Revised: 28 March 2012

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"Spearhead" News - Part II

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Faro to Tavira - Tuesday, 3rd July 2007 - Data
I returned to Faro on Tuesday, 26th June and found Spearhead in pretty much the condition that I left her, albeit on a different mooring. I brought some goodies with me and have now got better fluorescent lights and an electric water pump for the galley, as well as fitting the new Perspex window above it. So far it has not been leak tested, as the skies have remained a most boring hazy blue colour and the only point of interest weatherwise has been the wind direction and strength (mainly for cooling as it is getting decidedly hot). Getting the little jobs done takes a bit of time, because a visit ashore, whether for some minor article or even ordinary shopping, from the moorings involves a row of about a mile each way. Somehow either the tide or wind manages to make one work for it in at least one direction if not both! I'm afraid it acts as a strong disincentive to taking the computer ashore for either getting charged up from the mains or linking to the Internet, so my apologies for postponing this necessary link-up until more civilised conditions are found. I did expand my knowledge of the town and its amenities by going to the beach at Praia de Faro. This is most easily done by catching a water-bus from the Porto Novo steps (beside the old town wall and railway line) for €3 return. There are about 6 runs each way daily. The alternative is a circuitous route on land, around the airport and then across a long, one-way-only bridge controlled by traffic lights. There is only the room for one road on this quite built-up sand spit and when everyone wants to return simultaneously in the evening over the bridge, it makes one admire the patience and fatalism of the Portuguese!

I saw an old chart dated 1923 of the area including the Rio Formosa and it is remarkable just how much the enclosing chain of islands has broken and re-linked since then. At that time the main entrance was off Olhao, with a big hook in it, and there was no way in at all at Cabo de Santa Maria. Away from the direct influence of the breakers, however, the main inside channels are still all there. I was hoping for something a bit different when it came to depart, by using the inside channels to get to Tavira (on a rising tide of course), but Manuel, who looks after the moorings (and is the brother of Bruce of the boatyard), said the way was blocked by a low-level bridge and, although this could be opened, you had to do it yourself. So I had to go the conventional way, out at low water and along past the islands of Culatra, Armona and Tavira on the flood. Mostly they were just long strips of white, shell sand with low dunes behind and I went deliberately close in so as to be able to spot the breaks between them. They are all famous holiday spots, now coming into high season, so there are occasional clusters of low rise, (letting) holiday villas and odd clumps of low trees to break up the sweep. On the mainland, usually about half a mile further in, there is moderately developed residential and agricultural land stretching back to low hills within three or four miles.

Tavira, when we got there, was easy to find and enter and looked delectable in the evening light, always helped by the fact that it was high tide. I was quite unprepared to find a genuine old toy-soldiers-style fort almost in line with the entry channel. For the town itself you have to do a left then right, but I didn't need to go there and sought anchorage in the brisk tide. The channel heading back along the Rio, marked with red and green lit pillars, was filled with motorboat moorings regardless, so I dropped anchor temporarily beside them and, having carried the dinghy ready for use all day on the foredeck, rowed ashore in it to the Clube Naval de Tavira and enquired where the best place was. I was lucky enough to be speaking to the right man, and he spoke good English too so, after telling me that the best place was amongst the first moorings, with the entrance just closed, he then offered me his own mooring in the very spot for two nights!

The next day was ashore on the island where, according to earlier researches on the Internet, they have the second-oldest official nudist beach in Portugal (there are only six such). However they seem to have entirely forgotten about it in Tavira, as there aren't even any signs to say where it begins and ends (as is legally required), let alone any facilities, and a search right now reveals that different organisations have different ideas as to even which part of the island it is. However it is a very strong walker who can cover the 15 kilometres of Atlantic beach both ways, so I guess there is room for all. At the Tavira town end there are several assorted eateries, a campsite, fresh-water showers and a little shop that sells beach requisites - including one of my preferred after-sun lotions (made in England and last purchased in Tesco's) which I promptly snapped up and put to good use.

After a night of hot and gusty winds, the second day was initially spent on looking for one of the sailing instrument covers which had blown off overboard, but it wasn't to be found on any of the downwind beaches (the tide could have taken it several miles) after which I scrubbed round the waterline on the starboard side as this was the one thing that had noticeably deteriorated on the mooring in Faro. It took the best part of two hours' wet work to do just the one side, after which it became necessary to depart while the tide was right for the next leg.

Tavira to Ayamonte - Thursday, 5th July 2007 - Data
Following the windy night, this turned out to be an unreasonably almost-calm day. The idea was to get to Spain, which begins at the centreline of the Guadiana River about 11 miles east of Tavira. We got off the mooring under sail, but immediately had to use the engine against the early flood now coming in. Once outside, what wind there was came from the southwest (sort of) and we set off on a faltering run in the usual blazing sunshine. After an hour, when we should have been halfway there, the log revealed only 1.7 miles covered. Admittedly, this figure may have been reduced by the growth of slime around the paddlewheel that drives it, but the GPS wasn't much impressed with our progress either. According to the almanac, one should not arrive at the mouth of the Guadiana after High Water (or risk being spat out) so it was apparent that friend Yanmar would have to be called upon to accelerate us. This is where GPS comes in very handy - one adjusts the revs until the ETA agrees with the Desired Time of Arrival - and I further "cheated" by not going to the recommended landfall buoy but to the head of the west training wall in recognition of the fact that that it was High Tide and calm anyway. Then we turned sharp left and motored right up the river. On the Portuguese side there is the town of Vila Real de Santo Antonio, which doesn't show much from seaward (unlike new tourist development a couple of miles west, which is to say the least prominent) and does have its own marina, but we have chosen the Spanish one because, although a bit further upstream, it is out of the river current and also cheaper. Even so, now we are into the high season, the bill for two nights here comes to over €35, so cheapness is relative! The town seems pleasant enough from what little I've seen of it, but the immediate attractions are the electricity and water laid on to the pontoons, coupled with the presence across the road opposite of an Internet "cafe" (no coffees) with WiFi, so that by prior arrangement one can do all the computing "at home" on the boat. So several systems are getting recharged together here..... and I scrubbed the waterline on the other side, too.

Ayamonte to Isla Cristina - Saturday, 7th July 2007 - Data
This hardly qualifies as a cruise leg at all, having ended up only 4.1 nautical miles as the stork flies from where we started and still in sight of Ayamonte. To get here, one goes four miles down-river, turns left, sails four miles east then two miles up the next Rio entrance and that's it on the right. Not having researched Isla Cristina, it came as something of a surprise just how many reasonably sizeable fishing boats work out of the place - I counted over 30 parked before the marina entrance and that's only a small fraction of what's to be found further up off the town quays. Quite a number sport tackle that I've never seen before, with a big riddle thing held up over the bow (when it's not actually in use on the bottom), so that the helmsman can barely see where he's going when racing back into port, and big pipes feeding jets in it to stir up the bottom and presumably frighten all shellfish and crustaceans into the cage (when it is in use). I guess this would not be a lot of use at home, because it obviously needs a sandy bottom and the depth it can work at is limited by the length of the pipe, which is only two boat lengths in practice.

The place is clearly fishing mad and, as is not unusual hereabouts, one has to scan a menu very thoroughly to find any traces of meat - only it seems even worse here! There are apparently historical reasons, but I won't go into that: the other industries are salt drying, fishing boat building, and tourists for the beach. On Sunday I went in search of a somewhat-imprecisely described nudist beach "near Isla Cristina" and after walking briskly east for some three and a half hours through a dense population had still not reached it as described, although deshabille was becoming more evident latterly. I gave up in favour of a beer back at the last bar passed, and enquired about a bus back, but nobody knew anything about one. I went up to the main road, and walked back on it for an hour without seeing anything resembling a bus stop, and only one coach passing, so reverted to the beach where the water was more cooling to the feet, and so all the way home again. The net gain from this exercise was a blister on my right foot, but it would probably have been worse had I been wearing shoes!

The climate here takes a bit of getting used to, and the siesta is a necessity (except that, with Spain being on Central European Time plus Daylight Saving, the greatest heat doesn't arrive until about 2 p.m. and then goes on until 1800). Apart from the aforementioned blister and a cracked lower lip, I seem to be withstanding it well, but serious thought has to be postponed until the cool of the evening! If it is cool in the evening, that is. As already mentioned, we have often had seriously-hot winds from the interior to contend with at that time. My blister has prolonged our stay here longer than intended, but I hope to move on a little bit further tomorrow (Wednesday) and perhaps make the mouth of the River Guadalquivir, which runs up to Seville, or even Cadiz. There's no particular hurry, of course (Mañana, Mañana! do I hear someone saying?) as it seems pretty much Mediterranean here already, even if we are still, technically, in the Atlantic. Now, to get this up on the internet, I should probably have stayed in Ayamonte, where it's easy, but then, where would be the story in that?

Isla Cristina to Chipiona - Wednesday and Thursday, 11-12th July 2007 - Data
My intention when leaving Isla Cristina was to sail only a bit further than I had previously walked, and anchor "wild" inside the entrance to the Rio de las Piedras (another marshy place inside), so saving a night's fees. For this purpose we left just after high tide and moseyed slowly east, so as to arrive off the entrance at low water and then feel our way in. It didn't work out like that because the entrance is one of those with shifting sands and buoys shifted to suit, so the depths are whatever they happen to be, and it became apparent when I got there that this time it was/is both shallower than indicated as well as on quite a different line. We anchored to await the tide, which took its time returning, and at sunset we tried again, only to run firmly aground well short of the first pair of marker buoys - thus getting the bottom of the keel polished, of which it is probably much in need. We tried again later, with the same result and anyway it was now much too dark for navigating strange creeks, so decided to head here for Chipiona overnight instead - saving the fees the other way.

Our running-aground exercise had only been possible because there was very little in the way of waves or wind; now I had to thole a tedious night of chasing catspaws of invisible wind to make progress southeastwards. A heavy dew literally unbalanced the Hydrovane, so it just flopped over to one side or the other and the light airs couldn't blow it upright again. Somewhere in the Huelva district someone runs a searchlight, apparently well inland, which sweeps back and forth over a limited arc - why, I have no idea. I spent all night within this arc (or rather, below it, because it passes clear over the top of the tower blocks of Umbria, never mind my masthead) and still had not reached the south edge when it was mercifully switched off at 6 a.m. Then the dredgers from Isla Cristina appeared on parade in the early dawn - some thirty of them anyway - and did their thing ahead of me - they do it going backwards! A bit further on there was a fleet of purse-netters (I think) who required to be at least partially circumnavigated, at 0.4 knots; most of them had cleared their nets and set off in the direction of Punta Umbria before we got there, but inevitably the one that was stuck fast on something was the one I had to get round at a respectful distance. Actually I think their winch had failed and they were having to unload a large catch by hand from the water - there were some very substantial fish to be got out before they could haul in the last remnant. At least they seemed well-pleased with the final result, even if they were going to be the last boat home! After this, the day warmed up and dribs and drabs of a westerly air began to make themselves felt. By noon (local time, ie CET) there was a gentle breeze and the GPS began to reckon we might arrive by midnight. So we reached steadily onwards, and even found a bit of a swell from the south by 1700 (about which time we were overtaken by Snoopy - only this one was Portuguese and motorsailing) and so actually made it into harbour here a few minutes after sunset, which was at 2146.

Chipiona got off to a good start by having an on-the-ball security man, who spoke good English and soon had us moved into a convenient berth, whence I could readily seek dinner ashore. However they do not seem to be set up really for cruising boats; perhaps it is because they are not far north of Cadiz, where most cruisers probably are headed. At any rate, supply of helpful items like town maps, showing where the supermercados are, seems to be lacking and/or out of date. I'm beginning to think I really could make good use of a folding bike...... With it being the high season, there is a circus-cum-funfair in town, suitably parked on the spare bit of ground alongside the marina and tonight (Saturday) there seems to be some sort of choral event trying to drown even that out and often succeeding despite the fair's triple trompetti, so early to bed is a loser's game. None of our recent stops have been in what you might call (from West Highland experience) "quiet" places, but I think this one must be the noisiest, at least while the circus is visiting. Now at 0300, all has gone very quiet suddenly - bed is indicated!

Saturday, 28th July 2007
The circus has gone, but we are still here..... I felt it was time to scrub off Spearhead's bottom, which has been getting rather foul so that the log doesn't record properly, and check on the anodes and suchlike, which haven't been properly sighted since January. The price of a lift-out here, when I enquired, was almost identical to that at Faro, and once on the hard, the daily charge is less than one third of what it would be on the pontoon. Most of the marinas in Andalucia are "council" run, and Chipiona is in the cheaper band among them, so I felt it was worth taking the opportunity without enquiring what it might cost in Gibraltar, the only likely alternative. So we were hoisted out and given a pressure-hosing on Tuesday 17th, and the hull looked quite reasonable - why are we still here? It is largely my own fault in that I specified an unusual antifouling originally and, notwithstanding the growth, which is probably due to the hull being too long out of the water at Faro around Christmas, I wished to persevere with it now in the conditions it was designed for. The local chandler was able to get it (at a price) but it was the following week before it actually appeared, and then it was the wrong stuff (for motor boats going over 35 knots!). It took a while to persuade him that it was the wrong stuff, and more money to order what was the original requirement and more time to deliver that..... you get the drift. Otherwise the propeller cleaned up well and was re-greased - the shaft and propeller anodes could have gone further but were changed to be on the safe side, the paint applied (well, mostly) and the time came to organise relaunching, Guess what, travel lift unavailable before next Tuesday or Wednesday - no reason given but I guess there must be a fiesta. We are booked for 1015 on Tuesday, but I'll believe it when I see it.

Obanian readers may be interested to learn that we are sharing the yard with the former Corryvreckan, the ferro-cement one originally built by Ken Brown. She has apparently been here for the last 10 years undergoing a mammoth refit. She has just gained a roof to the cockpit (the Norwegian owner has transAtlantic intentions) and is shiny white with a brown stripe. No name yet on her portholed stern, but I understand it is to be Corach. Eyeing her familiar lines and massively stout full-length keel, with anodes both sides every few feet, I'm very glad someone else is paying the bills! If Spearhead gains a sun shelter it will take the form of a parasol - when I can afford it.

Well, there was a fiesta on the Sunday, with decorated, overcrowded, fishing boats milling about again in the harbour, thunderflashes, hooters, etc. then the whole lot processed out and were last seen heading up the Guadalquivir in close formation and at full speed.... I suppose it took Monday for them to find their way back again. On Tuesday I waited all ready for 1015, and the travel lift started up and came over and straddled a neighbouring motorboat instead! Well, I thought, at least that will give the slings a good soaking before he does me (keep the antifouling white and all that) but he didn't. Transpired that I had to go to the office and pay first, a little detail that they had forgotten to mention earlier. No sooner said than done, and eventually we made it to the water with the slings fitted with PVC sleeves to help the antifouling and were launched at 1300 precisely. Only problem then was that the fuel berth attendant had knocked off and wouldn't be back until the siesta was over - in his case that meant 1730! So I had lunch on the re-fuelling pontoon, then set off in the direction of Cadiz.
Chipiona to Rota - Tuesday, 31st July 2007 - Data
We were given a nice westerly Force 3 wind to start off with and, once out of the harbour, lost no further time in setting all plain sail. Chipiona has a lighthouse, rather more than a mile from the harbour, which is a very imposing sandstone structure rebuilt in the mid-19th century on the foundations of earlier structures including a Roman one. The reason for it is that, not only is it on a headland near the mouth of the Guadalquivir, but there is a long shoal ending in a reef sticking out some 3 miles west thereof and our first job was to beat round that, which we did neatly in two tacks. The boat seemed much the better of her clean-up and we both enjoyed it. Then we eased sheets and headed SSE down the coast. The wind eased, and eased again, and frankly the scenery was lacking much of interest apart from a "measured mile", which we came to a stop in near its further end. Nothing further looking likely, friend Yanmar was called upon to take us to the nearest marina for the night and for stores at 2100 and so we arrived in Rota at 2208, spending the rest of the night on the Muelle de Espera.

One thing that had transpired while we were slopping around was that the bottom bracket of the Hydrovane was beginning to move around a little. Being relatively close to the waterline, this is NOT A GOOD THING although its effect on the steering was unlikely to be noticeable. So the job next morning was to dismantle it (I don't fit into the stern lockers very well) and remove the old filler off the wooden plinth on which it sits, generally tidy it up and prepare for re-bedding. Also the two big bolts would have been the better of a washer each under the head, and we had been carrying these all the way from Hamble... So I went in search of a ferreteria for some suitable gunge - no joy. Being now some way from home, I thought I might as well take a look along their beach while I was at it, then had something to eat and drink on the way back, and so passed another happy (and roasting) siesta... In short, I fixed the bracket, moved to a proper berth and we stayed another night!

Rota to Cadiz - Thursday, 2nd August 2007 - Data
Having invested in an icebox, in the hope that it might keep milk for longer than 24 hours (if lucky), we set off to complete the journey started on Tuesday. It didn't take very long - Cadiz was well in sight, having previously been lost in haze, and only a few miles across the bay, with the wind back to Force 3 and abaft the beam all the way there. A few yachts were sailing about but there was no commercial traffic at all, when it came to the deep-water channel where I had thought there might be a bit of interest, unless you count the ferry catamaran. We progressively dropped sail right up to the entrance to Puerto America, and were then ushered into a convenient berth with so little delay that I didn't even have time to get the fenders out. Absolutely minimal usage of diesel there..... I now think they must be keen to get the customers in because, sad to say, there is little in the way of facilities for cruisers once they have arrived. Supermarkets for revictualling are a long trek away, although there is a helpful chandlery on site. And I shall have to go walkabout with the laptop under my arm yet again to find a hot-spot - there's no WiFi here. Perhaps my view will improve with further acquaintance?!

Cadiz to Barbate - Monday, 6th August 2007 - Data
Well, my view did improve in some respects, particularly when I found that the corner of the first likely building that I came to (a sports hall) was a good WiFi spot, connecting to the rather-unlikelily named "Thomson". When I wanted further guidance within the old town, I could also connect and look up Google World, although their street map was less helpful, lacking most street names - and a surprising number of streets actually seem to have two names. On the whole, I recommend use of the paper street plan from the tourist office! Shopping, for someone looking to get the necessaries quickly rather than browse, remained a pain. Sufficient to say I actually left Cadiz without bread, and I wasn't the only one, in the hope/expectation that it would be easier to get some at the next stop, Barbate.

Having a leading wind, I cast off at 1125, using the genoa to get out of the marina and then setting the main. Here too we had a beat out to round a mark offshore to the west, enlivened slightly by a container ship coming out behind me, then, the pilot having transferred, the next one coming in to replace her on the next tack. A sort of very neat left and right. Outside, one can see the old town to much more advantage than from the docks side and admire the fortified cathedral with its golden dome and a succession of beaches. Further down it just becomes a mass of tall flats, finishing up with the gigantic power pylons (154m clearance!) and similarly enormous shipyard beam crane. We just reached along aided by a Force 3 westerly and uninterrupted sunshine. I was chiefly engaged in catching up and then passing a Portuguese ketch (similar to a Spey) that had motored past me earlier. At 1553, Cabo Trafalgar, or rather the hill rising behind it, was spotted ahead. By the time we got there the wind was failing but we rounded it nevertheless close in to avoid shoals and possible overfalls further out (see photo at the head of this page) and then continued on more of a run off what had become more hilly and scenic country. The hills ran diagonally into a long line of sandstone cliffs, with caves at the foot in places, and we edged in closer here in hope of getting a more-concentrated puff of wind, which seemed to happen, and Barbate was at the end in the valley. We berthed on the Muelle de Espera at 2138 and were immediately whistled and gesticulated to a berth further in on the right by a character, never seen subsequently, from the boatyard opposite. A very pleasant meal in the town followed, once I had found the way out of the port precincts. A curiosity was a substantial area covered with densely-stacked old anchors, some painted black, but most just rusted - who would be wanting them and what for? I didn't find anyone nearby to ask - this part of the port is being redeveloped. At The Gates to the left is, wonder of wonders, a Supersol supermercado, and a kiosk selling ice for the nevera (icebox).

Barbate to Gibraltar - Tuesday, 7th August 2007 - Data
A quick trip to the Supersol got me more food in half an hour than I had managed in four days in Cadiz, including bread! I could have got a parasol there too, but resisted the temptation. High Water Gibraltar was at 1152 local time, and this is when the tide in the Strait starts running east, so there was some pressure to get going, but I did some inputting to the GPS first, moved over to the harbour office to pay the dues on our way out, and we were finally on our way at 1318. This proved to be a Very Good Sail, impaired only by rather hazy conditions for photography, even having a few splashes over the bows to cool the crew (me). The wind was initially slightly west of south, which allowed our initial southeasterly course to be made with the sheets just started, and later veered slowly towards the west, remaining about Force 4 most of the time, although there was a short spell of 5 requiring a few rolls in the genoa to keep up the speed. Africa could be seen hazily all day, at first ahead, then abeam and finally astern as we turned into Gibraltar Bay.

To keep as much tide with us as possible (it runs east in the centre of the strait all the time but we couldn't go there due to the big ships' Traffic Separation Scheme that occupies that part) we kept going southeast until we came to the TSS margin, then turned east to run along it. That gave us a splendid view of all the traffic, especially that going westwards, on this bit of marine motorway - we could see several ships coming towards us at any time. Then there were the high-speed catamaran ferries.... Our wind engine was giving us up to about 7 knots, add the tide and the GPS was recording a steady 9 and occasionally over 10 knots over the ground. We have seen such figures before, but not with the "heavies" charging past half a mile away, so the interest level was high. Oddly, we seemed to be the only sailing yacht out there, although a couple of motor yachts seemed to have adopted the same strategy. On the other side there was increasingly hilly country, with wind farms dotted about both on the hills, and in the valleys and straths. One such at Zahara seemed to start almost on the beach then go inland for ever, with some really big "mills". There are also signs of parts being "developed" soon.

Once the Rock was all in view, we headed northeast towards the two marinas at the north end of it. There seemed to be a lot of shipping about, anchored on both the Spanish and British sides and moving up and down the central gap, so I stowed the main early and we reached across under genoa only. The seas became increasingly sloppy as we went, and the wind dropped (blocked by the Rock?), so this leg became rather slow but we persisted until in the area of the north entrance to the inner "pool", then motored round the last corner beside the airport runway. The marina doesn't have pontoons - due to the small tidal range it doesn't need them here - so berthing is head-on to jetties, with a lazy line to pick up a bigger rope to hold the other end out. The problem was, which one to take? After inspection, I went back beside the runway and used the VHF to ask the marina office, who efficiently found a vacancy and sent someone to catch my bow while the fastenings were sorted out. All secure 2025. After clearing customs and filling in a data card in the office, I went back to stow things, ate some of the food from Barbate, and then felt that was quite enough for one day, and went out like a light. Exploration of the Barbary apes held back for Wednesday......... (and pics to be inserted)
Gibraltar to Fuengirola - Friday, 10th August 2007 - Data
I didn't much enjoy Gib - even though the prices were in Pounds, much was still expensive, and when I set off on the Thursday evening to climb the Rock, I was somewhat officiously stopped by a man demanding payment of an unspecified sum; likewise when I wished to check up on the QEII, which was in, "you can't do that here, sir" was the attitude. Although there is a system for yachts to get WiFi in all 3 marinas, the method of getting onto it was so cumbersome that it sent me an eMail I couldn't receive, not yet being online, and in the end I found an efficient Internet café with a LAN cable for less than one third of the price, and they did coffee too. The whole place is in the grip of the developers, so you soon will not be able to see the Rock for tower blocks, unless you go out to sea....... Nevertheless, the old military fortifications are very interesting, all mixed up with everything else. I never did get to see an ape, but there will probably be another time. The weather was rather below par too, with a lot of cloud or haze, so the airliner pilots got full marks for the way they landed within a few yards of the end of the runway alongside the marina. Finally, I was suffering myself from a couple of minor but painful complaints, probably brought on by the heat. Grouses over!

Anyway, on the Friday morning I stocked up with ice - it comes from a filling station - then filled up with diesel for the first time since La Graciosa southbound. Just as well, because it was totally calm and, although there were puffs and gasps from Europa Point onwards (so I hoisted the main, just in case), the wind never settled enough to give us a reasonable chance of making Fuengirola before dark. Europa Point is the south end of the Rock and marks the east end of the Strait of Gibraltar, so I suppose we were not properly in the Mediterranean until it was rounded. I had intended to photograph it, but there were several rowing and outboard boats milling around there with fishing rods out and there was no chance to leave the helm. Round the other side I found 8 assorted merchant ships all at anchor, and our course was right through the middle of them. The EuroPilot was completely dead, so I used it to hold the helm at straight ahead then lifted it off when a correction was needed. Somehow the little variations in air and water made that happen often. The visibility was not good and all that could be seen most of the time was the upper parts of the Rock and then the Spanish hills. So we motored unsteadily on at 2200 rpm or 5.2 knots and duly arrived at Fuengirola, where a fellow Achilles owner (Antonio Gutierrez Espejo) keeps his A 840 Tocviria and was expecting me. Despite several calls on the VHF, I couldn't get through to confirm our anticipated arrival time and when we did arrive at 2130, he had gone home. After a look round the harbour, I found Tocviria and an unoccupied berth next but one to her, and took the risk of "borrowing" it. A text to Antonio confirmed that we had indeed arrived and I had a peaceful and undisturbed night. When Antonio arrived the following day, he showed me a space that he had kindly reserved in the Club Nautico's section of the marina and, while I moved Spearhead across to it, he persuaded the marina office to turn a blind eye to my overnight, illicit berth! The marina has WiFi for the boats, so that was a further great help. Then we had a good natter about Achilles... continued in the evening when he invited me home to a barbecue. The contrast with Gibraltar could hardly have been greater. I am now expecting to move on on Monday, but with no particular objective in mind. The coast here is now very much built up, so the scenery is behind it, and I might as well pass through as speedily as conditions permit.

Fuengirola to Almerimar - Monday and Tuesday, 13-14th August 2007 - Data
My two complaints seemed to be getting worse rather than better, so I headed for the nearest clinic and then got the resulting four prescriptions. That occupied most of Monday morning and there was then some shopping to be done and a Camping Gaz cylinder to exchange (this was the cheapest one so far, "only" €8.50). At lunch I started dosing myself - with two medicines to be taken every 8 hours, and the other two every 12, this is going to add an interesting new dimension to watchkeeping at sea! Then there were the updates to this site to be finished and uploaded (I do hope someone is reading it but it is very much an act of faith!) and eMails to be checked and sent, which took the rest of the afternoon, and then I didn't want to leave with the computer battery depleted if possible, so departure was delayed until 2044 local.

Outside there was a very useful southwesterly breeze about the lower end of Force 4 and, our course being due east, we reached along at a very pleasant and splash-free 6½ knots, not really knowing where we might be going. This course kept us parallel with the general trend of the coastline and 5 or more miles out - a bit far for checking every town's lights and marina but good for avoiding minor obstacles like inshore angling launches and seeing the general shape of the country. At 2200 I reefed both sails as a precaution and put on my deck jacket for extra windproofing. The Sea-Me was nattering away busily, but little was seen in the way of commercial shipping until, as we were passing Malaga, two ferries suddenly distinguished themselves from amongst the shore lights and passed astern on a southerly course. That was just before midnight - about the same time as the last airliner took off from Malaga. Thereafter there was little to be done except minor changes to the windvane setting to keep us on course.

I was thus engaged at 0055 when something solid hit the deck at my feet and disappeared with no audible splash - that was my Lowrance GPS, that was! I had been carrying it in the inside jacket pocket for safety and convenience, and somehow as I leaned out it escaped, slid down inside the jacket (the front was zipped right up) and out at the waist. One of a navigator's worse nightmares....

Fortunately the Lowrance was not being very hard-worked at the time, as it was only being used to check on our course made good and I had not got to the stage of deciding how far we were going. If it was going to make its exit, that was as convenient a time as any! Of course, there was the back-up MLR handheld and the GPS linked to the VHF too, so there was no fear of getting lost. But it was annoying to lose all the waypoints built up over the last few years. I got out the MLR and it had our positon inside 15 seconds, which made me remember some other of its good points - larger, easily-read figures; very efficient sorting; immediate choice of scale when you want to zoom in or out; better lighting; etc. Its bad point is that it uses AA batteries at four times the speed of the Lowrance, and it is slightly bigger and heavier. I guess I'm now in the market for another handheld GPS (and wouldn't it be good if it floats!).

Reverting to our sail, I had 3 twenty-winks overnight and two more after sunrise, when I reverted to full genoa to get back to speed. One yacht overhauled us to weather in the dark, and I found another following us in the morning light. Decided after reading-up on the marinas still ahead of us to go to Almerimar; this part of the coast has fewer towns and consequently less choice. Altered course slightly when we were about 18 miles out, and decided that it was quite big enough to sail into, so did so. Quite a few other yachts also appeared (mostly under engine) and it threatened to turn into a rat-race. We arrived, having dropped sail inside, at 1544 at the reception quay, and I was impressed that the staff did all the form-filling for once so I only had to sign. They have strange electrical connectors here on the jetties, so one has to have an adaptor, but they were quite happy to have my passport as deposit rather than €45, which includes the access "key" too. This seems to be a large-enough marina to attract commerce (unlike say, Puerto America), so there is a Mercadona supermarket with all the trimmings very handily placed, and a variety of shops of varying degrees of usefulness. I shall now have to decide between two internet cafés to upload this little lot! I think that we shall probably spend a few days here now, to give my little afflictions time to clear up, since things are otherwise handy.

Almerimar to San José - Wednesday, 29th August 2007 - Data
My ailments seem to have returned to normal, but the wind became and stayed contrary for some days after we could have left, so this was the first opportunity to move on (honest!). So I changed over to a new chart, moved over to the office quay and paid the bill. On the way there it became apparent that the speedometer wasn't working and little organisms had begun to take over the paddlewheel in its recess so, before continuing, I had to retract it (without sinking the boat) and extirpate them. Then I stuck it back, bailed out the locker, and off we went on our way. Not rejoicing however, because the log still wasn't registering anything! At the time, one is busy enough getting the rest of the voyage under way to worry about inessentials like the paddlewheel so it was quite some time before I was able to get back to the problem and probably two or three miles. Then I went to give it an experimental twirl in its tube and away it went, no bother. So that's why today's sail is of estimated length only, although probably accurate enough.

The wind was westerly 4 and we headed pretty much due East across the mouth of the Golfo de Almería for Cabo de Gata making initially 6 or 7 knots. After about 3 hours the wind dropped, so there was a lot of fiddling about with little progress to show for it, then it filled in again from the southwest. Visibility was hazy again (but fortunately not the fog that I had been hearing about from the day before) and it was just about possible to see both headlands of the gulf from halfway across, but little in the way of detail. By 1800 we had just passed Cabo de Gata, and presently came to the small village of San José in its bay. The surrounding hills were pretty rugged but the village looked attractive enough, and it was that time of day, so I thought it worthwhile to give it a try, nothwithstanding the warning in the Almanac that the harbour is very small and very busy in the season. Sure enough, having dropped sail in the bay, rigged fenders on both sides, and prepared warps, I was assured having arrived off the main quay that there were no berths available, so backed out carefully and went to the other corner of the bay and there anchored, a little way off one other yacht. There did not seem to be any restaurants nearby to justify pumping up the dinghy, so I had my own soup and omelette aboard. The eggs (according to their box) had been with us since Porto Santo - unrefrigerated! - but I did take the precaution of opening them individually. The yolks tended to stick to the skin, but were otherwise entirely satisfactory...... Although the bay was wide open to the southeast, we had an only-slightly-joggly night (and no stomach upset).

San José to Garrucha - Thursday, 30th August 2007 - Data
We were back to a slightly dewy morning again, probably because it was calm, so I did chores until the deck dried off, then hoisted mainsail and anchor at 1110 to go in search of the wind, which needed 12 minutes of the engine to get to it. After the rather spectacular Cabo de la Polacra, we played with the cruising chute in the hope of improving progress but still came to a standstill. About 1630 a fresh supply of motive power arrived from the northeast, so we resumed the genoa and did long starboard tacks with the occasional short hitch offshore on port. This was off a much more rugged and undeveloped bit of coast, with a big sierra behind, the tops glimpsed through gathering clouds - which made quite a welcome change for my over-heated hide. We thus passed Carboneras, a sudden shock of industrialisation hidden round a corner, with cement works (by their appearance) marching down to a freight quay and then a chimney of some 100m height apparently linked to a power station, with its own big ship jetty and with many pylons leading away inland. Finally there was a quite substantial town to provide the workers, after which the hills resumed. As it was getting dark, we returned to more "civilised" parts with some hilltop villages twinkling alluringly behind the coastal strip. There was some difficulty in finding the harbour entrance against this background - the main light showed up well enough, but the green one on the outer pierhead just didn't impress itself sufficiently on the background and didn't even look green when I did eventually spot it at about 1 mile range (it should have been 3). It was also a surprise to find two cargo ships inside the main breakwater and a third one anchored just outside. At a quick look inside, there weren't going to be many places to choose from for Spearhead to berth, but I spotted a space just long enough ahead of a large yacht on the fuelling jetty, and insinuated her into it without further ceremony; it being not long after 2300, no official was expected or seen. By then, I had already eaten, so it was a case of turning in smartly.

Garrucha to Monte Cope - Friday, 31st August 2007 - Data
Just as well I did, because I was knocked up equally smartly by el Capitán del Puerto next morning, and he did not seem best pleased that the fuelling berth was thus closed off. However, no-one was actually wanting fuel then, and then the bigger yacht moved off anyway, so the "crisis" passed. I obtained directions from the first customers, a British couple looking after a businessman's motor yacht, to the nearest Mercadona and was granted leave to get supplies, so long as I was off the berth by 1100. Then I cast off and anchored at a short distance to get things sorted out before finally sailing out just before 1300. The weather, though pleasant enough, was not forecast to be obliging in the matter of wind direction, right on the nose for Cartagena, my initial objective, and so it proved to be. We batted along with both main and genoa well reefed and got quite a long way up the coast (which curves round to the right) on the first tack. There came another sierra, then another plain with relatively undeveloped civilisation. I should perhaps say that there is quite a lot of farming, but it's quite impossible to see what is being grown (especially from the water) as it is all under polypropylene sheeting to save the crops from too much sun and wind - and by the same token that means they must be irrigated in a land with few rivers. For the seafarer, of course, the fields all look the same almost-blinding white, and one can only speculate that those with the smartest and most regular coverings are maybe growing wine... So we zigzagged and speculated our way up the coast, the wind eased awhile to permit full genoa, and we came to the next main town of Aguilas. The marina here carries much the same advice in the almanac as for San José, so we didn't go in but admired the way the town plays peek-a-boo between rocky headlands and islets, which bore some resemblance to the Needles of the Isle of Wight, except they were made of harder stuff and at least twice the size. I tacked out again to round the next major headland four or five miles up, then thought 'Why not take a look in there? - it looks sheltered enough from this wind direction'. The headland is a mountain standing about half a mile clear of the general line of the coast in this area, but connected to it by a low plain on which I could see a village. After some cogitation, I eased sheets and we just had sufficient time to get in there with the last of the daylight. My small-scale chart gave no guidance, and the almanac didn't mention the place, so it was pure eye-ball pilotage. I still don't know what the village is called, only the mountain, so we have to work with that. In very shallow water (3 or 4 feet under the keel) I found rocks on the right, one green and one red plastic buoys closely followed by some fifty motor run-abouts moored fore-and-aft on parallel trots, keeping their bows to the south. Obviously that's where the bad weather comes from - right now it was blowing warmly from ENE. There was just room between the buoys and the trots for one anchored yacht - us! I was chuffed we had made the diversion and slept well all night, apart from waking for no apparent reason at 0400. I looked out to check we were still in place and found someone was sailing around singlehanded in a una-rigged dinghy in the dark!

Monte Cope to Cartagena - Saturday, 1st September 2007 - Data
The place, whatever it is called, came to life between 9 and 10 a.m. when several RIB-loads of divers were picked up off a quay and taken out to the S corner of the mountain, where there must be a wreck. We followed very soon after and found little difference windwise from the previous day - still dead against us and varying from Force 3 to 5. I did conjure with the idea of changing the genoa for the working jib, but thought we would manage OK as we were. I still don't know if I was right - we did manage well enough anyway. Our first leg on starboard got us all the way up beyond Mazarrón, where we found several yachts anchored in the lee of Punta de la Azohia, but the day was young yet, so I resisted any thought of stopping there too and tacked out round the point and on to a position where we should be able to fetch into the entrance to Cartagena, hiding amongst its own range of hills, but with the place well-enough marked by a 100m tall chimney standing on one of them. There were a few ships anchored off, including one tanker quite close to leeward of our route. The wind played its little games and varied a few degrees this way and that, with the inevitable result that, after pointing us at her midships, it then released us to a point nearer her bow - but not quite enough, so we had to tack to miss her last 5 feet of bow.... Thank you, Frankopan! With the extra hitch in, we would surely get in now, I thought, but after some 2 trouble-free miles, and just as we were coming into the lee of the land east of the entrance (all covered in new concrete oil installations and a refinery) the wind pulled its final trick and suddenly switched from east to north, straight out of the entrance. No doubt the locals are accustomed to this.... So a few more tacks were added, but we still arrived at the respectable hour of 1903, taking off sail as we crossed the harbour: first the main, as we were close-hauled, then the genoa, then 3 minutes of engine to get alongside the old quay amongst many bigger yachts. The Real Club de Regatas is in a building covered in big green louvres for climate control, and we were soon re-berthed on the outer pontoon opposite the quay. Cartagena not only has the oil installations but also a full naval yard with submarines and destroyers, a special marina for superyachts, and the more usual corner for fishing vessels and the like. Oh, and I almost forgot the berth for cruise liners. QEII here, please! All this in a bay of similar size to Oban Bay and similarly closely surrounded by hills. Obviously there must be a large town hidden around the corner somewhere to service it all - and us - or perhaps the residents are to be found in the old (mining?) tunnels that seem to riddle the hills. A lot of mysteries to be unravelled here, but we need to get on. I shall dig the camera out and add some pics to leaven all this text, if you're lucky.

At Cartagena - Saturday, 27th October 2007
Well, I went home for about 3 weeks and found all in good order. As you may have gathered from the front page, I was hoping to get some fillings fixed while there, but the dentist seems to have become unavailable. By the time I was on my way back, a toothache was developing as well, so it seemed wise to get everything sorted out properly so that I can get on with the sailing without further interruptions (I hope!). There seems to be quite a list of things to do, with appointments so far working out at one per fortnight, so it is taking quite a time, but I should be sorted by 9th November. To replace the Lowrance GPS lost overboard on the way to Almerimar, I lashed out at home on a Geonav handheld plotter, which incredibly has on the one little memory chip the whole of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, so that eases the gap between small-scale charts and the port plans provided in the Almanac. Always being one fond of poring over maps, I can now amuse myself for hours contemplating the approaches to Monte Carlo or Sevastopol, should other activities be temporarily off. The weather is now much cooler - almost chilly at night - and we have even had a few days, or mornings, of rain (helps keep the decks clean). Makes me wonder, once again, whether to abandon the Med and head back to the Canaries.

Spearhead now has a rebuilt starboard locker lid in the cockpit - quite an elaborate operation - and I am attacking the rather undistinguished maroon paint on the transom to get back to the original gel coat and make the stern view look a lot brighter. This job was actually started while awaiting relaunch in Chipiona, when I took off the lower edge (see the heading picture of this page) so that the rest would be reachable while afloat, whenever I could get round to it, and that time seems to have arrived now.

Still at Cartagena - Sunday, 4th November 2007
A photo of the new rear end is appended. Now I can think about getting some lettering on - as you can see, we are currently rather anonymous from astern. I have just spent a day fitting one of the spare winches (the one that sat on deck by the mast) to the port side of the mast so that it can be used on the foresail halliards. The other spare obviously should be a spinnaker winch, but needs a mate so that I have one on each side of the cockpit. Since there isn't a spinnaker anyway, there's no hurry on this one! On the other hand, I have the time just now, and even the one winch might be useful to handle warps and put an arm around when sitting in the cockpit.

I have now decided that, though the weather is pleasant enough, it isn't going to be warm enough for sunbathing before next spring, so I may as well go back to Lanzarote for the duration when I leave here on, I hope, Friday 9th November. It's only 820 odd miles away.....

Cartagena to Almerimar again - Friday and Saturday, 9-10th November 2007 - Data
Teeth sorted for the next six months anyway, and sporting the extra winch in the cockpit (on the port side so that it can be used to help with genoa furling), we set off at lunchtime with a nice tailwind which should allow a reach or run all the way to the Strait of Gibraltar. Unfortunately, well before the town was out of sight astern on this hazy day, the tabling on the foot of the genoa started to come unstitched - obviously the sacrificial strip's stitching was feeling the effects of all the ultra-violet rays (which is what it is meant for), but what to do in the meantime? Initially, since the bit affected was well forward, I just furled it in. It didn't slow us much - we were doing six knots or so - but then after a couple of hours it did a bit more; more rolled in. We were running wing-and-wing and the tabling was flicking back and forth over the pulpit constantly. I decided to leave it until the wind dropped in the evening, but it was taking its time about it. Otherwise, I was having fun with the new GPS plotter: having taken a slight shortcut to miss Waypoint 1, it kept on trying to direct me back there even when we were well past. No amount of clicking on "Goto 2" had the desired effect. Eventually I had to delete Wpt 1, the system then re-numbered the waypoints and we continued towards a new Wpt 1, which had previously been 2. First battle with the new machine thus ended with honours even. On the sail front since the wind was still keeping up, I rolled away the genoa entirely and continued for most of the night under main alone, still with 5 rolls in, as it had been from the start. We were still doing about 4½ to 5 knots. Our wake was leaving interesting lumps of phosphorescence - very bright and about 6 inches across - and I wondered if it was caused by upset jellyfish but decided that it was probably just turbulence. Then at 2330 there was a lump alongside about 20 feet away.... so much for that theory, I thought. Then I spotted that it had been caused by a dolphin. This was one of a pair, and the first ones I had seen in the Med. They seemed larger than usual, did not snort when they drew breath, and broke the surface rarely, preferring to weave figure-of-eights crossing under the bow and occasionally swerving in from the quarters. No leaping out of the water or unseemly barging. Occasional ships passed further offshore and I was overtaken by one sailing yacht coming in from further out. By dawn (at 0715) the wind was easing and I unfurled the genoa to see how it looked. With the wind dead astern it was possible to use it, fully unrolled so keeping the damaged section outside the lifelines, and of course we went 2 knots faster. The place least off our route was Almerimar, so we came in here, and I have spent all of today stitching and most of the evening composing this! The place seems very quiet compared with August but then, I expect, so does Oban!

Almerimar to Fuengirola agan - Tuesday and Wednesday, 13-14th November 2007 - Data
I had intended leaving on the Monday, but two things delayed us. Firstly, the sewing took longer than expected and, by the time it was finished sufficiently (I hope) most of the day was over. Secondly, I had found adverts from a Frenchman looking for a passage to the Canaries, which had certain attractions such as "good cook". However, he wasn't where he said he would be - perhaps he had left already - and in the end I just let the matter drop. We left without any particular destination in mind, so long as it was westwards, which was easy enough as the wind was in the east. We started off goose-winged, then came onto a reach on port. When the wind eased during the afternoon, we went further south in search of more and about 1700 were joined by 4 dolphins. Then we were interviewed from close quarters by a Portuguese Brigada Fiscal motor launch - in the Mediterranean and Spanish waters, mind - I'm still wondering if this was an hallucination, but think probably not; I could never have imagined it! By midnight, becalmed and mindful of invisible official eyes, we were doing 2 hours of battery charging under engine in gear. When that was over, we just sat under mainsail only (to stop the genoa flapping) and presently more dolphins came along. They revealed a new phenomenon - some organisms or other were jumping along the surface in the same direction as the boat and when I shone the deck torch on them, they reflected amber light: I couldn't make out (through my specs or without) whether they were the reflecting eyes of otherwise transparent fish or the complete bodies of whatever-it-was. If you shone the torch further away, they were there too, or became activated by the light. Most odd and apparently pointless. Any clues, anyone? The wind continued light all night; we got as far south as what appeared to be the main shipping lanes, so tacked away only to find we were re-tracing our steps. Tacked back again (now with full genoa) and were nicely lifted by a veer and increase to Force 2 just as more ships were aiming for us - it's very easy to get paranoid in such company! Then it backed again and we had to tack, which made us head northwestish. Increases in strength followed to Force 5, which meant reefs and waterproofs. The new plotter shows a red line from our position towards where we are likely to fetch up and now this lay mostly on Fuengirola. Since I knew there was a reasonable anchorage there, I jus' went with the flow and ultimately ended up there. The last bit proved quite hairy (in the dark) with katabatic winds dropping suddenly from the sierra behind, but nevertheless, we found the place, courtesy of the large green signs on the Hotel FloridaSpa directly up the beach, and anchored just before 2230. The rest was most welcome by this time!

Fuengirola to Marbella - Thursday, 15th November 2007 - Data
An idyllic, calm morning dawned - and stayed calm until 1220 while I did minor boat maintenance and put out the Big solar Panel to make some extra juice. After lunch, hoisted mainsail and anchor and continued our westwards way. The wind arose to a maximum SW3, which meant tacking down to the next point south; and there it ceased almost completely - even worse than being "on the nose"! Having logged 11 miles through the water, it eventually became apparent that the engine would be necessary if we were to arrive anywhere before midnight, so we motored past Puerto Cabo Pino (reputed in the Almanac with being closed due to silting last year and it seemed unwise to try to prove otherwise in gathering darkness) and on to the more industrial end of Marbella to moor up for the night in Marina la Bajadilla. Fortunately there was someone still there to show us where to lie and give guidance on where the office was, when it opened and suchlike. Once secured, I went ashore, found the nearest restaurant and ate fillet steak and chips. When back from that, I got out the power cable to give the batteries a further boost, only to find that they have smaller than usual sockets there, so the batteries had to make do with what they had - I needed little light to sleep anyway.

Marbella to Canaries again - Friday to Tuesday, 16-27th November 2007 - Data
While I had no specific intention to sail non-stop from there, quite a lot of stores were needed to make sure that we could do that if desired. So, after squaring things with the marina office when it opened at 10.00, I went in search of shops and supermarkets and the hole-in-the-wall and found some a block up from the marina, on what seemed to be the main road. There was a very fancy supermercado called Supercor, which turned out to be an offshoot of El Corte Inglés, stocking quite a lot of things to the British taste, so I indulged a little there, staggered "home" with the load, stowed it and then found that some other, more basic essentials were still lacking. I consulted with the owner of "Total Eclipse", a resident parked opposite and was advised that the more-Spanish shops were a further block up, so returned there and found the missing items. Finally at 1355 we were ready to set off and at 1430 we were out of the harbour and all plain sail set. I fired up the GPS to get the course for Europa Point, Gibraltar, then found that when the boat was pointed along it, there was The Rock already visible about 35 miles away. The wind was easterly F3, so we trogged along at a reasonable speed, while I ate, washed the salt off the windows, and worked out the likely tidal scenario for our arrival. It seemed that the inshore tide would turn in our favour at 2130, so all we had to do was get there by then. There were ships parked all over the place, from about 5 miles from Marbella, right up to Europa Point itself, many of them anchored or anchoring in depths that seemed almost astronomical to me. Nearest the point was a tug with the unlit stern half of a wrecked ship to pull - or perhaps all the ship was there but the bows were a long way under the surface; the decks were sloping forward at about 30°, and it obviously had to be pulled stern-first. We manoeuvred our way through the merchantmen, reducing sail a bit because we were ahead of time for once, and finally passed from the Mediterranean to the Strait of Gibraltar at 2135.

Crossing the entrance to the Bay was something of a lottery, with assorted cargo ships, conventional and high-speed ferries all zooming back and forth. The Sea-Me seemed to be working well, however, and nothing came within a cable. We ran goosewinged and were soon enough clear of the main traffic and I even fully unrolled the genoa at one stage to gain a bit more speed at the expense of visibility. Halfway through the Strait the wind began to obey the instructions for Levanters and piped up seriously, so in came the genoa entirely, while we crashed along at over 6 knots on reefed mainsail only. By midnight we were off Tarifa and I turned into the lee of the island (or isthmus) there to change from mainsail to genoa for the anticipated downwind ride. It took a few minutes of engine to do this, holding the boat head to wind, or alternatively I could have anchored but things seemed altogether too lumpy for that. There is little sheltered room west of Tarifa Island and as a funk-hole for riding out a Levanter I would be frankly doubtful - we got thrown around too much to consider staying and a bigger vessel, while more stable, would always be threatened by the shoaling beach - better to retreat to Barbate.

Saturday - day 2
However, I was still up for making the crossing of the shipping lanes while the going was good and there was not so much traffic about as previously, so we headed slightly right of the lights of Tangiers and did that at a good speed and without any unpleasant surprises. I hand steered to ensure a good lookout was kept, and frankly, it was too lumpy for comfort down below. There were plenty of ships to maintain interest. Funnily enough, with all the variety parading before me, I have still to meet one resembling the ship that nearly ran me down in the Channel but kindly hooted. Sunrise at 0810 showed us remarkably close east of the rhumb line to El Rio (the channel that separates La Graciosa from Lanzarote mainland) and was celebrated with a heartening dollop of porridge, to be followed by a second breakfast later. This is a practice that I first recall encountering as a forester when we were working in Caithness and staying with crofters there - I can recommend it in rugged conditions. With all the use of lights and electronics, a charge to the services battery was needed and given without engaging gear. By noon (now reverting to GMT) the wind was still easterly but much reduced, so that we were only making about a knot under full sail: we had nevertheless put ourselves already 104 miles from Marbella, according to the plotter - the log had suffered a couple of re-sets along the way, so the trip reading was lost. At 1500 the wind had switched to West by South, albeit with little force, and the skies were decidedly lowering. I didn't like the look of it - in Scotland a sky like that indicated some unpleasantly wet and windy hours not far off. A passing ship came close enough for me to read her name, United Stars, so I called her up and asked if they knew what the weather was going to do. The reply was that it was to continue northeasterly for at least four or five days, "nothing over Force 5", which was reassuring but not in accordance with the conditions we were in the middle of. Anyway, there was nothing to be done but continue, which we did. Soon it was calm and I charged the battery for another hour, this time in gear. A bigger yacht motored past after dark and I took the chance to have several "20 winks" while things were quiet. There were now some stars to be seen but rather hazy.

Sunday - day 3 (18th November)
At 0135 the services battery was almost totally flat, to the extent that LED's were fading out, and I checked with the voltmeter and declared another hour's charging session in gear. We headed more west, hoping to get out of African calm, but found even less wind. By 0620 we were able to trickle along on starboard tack under full sail and enjoy a further instalment of porridge. The sun rose to warm us, so I put the Big Panel out to scrape together some more power - the wind ceased! A different big yacht motored past. At lunchtime we had clocked up 36 miles since noon yesterday - it looked like our rapid start was being evened-out..... I decided to have another go at getting further offshore if possible in search of more wind - we had been edged east of the rhumb-line. Unfortunately, at half a knot and with sails slatting back and forth, this could take some time. Did little jobs about the boat and at dusk poured myself a substantial sherry, which promptly got spilt although I did save some. Not doing well, today! The prospect of an astronomical evening was spoiled by the arrival of clouds. Delayed putting on the masthead tricolour light as long as possible, then had to use it for a ship. Woke up at 2135 to find that we have somehow been manoeuvred in an arc to the northwest, where there was a thunderstorm - we, of course, wanted to go at right-angles to that but it took until midnight, with a new easterly air, to get moving the right way again. Only 14 miles since lunch!

Monday - day 4
Battery down to 9.03V, so another hour's charging in gear, after which a SSE3 wind allows full sail. Find I'm being followed by smallcraft lights, until he puts his steaming light on and goes past at 0230 - another yacht! Glad it wasn't Barbary pirates! Later on I found apparently the same yacht stopped, without sails and only an anchor light, probably taking a rest adrift, and sailed very quietly around her. 0520: battery down to 6.5V - obviously an hour's charge doesn't give enough - give it half an hour out of gear and then, wind failing and to be kind to the engine, an hour in gear. Then goes S2. Quite a busy night with ships. Make more porridge for sunrise, which has now advanced significantly. Wind veers to SW3 so that we're barely able to make west over the ground. At noon we've added another 38 miles to last night's figure and there are only 423 miles to go! Wind now F4 and both sails are reefed, on the other tack and heading for Casablanca. Broken sun and no ships seen all morning but at 1550 we meet a fishing boat. Cloud comes up from SW. Well after dark we have closed the coast to about 7 miles and are sailing along the length of Casablanca, a very low-rise town. Just after here the plotter runs out of detailed chart information, although it does have a basic outline for the whole world to fall back upon. More battery charging (out of gear) necessary to get us through the night.

Tuesday - day 5 (20th November)
Battery again very flat by morning - turn off everything except instruments and GPS. Ease sheets slightly in effort to make a better angle and so go faster - now heading west and entertaining some number of porpoises (or perhaps midget dolphins?). After some food and a rest, decide better angle not working, resume close-hauled and with both sails reefed. 366 miles to go..... 1230: getting worse - have to furl genoa altogether - more stitches gone. Lie to under main only - much more comfortable, still going west. 1400 charging battery for 2 hours at 1600 rpm. Nice day except for the wind and waves! 1422: port side cover has disappeared off the Hydrovane and the linkage fork is hanging out in the open air - didn't notice any particular bump or bang, but there we are. Take off the vane up above. The "gearbox" seems to be basically all there except for the cover, but it will need a workshop to put it back together in the right order. Meanwhile I don't risk my fingers by putting them into it - the leverages are said to be quite sufficient to snip off any bits offered to the half-inch round bars or alloy cranks...
I'm going to have to spend a lot more time on deck from now on to get anywhere. This is a little extra difficulty without which I could well do! Mainsail and engine only left, and not much fuel duration for the latter. Consider stopping somewhere in Morocco - Casablanca is currently closed to yachts, Jorf Lasfar further south is said to welcome yachts but the entrance is wide and faces south. Not sure of Moroccan ability to fix any of my three problems (electrics, windvane and sail repairs) anyway - check food situation and we should be able to last out at least a week even if some meals have a strange menu later on - so decide to bash on in a conservative manner, try not to break anything else, and see how we do.
Meanwhile we plug on westwards and at 1715 arrive on our original rhumb-line. Have to take refuge inside for a while - very bumpy and splashy, thunder and lightning, heavy rain, etc. - fortunately no ships seen although the popular "lane" seems to be not far beyond the rhumb-line. A fluke in the wind conveniently tacks the boat for me (no foresail to be worked) - when I check on the GPS we are merely sailing back along the way we have come, but at least into drier conditions. NOT a good day - in some respects it reminded me of a Demolition Derby!

Wednesday - day 6
At 0200 I spot that the tiller has sufficently loosened the lashing to allow it to lodge itself hard over to port, jammed behind the coaming: climb into sodden "waterproofs" weighing half a ton and go out to re-lash it with bigger string; we now lie pointing south. Frequent rain and now several ships seen. They just pop out of the murk but, perhaps due to the Sea-Me which is on again, no dodging is required. No sunrise today - porridge eaten below heavy cloud (in more senses than one). 358 miles to go - oh! for a wind change - now SW still but abated to Force 3. Noticing that the safety line for the Hydrovane's rudder blade has now parted, have to do the usual acrobatics down below the stern to get it off after rigging the spare end of the floating rope now lashing the helm through the handle. Glad to get it safely stowed on board - it couldn't steer right anyway with the displaced linkage keeping it mostly in a left-hand-down-a-bit position. Wind resumes at former strength, sending us NW again. Noon position gives us 354 miles to go, if only we could. Some touches of sun at last to dry things out a bit. 1400-1530: wind eases again so seize the chance to remove genoa, stick it in its bag, transfer sheets and halliard to working jib and hoist that on the furling foil - much easier with the winch now on the mast (fitted in Cartagena, you may recall) - the last time I had to do this job it took at least half an hour longer. We seem to sail OK and make for the rhumb-line again before tacking back to Africa. Another 2 hours of battery charging (out of gear) at dusk. Try to get the boat to sail herself more - have fun with heaving-to inadvertently and having to gybe out to get back on course. Wind seems to be backing slightly; have to stay at the helm until things settle down....

Thursday - day 7
0050: sort of heave-to while cook, eat and try to rest off Jorf Lasfar; wind now about N3. A most obliging Gaz cylinder allowed me to finish cooking and then expired! Not everything is against us after all. Otherwise I was in the cockpit all night and by dawn had reached a happy accomodation to go southwest. Sunrise porridge was slightly late, due to the need to change the Gaz cylinder but at least it looks as though a much-overdue sunny day is coming. Drop the main for better broad-reaching under jib - not speedy perhaps but easier on a slightly battered driver. 1315: a red and white ship comes along the other way; call her up without identifying her and am promptly answered in best RP tones - Joseph Collier. Checks on the forecast, which is none too good for someone in my position, so I thank him and privately hope he is as right as the United Stars! The service battery was too low for the VHF to work, so I had to put on the engine and start the daily charge-up in order to do this. Then take the precaution of putting into the tank, while conditions are fair, the diesel purchased at Cartagena - it is a most evil, turbid green colour, quite unlike any that I've encountered before. Rely on diesel engines' ability to combust almost anything (perhaps it's some vegetable oil) and put it all in. In case J Collier is right and I will have some days of light contrary winds to contend with before we arrive, I get out the bosunry box and start stitching up the genoa. Eat early, rehoist main, and set-to to sail all night - only 290 miles to go now.... By midnight, I'd had quite enough and there wasn't enough wind, so stowed the main (for quietness' sake) and left the jib to do the best it could. "Not restful" is my log's comment.

Friday - day 8 (23rd November)
Resumed in the cockpit at 0130 - 265 miles to go now - only to be becalmed again within the hour. Furl jib and retire again. 0715 porridge and still 265 miles to go.... still calm too, with an horrid slop promising a change on the way. 0835: a light air appears from the north and in an hour we are under full sail, and going in the right direction too. 1030: wind stops! But in 10 minutes we get another from about WSW, which allows the boat to self-steer for a change. However, it soon increased to Force 4 and went right on the nose. Had 2nd breakfast, put on the wet "Full Party Gear" and set out on another session. At noon it was 262 miles to go, and rising to Force 5. Tried the other tack, then did an hour sewing. A dozen vigorous dolphins came along to give a cheer. See what looks like a nasty front almost along the rhumb-line, with an enticing patch of blue sky and sun beyond, and am debating whether to hold my course or bash through the nasty bit when it strikes first! Sharp veer and sound of wind in rigging rises from the usual whine to a scream. No option but to strike the main with the boat on her beam ends and the sea completely white, regain the cockpit and roll up nearly all the jib. Take a look at the instruments and find we are still doing at least 5 knots and in exactly the right direction for La Graciosa! Zig-zag our way into the sunny patch (after first carefully checking that the clouds weren't circulating around it anticlockwise!) then give the battery another 2 hour boost in neutral in rather more gentle conditions. Me and the boat both more than somewhat wet. In the middle of dinner the jib somehow got taken aback and spilled my beer, which didn't help. Wind northerly but unsettled, probably Force 5 but feels worse! Sky studded with individual clouds and a full moon brightened things up somewhat.

Saturday - day 9
Several adjustments to trim lead me to helm for a couple of hours. Then think to try lying a-hull for a rest - that works OK, so am able to replenish the system and have 20 winks. At 0338 we are 4.1 miles left of the rhumb-line (i.e: nearer Africa) with 217 miles to go, and that's with no sail up. At 0813 it's 211 miles - that over a knot sideways and the main log recording exactly nothing. 0850: go up on deck, set a bit of jib and steer like Billy-Oh. 1002: give up, retire below deck - 204 miles to go - all we have to do is keep whittling away at it! 1220: a wave comes from some wrong direction and pours several bucketfuls all over the galley. Mopping and pumping. Then the tiller frees itself and we gybe about 1330. So I clamber into the "waterproofs" again and go on deck at 1400 with 201 miles outstanding. Sail under half the working jib until 1600 when there are unmistakable signs that we have low volts again. 2 hours charging in gear to be kind to the engine get the miles down to 183 at 1800 when we lie a-hull again for a bit of R 'n R. Another ship passes close N at 1955 - in this case I think he actually headed for us to see what it was that he had on his radar - I had got to the stage of getting a white flare out ready to set off when he started turning away, a few degrees at a time. So I did a spell until midnight, which gets the miles down to 170. Things are still bumpy but calming down and, if it holds, there is the prospect of arriving in another couple of days - if !

Sunday - day 10 (25th November)
Wind back to Force 5 again after a grey dawn with occasional rain (bit too much like home!), so no hurry to get back into the cockpit. Still 160 miles to go. At 1000 go forth and sail, soon have to reef jib for really BIG waves - they pick up the boat and use the cockpit as a scoop to stir things up even more while we go sideways down the face. It's a deliberate ploy to throw me over the lifelines but I'm having none of it and stick on well. By lunch the miles to go are reduced to 147. Have to tidy the Briks bin (it holds the orange juice and milk) which is still reasonably well stocked, but the milk was in a cardboard 6-pack which is now pulp and the bottoms of the Briks are going soggy too. Bilge unsurprisingly needs pumping out as well. Charge-up is in gear this time because no sail up and it gives a bit more control while it lasts. At 1830 the distance is reduced to 136 miles and we are still in touch with the rhumb-line too, now 2.65 miles to the Left of it. Lie a-hull for dinner, then go out to sail under some jib until next R 'n R at midnight. Unfortunately the jib has other ideas and won't unfurl, so we just run under bare poles, which is probably not all that much slower, but difficult to steer, so I give up half an hour early. At midnight we have 130 miles to go!

Monday - day 11
Several ships spotted in the night but none close. Still a bouncy Force 4-5: if the Hydrovane were in action this would be fine, with a modest amount of sail up, but it rapidly gets tiring when you have to waggle the tiller personally as the rudder is not balanced but on a skeg. At 0700 we had drifted the miles down to 125. Try unfurling again after porridge - again in vain. Inspection now in daylight reveals that the halliard diverter fitting has pulled out from its seat just below the masthead. Ascent of the mast is out of the question and could even capsize us (pace Dame Ellen) so we are now down to mainsail only, not the best rig for running downwind in big seas. With 3 battens just revealed, we do 4.8 knots. When I stop for 2nd breakfast it's becoming rainy and for the duration of this meal I just leave the main up and flapping so that we don't make much way - sort of hove-to but of course without the backed jib. At lunch the miles to go were down to 107 and we were a mile Right of the rhumb-line - things were going not too badly and morale was good, there was even some thin sun. At 1645 there was a nasty wet squall - at the time, when I emerged there didn't seem to be much wrong except that the coiled spare end of the tiller lashing was dragging along off the quarter and the lower lifeline bottlescrew was badly bent. I retrieved the rope and left the bottlescrew for subsequent attention. At sunset (1755) I had a stop for 20 winks (91.1 miles to go!) and then did the 2 hour daily charge-up, this time in neutral. Hove-to again but with some difficulty, at 2100 for dinner - another 10 miles off the to-do list - then resumed at the helm.

Tuesday - day 12
Another pit-stop at 0100 and one for 2 x 20 winks at 0445. Have to dump the last 2 litres of milk which had bloated and gone off due to their soggy condition - must arrive soonest! Dawn watch resuming at 0610 with 68.4 miles to go. 0720 porridge. Increase the mainsail to full area at 0800. Not best pleased at 0900 to spot that the Hydrovane's rudder has disappeared - it only now occurs to me that it has been missing some time, probably since the squall yesterday afternoon, and this is what must have bent the bottlescrew. Mind you, seeing it go wouldn't have helped me at all to retrieve it - it's slate grey colour makes it hard to spot even in dark blue water and it sinks instantly, being solid engineering nylon. It had been jammed just outside the cockpit, between the coaming and the pushpit with the forward end up against the next stanchion, so solidly that when I thought perhaps I should put another line on it, I couldn't get the space made to do so. In that position only the top edge, an inch or so, of the blade was visible above the coaming, hence my failure to spot the difference earlier. Feel a prize idiot - and will have to pay for it! Keep feeling something vibrating in the boat - just a very weak zizz - and check that the propshaft isn't turning, although how it could be with a feathering propeller requires some imagination. It isn't turning, of course, but shining a torch in there reveals that the glass bottom of the sediment bowl on the fuel pipe is full of water, with only a very narrow trace of the evil green diesel above it. Scrabble around for a drain tap, but don't find one. The only thing on the bottom is a thin plastic tag, and I can't get it to move at all. Will have to keep my fingers crossed if/when using the engine - loss of that service would make things very interesting indeed! Meanwhile I have to give up on that problem; decide that the zizz must emanate from the log's paddlewheel near the foot of the mast, but funny that I've never noticed it before.... 1416: Land Ahoy! faint but definitely there at something over 35 miles. It's a long leg in, but enlivened by many little dolphins, and interesting picking out the various different islands and rocks of the Chinijo Archipelago. Of Lanzarote itself, coming from this direction, there is not a lot to be seen, as it is end on and just the one big hill, but things develop. As it gets dark, lights come on in the villages and hamlets, showing exactly which and where they are. We arrive at our destination waypoint off Punta Fariones finally at 2311 and I cross my fingers, drop sail early and put the engine on because I know that there's no mains electricity on the pontoons at Caleta del Sebo, the battery is low and must have at least some power in it for use when I arrive. So we ease ourselves into the harbour with some proper steaming lights on and are promptly flashed at by a guardian with a torch and put into one of the outside berths on the "big boat" pontoon. All secure at 0018 on Wednesday morning. Total distance on the ship's log works out at 613 miles from Marbella - the GPS tells me that the great circle, over-some-land, minimum distance must be 619 miles, so obviously we had some help from the Canaries Current. Meanwhile check down the pontoon, but no-one that I know seems to be here right now, although their boats are. Spots of light rain! Warm up some soup and drink it, then open a beer and sit, enjoying the moment, with it in my hand until I am suddenly brought up by the bang as the can hits the cabin floor! More booze in the bilge...... Retire to my duvet forthwith and sleep until 1059.

At Caleta del Sebo - Wednesday, 28th November 2007 for one week
I can be so precise about the time I awoke because that is the moment that the ferry gives a blast on its hooter, prior to casting off and heading out for the mainland. Actually, apart from doing the necessary check-in with the Port Officer and shaving off nearly two weeks' growth, I did little thereafter that day - had a bite of lunch, lay down for a siesta, and awoke in the middle of the night! Thereafter I seem to have been adequately restored. With advice from most helpful neighbours I successfully attacked the water in the diesel problem, and with help from another (George from Tarbert Loch Fyne in Ocean Blue) the Hydrovane linkage was restored to its normal operating condition. It's not much use without its rudder, of course, but a step in the right direction. When I shifted our berth to the inner, smaller yachts pontoon on Friday, my lines were taken by Sylvia, yacht Saltire, who on seeing the tattered state of my Red Ensign, insisted on trimming and repairing it. She completed the job much better than I could have done within 40 minutes! On Saturday I was up the mast to inspect the problem there, brought down the halliard diverter fitting for slight treatment, then made a wooden disc-type diverter to try out instead. Re-ascended the mast and fitted the original device, courtesy of stainless steel pop rivets and gun provided by Lawrence of C'est la Vie, but the wooden gilhickey didn't fit, necessitating descent therewith and, in due course, the third and final ascent. The handy billy is proving its worth! Then there has been quite a lot more sewing done to the genoa at odd moments and it is now believed fit to hoist. Since the wind is mostly quite boisterous (and it has even rained a couple of times) the jib has been left in situ meanwhile. Can't replace the Camping Gaz cylinder - the ferreteria, which usually has them, is out of stock and there is no knowing when a fresh supply will arrive. At the last minute almost, hearing that Steve of Cheng Feng is a whizz with electronics, I take the defunct Europilot round to him and he consents, unwisely perhaps, to take a look at it. Since there is nothing wrong with it apparent, it takes a fair bit of detective work before he spots that one of the output transistors has blown. Moreover, it just so happens that he has a replacement lurking somewhere and he duly solders it in. However, when we connect it up and try it again, nothing happens. After he has gone, I take another look, switch on, and the motor goes "Brrrp!" then stops. Seems this is going to be a continuing saga, but thanks, Steve, and to all the other great people who have helped on this visit.

Caleta del Sebo to Marina Rubicon - Wednesday, 5th December 2007 - Data
After final shopping visit to village and preparing ship, including putting 10.64 litres (a canful) of Graciosa clear diesel into the tank, we are ready at 1110 to head off. Hoist reefed main in harbour, in anticipation that waves outside would make it difficult to keep ship's head to wind and hoist at the same time without the Hydrovane's assistance. Pass pierheads with newly unfurled jib too at 1132. We have a brisk breeze blowing straight down the Rio to beat into, but make it to just short of Pedro Barba in two tacks and from there can pass well offshore of the Orzola reefs. A big crane is at work there and pillars sticking out in a row, so it would seem that the new harbour for Orzola is finally happening. Keeping well out, follow the coast round to the right and so come on to the usual successive reaches and goosewinged runs. Approaching Jameos del Agua, which seems busy today, I allow the boat to luff up and lie-to while I grab the makings of lunch in the cockpit and that's the only time we were off course. Becomes quite sunny, although not warm due to the breeze, and waves quite hefty but kind enough not to break into the cockpit. In 5 hours we are passing the Gran Hotel in Arrecife and further down, off Puerto Calero, the main is unreefed as the breeze eases for the evening. Round Punta Papagayo in the dark almost, watching out for the rock, put on lights and reach along towards what appears to be a new radio mast for Playa Blanca. Eventually it proves to be the mast of a superyacht lying in the marina - complete with anti-aircraft red lights on top and floodlights below. Most ostentatious but useful as an aiming point. When the time comes to take off sail, the jib won't furl (although it did in less wind at Caleta del Sebo) so I bundle it down on deck and we make a rather inelegant entry. All secure on the Recepcion pontoon at 1940 for 41.9 miles and just in time to catch the office before they close. We are allotted a berth on the usual pontoon (C) and move round. Nice to get plugged into the mains again - the last time that happened was at Almerimar!