Have you abandoned Selkie Dancer for the winter? - Certainly not! I spent a week on board in January assisting with the installation of a new battery charger and re-installing the ‘smart’ engine battery management system. To avoid the cost of Balearic marinas we expect to spend a lot of time at anchor or on moorings this summer. We will need reliable batteries and the means to charge them. The charging problem is solved - the batteries are another story!
Balearics eh - do you need a toilet holding tank? - Apparently not; however, we have installed a custom made holding tank in the forward heads. I have made all the necessary holes and have the pipes - should not take long (!) to connect up. It is a gravity system and avoids extra pumps and valves - it has two vents and is supposed to be odour free. Click here for more detail.
So when are you off? - We are going to Spain the week before Easter. It will take a while to get the boat ready and we will doubtless need a short shake down cruise before before leaving Almerimar. Early April should see us heading for Cartagena, weather permitting. Cartagena looks like a good spot to get ourselves into Spanish mode - Almerimar is rather too Essex.
And then? - We intend to spend April, moving up the east coast of Spain before crossing to the Balearics for May and June. July and August are crowded and expensive so we will find somewhere to haul the boat (cheaper than leaving her in the water) while we return to Scotland for a Scottish summer and a (the) wedding.
September and October? - Yes - back to Selkie Dancer and probably to the north east coast of Spain - Barcelona is on our ‘must visit’ list. After that we will probably work our way back down to the south of Spain and perhaps Morocco. We might equally well go east to Italy and Malta - early days!
Can I cash in my hard earned Mediterranean Sea Miles (MSM)? - Natch - actually you don’t really need them. Friends are always welcome. I have blocked out the dates that are no longer available. In general terms we sail safe - we will not put ourselves, or the boat, or you at risk by sailing to meet planes etc. We should always be well within 12 hours travel by public transport (ferry or bus) of any agreed rendez-vous.
What next? -- Check your engagements - find some time and get in touch.
We are back on Selkie Dancer and intend to stay here in Almerimar until the end of April so if anyone wants a non sailing visit before then come on out! Granada and the Alpujarra are on the doorstep.
A little over two weeks ago on the fifth day of our skiing holiday I collided with a very hard snow wall, the purpose of which was to stop the unwary going over the edge and into the trees. I broke my left clavicle; I suppose I can thank my blessings that it wasn’t my head and a tree. The French doctor took x-rays and said I would need surgery but the consultant at home was of the opinion that this causes more harm and that the solution was ‘rehabilitation’ - in other words, physiotherapy. He also said the sun would help the bones and I was happy to take that advice. I am amazed how well things are going but even so it will take at least a year to regain full strength. Luckily I had finished all my Nia classes but I am so missing it for myself.
We took a bus from Almeria airport back to the Marina at Almerimar. It took almost as long as the flights from Edinburgh to Almeria but it got us immediately back into speaking Spanish. At the bus stop we chatted with a Colombian lady, an Australian guy bound for Granada and a returning Andalusian native - he referred to my Spanish as Spanglish, very rude I thought but probably horribly accurate. So three bus journeys later we arrived at our home in the sun albeit in the middle of a gale. The wind has been very strong almost every second day but it doesn’t stop the sun shining. It was so cold, 18C on Sunday that all the little Spanish children were kitted out in snazzy thick white woolly tights under their shorts. They would have been horrified to see how our hardy children ran around barelegged even on the coldest of winter days; ours would have been equally horrified by the idea of tights, let alone WHITE tights! There is snow on the peaks of the Sierra Nevada - perhaps we’ll go ski-ing………….er no!
The other night there was a terrific noise - a great cacophony of bird squawk. For a moment I thought I was at home hearing the geese who fly in great skeins north or south heralding winter or summer. This sound was not quite like that, a bit more tortured and I nearly broke my remaining clavicle in my effort to get my head out of our cabin hatch to see what was ado. They were great skinny streaks, fluorescent arrows, sharp points fore and aft - FLAMINGOS - rosy pink against the dusk.
The more we speak to people and the more we read, we realise that we are best to stay here until the unpredictable winds have abated and the warmth has crept northwards. Weather permitting we intend to leave around the 28th April, north towards Cartagena and the Balearics and would like another pair or pairs of hands to augment, in Andy’s words, a ‘winged Jint’!
PS this comes by Andy’s hotmail address as the pirated wifi we are using does not permit transmission of messages or update of web site!
I am using my insomnia positively. It is four in the morning and sleep is evading me yet again. For the first time in ages we are in a port where the wifi is working so we can email. I have not accessed the laptop (ordenador en espanol) for ages and I recognise nothing. However, I have been able to find a blank sheet, so here goes.
We were in Almerimar for an unbelievable eight weeks. The first few were taken up with getting the battery charger and other electrics up to speed to support the amount of anchoring we anticipated around the Balearics. We made several little trips into the mountains on local buses and sampled the less touristy parts of our immediate area. The last weeks were frustrating in a way I am beginning to recognise and cope with. The decision to leave is made, everything is looking promising, the food is bought, the boat and crew are ready, then, at the last minute another gale is forecast; so we delay, eat up the provisions laid in for the journey and start the whole process over again.
We eventually left on my birthday, May 12th , we lifted our noses up, sniffed the wind and turned our heads towards the sea. It did feel good to get out there, to loose the bonds that tied us to the dock, to break free and begin our adventures again. We took three days to sail to Mallorca following the coast till we rounded Cabo de Gata and then struck out North East. Having just visited Cartagena and seen Isaac Perals 1888 submarine it was rather in my mind when I thought I saw one coming towards me - it remains unidentified although I suspect it was a very large mammal rather than a small submarine. A turtle and a group of sword fish leaping out of the water in pursuit of their prey also passed us by
I don’t know what I thought Mallorca would be like but I suppose it has been coloured by the image of package tours, hen nights and the word - Magaluf. However, apart from some Spanish Hens on the first night in Palma we have seen little of that. We circumnavigated the island going clockwise leaving the large sweep of the Badia de Palma and passing between the imposing Dragonera island and the mainland at the South West tip. Continuing up the mountainous west side to Puerto de Soller, where Andy’s sister Juliet and partner Denis met us having taken a magical mystery tour on the old train from Palma to Soller and then down to the Puerto in an ex San Fransisco tram. This part of the island has long been remote and cut off with stronger links to France than Palma. Now, a recent road tunnel has opened it up to ‘progress’. The area is covered with orange and lemon trees; gnarled old olive trees stand on dry stone wall terraces and bell clanking goats wander freely. Sadly the weather, did its own thing and was extremely erratic, sun, torrential rain, gales - we had it all. Cala Calobra where the Torrent de Paries comes out to the sea, surrounded by high rocky cliffs was our first stop and a classic picture postcard place. However in the morning after an attempted gorge walk the wind got up and precipitated a rapid retreat out to the safety of the sea. This turned into a sail where the needle on the knotometer went off the clock at 50! I couldn’t believe we were sailing in this but there was no option. We had an uncomfortable couple of days that I’m sure our visitors will not forget, I’ll gloss over the detail! Continuing on around the Cabo de Formentor there are two big bites of bays, Pollensa and Alcudia. Juliet and Denis left us there and we had a quick turnaround and welcomed Alasdair and Kate, our hardy Scottish sailing companions who seem to get subjected to trials of one sort or another when they are with us. This time they were required to master the art of anchoring in very small spaces which entailed the use of kedge anchor and stern lines.
In the Bay of Pollensa we witnessed an heroic if rather risky episode. As we sat in the cockpit I saw a boat and assumed that it had anchored without my noticing - unlikely given my level of nosiness! However as we watched, it continued to move, and move, towards a French boat anchored in its way which was being rapidly fendered. Action stations! What to do? Andy rushed below to get an anchor while I hailed a young guy I had noticed puttering back and forth in his dingy thinking that he would know the boat. The next half hour veered between comedy and tragedy, between circus act and sporting challenge while the two men saved the dragging boat. Two very different men, Artur, cavalier and immediate; Andy, the planner and briefer. Having decided that they could, between them in their separate dinghies manoeuvre the boat to safety - Artur didn’t hesitate for a minute but hauled up the boat’s anchor and began to use his dinghy to pull the boat, unfortunately at that moment he ran out of petrol and so, little boat bobbing up and down, big boat still drifting, now towards an expensive looking catamaran and me wondering about the legal implications of lifting another boat’s anchor and then crashing into nearby boats. Artur filled the outboard one handed ( I think he must have been born on a boat). Andy meanwhile had strapped himself and our dinghy to the side of the boat and while endeavouring not to get rope wrapped around his own prop. For a while Andy and Artur followed their individual plans, working against each other but gradually a method that worked was adopted and off they went. Anyway to cut the long story short they did it, the wayward boat was secured to Artur’s and presumably the owner was grateful. Phew! Every day is different.
We sailed on and I mean sailed! After last years disappointing lack of wind we have had plenty recently. Along the Mallorcan east coast we visited little towns and anchored in Calas or little coves. Each one is unique from the wide mouthed Cala es Calo with soft green hills behind reminiscent of Scotland to the very narrow, panic inducing (for the helmswoman) Cala Mitjana whose turquoise waters, rocky sides, beautiful twisted trees and sandy beach was home to us alone for a night. The Spanish system of booking moorings has proved a bit of a mystery. After having been told that the Cabrera island buoys were ’completo’ we decide we would go anyway and just have a look. When we arrived there were many empty buoys, so we took one and waited for officialdom to swing into action. In the event a cheery wave from the clip boarded official speeding past in a little motor boat was all the bureaucracy we encountered. Cabrera is a protected area and has restricted access. We walked up to the castle which literally grows out of the rock and is a very impressive sentry to the bay. Sadly the island is also the home to six thousand French ghosts. Nine thousand prisoner were abandoned here in the Napoleonic wars - only three thousand survived.
We are off to Nelson’s Mahon in Menorca tomorrow, weather permitting.
Jinti, Palma 13th June 2008
PS Re my broken collar bone and earlier ‘winged status’, Andy has now declared me fully fledged!
how we set off for the Spanish Main but ended up in Mallorca in the Bay of Pollensa
On the 16th June we departed Mallorca for Menorca. Our landfall here was the enormous natural harbour of Mahon - the birthplace of mayonnaise! When the British were here in the 18th century they moved the capital from Ciutadella (small city) to Mahon because of the nature of the harbour. We anchored in La Taulera slap bang underneath a massive sprawling Spanish fort, La Mola, and our very own defensive tower complete with canon. After our first attempt to walk in the grounds had been curtailed by a security guard who rounded us up and shepherded us off the premises with his vehicle, lights flashing, we visited ‘officially’ the next day and it was amazing. The quality of the stone work, fashioned from the local ‘maries’ stone, the colour of which varied from white and sand to ochre and brown was solid, plain and beautiful. It was built by the Spanish Government after the departure of the British and the French to counteract the imperious way they were using Menorca, and Mahon in particular, in the tussle to control the Mediterranean. Started in 1850 and finished 25 years later it was unfortunately technologically outdated and never used, hence its good state of preservation - ring any bells? It was later used as a prison and is also fondly remembered by Spanish men who did their national service training there. We found the biggest gun, a Vickers I believe, a recent 1930’s addition - see website picture and no it will not fit into our attic! By this time we had walked far and got very hot and so it was with mouth watering anticipation that we descended upon the café. I was conjuring up visions of friendly staff ready to dispense ice-cream and cold drinks and engage us in simple conversation, however the only dispensers we found were three great silent metal monoliths. Placed in a large room with only a few basic tables and chairs for company, one held ice creams, one water and one soft drinks - after several minutes of frustration we found the secret code that released the desired objects. Then felt complete plonkers when a Spanish couple entered and relieved the machines of their goods swiftly and with no fuss!
The harbour of Mahon is scattered with islands and we looked out at the imposing high stone walls of one which had housed a hospital for infectious diseases. Walls built high in the belief that the wind would not carry the infections up the river to the town. Similarly inside the building, high walls between patients suffering from different diseases. Since it ceased to operate as a hospital it has ironically become a retreat for health workers! Quarantine islands and bases for the navy complete the scatter.
It is natural as sailor travellers that we see mainly the coast and it is always interesting to make a foray into the hinterland. We took a bus along the big road along the spine of the island, from Mahon to Ciutadella. There were Factory Outlet shops along the way which I found slightly bizarre but on the whole Menorca, very conscious of the disaster that reckless exploitation has wreaked in some parts of Mallorca, keeps tight control of development. It was proclaimed a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO a few years ago and there are all sorts of safeguards in place to protect both land and sea. The countryside was soft and green with gently rolling wooded hills and dry stone walls dividing the fields keep the earth in - Menorca, with reason, is sometimes called the windy island. Black and white cows and baled hay in the fields gave it the look of home in miniature. We passed Monte Tore, at 357m, the highest point with a white walled monastery - visible too for most of our coastal passages. Ciutadella itself was a glorious sandstone maze of twisting narrow streets, blind alleys, dead ends and funny angles apparently to confuse the Turkish corsairs when they came a pillaging. Buildings varied from the plain and unassuming to the flowery baroque, and we saw the strangest BVM to date. A cudgel wielding Mary mother of God, the infant Christ in one arm, weapon in the other and a leering demon cat like creature cowering and clinging on to the pediment of the door below.
There was good reason to visit by bus rather than boat as the long narrow Cala around which the town has grown is very pretty and dramatic. It is, in certain conditions prone to a surge of water level which, two years ago, fell and then rose by several meters severely damaging a friend’s boat and sinking many others. I am convinced that as soon as Selkie Dancer sails in these conditions will prevail!
On our return we were met by Alberto in a high speed rib, Mahon’s answer to ‘you shop, we drop’ delivering our supermarket shopping - fantastic service - I just ticked the things I wanted on his list and he swept off and did my bidding. Simultaneously a cross ‘mariniero’ came roaring up in his speed boat to tell us that Selkie Dancer was a boat that has a BIG PROBLEM! How so? Turned out we had in all innocence picked up a private mooring and the owner had come back yesterday to moor up and found us in his place. He was not happy with the mariniero and the mariniero was not happy with us. We apologized profusely, tipped him generously and got by with a ticking off and orders to call on channel 9 next time.
The day we left Mahon the wind died and so we did rescue drills. I am pleased to report that I will be able to save my husband, even if my engine has failed, should he be silly enough to fall off the boat . I swam in the sea off the boat and got a little spooked thinking how deep it was below me and of what might be lurking there. I found out that I could put on a buoyancy aid in the water and wrap a life sling around me and be pulled back to the boat. This was all good fun but carried out in flat calm conditions. As soon as there is even a little chop on the water as later, swimming in a Cala, I discovered, it would be all to easy to be overcome by waves - scary thought: resolution - wear my life jacket more often.
As part of the Menorcan Biosphere policy in vulnerable areas they provide mooring buoys and restrict anchoring so that the sea bed and the vegetation is not disturbed. As usual when we arrive somewhere new we anxiously scan and count masts as they come into view. The only mooring available at Isla Colom was for lighter boats but we secured to it anyway and went RAW ( ready, alert and waiting) this paid off and we were soon comfortably attached to a more appropriate buoy.
This was such a busy bay. It was the weekend and there was never ending activity, water skiers, jet skiers, traditional boats, pedallos, dinghies, sailing boats of different shapes and sizes, ditto motor boats, people swimming, snorkelling, sunning, laughing and the sound of seagulls engulfed by the sound of the Spanish having a good time, it was only at siesta that the seagulls won out.
The seagulls are different here and a special lipstick lady variety is called Audouin’s Gull. They are not the pushy common types that proliferate at home but a rather more refined bird altogether - they wait patiently and if given something wait a bit before politely inclining their heads, opening their red painted beaks and saying please.
We moved on up the east coast and called into Addaia. We negotiated cautiously the shallow approach up the creek where there were boats that looked as if they had been there for ever. It was very hot and sticky and we stayed only long enough to have lunch and spot another Selkie. We have been aware that we were not the only Selkie in this sea and would have loved to have made contact with the owners but no one was around.
On the 25th June we set off from the north west corner of Menorca bound for Bahia de Roses a generous bay on the north east coast of the Spanish mainland but after four hours of bashing into confused seas and with an unhelpful wind we turned left for Mallorca. Approaching Cabo de Formentor I was struck by its wild and rugged appearance. As the light left the sky I saw the hills surrounding the Bay of Pollensa as a series of cardboard cut outs, each one a different shade of fading blue, the back drops of a theatrical set.
The Moon has been so clear recently and through binoculars quite stunning.
The moving Moon went up the sky,
And no where did abide:
Softly she was going up,
And a star or two beside.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
As I write - 28th June we are in Pollensa and set for the Spanish Main. We plan to leave tomorrow - I know! - the day of the big match but we’ll hear the cheers out in the ocean if our host country wins.
From there we plan to come south looking for so
mewhere to put the boat while we return for the ‘wedding of the year’ at the end of August. Nick, our eldest, and Emma are to be married from our home which is very exciting given our lack of daughters. Topof2008
We left Puerto Pollensa on the North East side of Mallorca for mainland Spain at the end of June. We were worrying about a headwind from the notorious Gulf of Lyons (Lions) later in the passage and so made a westerly detour which enabled us to keep sailing but was not directly where we wanted to go - if you get my meaning. We expected a nice southerly on the second day but true to form it didn’t materialise and so we had to use the motor. Thirty hours later we picked up a buoy off the port of L’Estartit under the Islas Medes, latterly a haunt of smugglers and pirates and now frequented by day trippers and divers. Night shifts are tiring and the engine noisy, it fills every bit of you with noise and reverberation and so it is pure joy when the journey stops and there is silence………………….rest…………………sleep.
The following day we sailed to Puerto Empuriabrava which reminded us of our first home together in Florida. Built on reclaimed land and cut through with grids of canals, the houses lining them were a quirky mix of dolls house proportion - some with towers, some with battlements, balconies, winding stairways; mostly white washed and with terracotta roofs with cerise bougainvillea tumbling about and all with a place for a boat outside. Berthing here was a new experience - reversing in between poles. It felt like backing a car in to a parking space and wished I had practised slalom while at sea. We were amazed by the constant stream of canal traffic. Empuriabrava claims to be the busiest leisure port with more than 2000 boat movements a day - is that more than one a minute? and we had no doubt about it as we watched the constant toing and froing. They were mostly motor boats adorned by scantily clad females already in sun worship mode.
Our friends Audrey and Zander from Burntisland have a house near here and arrived for lunch in their silver Mazarati (hmm - not correct spelling but spell checks only suggestions are Maharani or Mozart!) The car attracted much interest from the adjoining boats and whoever was passing and I really felt I was not doing it justice stepping into its beautiful interior with my dirty laundry bag and scruffy clothes. We went to Figueres and visited the Salvador Dali museum - what an amazing imagination the man had, truly dream like or is it the stuff of nightmares? I love some of the quirkier stuff, the Cadillac with the strange occupants and Mae West’s red sofa lips. However some of it I just don’t ‘get’. After a blissful night in a cool room with crisp cool white sheets and a big bed Zander and Audrey drove us across the Pyrenees to France, through Perpignan and to some marinas where we might leave the boat. RESULT - We are going to leave the boat in FRANCE! So much for the painful working out of the Spanish phrases, now we had to dig into our school French and found it sadly rusty. So it is goodbye Spanish phrase book, hello to a French one and the adventures of M’seur Wickham who features on our french language CD.
We realise it is time to pause our travels as the French holidays have begun and anchorages are getting ever more crowded. The usual gentle evening’s entertainment is becoming alarming as boats arrive and compete with each other for space and end up plonking their anchors ever closer.
How sit’s the wind for France? Right on the nose my liege!
Why is it when you need to get somewhere the predicted wind has not heard the forecast and is somewhere else and a nasty little local wind comes up and blows from your intended destination. Well it was thus as we made our way towards St Cyprien Plage which is where we are going to leave Selkie Dancer. We are ‘en France’ in this strange place of fun fairs, circuses and fruit machines, devoid of the expected chic and reminiscent of a sunny Southend or a balmy Blackpool.
Arriving in Prestwick last night I felt an empathy for the Spanish girls who were struggling with the vagaries of the English language. Puzzlement in their faces as they slowly translated the mysterious words, ‘Pure dead brilliant’, Prestwick’s logo - ‘pura, muerto, brilliante’ - I can’t imagine what they thought but for us an appropriate description of our last three months. Spain has been a real pleasure and we look forward to resuming our travels in mid September when we will go down the Costas Brava and Dorada and perhaps out towards Formentera and Ibiza.
Now home in Burntisland to enjoy the summer and the wedding.
St Cyprien Plage - 15 September 2008
So……… we have enjoyed THE wedding of the year (photo at ‘Photos 2008’) and here, tidied the house ready to re-let, provisioned with Earl Grey tea and Marmite and returned to Selkie Dancer all set to continue our travels.
It seems to be par for the course, however, that we are now in port awaiting the calming of winds from the Golfe de Lion that are sweeping down the Pyrenees and into the Mediterranean. As I write palm trees are being bent and blown, more reminiscent of images of a hurricane in the Caribbean than September in the south of France and the instruments are recording gusts of 40 knots.
In the few days that we have been back Andy has put in a new radio (we are now enjoying ‘Catalan Classical Music’ - a Catalan channel and as we understand un ‘peu de Francais’ and ‘un poco Espanol y nada Catalan’ the fact that it is mostly music is helpful), replaced some ceiling lights and sourced a fisherman’s anchor (useful for rocky bottoms!). The latter we found in an Aladdin’s cave of a place. Previously we had pressed our noses up against its dusty windows to see shelves full of used engine parts thinking that there was bound to be something useful that we needed there. And so it proved. Amongst the starter motors and dusty hatches, boat hooks, flotation devices, anchors and once loved cushions covered in red corduroy was our anchor which we bore away in triumph.Yesterday we took a trip to Collioure that meant taking a bus to Perpignan and changing there. We walked into Perpignan and spent an hour enjoying their annual mediaeval market. Amongst the stonemasons, bow makers, music makers, lace makers, battle demonstrations there was a re-enacter taking things to the extreme by distorting and disfiguring her face, dressing in sackcloth and leering at passers by as she tried to sell her wares. She was probably burned on the iron grid we saw hovering over a fire later! There were beautiful ’hounds’, taupe coloured, delicate and fine; these dogs seem to be an accessory of the medieval lady and gentleman.
Collioure is nestled in a bay almost where the Pyrenees meet the coast and was made famous in the early 20th century by the artists who came and worked there. We had lunch in the Hotel de Templiers whose owner at the time had accepted, in lieu of payment, pictures which now adorn the walls. The present proprietor had lost none of the colour sense of the Fauves, dressed in a brilliant purple shirt he was lavishing attention on the elderly local ladies who had come to lunch. We wandered Collioure’s narrow steep streets with houses that would taste of saffron, cinnamon, rose, vanilla and ginger. The ‘ateliers’ seemed overpriced and formulaic for the most part although there were exceptions. When it was time to return we decided it would be worth paying for a taxi rather than sit in the bus for two hours. So after adventurous negotiation with the French telephone system we were whisked back to the boat in 20 minutes!
It is our intention, when these winds have died down, to get around the potentially dangerous Cape Bear (locals call it Cape Horn) and move slowly south. Spend time in Barcelona and Valencia and perhaps go out towards Ibiza and Formentera before finding somewhere to leave Selkie Dancer for the winter. Keep in touch by phone or text and join us somewhere along the way.
Au Revoir pour le moment - Jinti and Andy
Denia October 7th 2008
These last four weeks have seen us cover 320 nautical miles, meeting friends and acquaintances and following the tourist route along the Mediterranean Costas. Not much sailing and dispensing with more dineros than we would have wished.
I often think that we are privileged to approach places by sea, we do not have to experience the heralding urban sprawl; our impressions have not been marred by telegraph wires, advertising hoardings or road signs, instead we find ourselves immediately in the old port area, the nerve centre of a place. Cadaques (Brava = Wild/savage) with it’s white church standing high Curabitur felis erat, tempus eu, placerat et, pellentesque sed, purus. Sed sed diam. Nam nunc. Class aptent taciti sociosqu ad litora torquent per conubia nostra, per inceptos hymenaeos. Aenean risus est, porttitor vel, placerat sit amet, vestibulum sit amet, nibh. Ut faucibus justo quis nisl. Etiam vulputate, sapien eu egestas rutrum, leo neque luctus dolor, sed hendrerit tortor metus on a hill, narrow winding streets snaking around it and the strident bougainvillea tumbling from the little houses is a case in point - a truly a picturesque town.
There was an amazing house, more like a German hunting lodge, trimmed with carved blue wooden eaves and adorned with blue tiles. Salvador Dali lived near here, the Rolling Stones partied here in a bar where the state of the candles bear witness to decades of serious nightlife.
Audrey and Zander joined us for a day of eating, drinking and laughter. Audrey and I went ashore to window shop and sight see, leaving the men to wash up - ha! ha! Then a yacht came in - of all the Calas in all the Costas it came to this one and on board was another Kirkcaldy boy (Zander being the other of course) the world continues to shrink.
It cost us forty euros to be on a mooring and just as we were about to leave, literally as we were about to let go of the buoy, the mariniero came by to get another twenty as we were past the 12 o’clock check out time ‘I couldn’t believe it’ and was just so cross. Well we decided we might as well cough up the full forty and be done with it - stay another night in relative safety rather than on the anchor.
Barcelona (Dorada = Golden) found us right at its heart in Marina Port Vell. Here we met Mike, his Spanish wife and family. Mike is the son of a friend I met through Nia and a font of local advice.
Of course we did Gaudi and the Sagrada Familia - what can I say? - spun sugar, disney land, a structure that seems to reach out and plant itself and then grow with bits on EVERYWHERE! A bishop once asked Guadi why he bothered with elaborate carvings high up on the tops where no one could see and he replied that it was for the angels! Gaudi himself was inspired by nature, by trees and forests, root structures and corn stalks, palm rings and honeycombs and shells - he was undoubtedly avant-garde and an original and innovative architect but the Sagrada Familia was not my idea of a spiritual place and I think they should leave it alone. For me the church of Santa Maria del Mar, built within 60 years, maintains a simplicity and truth more likely to inspire spirituality. More interesting, back with Gaudi now, is what is known locally as La Pedrera, the quarry. This is one of Gaudi’s apartment blocks and really the highlight was the roof, which had been given as much attention as the public spaces. The roof pathways undulated with tiles and mosaics, there were sweeping curved cave like structures and tall columns resembling an army of alien spacemen newly landed - all these disguised chimneys and water tanks. The space underneath was a wonderful vaulted gallery that traced its way like a rib cage around the shape of the building providing an excellent space for a display showing how nature had inspired Gaudi’s engineering and aesthetics.
We had hit gold in terms of festivals as this was La Merce, the biggest festival on Barcelona’s calendar with events all over the city along with free access to museums.
The Castellers were an amazing sight. Gathered in the town square, 3 teams competed to build the highest, most complex of human towers. The rules were more subtle than we realised but luckily a local explained the intricacies - how the judged part only began once the music started, if the team failed then, they were out of the contest. Obviously the base is thick with sturdy men and as the levels increase the castellers are lighter until at the pinnacle a small child scrambles up, raises a hand to signal triumph and then scrambles on over and down just like a little monkey, bare feet clinging, wrapping around the shoulders, hips, legs of others on the lower levels. It was nerve wracking to watch, as one false move and a fall from on high could produce serious injury. It was all attended to very respectfully - silence fell as they reached the heights and if the attempt was abandoned an audible sigh whispered around the square.
There were Gigantes - huge puppets representing characters significant in Barcelona’s history - they stood in a circle and two at a time entered the centre to dance stately dances. I met up with my friend Marta, who had been on the Dramatherapy course with me, and amongst other things we walked the bustling Ramblas, visited Fundacio Miro, wandered through endless squares and churches, saw Roman remains and ate well. I particularly enjoyed the notice by the marina washing machine that informed me that ‘It is forbidden to wash robes in the washing machine’; puzzled, it quickly dawned on me that, like Andy, some people put their boat ropes in for a wash!
The Correfoc or ‘fire run’ was a very noisy explosive parade of dragons firing incendiary devices seemingly from every orifice, followed by drumming bands and dancing devils. If you were so inclined you could fling yourself into this inferno and join the dance, the symbolism of bright fires to keep you warm through the winter as summer fades. It is certainly fading here in Barcelona and we need to move south to catch more warmth and sun.
From Barcelona we stopped at Ginesta and Tarragona and then an overnight motor, watching the stars wheel crazily overhead as I tried to sleep and couldn’t. And so into Valencia (Azahar = Orange Blossom ) -
We had met Rosario and Mike at a party last Christmas and they very kindly said we should look them up if we got to Valencia. We made contact and they took us to the most fantastic restaurant. The setting was stunning and Rosario and I sat looking past the two men and out to sea, the deserted beach an empty stage of sand with a backdrop of endless blue sea. During the course of the meal I spied this bloke, my attention drawn by his unusual gait and garb, or rather lack of it, weaving up the beach. He was totally nude and looked either drunk, high or not quite normal - he entered upstage left and after making a diagonal passage, exited downstage right. He gave an uncalled for encore a few minutes later doing the return journey. It was just so incongruous. He looked like the mad hairy guy at the beginning of Monty Python’s flying Circus.
El Palmar - Earlier in the year, as part of our effort to learn Spanish, we watched some ‘soap opera’ type DVD’s. An old one made in 1978 was all about the Albufera area south of Valencia where the traditional fishermen of this inland lake were in conflict with the next generation who wanted to fill it to grow rice. We got caught up in the story and wanted to visit ‘El Palmar’ the featured village. We spurned the tourist bus and took our own way there on public transport, all well and good. When we arrived there were masses of restaurants, most bearing the names of the characters from the story, a closed museum and not much else. So, after a walk around the edges of the rice fields and water channels, we had lunch forgoing coffee to catch the 1500 bus. Well, we waited and waited. After an hour we were joined by a French couple and we waited and waited. Another hour went by and we were joined by two Germans and we waited and waited. Eventually, the Germans interrogated the, local policeman who revealed with a laugh, that the only bus to Valencia was at 1830, we retreated to the square and had a drink. The hazards of not understanding the intricacies of another country’s timetables! Also, I must say, the joys of unexpected meetings.
Tom, Andy’s brother, and Jessica have been staying with us. They have been visiting the south, Granada and Seville and on their return north stopped by in Valencia. Together we went and visited the incredible new buildings that adorn the bed of the original river Turia that ran through Valencia. In 1957 the city fathers and mothers got fed up with the Turia flooding and decided to divert the river and convert the river bed into a green and pleasant land for the people. They planted masses of trees and created fountains, walkways, cycle tracks etc. and towards the port area a rash of modern buildings, an indulgence of modern architecture. Some of the buildings are fantastic. Shining white expanses of ceramic, space ship like forms, the use of water and reflections; some parts seem to float and plants and flowers cascade from balconies. They must have been so pleased by the success of one that they repeated the process, each subsequent one trying to out do the others with innovative and imaginative design but, like Gaudi in Barcelona, perhaps they should just stop. The river could become cluttered as it winds towards the sea with ever increasing extremes of architectural and engineering skill. However my favourite space was the Silk Exchange. A beautiful simple stone building (15th C) wide and high, with pillars and vaulted arches, stained glass windows catching the mid day sun and spilling their colours over the warm coloured stone. And courtyards, oh I would like to have one of those - with a fountain in the middle and orange and lemon trees growing green and lush and birds singing.
Denia (Azahar) - Denia is a really pretty little place and if the price had been right we would have had no hesitation in leaving Selkie Dancer here for the winter - sadly it is not. We have just met the crew of Spellbinder whom we first met last year up in the Rias Since then they have covered 9,000nm and have been to the Caribbean and back - a way to go yet - Selkie Dancer and crew!
We will go down to Alicante on a train tomorrow, passing Benidorm on the way just for a little ‘outing’ but right now it is howling Force 8, it tips with rain from time to time but the wind surfers are having the time of their lives.
Off to Ibiza in search of the sun in a few days.
We waited in Denia to go to Ibiza because, yes you guessed it, the wind was ‘on the nose’ for a fuller explanation and illustrations of this phrase visit on the nose! When we eventually did go, the sea was still high and the wind not quite in the right direction, the journey was horribly long and lumpy and we were threatened by a fast ferry (30 knots) coming straight at us. We are convinced he did not see us until the last minute when he swerved but I am now highly tuned and the adrenaline flows whenever I hear the threatening thrum of a ferry engine. We picked up a mooring buoy in the dark and spent a very rolly night with dreams heaving with boat nightmares. The next morning we motored south under a rising and powerful sun as it burned away the nasty cloud to give us a lovely day, to the tiny island of Espalmador.
We were incredibly lucky with our ten days circumnavigating Ibiza. Usually there are storms at this time of year but we had day after day of sunshine and the anchorages just got more beautiful and the water was crystal clear. Andy found a great book in Ibiza town, which we visited by bus from Santa Eulalia, that shows the coastline from the air, it turned out to be an invaluable tool for deciding where to drop the anchor as it showed the sand patches quite clearly (best holding for the anchor).
The island of Espalmador had mooring buoys and we stayed there recovering from the rough passage over. I always feel exhausted after a rough day at sea, no energy and a body that feels like bendy rubber and there is nothing for it but to sleep. Later I swam ashore and had a walk on the white sands. We sailed back past the impressive rocks on the south western end of Ibiza that had appeared quite alarmingly out of the blue or, more accurately, out of the dusk of a few nights before. Andy is convinced these are the rocks used in the film South Pacific as the location for Bali Hi - we debate this.
We avoided the discos and fleshpots of St Antonio, preferring to spend a dark night nearby anchored off Isla Conejera under the lighthouse that had been visible on our crossing from Denia, now close above us, as we watched the stars come out and the moon rise to light a path across the sea.
Portixol was a truly magic little cove. Inaccessible by vehicle and surrounded by tall cliffs and pine trees, a stony beach in the centre and on both sides typical fishermen’s huts seeming to grow out of the sand coloured rock, crude wooden rails projecting into the water for the boats to be launched and pulled up, a black cat walked along the roofs. Also growing from the rocks was an old fisherman, peaked cap over a deeply lined face, his check shirt and loose trousers both the colour of sandstone merged into the rock, became part of it. He moved with slow deliberation, he knew every stone. Later we saw him return, in the dark, from a fishing trip and watched the shaky light from his torch come and go as he made his way to the hut where he lived. I may be romanticising wildly and becoming sentimental but his life seemed so wonderfully simple. As he said to me earlier ‘el mar es el mar y el viento es el viento’ - that was it, accepting and living with the elements, a natural harmony that the modern world has discarded. In the dark we looked out. It could have been a Rembrandt painting, ochre, browns, oranges and yellows were the colours. The door to his shed was open, a lamp throwing a dull light upon him as he sat at his crude wooden table eating his evening meal. The only sound and link with modernity, the crackle of his transistor radio.
The last day was typical of the variety that we can have. Started with a swim, not a breathe of wind, birds singing all idyllic; then it was off making towards Valencia where we are booked in for the winter. Not much wind for the first hour and then we were out of the protection of the land and whoosh - we were broad reaching through heavy seas, force seven for a good few hours, lots of white water and gunnels awash, huge hungry waves towering over us and licking at our hull and stern. We were roaring along, three reefs in the mainsail, we put up with it all but it was too much for the cockpit clock who decided that enough was enough and jumped ship. We arrived in Valencia in the dark and thankfully tied up to the fuel dock for the night. Whisky and bed.
Port Americas Cup alias Marina Real Juan Carlos 1, Marina Norte
The BEST LOOS award, very important when travelling - definitely go to Marina de Denia. Bigger than most five star hotel en suites, where (if you should want to) you could walk at least four paces in each direction from loo to shower, shower to basin, and equipped with abundant soap, paper, piped music/news (en espanol) and an automatic locking system. They were immaculately clean.
The MOST DISASTROUS gastronomic choice was a ‘menu del dia’ in Tarragona where we missed the blindingly obvious clues of a waitress keen to help us. These included putting her hands on the table top, bouncing them up and down and snorting - Yes! They were PIG’S TROTTERS.
The BIGGEST RIP OFF was in Cadaques where we were charged €40 for a mooring and if you didn’t check out by 12 noon - another €20.
The MOST VALUED ACCESSORY award goes to Andy who proves calm and patient in most circumstances.
The most CRUCIAL LOSS was the dropping into the briney of the outboard tank cap, however ingeniously surcusomethinged by fitting a bung and using a CABLE TIE for the airway.
The most useful general purpose fix all is THE CABLE TIE.
The BEST VALUE, if silent, HAIRCUT was in Denia - €10
The BIGGEST MISUNDERSTANDING was not appreciating the subtleties of a country bus timetable which led to a three hour wait for a bus from El Palmar to Valencia
The MOST EXTREME WEATHER was in the marina in Denia - here the entrance buoy was washed away and boats damaged on concrete pontoons.
The RAREST SPECIES, not actually encountered, but the name conjures up a wonderful image of Mrs Tiggywinkle - her stout form clad only in a bikini, carrying her goods around in plastic carrier bags - THE VAGRANT HEDGEHOG.
The BEST VALUE and MOST FUN SPA TREATMENT was a self applied sulphurous mud pack - optional sand cover for exfoliation and a final rinse in salt water. Directions to this location will be revealed on application all I can say that it was beside the SINGLE PALM TREE.- see photos
There were the best of loos, there were the worst of crossings, there were wise choices, there were foolish ones, there was incredulity, much sunlight, increasing darkness, there was all the time in the world, then suddenly it was finished…………………….
Apologies to Charles Dickens - who actually wrote :
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
English novelist (1812 - 1870)