Saturday, 25 February 2017

Flopper Stoppers, revisited

I’ve been studying flopper stoppers and various ways to prevent the boat from rolling uncomfortably with swell.  We plan to anchor out a lot this summer and the Med is well known for rolly anchorages.  I want to avoid any system that requires hanging something out from the side of the boat using the boom or spinnaker pole.  This is certainly the most stable configuration, but if you leave the system set up overnight, you have to put a light at the end of the boom to signal its presence.  We also suspect that many or most of our anchorages will be very crowded, and having a system poled out while inexperienced “credit-card captains” try to squeeze into tight spots right next to your boat gives me nightmares.  I want something that is simple to install, something I can leave installed while going ashore without worry, and, most importantly, something that can be uninstalled quickly in the dark at 2 a.m. when you have to leave the anchorage in an emergency 

The photo theme is "Paris by the Sea, part 2": nautical-related art and artifacts seen around Paris.

Arsenius' planispheric astrolabe (1530), Museum of the Centre National des Arts et Metiers, Paris.

I’ve only found 2 systems that don’t require poling out:  the Mexican hat cones and the butterfly pole. 

The Mexican hat or inverted traffic cones system is a series of plastic cones that look like flattened traffic cones (or sombreros) that you hang over both sides of the boat.  With the hats pointing down, they offer little resistance against the water as they descend, but as they are pulled up with the roll of the boat, the hat captures the water and resists the roll.  For Mareda, we would need a series of 5 on each side with a weighted line.  There are a couple of problems:  storage is not so simple for such a bulky configuration, but more importantly, there is a problem of inertia that reduces its efficiency.  As the boat rolls and pulls the cones up, they resist but are still displaced upward a bit.  As the boat rolls back in the other direction, the cones sink, but generally not as fast as the boat rolls (unless you have a large amount of weight on the line, and I don’t particularly want to heave 15 kilograms / 33 pounds up by hand at 2 a.m.).  This means that by the time the next roll begins, the hats have not fully descended and there is some slack in the line before they catch.  The cones alone cost 180 Euros, to which you have to add line and two 10-12 kg weights.

Another astrolabe from the CNAM museum whose name I entirely failed to record.

The butterfly pole is something I’ve read about elsewhere but have only seen developed by our local Mediterranean sailing guru, Pierre Lavergne, based on his 15 years of sailing in the Med and having tried everything.  Last year, Pierre convinced us that a riding sail was a necessary piece of equipment to avoid the windshield-wiper effect that stresses boat, anchor, and crew in windy anchorages.  That simple sail greatly improved the quality of several anchorages this past summer.

Sundial, Cluny Museum of Medieval Art, Paris
In French, Pierre’s system is called the “parahoule” and it consists of a rigid pole of three sections with a total (adjustable) length of about 3 meters (9 feet) with large articulated spade-like blades fixed at the bottom.  The pole is fixed to the balcony or stanchions and rails.  As the boat rolls towards the swell, the butterfly blades fold to reduce resistance and the rigid pole ensures that there is no slack in the system with no need for weights.  As the boat rolls with the swell, the blades fly open to resist the roll.  By putting one butterfly pole on either side of the boat (and the poles can be placed anywhere to balance the swell coming from directions other than straight a-beam), the roll is significantly dampened.  Pierre says it won’t dampen out all swell completely but will make the difference between a gentle rocking and a sickening sleepless night.  Pierre’s system costs 165 Euros, all included, for 2 poles, the system breaks down to 1 meter / 3 feet long, and weighs about 7 kilos / 15 pounds, easy to transport in our luggage.  The system can be quickly hauled out of the water and fixed along the life lines while sailing between anchorages – no need to completely disassemble and store it below.

Pierre's web-site is a goldmine of information (best if you read French) and he has fully described the parahoule on a companion site.  I’m eager to try this out (well, I would rather have perfectly calm anchorages, but…).  We'll make a full review as soon as we have some experience with it.

One of the world's largest Topazes from Brazil.  No, this has nothing to do with navigation, but it sure is pretty.



Posted on Saturday, February 25, 2017 | Categories:

Monday, 23 January 2017

Sunshine Blogging

Viki from Astrolabe Sailing nominated us for the Sunshine Blogger Award, given from one blogger to another for positive, creative and inspiring blog posts.  Thank you very much, Viki!  Coming from you (how many magazine articles have you published now?) this is indeed a great honor.

Alas, we feel inadequate to respond as we should.  We always feel awkward giving people advice about how to undertake and fund a life afloat, for example.  Who wants to hear “work hard, save every penny, and wait for retirement”?  That’s not our advice to anyone, it’s just the way we did it, more or less.  We are also not very good candidates for the award since we can’t really pass on the blog love.  I’ve curtailed my blog reading this year since we only have decent internet during the winter months, and I noticed that all of the blogs I do follow have already been nominated! (…and with good reason.)

So instead of making an attempt to participate fully, I’ve tried to answer Viki’s questions using some of my favourite quotes that I’ve been saving up for a rainy day. Even if it doesn’t always make much sense, I hope you enjoy it!



What do you enjoy most about traveling and or sailing?

Voyage, travel, and change of place impart vigor. - Seneca

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. -Dorothy Parker

For the born traveller, travelling is a besetting vice. Like other vices, it is imperious, demanding its victim's time, money, energy and the sacrifice of comfort. -Aldous Huxley

To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure. You have no idea of what is in store for you, but you will, if you are wise and know the art of travel, let yourself go on the stream of the unknown and accept whatever comes in the spirit in which the gods may offer it”  -Freya Stark

The sail, the play of its pulse so like our own lives: so thin and yet so full of life, so noiseless when it labors hardest, so noisy and impatient when least effective.  - Henry David Thoreau


What are the most challenging aspects of your adventurous lifestyle?

A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. – John Steinbeck

Security is mostly a superstition.  Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.  –Hellen Keller.

What evil luck so ever
For me remains in store,
’Tis sure much finer fellows
Have fared much worse before.  - A. E. Houseman

We accomplish more by prudence than by force. -Tacitus




How do you fund your sailing and travels, and what advice can you give to others wanting to do the same?

Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow
A thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.
— Jalal ad-Din Mohammed Balkhi (Rumi)

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than those you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.  -uncertain (usually attributed to Twain).

Too many people spend money they earn to buy things they don’t want to impress people that they don’t like.  -Will Rogers

The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it in your back pocket.  -Will Rogers

The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.  -Bruce Lee

I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.  -Thomas Jefferson

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
-Thomas Edison




What is one off-the-beaten path location you’d recommend that we visit?
(replace train references with boat ones!)

The railroad track is miles away,
And the day is loud with voices speaking,
Yet there isn’t a train goes by all day
But I hear its whistle shrieking.

All night there isn’t a train goes by,
Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming,
But I see its cinders red on the sky,
And hear its engine steaming.

My heart is warm with friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing;
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.
-Edna St. Vincent Millay




If you have a book you re-read often, what is it? If not, what’s your favorite book?

Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING--absolute nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,” he went on dreamily: “messing-about--in--boats; messing-about in boats--or WITH boats,” the Rat went on composedly, picking himself up with a pleasant laugh. “In or out of 'em, it doesn't matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that's the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don't; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you're always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you've done it there's always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you'd much better not.”  -The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Graham


What’s the strangest thing you’ve eaten or drunk while traveling?

Okay – no quotes for this one:
Sea urchins.  Despite how much butter and garlic you add, and no matter how much wine you drink to wash it down, it’s still just gross.




What do you enjoy most about blogging?

The word that is heard perishes, but the letter that is written remains.  -Anonymous

Or don’t you like to write letters?  I do because it’s such a swell way to keep from working and yet feel you’ve done something.  -Ernest Hemingway


When did your passion for sailing/traveling start and how did you make your dream a reality?

Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward in the same direction.   -Antoine de Saint Exupery


What is one item you can’t live without when you are sailing/traveling.

It’s hard to find a good quote about sun screen!  SPF 50 every 2 hours (recommended; we usually do well to apply it 3 times / day). 


Where are you from, and what are some fantastic things to see in that part of the world?

The south coast of Brittany in France is rimmed with islands and archipelagos, where isolated sand beaches and shallow turquoise waters can resemble the Caribbean. One tourist brochure is marketing the southern coastal islands of Brittany as the “Breton Caribbean”.  The comparison is a pretty good one until you dive into the 18° C / 64° F water!  The main islands off the coast that are “musts”:  The Glenans archipelago, Groix, Belle Isle, Houat and Hoedic:  all with idyllic anchorages, gorgeous beaches, beautiful islands to discover on foot (Glenans, Hoaut, Hoedic) or on bike / scooter (Groix, Belle Isle).   




What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your travels?

Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all people cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.  -Maya Angelou

Monday, 16 January 2017

The Uninteresting Places

In French, there is a sailing quote that says (roughly): “sailing is the most expensive, slowest, and uncomfortable way to go from one place you have no reason to be to another place you have no reason to be.”  When I told this as a joke to a friend recently, she asked why we didn’t simply travel fast (e.g., not by boat) to spend more time in the interesting places rather than spending so much time and effort to land on the edge of nowhere. 


Widow selling dried fish in Nazare, Portugal.

Shady lanes of the old town, Muros, Spain.

I don’t remember what my answer was; some blundering stale version of the voyage being half the fun, I suppose.  But this week, while reading Alexander’s Path by veteran traveler, explorer, and spy Freya Stark, I found the answer I wish I’d given:

A good traveller does not, I think, much mind the uninteresting places.  He is there to be inside them, as a thread is inside the necklace it strings.  The world, with unknown and unexpected variety, is a part of his own leisure; and this living participation is, I think, what separates the traveller and the tourist, who remains separate, as if he were at a theatre, and not himself a part of whatever the show may be.”

Cathedral entrance, Porto, Portugal.
One of our favorite things about traveling by boat is meeting people, both fellow sailors and locals who don’t live in an area inundated by tourists.  As globalisation slowly erases our cultural differences (or accentuates and polishes them in an artificial Disneyland-type attraction for tourists), traveling slowly to the uninteresting places provides a last chance to experience a rapidly disappearing world.

Repairing fishing nets, Galicia, Spain

That said, next season’s cruise to the Balearic Islands and Sardinia will hardly be saturated with uninteresting places.  I am, however, searching for what appears to be an extinct cultural experience:  a nice nightclub in Ibiza for timid old farts on a budget!  How uninteresting! 

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Season Kick-off 2017

The temperatures hover around freezing, a thin layer of ice fringes the port, and our thoughts turn south towards sun and warmth as we begin planning our 2017 sailing season.  (And having just gorged our way through the holidays, the photo theme is “the things we ate” from our 2016 cruise.)

They try to tell you that these are very light...
Our current tasks:

1.  Buying / borrowing the necessary nautical guides and charts.  I’ve begun our route planning and have been scouring others’ blogs for tips on anchorages and ports (mostly about ports to avoid…).  We will probably spend the month of May along the Spanish coast between Gibraltar and Alicante, then June-August in the Balearic Islands, moving on in September and October to our wintering ground.  I’ll plan two options:  an ambitious one that will take us to Sardinia for the winter, or a more tranquil cruise towards the Spanish / French border.  No, we aren’t making much “east” in our Med cruise, but we’re taking time to enjoy the trip.  We won’t be coming back a second time later in life.

Octopus, beaten soft and sauteed in olive oil, salt, and mild red pepper.
2.  Making visiting cards.  This is something we always thought was a little silly until we ended up scribbling our names and contact information on scraps of paper all summer while others passed out fancy cards.  We’ve met so many great cruisers out there and enjoy staying in touch as we cruise along the same waters.

Spain has the biggest and best razor clams on the Atlantic seaboard; sauteed in a little butter, garlic, salt, and parsley.    
3.  Buying a laser rangefinder.  At first, I was against this, seeing it as a potential source of conflict.  Patrick: “The rangefinder says we’re 30 meters from the nearest rock.  We can anchor here with NO PROBLEM!” Me: “And does your magic rangefinder tell you if there are rocks UNDER the water next to that jagged coastline?  Huh?!  We’re moving!”  Then a friend told us how useful rangefinders are for those famous “Med Moorings” where you need to start dropping your anchor 3 boat-lengths away from the dock as you back into a spot.  So far in my planning, most of the med-style moorings in ports have lazylines or buoys so we won’t need to use our own anchor, but I’ve now decided that a rangefinder is a nice gadget to have on board.

An electric wok cuts cooking gas use by half or more !
4.  Thinking about flopper stoppers.  We plan to do a lot of anchoring this year and fully expect that many of the anchorages will be rolly and lumpy because of swell.  I have my trusty riding sail, but that’s only useful when there’s wind.  There are lots of swell stoppers on the market and many people simply use a sort of large weighted bucket poled out perpendicularly on the spinnaker pole or boom.  I suspect we’ll try this homemade system first before investing in a more costly one.  As they say, “one experiment is worth a thousand expert opinions.”   

When you order a glass of wine in Spain, you often get some sort of tapas served with it, like this potato and cheese omelette. Who needs to eat lunch after this? 

5.  Learning Spanish.  This is an ongoing battle; essential but not very effective since it requires discipline to sit down and do the work.  We use a combination of on-line video tutorials, tv news in Spanish, and exercise books, but we’re having a motivation meltdown as we begin 2017.  I have an additional barrier in that Patrick already speaks much better Spanish than I do, so I tend to place this in the “Patrick will manage this” category.  Mas facil !    



Ham, cheese, empanadas, olives, excellent wines.... heaven !

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Pink and Blue Jobs: A Cautionary Tale

Visit any sailing blog and you will find a post about the division of labor of a sailing couple: pink for women’s jobs, blue for men’s.  I have always disliked these posts since no job on a boat is either pink or blue when both partners take responsibility for running the boat.  As a rule, each partner must be able to manage every task on the boat, alone if necessary.  (Not sayin’ it has to be pretty…)

Mareda tied up in her winter berth in La Linea de la Conception, Spain, just across from Gibraltar.  That big hotel in the background, we have just learned, hosts the marina's web-cam (see next photo!)
Patrick and I divide tasks based on affinity for the job.  Patrick is stronger than I am, so he hoists the mainsail 99% of the time and is usually up front when it comes time to set the anchor (where the windlass does most of the work, but you never know when you might hit a snag.)  Patrick is taller than I am, so he is usually the one that tucks the mainsail into the lazybag.  But Patrick has a bad ankle after 2 surgeries, so I’m the one who jumps (er, um.. steps lightly) off the boat to tie her up when we come into port.  Because I enjoy these tasks more than he does, I’m in charge of the navigation strategy and sail trimming, and because I’m lighter and have no fear of heights, I’m the one who climbs the mast when needed.

But none of this matters.  Every couple will organize their tasks as they see fit.  The problem comes when we think that “equal” means “same”.  For example, I know now that I can tackle any job on the boat alone.  But I have been forced to accept that I cannot do things the way someone bigger or stronger would.  This sounds obvious, right?  This is where my cautionary tale begins.  

Mareda, seen this morning, via web-cam.  How cool is that?
The good news first.  I have developed carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis, resulting in the loss of normal use of two fingers.  Huh?  Good news?  Yes, indeed.  The first diagnosis of my problem was Rheumatoid Arthritis, an incurable degenerative disease where the go-to treatment is “mild” chemotherapy.  My aunt died last week of complications from her 16-year battle with RA and the side effects of the immune-system-suppressing drugs meant to stabilize it.  Osteoarthritis is the good old fashioned wear-and-tear variety where the treatment involves resting the afflicted area and anti-inflammatory drugs when needed for pain.  My rheumatologist says I may never have another flare up and don’t need treatment beyond a little pain killer now and then.  But nothing can bring back those two fingers and the others are sending me warning signals to take it easy.

I have always prided myself on my physical force and being able to sail the way most of my male friends sail.  When I crew for others, they tell me they don’t notice that I’m a woman (um… thanks?).  I’m now paying the price for that short-lived thrill of feeling equal to anyone on the water.  Without really knowing or accepting it, I have been doing irreparable damage to my hands all these years by ignoring the warning signs and letting my pride and the adrenaline of the moment blind my reason. 

This isn’t necessarily a pink problem.  As we get older, pinks and blues are both faced with having to accept new limitations, to back off a notch, to graciously accept help when it’s offered, to take things slower, to use the winch instead of bare hands, to re-position the boat in its slip using the motor rather than trying to tug and shove 7 tons into place, to take 3 days instead of 1 to clean the hull.  If anything, this back step is probably easier to accept for pinks than it is for blues.  It takes a certain courage to accept this notion of slowing down as wisdom when it feels like a loss.  As the tee-shirt and coffee-mug philosophy says: “Old Age: No Place for Wimps.”

At 48, I can reasonably argue that I have reached middle age.  When I think back on all that I’ve experienced and accomplished in the first half, it makes my head spin to think of the possibilities for the next half.  Sure, the next half will necessarily be slower and gentler, but that’s an insignificant price to pay for the potential wonders that life still has in store for me.  So if you see me out on the boat winching where others use their hands, stepping lightly, or asking for help, please don’t feel sorry or embarrassed for me.  I’ve got bigger fish to fry and I’m pacing myself.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Photo Friday: Full Moon Fever

This week's super moon brought super tides, ideal for clam digging.  In principle.  After scratching around in the mud for 30 minutes only to come up with 9 clams, I took out my camera and started hunting other prey.  (Sorry if this post takes time to load...I forgot to compress the size for the web and ran out of time.. er, um, well, was lazy...).

Super moon with telephone wire.  (pitfalls of suburban nature photography)

The Brent Geese are on their post-nuptial migration and have settled into Brittany this month in one deafening, hungry mass. This collective honeymoon trip begins in the arctic and Siberia, advances to Denmark and Germany in September, then moves on to Brittany and finally to the Arcachon Basin near Bordeaux as their final wintering spot.



My 10-year old version of Photoshop finally died and I'm now playing with GIMP.  Couldn't resist infra-rouge geese.

A couple of swans were trying to hold their own in the mass of geese, while the local gulls clearly decided to vacate the area until the tourist riff-raff set off again for warmer climes.  The winds for the next week will be blustery and from the south, so the geese will likely hang around for awhile longer until the wind turns favorable for a tailwind ride down the coast, just like retired sailors waiting for a weather window.




With Patrick's persistence, "we" managed to get enough clams for a meal.  (To be fair, I only ate my 9 clams...).



Thursday, 10 November 2016

Brittany Daydreaming

The grey days of the Breton fall have arrived.  After a week of savoring the changing light, warm cozy clothes, and hot drinks, we have begun dreaming of the warm sunny days in the Med that await us next year.  I've started this planning exercise by reading blogs of friends who have already sailed in the area, and I have to admit that the tales of over-crowded, noisy, weather-exposed areas has us scrambling to find the quiet hideaways off the beaten path (they do exist, right?).  But as we all know, sailing in the Med is not about sailing; it's about cultural visits, warm weather, and turquoise waters. Ah, warm turquoise waters....  

In the meantime, here are some photos from beautiful Brittany in the fall.




Friday, 28 October 2016

Photo Friday: Halloween Special

Today's Halloween Special takes us to the Carmo Church Bone Chapel in Faro, Portugal, and the Mertola cemetery, where the dry climate means you can simply slide a coffin into a glass shelf to keep your loved one on permanent display.  Happy Halloween !









Posted on Friday, October 28, 2016 | Categories:

Friday, 21 October 2016

Photo Friday: Looking Up

Welcome to the second week of Photo Friday, where we post photos that didn't make it into the blog from our summer sail around the Iberian peninsula.  It's only the second week and already I've decided to break my own rules.  I had the clever idea of posting photos in themes, but to properly curate such a collection, I decided to include some photos that have been previously posted. So there.

This week's theme is Looking Up.  This isn't a philosophical feel-good theme, but rather one that explains why I now have to slog through 10 sessions of physical therapy for a crick in my neck that hasn't gone away in the last 5 months.  As I was looking through my photos, I realized that most of our visits were spent with our heads tilted back, looking up at statues, monuments, fortresses, and cathedrals. I hope some good has come from our efforts and you enjoy the view with a neutral head position !














Posted on Friday, October 21, 2016 | Categories: ,