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: ,

Friday, 14 October 2016

Photo Friday: Golden Hours on Mareda

As we settle in to our winter routine, I'm going through all the photos I took over the sailing season.  There are some I'd like to share that didn't make it into the story line of the blog posts, so I've decided to start a Photo Friday post to group some photos into themes.

To get things started off with a colorful bang, here are some photos I took during the "golden hours", when the sun is rising or setting, casting long shadows and splashing beautiful colors around.  As usual, you can click on the photos for a larger image.  Enjoy !

Portimao Sunset

Portimao Moonrise

Fort Berlengas

Culatra Moon

Sunrise over the Straits of Gibraltar

Sunset over Marina Alcaidesa, La Linea
Sunset over Combarro

Posted on Friday, October 14, 2016 | Categories: ,

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Winter Wrap-up 2016

Sailing season 2016 is officially over for us, we are back home in Brittany, and Mareda has been tucked in for the winter at Marina Alcaidesa, La Linea de la Conception, Spain, otherwise referred to by us as “Gibraltar” for lack of a more prominent landmark.

The rock, viewed from La Linea, Alcaidesa Marina.

La Linea, Alcaidesa Marina viewed from the Rock.
We’re disappointed that we couldn’t extend the season out to the end of October as initially hoped, but given the circumstances, we’re both very happy to be home a little early.  A mere 24-hours after landing, Patrick developed an abscess in one of his front teeth and his face swelled up like a balloon.  He was in agony for 48 hours despite maximum doses of Tylenol with codeine.  The antibiotics finally took effect and he’s back to normal but the prognosis doesn’t look good.  We’ll know more next week, but he could be looking at 2-3 surgeries with 4-5 month recovery times in between.  That could put a crinkle in our cruise plans for next year. 

As for me, I have an appointment with the rheumatologist to see about my newly blossomed arthritis, which could put a crinkle in more than our cruise plans.  We’re both looking at a lot of doctor’s visits over the next few months and we’d rather be home to cope with it all.

Patrick "Woo Hoo! We're in Gibraltar!"  Ape: "if I had a banana for every stupid tourist photo I pose for..."

Here are some statistics for 2016:

Miles covered =   1140
Days on boat = 114
Days sailing = 33
Longest sail = 78 hours
Hours motoring = 141
Different ports and moorings = 30 in 3 countries
Number of nights at anchor =  20
Average port cost for 2016 season = 17 euros / night   (calculation based on port fees, free nights at anchor and an exchange program between our home port and ports in Galicia, Spain that gave us some free ports in June.)


The thrill of sailing new territory in new countries

Visiting La Coruna, Porto, Coimbra, Lisbon, Sintra, Faro, Cadiz, and Gibraltar

Playing Robinson Crusoe anchored behind Culatra island for two weeks

Beautiful hot sunny weather from June to October !  (neither of us wore shoes for 3.5 months)

Meeting other cruisers and sharing the journey


Health problems; ours and visiting friends’

Stress (Patrick wishes to emphasize that the stress was mine, not his).  Sailing in new territory with new weather patterns and in a foreign language can be tough on the nerves.  We sailed around some mythic headlands this season: Cape Finisterre in Spain, Cape St Vincent in Portugal, and Cape Trafalgar / Tarifa / Gibraltar.  All went well, but the anxiety of anticipation was heavy.  Even though we didn’t really have a fixed calendar to respect, I often had the feeling that we were on a boat-delivery job and we didn’t always have time to enjoy a place because the weather forced us to either move on the next day or risk getting trapped for a week.  I had a small breakdown (yes, yes, tears and all) around Mazagon, which was just after our horrible experience in Lagos and just before I went to the clinic to find out why my hands weren’t doing what I was telling them to.  I have hopes that these issues will be resolved before we head out again next year and we’ve already agreed to take it much slower next year. 

Unbelievably poor internet services.  I think most ports have just given up trying to keep up with the demand and they now expect every cruiser to be autonomous (mobile telephone with 4G connections, sat phones, etc.)  Even the bars and cafes around the marinas have limited services.  When internet is your only means of getting good weather information, this becomes a critical issue.  We’re studying options for next year, but they all look expensive.

What worked

Riding sail: we only put this to the test a couple of times, but we noticed a big difference in our motion compared to that of our neighbors.

Heat management:  I was worried about this and my Breton husband, unaccustomed to heat. Despite 37°C / 99°F heat in Portugal, we stayed comfortable thanks to the bimini, the dodger and its opening front and side panels, our wind chute to capture even the slightest puff of air (when you hook it up even in light winds, you have the impression that you’ve turned on a fan down below), and good engineering by Jeanneau with lots of ventilation.  All the hatches have mosquito screens built in and we use a mosquito net across the door of our cabin at night so we can keep maximum ventilation.  The only thing missing is side panels for the bimini.

Electricity management:  Our solar panels kept us charged with no worries even after 2 weeks at anchor and despite a refrigerator working overtime.  Our electric wok and toaster, which we can use when we are hooked up to shore power, cut our cooking gas consumption by a factor of 3!

Diesel management: When we fire up the motor, we rarely ask it to give us more than 5 knots, usually in combination with sails, so our gas consumption was much lower than we anticipated.  We averaged 1.3 liters / hour.

What didn’t work

Internet.  We wonder why we even invested in an expensive wifi antenna.  Useless, given the circumstances. 

Spinnaker pole: we’re selling it!  We always thought it was important to have one to pole out the genoa or the gennaker, but the reality is that we are never sufficiently motivated to actually hook it up.  In addition, I discovered a new way to maximize the opening of the genoa when sailing with a tailwind or wing-on-wing, which is to use the gennaker sheets and the barber hauler to pass the sheets outside the boat (rather than through the sheet travelers), thus turning the genoa into a small gennaker.  By keeping the genoa sheets attached to the sail at the same time, I can bring the genoa back to normal (for quick hauling in / rolling up) without the hassle involved in dealing with a spinnaker pole. 

Pocket hose:  I loved my little pocket hose but it didn’t withstand its second season.  The problem is the textile casing, which gets fragile when too exposed to UV.  Once there is a rip in the casing, the inner tubing blows up like a goiter and explodes.  We’re back to a regular garden-hose type now, which is certainly more robust but also takes up much more space and is much heavier.

Lessons learned

You CAN sail in the Med, but you have to have time and be motivated.  You often hear that in the Med there is either too much wind or not enough.  This all depends on what “too much” and “not enough” mean to you.  We managed to keep our motor hours down thanks to the gennaker and accepting to drift along at 3 knots at times, but we did crack and fire up the motor more often than was really necessary and there were quite a few occasions where we SHOULD have put up the gennaker but didn’t.  The typical day is calm in the mornings with good sailing winds for a few hours in the late morning / early afternoon, then up to 20-25 knots in the afternoon, all of which can come from just about any direction, especially around headlands and cliffs.  You have to be willing to make lots of sail changes and to make them fast if you want to sail here.  Often what happens is that you opt for a “ready for anything” approach, which means 2 reefs in the main with the motor.  You motor-sail in the mornings, sail with 2 reefs and full genoa in the early afternoon, then sail with only the reefed mainsail and maybe a tiny handkerchief-sized genoa in the afternoon (or fall back to motor-sailing if the wind is too much in the nose).  It’s not ideal but it is the best lazy approach!  We tell ourselves we WILL make more use of the gennaker and try to just leave it out as much as possible so that we can’t whine and gripe about who has to go below and haul it up from the lazarette, hook up the furler, etc.  Eliminate the excuses as much as possible!

We’re more bourgeois than we imagined.  We like to think of ourselves as intrepid adventurers, but we’re much happier when we have good internet, good food, and beautiful or interesting surroundings to visit while we’re out.  On several occasions we were ready to head out in unsuitable weather conditions because of dissatisfaction with a port:  nothing interesting to visit, no internet, no good food markets nearby, ugly industrial settings, etc.  We may adopt the strategy of a few cruisers we met this year and make some long overnight sails to jump over the boring or ugly bits.

Clouds over Gibraltar,

Mareda, nestled down for winter behind the rock.