To Montenegro and beyond

Our first proper trip out in Mariadz of 2023 was the start of our holiday to Montenegro and southern Croatia. A quick two week trip around this part of the Adriatic. A month before we had removed the hula hula skirt around mariadz by going out into the bay, anchoring and then scraping it off by hand. The difference in handling on the way to the anchorage and the way back was night and day. She was now ready for a summer of nice trips. We have also been removing non essentials from the boat, including the passerelle, we have a wooden plank with wheels and space is at a premium, but more of that later.

We had decided, both having new permanent jobs, that we would maximise our holiday by including the May bank holiday. So on the Friday, we go off to the port police to check out for the boat and to get our passport stamped. At the office the friendly policeman who is dealing with us asks if we are going to Montenegro to reset our VAT clock. This relates to the eighteen months that a British boat has in Europe before it is classed as imported and you are required to pay the local Tax. We were both very keen to point out that the VAT for the boat was paid in Malta so it is European VAT paid already. In two weeks, when we return we will be able to test this with the customs team who have been singularly uninterested in us so far. So after some time, our passports and boat papers have been stamped and we are ready to go.

We are back to the boat and doing final preparations whilst we finish work. By 6pm, we are ready to go for our overnight trip to Montenegro, a distance of about 120 miles. We have checked several forecasts including our beloved Meteo and they are all predicting a very nice 14 knots right on the beam, the best place for it. We should have a lovely sail over. We drop our lines and gently leave our berth, go past the castle at the entrance of Brindisi and parallel to the long sea wall. It’s exciting, our first proper holiday in the med on our own boat and we both need the rest and reset from work life. As we exit the entrance of the outer harbour, the wind isn’t where we expect it. Instead of blowing a north westerly onto our beam it is blowing northerly, possible with a bit of east in it! We also notice that despite having cleaned up the log, that tells our speed through the water, we do not have speed showing on our instruments which also means that the wind speed is the wind going across the deck so we need to adjust it to consider our speed and direction.

This has torpedoed our chances of a nice sail across to Montenegro. With the wind in that position, we are beating into it with seas crashing against the hull, slowing us down. It’s going to be a bit crashy and a bit slow since we don’t want to double the distance by tacking across the Adriatic. There is a reason that gentlemen don’t go to windward!

We start under sail but the wind is pretty much coming from our destination so I have to aim a bit more east trying to balance speed with direction. At this stage we have most of the main out, the staysail and about half of the headsail. The wind across the deck is about 20knots meaning the actual wind is probably 15 knots, pretty much in our faces with a corresponding sea slowing us down with waves crashing against the hull. Normally we would expect to knock out 120 miles in about 17 hours but this is clearly going to be slower.

We have decided on this trip that we will take it in turns to get some rest, up to a couple of hours at a time each. Hopefully it means we won’t be too tired when we arrive and, despite a late night and a poor sleep before leaving, we should be fine to stay awake.

The sailing is mostly uneventful for the first few hours and Maria is resting. I can see a fishing boat on AIS going slowly and towards us. We are also on AIS so they will be able to see us. At night we are sporting a tricolour light at the top of the mast because we are under sail. For some reason, the fisherman doesn’t seem to like this as they check out where we are with a large spotlight shining on our sails. They go harmlessly along our port side as we keep beating into the wind.

We settle down for a long sail. Sunset is lovely and the stars come out and it is spectacular. Our daughter Rachel has informed us that Rowan John Park, our first grandson, has had a star named after him. If only we knew which one!

However, we are going slowly. Mariadz normally likes a minimum of 45 degrees off the wind to sail nicely and there is no way we can go off in completely the wrong direction so I am trying to pinch the wind as much as possible, making us go slower but closer to our destination. When Maria awakes we discuss it, we are going too slowly so we agree to start the engine and motor sail. We will need to bring in the headsail so we can go closer to the wind but we should make better time. Our speed increases to about 6.5 knots which is closer to the seven knots we normally plan on when we have good weather.

It is getting close to dinner time and Maria has decided to stay Italian for our meal this evening. She has made an orecchiette and cime di rapa dish. Quite simple but really tasty and just what we need as we prepare for a long nights sail.

As Mariadz ploughs her way through the Adriatic, we take it in turns to get our rest but the trip is uneventful with hardly any ships getting near us. Before long it is sunrise but we are barely half way to our destination. Interestingly, it is not long after this that Maria looks at the horizon and says she can see land. That can’t be right, we are fifty miles from our destination and at least forty miles from land. However, it is exactly right since the spectacular mountains of Montenegro rise high and fast from the water line giving a spectacular view.

For the next few hours we are watching the land getting slowly bigger and bigger. It seems to take ages til we are entering the mouth of the river which leads to Porto Montenegro, our destination for the night. As we do a British registered Grand Banks motor cruiser nudges a little ahead of us but it gives us someone to follow.

The scenery is breathtaking with tree covered mountains on all sides. These seem to have villages and purpose built developments dotted around and you can’t seem to see how they access these since they are surrounded by trees with no obvious roads.

We call in to the marina who direct us to the customs dock. One of the problems we have when coming to unfamiliar marinas is knowing how high the pontoon that you will moor to will be. Sometimes they are inches above the water with quite a step down, or they could be dock level. In this case they towered three feet above the deck with strategically placed ladders which whilst useful for climbing the gap, struck as perfect things to scratch the hull of the boat since they sit very proud. We decide to stop about half way along the dock, noting that the motor boat we saw is right at the front. A policewoman came up to us and tells us we have to move right up to behind the motor boat. There doesn’t seem much room between their stern and the next ladder, which I don’t want to go near but Maria steers Mariadz expertly a few metres parallel to the dock until she is closing on the expected berth. A member of Porto Montenegro comes out to help us by taking our lines and then we are sat there and ready to check in.

I grab our papers and am escorted to the group of offices where all of the officials wait for us. First stop the police for a passport and boat papers check. We have our stamps so it is over to the harbour masters office to get our vignette to allow us to travel around Montenegro, we are only expecting to be there a few days so I have to take the week long option. The tourist office allows me to pay the tourist tax before finally speaking to customs to tell them we don’t have much money and little alcohol. It takes a little time, especially as the port staff prepares some papers for us to submit but it is very efficient and costs us a little but nothing for the marina where we are staying the night.

As we are about to leave, I ask the port staff whether we can stop at the fuel berth and fill up our fuel. We didn’t want to do this at Brindisi where it is €2.20 per litre, or €1.65 if we take our cans to the petrol station – several times! In Montenegro, the price is €1.34, much more palatable and the cheapest fuel we have had since Gibraltar last year.

But first we have to get off the customs dock. Coming in was easy, just drive into the cul de sac and park up on the right. Going out would take a bit more though. You can’t just turn the stern off the quay because the bow would slam into the dock. If there is any wind holding you onto the dock then you will need to spring off, once off it is east since it opens up to allow you to turn around in front of the audience of the public swimming pool before heading back out of the marina. There is little wind but we have perfected our little sideways exit and have to do this in astern. So maria turns the wheel hard over to port to take the stern off and then uses the bow thruster to stop the bow going near the dock. Once mariadz is far enough off the dock, she can start to turn to perform the 180 turn to head towards the fuel dock. Performed perfectly. The audience at the pool don’t get to see a disaster and Maria refrains from taking a bow to rapturous applause. Of course now I have about fifteen seconds to change the boat around, moving fenders to the other side and making sure they are touching the water for this very low pontoon. Last is the three lines, bow, mid and stern ready to hold Mariadz in place. The two guys on the fuel deck are very helpful taking lines and making sure we are fine but of course maria has brought her in nice and slowly so there is no drama. 477 litres of fuel later and Mariadz is full up and ready for more fun.

I have now told Maria that we are expected to go into the middle of the marina and take berth C06, quite a long way in. This is of course the first time we have been out, apart from taking her to get her bottom wiped clean (Mariadz not Maria) so it is almost a year since the big voyage from the UK to Italy and confidence is obviously a little low. Maria is now apprehensive about squeezing Mariadz into this berth but we set off. The trick in these situations is to be just fast enough to have total control as going too slow can cause it’s own problems as does hammering around at full throttle! Maria is very comfortable with her boat and starts to bring her in. We are constantly talking in these situations. Staying to the left on approach before swinging Mariadz around to the other side, going into astern and starting to bring her into the double width berth we have been given. maria is doing it brilliantly and it is isn’t long before we are a few metres from the dock with the marina staff waiting patiently. I throw the line, hopelessly, it falls well short of the dock. Gather it up and throw again – same story. The wind is starting to get Mariadz as does going very slowly at this stage so Maria needs to do some corrections to keep Mariadz in the gap and away from the boats on either side. As she brings Mariadz back in, we go with the other line which this time reaches its destination and is looped around and returned to me. I can finally, at the third attempt get the other line ashore and we are now sitting with both stern lines on. I ask for maria to go forward to get the stern steady and then use the bow thruster to control the bow whilst I get the lazy lines for the bow. Our helpful marina staff hand me the lazy lines, which are remarkably clean and I tie them off at a reasonable tension. This is something we have now learnt. Initially have the boat quite a way from the dock, tie on the lazy lines and then use the stern lines to bring her towards the dock providing tension on the lazy lines and making sure she doesn’t move. I go aft to tighten up the stern lines and we are good.

When we don’t have the passarelle, we lower the swim platform and put the plank on it. This works fine although it can be a bit awkward if the rib is up in the davits. You are on your hands and knees. We are quite a good distance from the dock and the plank only just reaches. If only we had a brilliant passarelle that plugs into the stern and gives you a safe route down to the dock, now where is that……. Brindisi!

In the end I have to loosen the lazy lines on the bow so that we can get Mariadz closer to the dock after we have lowered the rib and tied her to the side. It takes time but all is done and we are able to see the marina and all its facilities. Whilst at the fuel dock we had asked the locals for somewhere to eat that wasn’t too commercial and touristy. They had given a recommendation and when we went to the marina office to check in with them, they also recommended the same place.

So we set off for a reasonably early dinner, remember we have had relatively little sleep so an early is night is in order. The restaurant of choice was Big Ben, funny name for a Montenegrin restaurant but apparently inspired from the owners time in London when studying and coming up with the idea of the restaurant. There is a wide selection of food from burgers to pasta and pizza but we are keen to have something local and have some great starters and traditional meet mains. Far too much food as usual but washed down with some local wine and not ridiculously expensive, probably half of what we would have spent around the marina for something less authentic. Finally the view across the bay was awesome, a perfect end to a hard day travelling.

We get back to the boat for a quick night cap prior to the sleep we have been imagining that will set us up for the holiday. Early the next morning someone has gone on the catamaran behind us and closest to our heads in the bedroom and started using power tools to bring out parts of the hull. It means we don’t get the restful lie in we were hoping for. It also makes up our minds, we are not normally ones who want to go into marinas, when in England and going out on the boat we much preferred to go and find a nice quiet anchorage.

We also need to catch up with our new Brindisi friends, Mike and Mio, who asked us to bring a new carburettor for their outboard which they had delivered to Brindisi. They have been around Montenegro for about three weeks trying out different anchorages. We have decided to go into the northern bay and anchor in somewhere called morinjsk saliva. A lovely little anchorage which apparently has a lovely fish restaurant which is a short rib ride down a river. We are eating a Barbecue in the evening, however a light fish lunch may be just perfect.

I have explained to the marina why we are leaving earlier than expected which was due to the noise and not the €130 cost for mooring. We are ready to go. Dropping the lazy lines while maria powers forward gently. I then remove the stern line adjacent to the boat we moored next to – there may have been two spaces but we didn’t “park” in the middle of them! That brings mariadz towards the middle of the two berths and gives her some room to manoeuvre. Maria confidently takes Mariadz out of her berth, pulling her rib Connie along behind. It is a short six mile journey to the anchorage in a calm inland waterway at a gentle pace so there was no risk pulling Connie along in the water. There is a channel that separates these two bays which is quite busy with ferries going across regularly so it is a bit like frogger avoiding these but that is the only complexity apart from finding exactly where you want to anchor when you arrive. With huge mountains rising around the water, it is clearly very deep but we have enough chain to choose our own spot and find something that is front of a beach bar. Maybe somewhere for later.

We are anchored and will be meeting Mike and Mio later so decide to get straight off and find this amazing fish restaurant. As mentioned it is up a short river from where we are and there is a little bridge by the side of the beach bar so we head towards that. We are able to get under this with only a little ducking but this does seem quite shallow, then there is a gentle scraping of river bed against Connie’s fibreglass hull. Stopped we have to reverse back out with half of the outboard out of the water to make sure it doesn’t contact the bottom, a much bigger problem. We spin around slowly and sheepishly return under the bridge, maybe we should walk. As we reappear from under the bridge, there is a man standing there. “Restaurant”, “yes” – the river entrance is a hundred metres away tucked around a little outcrop and hence why we didn’t see it. This river is much nicer, it has abridge but with headroom and is much deeper. As we appear from under the bridge there is a fantastic motorhome and caravan site right on the waters edge with people setting up in their own private waterfront gardens. As keep going, it is very picturesque and we can see two more bridges and the beautiful restaurant in front of us.

We haven’t really dressed up so we are not surprised to be put into a quiet corner away from other guests, actually that is pretty much what we wanted. Maria is the food expert but the food was wonderful and whilst not cheap, it was excellent quality with really good service. On our return we quickly catch up with Mike and Mio, who have now arrived, before getting a little rest and doing some boat chores before the evening.

A wonderful evening with our new friends as we barbecued using our lotus grill which hadn’t been used for a while so took some coaxing. It wasn’t too late a night although apparently Mio has a set time she likes to get to bed but she hasn’t met a rule breaker like Maria before!

After a great nights sleep, having tidied up the boat before we went to bed, we get ready to check out from Montenegro to head to Dubrovnik in Croatia. leaving the anchorage, we wave so long to our friends, and head to the offices to check out. It is the same but opposite of the check in procedure and we are again ably assisted by the Porto Montenegro staff, it is worth staying there just for the convenience their help provides. Maria does the same as she had done a few days before and we are in and out quite quickly,

We have now left montenegro to start the rest of our holiday touring the southern islands of Croatia between Dubrovnik and Split.

Reflections on the journey this year

It has now been a few weeks since we returned to the UK having delivered Mariadz to Brindisi. We have had some time to think about what happened and draw some conclusions.

It has become clear that long term sailing is about fixing the boat in exotic spaces as the phrase has it. Despite having spent a lot of money getting Mariadz ready for the trip, we still had breakages and quite a lot of expense. Some of these were just unfortunate first-time-use things or inexperience, like the rigging issues with our downwind sailing configuration. The autopilot breakage was unfortunate and having seen the large amount of such breakages on longer trips, combined with the first hand experience of long term hand-steering, means we have now ordered a spare autopilot.

Firstly, this has definitely whet our appetite for sailing around the world. We love the boat life, despite missing the cats, now 12 years old, who had stayed at home for this trip. We had a couple of hairy bits of sailing, particularly going into Cascais with a sail jam and the bouncy meetings of two seas at Tarife. I am not sure the cats would have liked those two parts of the trip and we were also worried as we skipped round the south coast of the UK with them that they didn’t seem to eat or drink water at sea. We have some thoughts about this for the future though and actually some of it may be that they need more time at sea to get into a routine. We are conscious that 12 isnt young for a cat and Clyde in particular is feeling his age at the moment. It is certainly something we need to think about.

We struggled to get weather information with very little coming through on our Navtex and no satellite capability. We had fitted an SSB but with the engine running a lot of the time, we struggled to overcome the interference we encountered. Our solution will hopefully revolve around Starlink, Elon Musk’s new satellite internet. We have this already on land and have friends who have already installed this on their boats, one a moody 54. At the moment, mid ocean internet is not available but we are hoping that in the next few years this will be a reality. As well as weather, this will allow Maria to call children and grandchildren. Despite this we didn’t have any issues with unexpected weather and the various sites we used, including windy, Windfinder and the French Meteo forecasting, were all pretty good and we were able to make some good decisions on when to go even when our various sites didn’t 100% agree.

However, the biggest unexpected expense, that would be different for our trip was the fuel bill. Fuel is especially expensive at the moment anyway and our engine burns a little less than a litre a mile. During our 3,700 mile journey, we used 1,800 litres of fuel, so we did get some sailing in. However, we were forced to use the engine rather than taking our time and waiting for the wind to change, hopefully fuel will be a lot less in the future but the fuel bill was around £3,000, a lot more than we budgeted. We could have lost a day or so by going to North Africa to refuel which would have saved us £1,000 and clearly when we have more time these considerations will take on more importance.

We were prepared for the cost of marinas and had selected Almerimar in Spain because it was good value, we were pleased with that decision since everyone made Maria very welcome. We were also able to get everything fixed due to the fantastic Paul. however, the repairs meant we spent more time in Marinas than we expected, our preference being to anchor. When we did anchor we generally found some really good places, except for our problems at Portimao, and again when we have more time we would expect to do a lot more of this. maria found the navily app to be invaluable when finding anchorages with useful reviews, I imagine that will get better as more people contribute, Maria will certainly be adding to the knowledge base.

With our first major crossing of a sea, Maria had decided that we should have crew for the trip especially the longer crossings. She recruited two crew from Crewseekers, Richard and Gerald. We did the right thing getting time with them before the trip but the difference between them and Christian, who did the Mediterranean leg, was like night and day. Of course we know Christian well and he is a very good sailor who complemented us. We found our crew weren’t as experienced as we were expecting with a few of the fundamentals around anchoring and mooring being a problem. This is probably understandable since sailors generally think about getting from A to B rather than the other aspects of cruising which a multi-week journey entails. Maria would do this again but I think we would need to be more diligent in understanding the levels of experience of the crew, although to be fair, most people with cruising knowledge will have their own boat and be doing it for themselves.

We swapped around our watch system a few times. In Biscay, people had six hours on watch and six hours off watch overnight with changes every three hours and no one on watch on their own. I think this reflected our confidence in the new crew who we had only known for a few hours before we left but also allowed us to balance our time together. The watch system changed slightly when we had the autopilot failure since we were keen to make sure that people were only hand steering for an hour at a time. All in all, it worked very well.

In the Mediterranean with Christian, we went with effectively a three hour watch system, so three hours on six hours off but with the the person finishing their watch hanging around for an extra hour. This meant we had two people up on deck every few hours which helped with any more complicated sail plan changes and also kept things interesting since you had company. Christian was great and we made a great team.

Maria had put a lot of thought into the menus for our trips making sure that the food was easy to prepare on passage. Lots of preparation and freezing of cooked meals meant that the food was excellent throughout the trip. People who know Maria won’t be surprised. I will see if I can persuade Maria to do a blog on the food.

We had made an effort to get the water maker working prior to our trip. However, Mariadz has 1,000 litres of fresh water and with our relatively frugal use, despite showers for most of us every day, we hardly worried about water at all and only used the water maker once, mostly to prove it was working,

While we were away, Maria did a video blog each day with her thoughts which seemed to be really popular and we will be putting this up on the YouTube channel. I think this may become her thing.

Anyway, just some thoughts and happy to comment on any questions people may have.

Siderno to Brindisi – the last leg for a while

The sea has been still all night with very little wind but the place where we are anchored has been very rolly with the boat moving around lots. It has disturbed Maria’s sleep in particular which was ruined completely by a few mosquitos that had got in and feasted themselves on us all night.

It is early in the morning when we get up to start the final day and night sail to Brindisi. This will be our first overnight trip on this journey where we will be just two up although we are confident that we will catch up on our rest when we can. We have checked the weather and it will be a little lumpy in the Adriatic but that is true for the next five days and Mariadz can take a bit of discomfort for the eventual goal of arriving at her new home berth.

There is hardly any wind and we seem to be a little luckier with the tides today which are, if not favouring, at leant punishing us. Maria is really tired and get a good rest up in the cockpit as the boat sails herself under my watchful eye.

The sea is flat-ish. This goes to maria once saying how flat the sea was and being corrected by one of her friends who suggested it wasn’t flat but flat-ish. That is now folklore and if we are in anything mirror-like, it is described as flat-ish.

As we move along the sole of the boot of Italy, the weather is getting a little worse and the wind is building. Unfortunately it is also building from the north east which is exactly where we need to be going. There is a noticeable line in the sea with white caps on the other side and this is ominously moving towards us. We are soon embroiled in a bouncy sea with the wind in our face. Our forecasts tell us that this will change later but at the time this happens it feels awful and we turn towards land for shelter as our first tack. Let’s hope it is not going to be like this long term or this will be a long journey. It is slow progress and we are starting to get close to land before we are anywhere near the gulf of Toronto that occupies the instep of the boot. I tack so that we can get around the headland, hopefully there will be some protection from the swell within the bay.

After this tack as we are heading towards Greece, albeit very slowly, the wind slowly changes direction and the swell reduces and suddenly we are in Eden. The wind is perfect and Mariadz is flying along at a great pace. If this continues we will be in Brindisi by morning. Note to self – never ever EVER use those words, it is the kiss of death. Today is no exception and shortly afterwards the wind dies down and we are motor sailing at a reasonable pace but the engine is back on as it has for a lot of the delivery trip.

One thing we have noticed since passing out of the western Mediterranean and beyond Sicily is that we haven’t seen a single dolphin. These had become a daily occurrence for us and we loved having them visit. Since passing through the Straits of Messina we haven’t seen one. Very sad.

Anyway we settle into our night routine and have decided that we will have a two hour watch routine but the other one will sleep up on the cockpit. It means a little of a disturbed night but it is only once and we can catch up on sleep the next day. Interestingly, this seemed to mean that we took turns to sleep. This part of the journey is quite tedious. Relatively little on AIS that would be a danger although we are now starting to see some sailing boats around – potential racers then!

It is nearly first light as we finish crossing the bay of Toranto and we can see the heel of Italy, Puglia, Mariadz’s home for the next couple of years. However, we have had to be careful of the swell and strong winds and these are likely to be worse once we get into the Adriatic with nothing to protect you like the heel has for this part of the journey. It is with some apprehension we approach Maria is Santa Luca, fully expecting the storms that have been described to greet us. in fact we have reduced sail and got ourselves ready just in case. Actually, it was exactly the same as we had already experienced so more of the same.

At this stage, we noticed a sailing vessel, SV Phoenix, which had been on our instruments since he left port in Italy. It is a 40 foot catamaran who seems to be doing the same journey as us. Initially it looks like we will be soon past him as he is going very slowly but shortly after, we don’t seem to have made that progress. He appears ahead of us having cut the corner into the Adriatic. There are still a lot of miles to Brindisi and so we have the opportunity for an interesting game of cat and mouse with him going up the coast. On some tacks we are clearly faster and can point closer to the wind, using our traveller to adjust the main to allow that but he seems to go a lot faster at other times, twin engines maybe?

The wind is in the north

We are less than a couple of hours out from Brindisi when there is a sudden change in the engine note and there is shaking. I don’t think it is the engine but go down to check the engine room, no noticeable problems with the engine so it is likely to be something wrapped around the prop.

Fortunately, Mariadz has a rope cutter attached to the prop for nets and lines that get wrapped around the prop to cut these away. Maria goes into astern to see if we can throw off whatever it is that is caught. When she returns to forward the vibration is still there. I recheck the engine but we are convinced it is something around the prop although there aren’t any lobster pots in this area. Well not to our knowledge and not that we have seen which may also be the problem! Maria goes again with a big burst of astern at reasonable revs. There is a churning, chewing sound which seems to clear and when maria goes back into forward the vibration has stopped. It looks like the rope cutter has done its job.

It is then into Brindisi marina and the approach takes ages from when you think you are getting in to when you turn the corner next to the castle and can see the marina. As we turn into O pontoon and look for 20, our new berth, it is clear there is someone already in it. We keep going and with some help get into O12 and our journey for this year is complete.

Reggio Calabria to the sole of the boot

After our belated wedding anniversary celebration and considerably lighter in the pocket, we are understandably not up early the next morning. Our new friends, Ivan and his family are leaving at a similar time on their way to Tunisia, where he reports fuel is still 80 cents a litre so I would have saved €1,000 but we would have lost at least a day negotiating the entry requirements, visas and customs. Still one to note when we have more time on our return.

We have spent a bit of time speaking to Ivan and his wife who are a lovely couple living in Canada with their four young children but clearly, as a couple, not afraid to be away for a short while to do something important for them. We have discussed various things we have done to our boats and we discover that he has the Italian air conditioning units we want. He has over indulged and bought five different units, these aren’t cheap, although he does say that it seems any two or three are enough to cool the boat beautifully and they are so quiet he forgets they are on. Needless to say this hasn’t changed Maria’s mind at all, we will be upgrading ours I am sure and I am impressed with the mariadz-like redundancy in the set up.

We are ready to depart first and there is a little trepedition from us. Ivan seems really relaxed but I still put an additional fender over our kedge anchor that hangs on the push pit rail on the starboard side. It is metal and pokes out a bit so better to be safe. The previous evening another boat has come in on our other side but there is lots of room. This boat comes from Southampton and is British flagged but with a skipper who doesn’t speak English. That was a surprise.

We call into the port authority to clear our departure, apparently that is a €300 fine if they are being picky and I guess if you get in the way of a commercial ship. They seem confused that we are asking permission but wish a safe journey.

Maria feels happy taking mariadz out as I start dropping the mid lines before moving to the bow to take off the two lazy lines. I watch them drop and then go to the stern to remove the last two lines with maria slightly under power going forward to make sure we don’t drift at all as the lines come off. With both the stern lines off, maria takes her off a little sideways keeping away from Ivan who is till downwind of us. As she gets more underway she can straighten the wheel before we are clear. A long burst of bow thruster and turning hard gets us centre channel and we are on our way. Thankfully we have shown the problem the other day was a twenty knot cross wind and not that we habitually go around banging into boats, even with fenders ready.

As we come out of the harbour, there is a high speed hydrofoil passenger ship coming in and we all play nicely giving lots of room and we are clear. Getting to the end of the exit “cone” where they like shipping to travel to and from the harbour, we are now free to turn south and finish the Messina strait. We are getting a little tide as we start this but before the end of the strait we are against the tide. Unfortunately this stays the same for the whole of this trip as we successfully miss the tide for the next eight hours no mean feat.

As we head east after the Messina straits, the guardia costiera are following us in a large ship. They are tracking us at nearly the same speed and are not on AIS so I assume they are looking out for any wrong doing. maria is given strict instructions to be very well behaved 🙂 however, they track us for a number of miles.

On this part of the coast there are a number of exclusion zones so we need to make sure our course accounts for these especially under the watchful eye of the coast guard. Some of these seem to be locations of unexplored bombs looking at the charts which is a huge incentive but we do see large container ships going through these.

The wind has shifted from northerly to south easterly which was expected and exactly what we want. This wind will be across us beautifully and is the best point of sail for Mariadz. we are having a fantastic sail even if against the tide so not as fast as we would like but the engine is off and we are getting eight knots through the water from only 13knots of wind. The slight changes in wind direction means we are constantly changing sail plan as the situation changes.

At times we have felt like complete frauds who know nothing, imposter syndrome about sailing, but actually as Mariadz sits there flying through the water beautifully balanced we could be forgiven for starting to think that we may have the first idea of what to do.

As we are heading north east up the sole of the boot, we see behind us another sailing boat. She is a number of miles away but is so big you can make her out quite easily. She is the 57M Ngoni, who unfortunately seems to be on engine with no sail up. I’m sure they can see us bombing along as they soon put up some sail to help them but it is a shame not to see her in all her glory, I imagine she would have been super quick with that perfect wind. Ngoni is travelling at 11 knots against the tide so I am sorry Mariadz you can’t compete with that, but Mariadz does drag it out for some time by going really fast herself.

The winds are changing and starting to come from behind us more and so we decide to pole out our headsail. We have used the pole a fair few times since Plymouth but whoever has been crewing has been keen to help and Maria won’t throw herself in front of people so she has stood back while everyone got on with it. Not today, this is a time for the Dunlop members of the crew to work together and sort this out. The theory with the pole is quite simple: A line to hold it up, a line to prevent it from coming back and the sheet threaded through the end of the pole which pulls the whole set up back. This doesn’t take long to set up and the headsail is back out and held out there. We noticed when we did this before that the slightly different sail shape provided by the pole, really added speed and we gained a knot by doing this both times we did it. So we now have a poled out headsail and the main out with another preventer stopping any accidents with the main. I did say we liked to be safe!

As we approach our destination, an anchorage outside a beach club at siderno, we have had some lovely us time and the weather has been great.

Our intention on arrival, was to anchor off drop the rib and enjoy some of the nightlife but we have been told that no motor craft can approach the swimming zones of the beach so unless we want to swim….. getting there probably not a problem but doesn’t sound safe for returning afterwards with a few drinks inside you.

Instead we decide to prepare a hot stone for meats and vegetables with the remaining salad and settle in for a nice evening listening to our music and the music coming across from the various bars.

Around Sicily to the toe of Italy

So that was a long sail and Maria has already said if she wanted to use the motor that much she wouldn’t have bought a sailboat. We have completed 750 miles to the north west tip of Sicily. We arrive in dire need of fuel and I have called ahead to the fuel guy and arranged for us to get 600 litres, our tank holds 670 so you can imagine we were getting a little nervous with only an additional 45 litres spare in cans.

We have got the fuel and some water but another French boat has come alongside and we are contemplating how we get out of here. Of course, maria knows her boat really well and says she can easily spin Mariadz round in the small gap in front of us rather than having to be clever and go astern into a wider basin to turn. She is right and spins Mariadz on a six pence using not much more space than her length and we are on our way.

Our original plan was to go around the southern tip of Sicily, taking advantage of some northerly winds to get a good sail followed by a beam reach, wind on the side, back up to Italy. It is longer but we thought it may even be quicker if we get the winds right. However, the forecast has changed since we last checked and this is no longer a sensible plan. So we change and will now follow the northern coast of Sicily to the straits of Messina, famously tricky and you need to be careful but we have another boat that has tracked us since Almerimar, an oyster called Dalliance. As we turn north, it seems that Dalliance is about 20-30 miles ahead of us. there is little wind and a huge tide ripping between the islands on the north east coast of Sicily. We try to take advantage of the combination of small wind and the wind we are generating by ploughing through the water with our engine and are making good speed. We need to average 7knots for the next 20 odd hours. This plan will ensure we reach Messina between 5pm and 6pm the following night when the tides and wind should be good for our journey through the straights.

The start of the night watches bring their own challenges. Firstly we haven’t been this close to land, and it is incredibly brightly lit. Secondly there are an awful lot of people fishing in small boats with no AiS and little lighting. We soon realise that their technique is to shine a light at the boat so we know they are close. We can then adjust course if necessary. This continues for most of Christian’s watch and only really stops a distance into the large bay to the north of Sicily.

We also see a ring of fire which looks like it could be volcanic activity or a brush/forest fire. Our friends in Italy have described the lack of rain and we are not sure Sicily has volcanic activity in the north but it is some sight with a visible ring of fire around a central black eye, reminiscent of Lord of the Rings.

The light winds are not helping us to keep up with our timetable but winds are coming and hopefully we will make up time although I do try to fiddle with the sails to get every last 1/10 of a knot of speed! Maria is next up and comes up to join me for my last hour, we are chatting and doing the sails is difficult on your own so I hang around for the extra hour until the light of dawn starts to fill the sky. Shortly after, I go to bed to get the sleep I will need for the upcoming sailing through Messina.

Maria reports a fantastic sunset and when Christian joins her for his second watch they have a glorious display from dolphins which raises spirits. As does the wind strengthening which now means we are achieving significantly more than seven knots and catching up time. We should hit Messina at the right time.

Half way through the day and we have fifteen knots of wind, and with a little help from the engine, we are flying along at 8.5 to 9.5 through the water and 8 to 9 over ground. We are looking forward to the change of tide that will add a knot but we are making great time and are definitely on target for entering The Messina Straits at a good time for the tide. We have a poled out headsail, which we find adds speed in these winds and a preventer on the main which makes our starboard side look like a cats cradle but feels safe if there are any issues with roll or wind shifts.

Another difference with this part of the trip is that suddenly we are seeing other sailing boats. In the entire time since leaving Plymouth we have seen a lot of commercial vessels but very few sailing boats but the wind is good and they are out in force on this coast, hopefully getting in before the expected incoming stormy weather.

It starts to get more lumpy and the wind is growing with the impending strong winds forecasted. However, we are flying along and our original prediction of 5pm to enter the straits is looking pretty good. As we approach, we call up Messina VTS to tell them of our intentions, apparently there can be some hefty fines for non reporting although the advice seems confused with some people suggesting the rule only applies to boats over 45m. We take no risks and report in giving the boat details and the people on board and they welcome us in. It did take some time to do this though, since they also seemed confused as to why we reporting in! We will be following a triple masted sail training vessel used by the military which is going quite slowly so we may need to go past her as well as dodging all of the ferries and keeping an eye out for the hazards of the Messina straits.

We have heard scary tales of currents flowing against the general flow and whirlpools and although we are a larger yacht that shouldn’t have a problem, we have been very careful with our timing so that we have a good tide helping us get through the straits quickly. Hopefully no Ancient Greek monsters will swallow us whole or pull us into the depths.

As we go through the strait, it is as easy and calm as going through any race or past any peninsular on the south coast of England. I’m sure there are bad journeys too but we had one to two knots of tide helping us through. We had also taken down our sails in case there was a funnelling or fluky winds but it was all fine and we could have kept our downwind sailing rig going through the straits. We are well behaved and observe the Traffic Separation Scheme although, because we are overtaking the triple masted ship and there is nothing else round, we do not hug the coast. There are half a dozen ferries criss-crossing the strait which is fine although we do spot on AIS that two are clearly double ended because they are going backwards! That looks confusing when you check your instruments and see something coming backwards towards you!

As we exit the straits, we wonder what all the fuss is about, but I’m sure that it can be bad in less benign conditions. At the end of the TSS, we can turn towards the Italian side and our eventual destination. We have been chatting to the other boat from Almerimar, Dalliance, and they have arrived in this marina prior to us. It sounds like we will be in similar places although there are two distinct areas of the marina, one at the top of the port and one at the southernmost part. We call into the port control having been warned there are large fines for not doing so. They are happy for us to proceed but Maria is worried about the stern to mooring in a potentially tight place and has asked that I bring her in today. Gulp. We observe the correct approach into the funnel that leads into the harbour and then turn sharp left and left again into the marina. On our starboard side are a lot of small speedboats tied up to the wall and on the port side a lot of boats of similar size to us all stern to the wall with lazy lines. It is blowing 20 knots down the channel which will be a bit of a problem since it will be a cross wind blowing us sideways onto one of the boats.

Our standard approach in these situations is to turn right, line up the stern with the gap and then use the bow thruster to steer Mariadz in by adjusting the bow and changing the direction while slowly going backwards. I am wedged into the slot a little leaning on one of the boats which causes some concern for some of their crew. Unfortunately stopped there is very little I can do to adjust Mariadz except using the bow thruster to keep the bow straight, expecting that the stern is reasonably protected from the wind by the other boats. I am waiting for Maria and Christian to stop sorting the fenders and get me a stern line ashore which gives me some control of where I am since I can power forward against that and keep myself off the wall and away from the other boats. The staff are really helpful and take our shore lines and as the guys tie them, one of the staff has got aboard from the adjacent yacht with the lazy line to hold the bow. We are now stopped and can relax. All of the boats around us have two lazy lines that go from their bows to a fixed points in the middle of the marina. Unfortunately, the one we have does not have enough angle to hold our bow away from the boat down wind from us. We have fenders at the ready and the skipper seems happy enough even if some of his more nervous crew and passengers are worried. We have to stay like that for most of a day until the boat upwind of us leaves and we take a second lazy line with a better angle which keeps us off next door. The type of boat is familiar to us being a large sun odyssey like our friend Stig in Ipswich. We get talking to the owner Ivan and his family later and they are lovely people with an interesting view on the current conflict in Ukraine since they have a foot in each camp despite having gone to Canada a long time ago.

The other local treat is the taxi driver, Saverio, who brings bread and pastries in the morning as well as providing a taxi service in his old Mercedes. When you look at his card he also has a chandlery, provides gas, boat services and rents cars. He is very friendly and we decide to use him for the trip to the other side of the port to meet the crew of Dalliance who have a table booked in a restaurant close to their yacht. Saverio is trying to persuade us against the tourist hot-spot to a rustic trattoria and as we arrive the building is quite unimpressive and also empty (although apparently it filled up later so we may not have been able to get a table anyway). We decide this isn’t for us and I pop in to say we are going somewhere else to eat but may be able to get together for a beer and a chat later.

Back in the car and Saverio has just the place for us. As we drive there we are graced with some stereotypical Italian driving and I am passed my seat belt to put on! Saverio is also showing us lots of laminated mentions of him in various guide books. Who knows may join that illustrious list one day. As we arrive all of the signs are good. It looks a really nice place with outside tables and a lovely charm to it. It is full of Italians and we don’t hear another English voice all night. However, before I am allowed to sit down, Saverio wants to take me away to show me things. Now I do have a track record of being kidnapped in Italy and taken to see things or pick vegetables so Maria is not surprised. We get back in the car and Saverio drives further out of town showing me his home before going into an industrial area and stopping next to a gate. On opening these gates he drives down a slope to a lock up/garage and apparently I am to get out. He opens up the garage which has boats suspended from the ceiling and pictures of semi clad women like a number of car garages I have visited. He opens up the other side of the garage to a beach onto the straits, it is really quite picturesque and I’m sure maria would have loved it. Back inside he asks me if we like wine and brings out a bottle of red and a bottle of white. I think the plan is we try it, love it and buy lots off him. He also has a number of rounds of cheese and would like me to try one. It is very nice and he is already wrapping it. He says we can have the wine but the cheese is €25. Maria likes cheese and so that is a present for her then! We return to the restaurant where of course Maria has ordered wine already so Saverio’s wine will have to wait. Unfortunately despite being full of locals, the restaurant seems to be mostly a pizzeria. Not what Maria wanted to eat at all although the pizza is good and my seafood linguine was nice. Overall Maria is disappointed. We get back to the boat and it is our first night sleeping when the boat hasn’t been moving so hopefully a good nights sleep for all despite the heat.

The next day and Christian has decided that his only real chance to get home for his important meeting early in the week is to leave then and via connections get back to London. It’s a shame because we was keen to do the whole trip to Brindisi and until a storm came into the Adriatic we were looking good to get that done. So maria and I will do the remaining sailing on our own including the odd overnight passage. We ask Saverio to be around at 10am to take Christian to the airport as we all get ready. At 10:30 he hasn’t arrived and Christian is starting to get nervous about his flight. Apparently there was car trouble but fortunately it is a very small airport locally so Christian was able to catch his flight ok.

Having seen to back to to Mariadz, who can only be described as orange. Although we have had no rain, the moisture every night provided a sticky surface for the sand in the air to stick to and Mariadz is filthy. She has looked after us across the North African coast and Sicily so the least we can do is get her back to looking her best. Maria and spend a few hours cleaning her down, cleaning all of the windows and getting the stainless water stains off and she is back to looking beautiful again. It was hard work but we are both pleased, as even the cockpit gets a thorough clean.

Maria is keen not to cook tonight and we aren’t impressed by the recommendations we have been getting so it is back to the internet to look at reviews and menus to decide where to go. We are also conscious that our wedding anniversary was whilst at sea and my usual preference for us getting into the bedroom only partially worked, we both spent a bit of time in the bedroom but never together because of the watches! So we have decided to push the boat out and have a really nice meal. Maria has found a fish restaurant that offers a luxury experience for a fixed cost with an allowance against the wine. You know the fixed cost is going to be a lot when they offer you free wine with it! The Ristorante L’Aragosta looks great and they can fit us in for 8pm. It will be eye watering expensive and includes beluga caviar on the set menus but we should celebrate belatedly our wedding anniversary.

As quite a posh place we both decide to dress up for the occasion and just after 7:30 I notice Saverio is not parked in his usual spot and so I call him to take us to the restaurant. By the time I speak to him, he says yeah I can leave in about 30 mins which would make us late for our table. I persuade him to come and get us and we shouldn’t be too late. However, as we head up to the car park and get in the car, it is clear he doesn’t know this restaurant. He asks the staff but it is ok because I can set up the sat nav on the phone and direct us in. We set off but it is clear that Saverio thinks he knows where we are going and doesn’t need the sat nav, or so he thinks. He pulls up outside the wrong restaurant and is clearly a little irritated when we say we still have a few kilometres to go across town. Eventually, he gets us within a five to ten minute walk and we give up and get out of the taxi. We have paid him and can get another her taxi back when we are ready rather than being on the clock. The walk is uphill so not quite the start we wanted to our evening.

We arrive at the restaurant which is in a residential area. As we go in, the restaurant is quiet hopefully not a bad sign. The maitre d turns us around and walks us across the road to another restaurant room. We walk in and one wall is filled with wine on display and the room is sectioned into small dining areas, each of which has a table and a sofa. It looks lovely and perfect for our anniversary. We explain it is our wedding anniversary and agree our food. They don’t speak English but on the whole our limited Italian is holding up well even if we have to get them to repeat things a few times.

The food is amazing, two courses feature beluga caviar and lots of different fish and crustaceans both cooked and raw. Just our kind of stuff and reminds us of the many fine meals we shared at Carlo’s restaurant in San Michele Salentino.

We have both had a wonderful evening, a unique experience and a great way to celebrate our anniversary. Maria was particularly pleased with the wide selection of after dinner digestives such as amaro and limoncello although some of them weren’t to her taste….

We return to the boat and listen to some music, sing some songs and and dance a little before falling into bed late. Tomorrow we will be leaving and continuing the journey to Brindisi.

Almerimar to Sicily

Christian and I have arrived in Almerimar and it is now time to start thinking about leaving, all of the repairs are done and we need to start preparing. Our stern to mooring means that we have the pasarelle out to walk to shore which goes under the solar. To achieve this the rib is down and since the passarelle is stored in the lazarette, and we had work done in there, the entire contents need to be reloaded.

We have spoken to our neighbours who have suggested we can step across their boat if we need to get ashore after we have stored everything. This is particularly useful when putting on the rib cover which is possible just from the boat but is a lot easier if someone is on the far side making sure the cover is in the right place.

It takes some time to load our full lazarette with everything fitting into place like a jigsaw. It is difficult and especially surprising when we consider the stuff that isn’t going back in. How did we get it in before? The rib is lifted and the cover on but again it is taking time and it is looking like 5pm before we leave even though we started preparing at lunchtime. Finally, I need to adjust the stern lines so that we can slip them off from the boat. This is easier said than done since they refuse to budge and after much swearing and eventually putting mariadz into astern so that we can ease the pressure on them, we are able to get them ready.

Leaving the berth is easy, we drop the lazy lines that have held the bow for two weeks and let them sink before we head off. Maria brings Mariadz off sideways so that we stay away from the boat next to us and we are clear. Off to the fuel pontoon to top up the tanks with about 100 litres before we head off.

The wind is blowing across the marina and is reasonably strong at about 15 knots as Maria approaches turns hard over and ferry glides into the concrete fuel pontoon with the fenders taking the pressure before we tie her on. We add 94 litres of fuel and Mariadz is completely full and we now have 670 in the rank and another 85 in cans.

As we prepare to leave I am overthinking about the wind and decide that rather than doing our normal approach of coming off sideways, we will spring off as we have multiple times before which gives us a safer method when the wind is blowing you onto a dock. This involves loading up the bow with fenders and Maria moving mariadz slowly onto these and the dock which moves the stern out into the channel. Once it is out enough, you slip into astern and come off backwards before, once far enough away, turning and going out as usual. With our sideways approach, you steer into the dock with some revs to get the stern to “bite” which moves it out and then bow thrust off to get the bow out there and then drive off. As you can see these manoeuvres are very similar.

I clearly haven’t communicated the change of plan properly and Maria was down below when I moved the fenders to provide the protection for the bow. It means we are talking at cross purposes when I say steer in and go forward. maria thinks we are coming straight off but when she goes to use the bow thruster I tell her no but she is committed and has used the right power for the plan she thought we had. The hull hits the the fuel pontoon in the only place I didn’t have fenders. What a terrible start and Maria is blaming herself when it isn’t her fault. Firstly I hadn’t communicated well enough, then I didn’t have fenders along the whole side, even having one I hadn’t moved over which would have gone beautifully into the gap, finally the spring on the bow which holds us to the dock for the manoeuvre was loose allowing us to move forward before it took effect which was just laziness and a lack of concentration on my part. There’s a mark and some damage so we will be paying our tax for being stupid. The marina staff have taken a look at the scuff but it will be Sicily before we get to fully view the results of our mistake. It is frustrating and upsetting and Maria blames herself even though it is my fault. Still better than her blaming me, we can’t have both of us doing that for hours 🙂

With a quiet boat, we head out to sea and set our course south east to clear the headlands before heading nearly due east towards Sicily.

Our new engine communicates with the navigation so we now have full engine data that can tell us exact consumption at the revs we are at. Unfortunately we are still in a big sea and the wind is of course on the nose. All this is holding us up and we are at quite high revs making little progress. This trip looks like a lot of motoring with the five day weather forecast we have. Hopefully we will be able to use our sails to conserve some fuel. On average, at higher revs we are getting about one mile for a litre of fuel, which makes the range calculation easy! The timescale for our fuel is also easy since it is just under five days at 6 knots. This improves drastically if we are reasonably motorsailing and is of course best when we are sailing.

We head out and drop below the headlands to due east which is pretty much our course for the next five days!

However, we have been very silly. We have celebrated my return and the arrival of Christian a little too much and we are hungover and dehydrated. So I have now destroyed our immaculate record of not feeding the fish through Biscay by making sure I had an empty stomach on the first night! The next morning, I am a little better but the combination with little sleep is not good and I will need to recover my stomach slowly and gently having made sure the fish were ok again!

There are three of us on this trip and so a change to the watch system was required. We toyed with a few options, three hours on and six hours off is popular. However, we had benefited through Biscay having two people on watch and although that isn’t possible this time without wiping people out, we are keen to have a good overlap. We finalise our thoughts for the first night as effectively three hours on but you stay for an extra hour when the new person comes on watch. This means you have company for half of your four hour watch, which is nice but also useful if we need to change sail plan, and everyone gets a five hour break which should give the opportunity for a proper sleep and ensure this is sustainable for a number of days. We promise to review during the second day to see if it works but the first night I always a bit strange because everyone is excited and maria and I are also beating ourselves up for the fuel pontoon mistake.

In Almerimar, before we left, some of the crew of a large oyster, Dalliance, met us since we had mutual friends in Ipswich. They are planning a similar trip but intend to leave a little later than us after their evening meal. I’m sure they will catch us up though.

This trip is generally in 2-3km of water with only the occasional passing cargo ship to break the monotony. Apart from the dolphins shortly after leaving which were doing acrobatics off our port side but they didn’t come over to play with us, we have found med and Atlantic dolphins to be quite bashful, although it could also be that we aren’t going fast enough to give them entertainment in our bow wave.

Our evening watches start at 9pm and Maria has prepared us fajitas for dinner. I will be Maria’s company for the first hour. The wind is building but still in our faces and is rising to 20 knots. Maria and I implement our nighttime sail setup which will be half the main. That done, mariadz is Comfortably riding the swell but it is a bit bouncy for the rest of us. Still, we knew it would be like this for the 24hours out of port but we hoped we would make a bit better time.

The first set of night watches are fine although we did have to cross a busy route during the night, something I usually try to avoid. Our watch system also requires one person a night to do the first and last watch. Accidentally, I have let Maria do this which wasn’t my intention but I guess we will each be doing this over the next three days so much of a muchness. In the morning, the swell is dying down but so this is the wind until some clouds on the horizon promise a little more breeze. Christian and I are quick to seize the opportunity and get the main fully out as well as our staysail and headsail. We are cruising along at nearly seven knots although the engine is also helping at a measly 1500 revs. This means we get more than 3 miles per litre – that’s more like it. Except, just as we are settling into the ride, it’s over and we are back to 4knots of wind in front of us so the headsail and staysail go away and we keep the main for balance.

This sets the tone for the rest of the day. The monotony only being broken by Dalliance, the oyster from Almerimar, hailing us on 16 to see how we are doing and the occasional passing ship. This is of course mine and Maria’s wedding anniversary but no time to celebrate 😦

Night two and I am on the double shift while maria and Christian each have the single shift and the odd hour. During the day we have taken advantage of the easy nature of the trip to catch up on sleep so hopefully we will now get into the rhythm of the watches. Just as we start and Maria goes to bed we are buzzed by a couple of dolphins jumping out of the water on the starboard side. They head to our bow but quickly get bored of us and move on. That is the sum of our excitement for the evening apart from the odd cargo ship coming within a mile or two. All of the shifts are like this until the last one where I take over. We can see on AIS that we are being caught by a cargo ship who will overtake us but at exactly the same time there is one coming the other way straight at us who is also being overtaken by a fourth ship. So the two of us are quite constrained. We all jostle for position and there is a mile between all of us as we simultaneously meet in a line. It was the most excitement we had all day! The last part of my shift is on my own, and having heard Algeria coastguard informing all ships that the gulf of Algeria has navigation prohibited, I recheck our course. We were planning to be 15-20 miles off shore so outside of territorial waters which is the direct route to Sicily but I will move us a little further offshore. I also adjust the waypoints so they give us an expected target for each day, let’s see how that works out. Breaking the tedium continues as I get all of the engine and fuel data on one of my navigation screens and adjusting the screen for the handheld autopilot… you have to have some time on your hands for that. Of course, the fixed autopilot is creating this time as it operates perfectly with its replacement part and having been rebuilt expertly.

As the morning progresses, rest of the crew emerge, they have all had a good sleep. It’s hot and sunny and I sit here writing notes, as Christian reads,having updated our log, and Maria lies around in her bikini. Time for me to get some rest.

They say that the Mediterranean has two types of wind: too little or too much. For most of the day we have had a gentle westerly that has been just enough to mean no wind is going across the deck. It is 30+ degrees and very hot and sticky. Time for maria to break out the dominoes and teach Christian tabletop warfare!

Maria has decided on an early Mediterranean style dinner with salads, meats, tortilla and cheeses. It is perfect at the end of a really hot day with some really great tastes. We are still seeing very occasional ships and a bit of rubbish in the sea but we seem to be in our groove now.

Another monotonous night with very little to report except the very occasional encounter with a cargo ship. However, visibility drops to about a mile so I put our radar on to make sure we can see and be seen.

It is three days since we left Almerimar. After a slow start we have had a couple of consistent days of approximately 160 miles a day. However, there has been negligible wind to motorsail and what wind there was on the first day really slowed us down. Three days of solid motoring has used a lot of fuel too. At reasonable revs, we use about 5-6 litres an hour so we have probably used half a tank getting to here and we will need to refuel. Our options are Sicily or Tunisia for refuelling which are both achievable even if we have to motor all the way there. You would have thought that Tunisia, as an oil state, would be cheaper for fuel but I guess there is only one way to be sure… over the next 12 hours or so we will have to make a decision, especially if we want to be sure to arrive wherever we are in daylight. Tunisia, as nice as it would be to get cheap fuel, is unlikely having rechecked the visa requirements and not knowing whether they would just let us refuel. It seems unlikely from the books and we can’t access the internet to check real world experience. In the interim, Christian and I add the spare fuel from the cans to the tank using my clever little pump which ensures no mess.

In the morning, we are hailed by name and call sign, always a sign of officialdom. Have we done something wrong? We heard the previous day, a standard Algerian message concerning their waters being protected from any traffic but we are a long way outside of this. The call comes from “naval operations” who are asking us our destination. It is a very polite conversation with us each referring to the other as “sir” as he requests our destination port and I explain that we are heading to Marsala in Sicily. It starts another day of keeping an eye on big ships and seeing lots of plain sea with the occasional dolphin coming over to play.

As night approaches, we have a little consistent wind on our port side and are able to take advantage by motor sailing with all sails up. We are bombing along at over eight knots through the water but the tide is against us at the moment so we are only going seven over ground, it imagine how slow we would be without sails. This continues for four or five hours which means we have a good start to our fourth day at sea. Our moods are improved even further later on when a pod of dolphins, probably around twenty, come over to play. They are jumping fully out of the water and as usual it warms the spirit, not that we need much warming, it has been hot again today.

We are back to the day 1 watch which means Maria has the double watch and Christian and I have the odd hour at the beginning and the end. The watch starts fine and just before I finish at 10pm, I check the ships and make sure we are ok. Fifteen minutes after I go to bed though there has been a wind shift and our rig of half main and stay sail is not doing anything. In fact the self tacking stay sail is now bouncing around the track which will wake Christian up. Maria gets me up to help with the sail change, we take another moment to review the traffic coming up and then it is back to bed for me and Maria has two hours on her own. Maria continued to be busy as we approach the funnel between Tunisia and Sicily which should be very busy with shipping. Maria is relieved by Christian at midnight and that is her opportunity to get four or five hours sleep before she is back on watch. Unfortunately Maria has been really struggling with sleep for the last few days. I think being out of contact whilst looking for a job, having a daughter who is ill, a cat that is ill and everything else is weighing on her mind and she is struggling to switch off. When I get up shortly before 3pm to take my watch, Maria is up with me saying she can’t sleep. We have to change round the watch system since Maria is going to stay up, so I am back to bed for a few hours and will get up at 6am when hopefully both Christian and Maria will catch up with their rest.

In the morning, the wind has completely changed direction but not enough to allow us to sail. It’s not as bad as the other day when the wind exactly counteracted the speed we were doing which meant that there was no air going across the deck and it was super hot. The morning is brighter than recently and we can actually see the sunrise rather than just thinking someone has switched the lights on. We now have 200 miles to Sicily and our scheduled stop for fuel. Hopefully, the forecasted weather from Saturday confirmed over the radio today will mean that we have a little more wind to play with.

It comes to pass and suddenly we have a bit of a westerly wind. Enough for us to set up goose wing with the main on one side and the Genoa on the other. However, we are rolling quite a bit which makes the sails lose their shape and bang and clatter as they get it back. We are doing over seven knots so there is no chance of us stopping sailing! The solution to this is to use our pole to stop the Genoa from losing its shape. We did this a bit in the Biscay and Atlantic but struggled getting the Genoa sheet to work through our netting. I mention to Christian that we may take a few attempts to get this right but miraculously I choose the right loop in the brat nets to thread the sheet through and it is barely pulled at all when the sail is set. Immediately there is an acceleration as the sail sets well and stays there.

Over time the wind starts to bare to the north slightly which matches a prediction maria has been able to get from the Italian radio. We keep turning a little south to keep our goose wing working but at around lunchtime it is time to turn back to our track with the sails on the starboard side. For protection and because of the swell we have kept the pole out with preventers on both the pole and boom which should stop any risk to the rig. We have made good time during the day with the wind’s assistance.

Maria prepares a seafood pasta for dinner with the last of the bread she made the other day. As always it is delicious although a still very tired Maria keeps asking if it is ok. We are then into our fifth day at sea and our last night before getting to Sicily for refuelling. For most of the previous four days we have had shipping around us as we beat a well trodden path from the Gibraltar straights into the heart of the Mediterranean. We are now veering off towards Sicily when most traffic is heading further south. The night is incredibly quiet because of this with highlights being ships coming within five miles of us. However, by dawn we are fifty miles away from Sicily and we can start to see the fishing fleet in the distance. It looks like we will get all our “fun” in one big hit! Actually, it isn’t as bad as it looks and the wind is non existent. We are now beginning to think about getting into Marsala and giving Mariadz a very welcome long drink.

On the approach to Marsala, I speak to the man running the fuel pontoon and it sounds like he will be at lunch when we arrive. No problem, we will wait on the pontoon for him to finish. That sounds fine and we finalise the approach passing a French boat as we enter the harbour.

Maria is behind the wheel and the area for the fuel pontoon looks really tight as Maria goes into that channel. Then there is a man frantically waving at us. He wants us to one in stern to using lazy lines and has brought the fuel line all the way down the pontoon. Maria is able to stop Mariadz before she is too committed and comes back to the pontoon bringing her in to the pontoon expertly. We get her tied off and the refuelling can begin.


We have arrived at Almerimar with a few jobs to do, again. However, I will be flying back to the UK to return to work although Maria will remain in Spain for at least a week. With the boat going to Italy, we have lost our home in the UK, and as good as living with each of our children for a few months sounds, we will probably need our own place, not least of all so we can take our furniture out of long term storage. Unfortunately, the letting agency have demanded to see us face to face prior to handing over the keys and seem to want Maria to fly back to the UK just to do this. On my return I am able to persuade them against this so Maria is able to stay.

Maria selected Almerimar because it was a large marina in a reasonable place for our route and apparently it was one of cheapest in Spain. I will talk more about the work in a moment but as able to stay there for two weeks, have all the repairs done and refuel for less than Cartagena wanted to charge me for berthing. Considering the price difference, we weren’t expecting much if we are honest but we were really pleased. The security on the pontoons was good, you couldn’t get on the wrong pontoon with the fobs. Although the toilets could do with a refresh, we always used the boat facilities anyway. We also found, in common with all of Spain, the staff really helpful and welcoming which goes a long way in our book.

However, before I go we need to organise some works. Almerimar has a large yard which looks very professional and flush with the success of our trip to Vigo, we walk in expectantly and hopefully. As we walk into the office/shop, there are three people behind the counter, they all stop and stare at us. We say hi and does anyone speak English. The response is they do but an Englishman, let’s call him Dick to protect the innocent, curtly tells us that he is serving a customer and we will have to wait. We hadn’t meant to interrupt and in fact hadn’t said a word when they all stopped and stared at us. Not a great start.

There is cold water in the customer area and it has been a long walk in sweltering conditions, so we grab a small cup of cold water each. Dick stops again and tells us we will have to pay for that, which is apparently just a really poor joke, but this isn’t starting well.

I am thinking that the conversation with the other customer isn’t particularly helpful or friendly as well but hopefully we can break down some of these boundaries.

Dick finishes with the other customer, sending him away and turns his attention to us. We have done a fair bit of motoring since leaving Plymouth and the first year, or 250 hour, service is now due, after just two weeks! We ask if he can recommend a yanmar specialist who could service our engine since it is still under warranty or an engineer who could work on the autohelm. His response is he could put us in touch with someone but he wouldnt recommend them! Oh, ok. We could do with a rigger for a short period to sort out our bent stanchion and a stainless person to straighten the old one. The stainless person could also create a cheek plate, or bow protector, and fit it. His response completely non-pluses us. Firstly, he asks if we are taking the boat out of the water. No, we would expect the glueing and eight screws to be fitted in the water as confirmed by two experts in the UK that unfortunately ran out of time. Apparently, they won’t do that and anyway they are busy and it could be weeks. We then ask about air conditioning and refrigeration. Our saloon air con unit has stopped pumping cool air and we think it needs regassing. His response was there is no point in doing that because it has a leak. I point out that the leak may have occurred over the last twenty years and maybe we could try regassing the unit and see if it lasts another twenty years. He refuses to help us and says we will need to get the unit repaired even though we intend to replace it in the next year or two. Finally, since we are suckers for punishment, maria asks about her new fridge which continues to ice up. We have been told that this is likely because of air getting into the fridge through a slot that the sensor wire comes through. Maria has fashioned a fix using blutack but would like the proper gum. His response is that a completely different fridge that he has in the shop has had to have seven replacement doors and that all new fridges are rubbish ending with the line that if it front opening it will always ice up.

So we leave there completely unsatisfied with nothing resolved and having experienced one of the most obnoxious and unhelpful people I have seen in years. A completely different experience to the incredibly helpful Spanish team in Vigo. We now begin to understand why my parents didn’t want to associate with the English in Spain if that is what they are like.

However, our experience in Almerimar was about to change completely. Our initial view was to go back to the marina office and ask for details of Spanish engineers but we have one more opportunity. Maria has signed up to the Navily app on her phone which provides reviews of anchorages and marinas. This has been really useful on the way down and one of the reviews talks about a freelance English engineer called Paul. I give him a try and he can’t be with us today since he is in another town but should be back tomorrow and can pop along to discuss the work. His whole attitude is completely different and helpful so that sounds a good start.

Paul arrives as expected at lunchtime and discusses the work we have. He is a little time constrained and really needs to get the work done next week since he has a lot of friends coming out the following week and doesn’t expect to be in a fit state to work. I describe the Whitlock and what is required once the spare part arrives which should be in good time. We also discuss the engine service which needs to have Yanmar parts to protect our warranty, that will be no problem. Also can he recommend a rigger to take apart the safety lines and replace the stanchion with the one I have. Unfortunately this has defeated me but he says he will get that done too. We are on a roll! He doesn’t know an aircon guy who can regass the air con does he? Of course he does and he will put us in touch with them via a great guy at the chandlery called Mike. The answer to our dreams.

However, we still don’t have the spare parts we need to rebuild the autohelm. When we had left Gibraltar we had asked for the parts to be shipped. Unfortunately they couldn’t be done before because the marina refuse to accept parcels for boats that haven’t arrived and the last thing in the world we wanted was for our package to arrive before we did and get returned to sender. As it transpired, this wasn’t going to be an issue. The parcel shipped from the UK fine and then got held up in Spanish customs. At this stage, I was phoning two or three times a day to try and sort it out because I knew our window of opportunity with Paul was reducing and although I felt I could put it back together with the instructions and the observing I had done, I knew that Maria would always complain that I bodged it rather than get a professional to do the same as I would.

In the end I had to send three different pictures of my passport to the Spanish shipping company who were like Goldilocks, the first one was too shiny, the second too dark but the third one was just right! Once this part was complete, I could then get it delivered having paid the custom charge which was nearly as much as the cost of the part i needed. All of this introduced further delays and in the end we had missed the slot that Paul had offered us. Paul kindly suggested that he would do on one of the mornings when his mates were hungover or doing something else. So I paid the duty and now we are waiting for the part to arrive.

We still had to get the air conditioning fixed and buy the service kit for the engine to replace our spare that was being used for the service. This was Mike at the chandlery at Calle Valledero. He was great and got everything sorted for us and again restored our faith.

I hadn’t really noticed this about my wife before but she has a unique way of handling delays and waiting times. Need to wait for the washing – have a gin and tonic. Parcel not delivered yet, have a gin and tonic. I had better make sure the parcel gets delivered quickly or she will be hammered.

When the parcel arrives it is like Christmas. I am a little apprehensive in case Cliff from Whitlock south has sent me the wrong part and I apologise now for ever doubting this, since when marina opened it, there was a lovely sparkly new spindle with all its vanes intact just waiting for a nice Whitlock drive to nestle into.

Needless to say, before my return everything was done and done brilliantly with the autohelm being fixed making maria particularly happy. We can’t speak highly enough of Paul and I would recommend him to anyone.

So that is the boat fixes done, what about Maria’s time in Almerimar? Those who know Maria from Facebook will have seen numerous posts of her living the high life, watching washing machines go around in launderettes. Maria likes things to be clean and this will be no different as she gets lots of bags ready to go do some washing. Now despite appearances, Maria doesn’t actually like to watch the washing machines for thirty minutes and since we are on our own for a change, suggests that we go for a drink next door to the launderette while we wait for our washing. I may have mentioned this habit before and I confess I joined her on this occasion. She orders a very nice gin and tonic and this was to define her stay over the next couple of weeks.

Firstly, we met Wade at the bar and started discussing the requirement to get to the airport next availability of taxis. Like a number of resorts, there is a thriving community who help out in these situations and within minutes we have a car organised to take me and the boys to the airport for our flights.

Over the coming days, maria got to meet quite a few of the local expat community. Their experience of the guy in the yard was exactly the same as ours so at least it wasn’t anything to do with us.

Apart from busy about the boat trying to get her ready for our second leg to Brindisi, maria was able to join in the expat life with a group who welcomed her with open arms.

When I return two weeks later, the boat looks great. Maria also looks refreshed and has made a lot of new friends including all of Paul’s friends from England. Well at least she wasn’t bored while I was away…..

Gibraltar to Almerimar or Mariadz Search and Rescue

We have stayed an unexpected night in Gibraltar when the fuel man left work having said he would wait for us. He must have had something important on but to be fair, it gave us a night off the boat to see Gibraltar and sets us up for the last journey to Almerimar and reasonably simple day and night cruise east.

We want to be ready early so we can get fuel and get going but just before they open another boat sneaks onto the fuel area in front of us. Hmm, if we want here for it to be clear, we may be here a while. We agree to go over and get Mariadz onto the front part of the fuel area which is tricky meandering between various boats and sneaking in front of the large catamaran before getting in and tying off. Fuel here is about £1.20 which is more than we used to pay in England but in the current situation is very cheap. We take more than 500litres filling up a few spare cans on top of the main tank of 670L. Soon enough we are ready to go.

It is back to the slalom course avoiding the anchored and moving ships outside Gibraltar but this time we will be heading east rather than being on the opposite side when we came in. Since we are no longer rushing to be in time for an already departed fuel man, we can take a look at our surroundings and admire the rock itself, I guess it is also the start of a day rather than the end of a stressful one too.

We get to the bottom of the bay and are at Europa point and now it is a single turn towards Almerimar a little north of due east. We can now settle into our standard watch patterns of two hours each as we look at an arrival time of early morning the next day.

It’s a quiet morning as we all just settle into the routine that has become our sailing lives. We are always looking at how we can get the sails out but as a delivery trip we don’t have the luxury of time so the engine is on and we are making sure we are making good progress.

It’s around lunchtime when I am idly scanning the horizon and see something strange. We are seventeen miles out and I can see a lone canoeist paddling away. Our first thought is that if he is trying to get from Africa to Spain, there are shorter journeys! One of the crew suggests that he is paddling and therefore ok but he is probably nineteen miles away from the nearest land on a scorching hot day. We are investigating and if he says he is fine then great.

He is now waving to us as well as paddling so we are Co fire t we have done the right thing. As we approach, we can see that his canoe is well fitted with a small outboard and safety gear but it becomes apparent no radio.

Before we hear his story I call tarife, who control this part of the sea, and explain what we have found. Interestingly, a few things go through your mind here. There is no imminent threat to life because he was stable in his canoe and he has now transferred to us so it isn’t a mayday. It may not even be an urgency message or Pan Pan since actually I may just be asked to take him to the nearest marina. So I decide to treat it as a routine message and ask Tarife for their advice and instruction. They are grateful that we have acted and say that they will send out a search and rescue boat to pick him up. By this stage, we have him on board, his canoe is tied off and being towed behind mariadz and we have offered him refreshment while Ex-nurse Maria has got her beady eye on him looking for signs of any issues. The lifeboat will be here in about 30 mins so we settle down, Mariadz going round in circles again.

Pedro, is from Madrid, and he comes down to the coast to explore it in his canoe. The previous night the strong winds had capsized his canoe flooding the engine with water and water logging his phone. He then got swept out to see. He had some water and chocolate but didn’t expect to be out for long so didn’t have lots of provisions. He had been trying to signal to various ships during the night by flashing SOS on his torch but no-one had seen him. It was very distressing for him and he said he felt that we were probably his last chance. To be fair there was another yacht behind us who may have seen him and may have been able to help but it was a powerful message of just how quickly it can go wrong and you can be in real trouble.

Fifteen minutes later and we get another call on the radio from tarife. The search and rescue boat will be with us in 35 minutes and they are on their way. We check AIS to see if we can see them since they should be in range. Eventually we find them coming along at 22 knots.

Pedro is in good spirits, more worried about the dirt he is leaving on our deck than his own well being. The life boat has arrived and we straighten our course so that they can come alongside. One of the crew has been asked to be a roving fender since, although we have set up fenders on both sides, it is difficult with two moving boats to get it right this close together. Actually, this didn’t work out very well for us, since he was so focused on filming what was happening that he forgot his fender duty and the lifeboat struck us reasonably gently right where he stood with his fender in his hand.

As soon as the lifeboat is alongside, Pedro is away and on board. We are not sure what we said but he seemed to be very happy to see his compatriots. Maria takes our line off mariadz and hands it to them so they can get the canoe on board and then they are ready to go. With our line. Pedro points out that the line isn’t his and asks for them to return it for us so they back next to us wanting to throw a line with a metal shackle at us. Instead I reach over with the boat hook and they place it on there and we get it in quickly.

An hour later, it is all done and we are back on our way towards Almerimar knowing that we have done the right thing. Tarife have been on the radio thanking us for our actions and all is good with the world. We gave our contact details to Pedro and hope he will write to us to say he is ok and back on the water having bought a waterproof VHF radio so he can contact help if he needs it.

The rest of the day is a little anticlimactic if we are honest. We are travelling in light winds putting sails up as we can and motor sailing. As the day draws in, a large dark rib is approaching us at speed. It is the Douane, or Spanish customs. We could see them moving and then divert at speed towards us. They take quite a long look while they are checking our details and then with a cheery wave before hammering off to another AIS track further out to sea.

The night watch starts, and one thing I have noticed is that despite everyone having six hours on and six hours off, it is rare that Maria and I are in bed at the same time for more than an hour or so. Tonight is one of those occasions but I am woken a couple of hours earlier than my watch by the unmistakeable sound of our main flapping as Mariadz pitches forward and back clearly in a reasonable sea. So there is wind but we don’t seem to be taking advantage. I pop up top to check the situation and we have a stiff breeze behind us but our main is tight in so not benefiting from the wind. We are also doing about three knots which means rather than arriving early in the morning, we are now looking at late afternoon. Mariadz and I are not having that. Having heard that the reason the sail is not set properly is because they were worried about waking us, we agree to get it done quietly but efficiently. The speed is back up and I can go back down for the last parts of my sleep.

I am up for my watch at 6am and can see we have a real opportunity with the wind to catch up some time. Overnight it has come round from a gentle south westerly to a good 15-20 knots further to the south and heading south east. This will make it a bit tight for us but I will take advantage of the wind we have to pick up some speed. The sails are up and set right and we are now whizzing along at a cracking pace and back on track to arrive in a few hours time. At 9am we arrive at Almerimar and are guided to our berth for the next fortnight which is stern to using lazy lines. Maria and I have experience with lazy lines from our sailing holidays in Greece but never on Mariadz so this should be interesting. Despite Maria’s concerns, she brings her in beautifully. The stern lines are on, the boys go to the bow with the lazy lines, which are really messy and tie them as tightly was they can. We can then tighten the stern lines up even more and Mariadz isn’t moving.

We now have the minor detail of how we get off the boat. Mariadz has a nice wooden and metal passarelle which folds in two and is deployed off the stern using the pasarelle line. Of course since acquiring her we have fitted a funky solar array above the rib which is where that pasarelle line would go. Fortunately we had considered this while we were stopped over in Vigo and had spent a some time setting up the pasarelle in a variety of ways to see how it was done. This has helped a lot and, after taking down the rib and moving it out of the way, we set upon creating an exit we can use to get off the boat. The biggest problem is that we have to empty the entire lazarette to get the pasarelle out! That will all need reloading too but needed to be done anyway so that we can sort out the Whitlock autohelm problem we had in Biscay.

Once we can step off the boat we can add extra mid lines to help make mariadz more stable with the strong winds that are coming.

We have now completed the first part of our journey to Brindisi. Me and the boys will be going to the airport to catch our flights to different destinations. It has been great having crew, and we really like Richard and Gerald. After two weeks, I think we probably all need some time apart though 🙂

Cadiz to Gibraltar via barbate – a trip down Orca alley

It is with some trepidation that we start the journey down the coast towards Gibraltar. Over the last few years there have been a large number of documented attacks, the authorities prefer them referred to as interactions, where sailing boats have been badly damaged by Orca or killer whales a more familiar name for them.

No one seems to have an idea as to why this is happening although there are several theories including playfulness, an understanding that these boats are in the same space as their beloved food, tuna, and may be competition or they are training the youngsters with slow moving vessels that don’t bite back.

The authorities’ response to this has been pitiful although, to be fair, there are well documented attacks but no one knows what proportion of craft this is happening to and some believe the whole problem is overstated. The authorities also give advice on what to do in the event of an interaction. Switch everything off and let them do what they want, once they are bored, and have smashed up your pride and joy, they will move on. Needless to say this hasn’t gone down well with the sailing community. A number of approaches have been suggested including certain courses through the tuna nets that are common on this coast or going way off shore away from the tuna. Some people suggest “going dark”, with no electronics running or engine to reduce the sound of the boat, this includes switching off the autohelm, not a problem for us obviously. Finally, in the event of an attack, it has been suggested that using a dolphin deterrent used by fisherman on their nets my keep them away. These are called pingers. The other action that has been suggested is to go gently astern since the theory is that a killer whale won’t want to swim backwards and won’t like the look of the propeller spinning towards him. This is not suggesting aiming at the orca at all just showing what will happen if they removed the safety of the rudder blocking the propeller. This later two actions are prohibited by the Spanish authorities who believe that any action interferes with the orca doing its thing should be prohibited. So clearly any such actions would have to be taken more than 12 hours off shore in international waters. I suspect that some people when fighting for survival may just adopt the tactics and take the punishment later rather than potentially losing their home.

Still we have just left Cadiz, it’s a lovely day and Maria has provided instructions that no one is to get too much rest today since we need to be on the look out for Orca. Incidentally, this is a request that is mostly ignored with the boys listening to music, reading or resting in their room but Maria and I are taking it seriously. There is also the last remnants of the military exercise with warships, aircraft and helicopters just out to sea of us.

The route down to barbate which is a small village a long way down the coast is covered with nets to catch the tuna as they race down the coast. These are well marked on the chart and so we have agreed to take a shallow route of 20M and tiptoe either side of all of the nets. We are also going to trust the chart, since the nets may be partially submerged, so we will go around them even if it appears that they aren’t there.

Most of the trip down is uneventful but at about 3pm, maria and I spot a lone Orca crossing our bow approximately 100m ahead. We are on tenterhooks as the Orca just keeps swimming towards land oblivious or uninterested in us.

Apart from the one siting it is an easy passage all of the way to the outskirts of Barbate. Here there genuinely is a large net with lots of buoys and markers. You have to round this to get into the marina. As we are nearing the turn, across the radio comes the call we are dreading. Fortunately, it is not a May Day but a pan pan so an urgent message. The person reports that they have just been attacked by a pod of orca and gives his position. He is three miles away from us. He says they did not cause significant damage but it was a vicious and vigorous attack. They have no moved on. If I am honest, I am not an expert on the swimming speeds of various marine creatures but I bet an orca is a lot faster than a sailing boat. We tip toe as quickly as we can into Barbate and are grateful for its safety.

We feel a little silly as we negotiate the locations of the nets with no obvious signs that they are actually there but we fell safer for doing it even if it does look weird when we do a couple of 90 degree turns, almost like a crazy Ivan from hunt for red october.

As has been usual in Spain, the staff at the marina are really helpful and give us a hand mooring up as maria brings mariadz into the berth expertly. We tie up and tomorrow we will truly run the gauntlet down to Gibraltar where a lot of the attacks have happened.

The next day we check the weather and it isn’t great until late afternoon but that causes us problems with negotiating the Gibraltar straight at a good state of tide and hopefully making it to Gibraltar before refuelling place closes. The wind for most of the trip will also be south easterly which isn’t great for the straights but hopefully enough of an angle for us to make progress and then take advantage on the route up to Gibraltar from the tip where it should be on the beam. This is also the scariest part of the trip for Orca.

The attacks are being plotted on a chart and it makes sobering reading. It seems that they wait outside Barbate like a cat outside a mouse hole, waiting. There are a lot of attacks here including the one the previous day that we heard about. So we will be running the gauntlet.

By 2pm, we have prepared everything we can and hopefully the weather will be kind to us as we leave the marina. Maria is nervous and on the look out for Orca especially after our siting and the attack. The crew are not so worried it seems, staying down below when not on watch.

The south easterly is right in our faces and not for the first time this trip, Mariadz is knocked out of her stride by the strong winds and swell. Unfortunately the next few hours of progress is so slow that, arriving before 8pm at Gibraltar, when the fuel pontoon closes, seems unlikely. However, we will continue to give it our best shot. Another boat has left at the same time and is motoring. Now there are two routes south, the first goes inside or over the tuna nets, if they are there and the second goes outside, as close to the 20m line as possible. The other boat has taken the former and we have taken the later. They are going faster than us with no sail up and are on a shorter route so it will be interesting to see how this works out. We can only imagine they are hammering their engine since we have some sail up and are motoring at reasonable revs but they are still going faster.

They seem to have made a good call as they are getting ahead of us and for the moment there have been no sightings of orca so we seem to be doing ok. In fact we pretty much get down to the turn at tarife without maria worrying too much that we are in the place of the most attacks. The south easterly is strengthening though and generally for the Gibraltar straits they say never try and go through on an easterly. My view was that the south element of this gave us enough of an angle to sail through the straights and then as you head north east to Gibraltar you will get a cracking sail.

Firstly you have to negotiate the straights. The main advantage of our departure time even with the slow progress so far is that the tide is on our side, however the wind is decidedly not which means wind against tide and a bumpy ride. This is exacerbated at this point where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea in a heavyweight contest where you seem to be in the middle with them. We have cut in close to tarife but this seems to be a mistake since the seas are especially turbulent here. I turn away to try and find some smoother water for us all and, as I do, two huge waves crash together and a huge plume of water comes out from between them. My language was colourful but something along the lines of “by Jove, that’s a bit of a surprise”. it’s a whale ten metres from our bow at the surface. I steer hard to port to avoid hitting him and the pilot whale slides down our starboard side before jumping out of the water just behind us. Wow. We are still heading out on this tack towards the shipping channel so I can get away from the turbulent water. As I start to tack back to head up to Gibraltar, we get called by name by a passing ship who want to know if we are intending to go across the shipping channel. So my apologies for worrying them but as we completed our turn the answer was clear and we start to accelerate up towards Gibraltar.

Mariadz is in full sail and eating up the miles, the other boat was a mile in front at this stage but is being hauled in as we sail up the coast. We have pretty much caught up as we get to the turn into the bay where Gibraltar sits. Martin Hubbard, when he taught us, always instilled upon us a safety first mantra and although we laugh about touching the east coast mud on a rising tide, we are incredibly safe and never take risks with mariadz. So I am taking the turn to Gibraltar quite wide and outside of the shallower areas whereas the other boat takes an inside route close to shore. The wind is also dying but Mariadz is clinging on to the last of it, gaining every ounce of speed she can. I suspect she knows there is a good drink for her at the end of it and she has definitely got the thirst to get to the pub before it closes. Maria rings ahead to the fuel pontoon to say that we are running a few minutes late, it looks like 15 at the moment and they agree to stay open for us. This is brilliant news and means we can continue to Almerimar non-stop and arrive a day early.

The approach to Gibraltar is littered with large ships anchored and as we get through all of these, we finally go past the other boat that left Barbate with us. It’s all about winning at the end….

We are in good spirits as we approach the fuel pontoon opposite Marina Bay and the Gibraltar ship hotel. However, the fuel area seems a bit quiet and as we tie up, we can see there is nobody there. So we are stuck for the night. We investigate and the entire fuel area is fenced off and bolted so if we stay here overnight, we will only see Gibraltar at a distance.

I call across to Marina Bay who clearly have a berth or two available and they say we can pop over there. Maria is still having confidence issues, particularly about going astern, Plymouth has shaken her and Maria wants me, the less experienced helm to do it. We come off the fuel pontoon sideways, steering into the dock and bow thrusting off – I always love how cool that looks like you have bow and stern thrusters. From the middle of the fairway, I start to go astern towards the berth but firstly have to skirt around a moored vessel before then lining back up with the finger pontoon. It all goes quite well and we are safely in our berth and going through our registration with the marina. If we are stuck in Gibraltar we are going to go out and enjoy ourselves especially since Marina may have been working here last year if philips had won a contract. We wander round the bay and it is as if we are in little England. It’s weird because it probably isn’t really what Marina or I wanted. In the end we settle on the Thi Vietnamese restaurant and had some lovely food and a lovely chat with the staff who were very welcoming. On the way back, and despite being in shorts and t-shirts, we wander into the casino. Yep, Maria wants to play roulette again! She plays her normal system, I have only given her twenty pounds to play with and doubles her money. Giving half her winnings to the croupier, we leave and get ready for the last leg of the first part of our journey.

Portimao to Cadiz

Having had a bit of a scare at Portimao, we are happy to be going, and Maria has vowed never to return.

At this stage we have a choice of whether to day sail along the coast to Mazagon with a further long sail to Cadiz or to cut across the bay and head straight for Cadiz. We agree we have lost enough days and we are keen to make progress so it is off and just keep going until you get to land.

We are not making great speed across the bay as we go past the algarve but we are happy we are effectively catching up a day. It takes nearly eight hours to get past Faro, with its busy airport, a journey that probably takes an hour from anywhere in the algarve. No one said that sailing to places was fast!

As we travel across the bay towards Cadiz, there is a lot of chatter on the radio and it soon becomes clear that there is a major NATO naval exercise underway. We had seen lots of naval ships in Plymouth and had been shadowed as we entered Biscay but a full military escort was beyond our wildest dreams. As we look on AIS, it seems that one ship per group is on AIS but it is disconcerting when they keep calling up other sailing boats explaining that they have a live firing exercise about to start and you may want to move from there….

This has been a long and quite slow journey of over 130 miles so we are expecting to arrive in darkness but Cadiz is such a major port and the detailed plans we have show a very simple entrance to traverse so we have agreed to put aside our usual rule regarding new ports at night. This is also helped by us being under a full moon.

It has gone sunset as we approach the bright lights of Cadiz but we have good visibility and little wind. This helps our decision making since there is a huge bay at Cadiz which makes a great anchorage but is a little exposed to the wind but protected from the swell, if there isn’t any then we are fine. It is easy to imagine the Spanish and French fleets hiding here a few hundred years ago before running towards Trafalgar and Nelson.

It’s 2am when we eventually anchor and we are the only boat there, hopefully not a pointer to problems later but we are confident in our anchoring gear and settle down for a good nights sleep.

The next morning is bright and we have decided to report into the police and customs to show we have arrived. Rather than taking Mariadz into a marina, we agree to drop the rib and the three brits head in.

We go into the real club nautico which in all the guides says can’t take a vessel the size of Mariadz. Maria is taking a good look and is convinced that there would be no problem. Having left the rib safely locked on the docking bay we pop into the office to explain. The people there couldn’t be friendlier and say that the rule forbidding Mariadz is only without prior arrangement. They have a number of berths that could take us. It’s a shame to have to pass up the opportunity but we have plans. The marina kindly let us leave the boat there while we head to the ferry terminal where the port police are located.

After some time and a nice walk across the old walks of Cadiz, we find the port police tucked on the side of the port building. A ring of the bell shows that this seems to be quite a small office but the policeman takes our papers and passports and shortly afterwards returns them, all checked. We feel we have done the right thing as we head back to the boat.

So just quickly lift the rib and we are ready to go. Nothing is that simple on Mariadz as we start to lift the bow and the same davit that had a problem before we started this journey stops working. Maria is of the opinion that we should jury rig it as we did before and get moving but I would like a little time to see if it is fixable.

On investigation, nothing seems wrong in the davit control box but I remembered that one of our recent problems was caused by the switch that controls our automatic shut off system. I flick this switch and the davit is working again although obviously with no safety shut off so I will need to be careful. At least it allows us to get the rib back up easily and put the cover on it before heading off on the part of the journey that Maria has dreaded: the trip down to Gibraltar or down by Orca alley where a pod of killer whales are attacking (sorry I mean interacting!) and disabling boats by chewing off their rudders.

"Two people, two cats, one dream"