportions to us of rounding Cape Horn.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Lagos to Cadiz

It felt good to be off and getting closer to Gibraltar - we have a date with Ellen's parents there, flights and hotels have been booked and there's a nagging concern that the wind is going to conspire against us, meaning we won't make it in time. We had four good nights in Lagos, shared with Mark and Nat and it was sad to say goodbye knowing we might not see them for another few months. We've both installed high-frequency single-side band radios in our boats which are supposed to be able to let you talk to other boats over 1000s of miles, if the atmospheric conditions are suitable. The installation is fairly complex, involving insulating the back stay (the back wire that holds the mast up), installing the set and tuning unit and running a copper ground strip from a copper plate on the underside of the hull back to the tuner unit and the set itself. There's plenty of advice available, often conflicting, but it seems the only way to tell if your installation is any good is to manage to talk to someone across an ocean. Both of us had been having success receiving and sending emails from a transmitter in Belgium, and occassional Nova Scotia, but struggled to talk to each other across the Biscay. Finally we found a clear frequency and managed a 15min conversation, Over all of 40 miles - progress.

We left Lagos at 13.00 with a smooth sea and less then 5knots of wind from the west. We ghosted along for an hour, until the wind completely disappeared and we gave in and fired up the engine. Over the next 5 hours the wind teased us only to vanish completely as soon as we'd try sailing. However by 11.30 a head-wind had picked up, so we tacked through the night with George II (our windvane self steering), holding a great course for us and acting as the 3rd crew member while we alternately slept. By the morning the wind had backed to the north-east and picked up to a decent 15knots so we could shape a course directly for Cadiz. By this time Kika's deck was getting a frequent wash-down as we pounded into the sea - Kika seems to enjoy it and Ellen's anti-seasickness drugs worked well, even to the extent of extending her watch by 0.5 hour to allow me extra time asleep (makes up for waking me up in the middle of the night to help identify whether we were in danger of colliding with passing ships).

Not only are we planning to met Ellen's parents in Gibraltar, but we've got a long list of boat jobs we're hoping to complete. The main ones are fabricating a stainless-steel arch for the back of the boat to support the solar panel, getting some longer poles for our dual head-sail rig, and fitting a sun-awning - both important for the atlantic crossing. The autumnal feel of northern Spain has been replaced by a scorching mid-day sun.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Portuguese Pantry

Do tuna and tomato sauce go together? THAT is the question. No, is my answer, and this is the reason why I would NEVER, EVER have tuna on my pizza. Many of you, like Skipper Nick, with taste buds which may be a little less evolved, may disagree, and that's fine by me. The danger is, when you feel a little queasy on passage, and a dish is suggested, all judgment and experience flies out the cockpit, your stomach (which hasn't got a clue what it wants anymore as the trauma of sickness takes hold) overrules your head, and you acquiesce, with a grateful smile, conscious that your presence is becoming less of an asset and more of a burden by the minute, and that in a few hours he'll probably be faced with the prospect of doing your watch AND his, while poking your sick through the tiny galley plughole. So, if the guy wants to cook tuna neopolitana with pasta twirls, let him, for Neptune's sake! WRONG! Under no circumstances let the nausea compromise your judgment. It'll only end in tears. (Skippers note - Why DO they make those plugholes so small?)