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.

Lisbon to Portimao via Sines

We are now behind on the clock on our delivery trip to southern Spain and as we know you shouldn’t be pressured by the clock when sailing. However, the weather is starting to come in from the Atlantic and if we don’t leave quite soon we could be stuck in Cascais for some time. Cascais is nice but at over €100 a night, we couldn’t stay for long!

The next part of the trip will take us down the Portuguese Atlantic coast and around cape st Vincent into the algarve. The trip would take nearly 24 hours skirting the coast with the risk of lobster pots to catch our propellor. We decide to do this in two hits having found a safe anchorage along the way.

On our second day in Cascais, we quickly get the boat ready to go. There are a few annoyances as one of the crew releases the spring line stopping Mariadz going forward despite my questioning it. Mariadz hits the pontoon in front of us and leaves a lovely dent in her bow. Funnily enough, I was then told that I had approved it when I absolutely hadn’t. It also wasn’t the other person pulling the boat hard either! The frustration grows when I find that my iPad has been locked and deleted by someone trying to get through its security. The crew deny all knowledge but in all our experience with iPads we have never known one security lock itself without anyone touching it!

Putting these frustrations to one side, and the loss of all of my data and photographs for six months, we head out of the marina at 2:30pm and head down the coast. We are making good progress with a following wind pushing us along at 7-8 knots. As the afternoon turns into evening, we are touch and go as to whether we will reach the anchorage before sunset especially when the wind dies down.

It is an uneventful trip down the coast and as we approach Sines, we can see the big commercial terminal just outside the anchorage with a number of ships waiting like expectant fathers outside the maternity unit. We turn towards the anchorage as the sun slips down and we have the last of the light to guide us in. The anchorage itself is delightful with a wide beach, being groomed as we arrive, protected by two walls, one of which has a small marina tucked behind it. We head directly to the centre of the anchorage away from the other three smaller yachts nearer to the marina. The anchorage is renowned for having a slight swell as the large boats come in and although were only there overnight, we didn’t have any problem and it was very picturesque towards land even if the terminal out to sea was a little less so.

The next morning we are all rested, the shenanigans from the day before have been put behind us and we are ready to move on to Portimao. We have decided to leave at first light since we have 90 miles to go which could take 15 hours and we always like to arrive at new places in daylight, the day before being very close to breaking that rule.

The wind has died down and the bad weather is well to the north of us, we are grateful we left when we did. However, sailing is not an option is 8 knots of wind, at leant to make your destination in daylight. This will be the whole of the morning so we motor down making good progress against our plans. After lunch the wind changes direction and picks up a bit which gives us the opportunity to get some sail up.

Gerald has been down to the furthest tip of the algarve where it meets the west coast and it is a look out point where you can watch the boats rounding the corner. This is an opportunity for Mariadz to unfurl her sails and show off her beauty.

She is a lovely sight under full sail carving through the water and I hope there was someone up there to see. Four hours later we arrive at Portimao at 8pm so shortly before dark and see an incredibly full anchorage. There seem to be a few gaps as we wander around looking for a suitable spot. We decide on one just in from the edge with boats on all sides. It is difficult to come up with where to drop the anchor in these situations. Our general rule is to look at the way the boats are pointing and recognise that their anchors are likely to be in front of them so place ours favouring the stern of another boat over the bow of the boat behind. As we all turn in unison we should find ourselves in a good place. We take two drops of the anchor to get this where we want it and some of the boats are not lining up the same which points to features underwater which are changing the way that the water is flowing. I’m still not 100% happy but decide to keep an eye on it for the next thirty minutes while Maria prepares dinner. One of our neighbours, a Dutchman, is also not happy with us, as is often the case when people anchor anywhere near each other. He finishes off by suggesting that we had better have good insurance, really quite rude. We are settling nicely and everything looks fine but we will need to be careful at the change of tide and I am not convinced I will get the rest I need. After a short time we agree to move to outside of all of the other boats where we will definitely have enough room and can have a solid nights rest. We eat dinner and get our heads down preparing for the long journey tomorrow to Cadiz.

However, this is not before we convince the boys that the water is lovely and warm so they both go for a swim. A couple of laps of the boat and a shower down on the swim platform caps the evening

As described previously, our standard approach is to attach a buoy to our anchor to show us and others the location of our anchor. We have various snubbers to protect the windlass and put on an anchor alarm that constantly monitors your position compared to the anchor to confirm that it hasn’t shifted. We always have a lot of chain out which means we go round in a bigger circle but we never drag our anchor. So it is somewhat of a surprise at 2:30am after an early night to hear the anchor alarm blaring. Usually when this happens it is because I have made the arc that is monitored too small for the amount of chain and the length of the boat. On waking the first check is that we are nowhere near any other boats and we are a good distance away and not dissimilar to when we anchored. I check the anchor watch, reset it and go back to bed after a short while to check that everything is as expected.

On waking the next morning, I come out on deck and we had moved. Although the distance to the boat that I checked last night is the same, we have moved across them by about 25 metres. I also can’t see our anchor buoy and I am reminded of the Dutchman’s comment the previous evening that they used to have one of those and it was stolen. Surely he didn’t get up in the middle of the night, steal ours and trip our anchor accidentally… of course not. As we prepare to depart and the instruments are switched on, Maria points out that we are now in ten metres of water. We wouldn’t usually anchor in that depth despite having more than enough chain to handle it. However, it does explain the buoy problem. Although I have twenty metres of line on this, it is doubled to a length of ten metres which is fine for most of our anchoring. However, now it is slightly under the surface as I find when I pull in the anchor and it pops up. It is good to see it back although our assumption is that someone, probably drunk in the middle of the night, pulled at it thinking it was a a lobster pot, with a 40Kg stainless lobster in obviously. They must have been disappointed to find an anchor and dropped it. It then took twenty metres for the anchor to reset properly. Lucky we had moved or we would have been speaking to the insurers of other boats!

Vigo and on to Portugal

I have discussed the repairs that needed to be done in Vigo elsewhere but this wasn’t our sole focus.

We were lucky to find an incredibly friendly and helpful at Davila Sport in Vigo. Vigo itself is a huge fishing town and so we had to try two of our favourites while we were there: fish and tapas.

Maria had been in the kitchen for a solid few days and quite rightly suggested we eat out. The first night we wandered into town and found a lovely corner bar that did a fantastic selection of tapas (La Bodega de Aguila). We tried a wide variety and they were all excellent so definitely a recommendation from Mariadz. The second night it was agreed we would find a really good fish restaurant and the marina recommended a few places. We booked one of these (Bar Rocio) and of course ate at a standard English time. Our experience has been that the Spanish prefer to eat a little later but we were surprised to be completely alone in the restaurant. We had a good chat to the waiter who suggested a selection of starters. One of which was cuttlefish which had our vet performing an autopsy on the first and refusing to finish the second. The mains were very good too especially the monk fish.

Maria had to go shopping for provisions and was accompanied by Richard and when the marina suggests the shops are walking distance, they may be for keen walkers. Maria found them walking distance there but a much more comfortable taxi drive home! The chandlery was in a similar place which Maria and I also walked, she’s a glutton for punishment. Still another cheap taxi home though. It allowed me to replace the broken block for the downwind rig and get some other essentials.

After a couple of days of mostly successful maintenance, we are ready to leave, albeit without a working autohelm. We have a good forecast of quite strong northerly winds pushing us down the coast towards Lisbon and our destination of Cascais. There is quite a swell which we will be mindful of as we hand steer down but we should have a good sail.

As we set off, we are quickly in the groove. We have decided to go goose wing at the beginning with the main sail out on one side and the head sail out on the other. It has been a standard downwind sailing setup for us on the easy coast and I think we weren’t 100% confident of the twin headsail setup after the recent problems.

By the end of the day, we are making great progress with a 20-25knot wind powering us along at ten knots with the current. The swell is probably 2.5m which we have to surf along as we progress which takes a bit of practice and to start with is quite unnerving, a 25 tonne boat trying to be a surfboard. It is incredibly rewarding though when the wave gently puts you back having surged it for some time. As night draws in and the wind remains strong, we continue our usual practice of reducing sail at night and go to half of the headsail and half of the main.

The next morning, and despite our deliberate slowing down at night, we have covered 170 miles, mostly under sail.

It is lunchtime the next day as we approach Lisbon, we are greeted by dolphins which we have been fortunate to see nearly every day. We are still in downwind sailing mode although there have been a few wind shifts. However, we will need to change to a port tack for the approach to cascais. This is the issue when downwind sailing, at quite strong wind speeds, it seems quite benign because the speed of the boat offsets the wind and makes it feel slightly breezy! Of course when you turn ninety degrees, it is directly across you and you get the full brunt of it. If you happen to have full sail up, it can be quite a shock.

For this reason, we know we will reduce sail to about half sail immediately prior to the turn so that we can have a nice sail on beam reach. Just prior to doing this, there is a sudden wind shift which takes hold of our main and tries to gybe it to the other side of the boat. The preventer for this is on our furthest forward mid cleat which stops the worst happening but the power of the gybe is immense and the preventer bends the stanchion near to the cleat. I am behind the wheel so it is definitely my fault but incredibly frustrating and any mitigating circumstances would sound like excuses! I get the sail back on the side but that is also quite uncomfortable. A lesson learned but the lessons don’t stop there.

You may recall we had all new running rigging and one of the things that John our sailmaker mentioned was that the halyard for the sails may need tightening as the halyard stretches a little. They are dyneema so we aren’t expecting much but we should keep an eye on it. The power of the gybe seems to have pulled at the halyard or maybe the strength of the wind, however, I notice a small few creases that we will need to sort out. To be fair, I haven’t really noticed these minor creases until we decide to bring the sail in and then it jams at the opening because of the creases. We go forward to lift the halyard but that isn’t happening with the amount of power in the sail. So we need to deposit the sail by going head into the wind. We decide that we should do that when in the shelter of the headland since the swell is still quite large and the headland will help us here too. We take down all other sails and turn with just mainsail up. It’s going to be a wild ride for a short period. Mariadz is heeled over a lot and the boys are loving the exhilaration but maria not so much. We know this will only be for a few miles until we get to the lee of the land but it isn’t great.

It seems an age but actually is only a few minutes until the sea starts to settle and the wind starts to reduce. Since we are going into cascais and the wind is in the north, I am thinking that we should wait for the turn towards the marina since we have to head into the wind anyway. Myself and Richard head to the mast to try and fix the problem. Having eased the main a bit we can then tighten up the sail with the halyard and that was all that was required to get the sail in neatly. Quite a bit of stress and distress for a short period for what was a simple fix but I now have a permanent reminder of my mistake with a bent stanchion, fortunately I have a spare.

As we go into the marina, we decide to top up the fuel, we have used quite a lot across Biscay and we are keen to fill up properly at Gibraltar. As we get there, the marina staff help us and take a stern line letting our momentum continue so that we get other lines on. Normally we would go with a mid line but they were insistent. Actually it worked really well and probably better than Our standard approach. Topped up, I pay and check which berth we are to go into. They have allocated us a berth well inside the marina next to a large motor boat that is poking out quite a way. They suggest that we come in astern along the whole length of the pontoon and then bring it in astern. This looks a difficult manoeuvre even without the confidence sapping experience in Plymouth. I suggest we will go in bow first and worry about getting out later. Maria isn’t happy and delegates the driving to me, which doesn’t inspire confidence in the ease of the task at hand. I come in and we are doing fine. The marina staff are waiting to take our lines again and this goes without a hitch. I ask for one of the guys to put the mid-cleat line on to stop me being pushed by the wind onto the motor boat, but that doesn’t happen. Fortunately the marina staff have fashioned this with our second mid cleat but it would have been a lot less nervy if we had done what we normally do. Afterwards I spoke to Maria about this, who had been told by one of them that they would do it and she wasn’t needed. The shame is that Maria is the most competent and knew what was needed to be done. I suggest that if that happens again she should tell me and we will stop that immediately. In the end I am grateful for the help of the marina staff and our bow thruster for keeping Mariadz nice and safe until we could get all lines on. We have a few scars but we are in Cascais, our original end point for the trip across Biscay, albeit a few days later than we hoped.

Post-Biscay maintenance at Vigo

I am no longer captain of my ship and I am back to being maintenance boy with a long list of problems that need resolving.

We have already spoken to the marina who have been incredibly accommodating and will send a team of people to see us in an hour or so.

In the interim I decide to take a trip to the top of the mast, to try and understand why we had the chafe on our green spinnaker halyard. I take a look and a number of pictures but it is difficult to see what has caused it.

I am thinking that on the way down I could swap out the spreader lights, one of which is slightly faulty – still working but not as bright. That is a forlorn hope and I don’t get round to it!

I have now looked at the boom block and how it was positioned and know why this happened. Youtube and the internet isn’t always your friend and I should have checked this earlier rather than after eight hours of fantastic twin headsail sailing at 8+ knots. Still a new block is a small price to pay and we think the sheet for the headsail can be cut and still retain enough length to be used properly. The problem appears to be where I attached the block, which was as far back on the boom as I could get it. This meant that it was slightly obstructed by the main sheet blocks which meant it didn’t deploy properly and was at an angle. This resulted in the block being mangled by the rubbing of the sheet and damage from this to the line itself.

Probably most importantly is to try and sort out the Whitlock drive system, this could be as easy as a loose bolt in the workings that is obstructing the gears. Anyway fingers crossed.

While I am messing about with the steering I may as well check whether there is excessive play in the steering, which would have made the autopilot work harder.

So first up is the rigging. Firstly let me introduce our rigger. The marina have sent their rigging expert, Laureano Wizner. It was only afterwards that they asked me if I knew who he was: a former European sailing champion and americas cup contestant. At that stage, we thought he was just a really good rigger! Laureano climbs our 70 foot mast like a monkey jumping from section to section, checking our rig as he goes. I watch open mouthed. We do quite a bit while he is up there including setting up the sail so that he can see exactly what happens. He comes down with lots of photos and an explanation. Apparently the green halyard is rubbing against the top drum of the headsail. We discuss what can be done but actually the simplest solution is to use the red halyard which has suitable clearance, as checked when Laureano jumped up the mast again. He takes away our two lines to be cut and sorted out. When he returns he has also used the core of our dyneema lines and spliced these into two large circles which are to be threaded through the hoops in the boom for our block to stop the problem with the block not deploying correctly. A simple and elegant fix and a man talented enough to knock that up really quickly. In fact the whole thing is fixed in an afternoon and accompanied by a ridiculously cheap bill! I also go to the chandlery to buy replacement blocks and we are back ready to downwind sail.

Onto the Whitlock drive to hopefully stop us having to hand steer the whole way. I have spoken to the expert in Southampton. The problem could be a loose screw that has dropped into the gears and is blocking the wheel turn although this would not usually stop it in exactly the same place every time. Still we can hope. Cliff sends me detailed instructions including photos of how to disassemble the drive and get to the inner workings, it doesn’t look to difficult so let’s give it a go. Firstly, I will need to extract the mechanical part of the autopilot. This piece of equipment is held by four bolts to a metal plate which is itself bolted to the hull. Initially I decide to undo the large bolts holding the plate to the hull. Two of these move easily enough, simultaneously moving the almost inaccessible nut under the plate. But I can get these sorted. The other two will not budge. I intend to use my new torque wrench but then notice that it is a half inch rather than the 3/8 for my socket set – that will be an adapter on the shopping list! I speak to the yard who helpfully cut a metal pole to act as an extension and provide greater leverage. This works and now I have the heavyweight plate loose. On to the four smaller bolts that hold the Whitlock drive to the plate. The first takes a bit of pressure but eases and we are going. Unfortunately the second isn’t budging until finally it does, as it sheers quarter of an inch down the thread – great. Another problem but I will come back to that. Bolt three helpfully does exactly the same, double great and just my luck. The fourth bolt actually comes out as it should and we are close. The electrical side is very simple, there are two pairs of wires one providing power and the other the control from the autopilot. These are live/neutral pairs so having marked one set with tape to connect them up correctly, I set about removing these. Now I have the, really quite heavy, drive out of the lazarette. We can now see what we have to deal with. It is exactly the same as the pictures that i have so once I can resolve the two sheered bolts removing the plate will be a cinch!

I have asked the yard if it is possible to use one of their benches to do the work which promises to be quite messy and ingeniously gives my access to a large number of curious Spanish engineers who may be able to help. Unfortunately that doesn’t work out as despite using corrosion x and wd40 to try and break the corrosion locking the bolt to the case and cutting a slot into the bolt with an angle grinder, we still can’t free the bolts. It is time to call professional help. Unfortunately, the mechanic isn’t available til the next day which means we have another day to wait rather than the single overnight we had hoped for. We are now being significantly delayed with no guarantee of fixing the problem. It will be a real shame if our planned 1,500 mile journey in two weeks is reduced to less than half of that!

The next day the mechanic arrives at just after 9am. I explain that I would like to work with him so I can understand it and he says no problem, he will give me a call about 11ish and I assume that he has something to work on first. Just after 11am I get the call that the mechanic is ready for me. I arrive in the yard where he has set up an impromptu workbench in the back of his van. The Whitlock is already in bits but now he needs the detailed instructions on my iPad to get into the workings. I am pleased with his success and I believe he used a torch to superheat the bolt to break its seal before using mole grips to undo it but I am guessing. Anyway we get into the workings and the culprit is clear. There is a chain that drives the arm that attaches to our steering, this is controlled by some gears and the sprocket on this has two teeth missing. He has located one of them in all of the gunk but this part needs replacing. I am quickly on the phone to Cliff who is really helpful. He has the exact same drive on his shelves which was water damaged and this caused the electronics to stop working. It was two weeks old at the time. He will tear it apart retrieve the sprocket and send it to me. All at a very reasonable price. This is fortunate since he has informed me that a replacement would be over £9,000 (This was a mistake since I had confused matters by thinking it was a higher spec model – in the end the replacement would be a shade over £2,000, a paltry two boat tokens, almost cheap!). However, this will take time and then it needs to be shipped to me in Spain in a post brexit world. Clearly, we are going to be hand steering for a little while. The mechanic has taken half of a day with two of them to do this work and he kindly boxes it up for me ready for when I have the spare delivered.

We are as far as we can go but the rig is fully functional and we have a plan for the autopilot. A plan that doesn’t fill us with joy but a plan all the same.

Now for the dreaded part, the bill. We have had immediate attention from all services in the yard and I can’t speak highly enough about how professional and helpful the team are at Davila marina, Vigo. I would recommend it to anyone needing post Biscay maintenance and let’s admit it, this is probably a fair few of us. The mechanic had two of them working on it for several hours and was a shade over €100, the brilliant rigger was double that and again we had a few of them working for hours sorting us out. Everywhere else I have been the bill would have been double or triple that! You would also have been lucky to get anyone to look at it for a few weeks. Thank you for the fantastic facilities and brilliant people at Vigo!

(Spanish) Maria and the other Spanish Rias

Our plans are in tatters and the boat is in need of some TLC however we have a new plan and the upside is that we took Ma-Ria to the Rias. Everywhere we go on holiday everyone thinks Maria is a local whether that is the West Indies, India, Portugal, Italy or now Spain.

Having crossed Biscay, we now have our first major sea under our belt. We have sailed for multiple nights getting our rest when we can and although tired we have overcome problems and are generally a happy crew.

At the end of this crossing, we are in a plain Ria, Puerto de currobedo, protected from the South West wind and it is time to celebrate our achievement with a bottle of bubbly. I’m sure it is a lovely place with lovely people but we had been told don’t miss the Rias and this wasn’t quite what we were expecting. There had been quite a lot of weed on our approach and the engine note had changed a few times as the prop and rope cutter dealt with it but Maria is worried and we should check that the prop is clear. The oldest member of our crew, Gerald, is clearly the most virile as he offers to jump in, inspect the prop and then swims around the boat for a while enjoying the somewhat chilly water. One thing we did notice was how clear the water was and we could see our chain for a long way underneath, now that’s different to the muddy east coast!

We have some lovely food, as always. It is a slightly boozy night but we have a relatively short hop to Vigo the next day and we will head off early.

At this time of year in the UK it is getting light at 4:30am and so we agree to get up at 5am. When the time comes, it is still pitch black and we don’t enter or leave unfamiliar anchorages during darkness if it can be avoided. Of course it is also Spanish time, which means we have effectively lost an hour, so we will get away at 6am then….. but we are a long way further south and at 6am it is still very dark with not even a hint of light in the sky. In the end it is 7am before we have enough light to depart.

When we arrived the wind was from the South west and this was a protected anchorage but overnight the wind has moved around to the south east, and now the anchorage is exposed. The previous evening two out of three weather forecasts say this won’t happen, only one suggests it might but this is much later. Not for the first or last time the short term weather forecast has been very wrong. The wind is now Southerly and at 15-20 knots, rIght on the nose, it is going to be an uncomfortable journey.

Having picked up the anchor, I am on the foredeck tidying up the anchor and lines. This includes putting two lines and a bolt in the anchor and chain, we are not having a repeat of a lost anchor with Maria’s new shiny stainless anchor. on the East coast of England, pulling up the anchor normally means pulling up quite a large amount of mud, so this work is messy. Since it is at the beginning of the day, I am normally in clean clothes which are instantly dirty. I get into trouble. Today i take my top off before starting work on the anchor. Gerald is taking us out of the anchorage into the swell and wind and we are bouncing around a lot. So much so that a wave breaks over the bow and a load of water runs over me. So much for that plan of keeping clean and dry, I will have to get changed anyway but at least my t-shirt is ok.

Unfortunately we are making little progress. It is a big sea and we can barely get more than a couple of knots. This won’t work and so we have to find a better anchorage, north facing and protected form the wind and seas. We can the sit out the bad weather and wait for the better weather following it.

Having checked the charts, we have found a lovely north facing cove completely protected from the southerly winds. It is In the ria de arousa, and I am sure maria is hoping it won’t have that effect on me….

It’s been a short but bouncy passage with wind and a sea that we are beating into but as we turn into the ria there is an immediate change partly because everything is now coming from mid ships but also because of some protection from the headland.

After a short time we arrive at our anchorage to find it protected by a large number, maybe 100, mussel rafts. These are about ten metres by five and all linked together completely covering the entrance of the anchorage. I recheck the chart to find a series of microscopic green crosses on the chart, I thought they were local indicators but the whole area is covered in these rafts.

We continue further into the Ria because surely these can’t be everywhere and also shouldn’t Ria Arouca be full of oysters! We finally choose another anchorage which again is protected but has a reasonable route through and is well protected from the weather. When we arrive it looks amazing with a beach bar at one end and a beautiful beach with gorgeous trees behind and a large ominous rock at one end. Three other boats in the anchorage, typically the last spot is adjacent to the huge rock and is quite deep. That wouldn’t normally be a problem but that means more chain and potentially a wider circle for Mariadz to swing within, did I mention there was a large rock? It means that I will be keeping an eye on our position very carefully for the afternoon.

Maria has checked the weather and it is clearing up in the afternoon up in the afternoon. We discuss whether we should push on to Vigo but are worried it will be too dark when we arrive. The place we are in is beautiful too and I am sure that influenced our decision too. The afternoon weather is lovely with glorious sunshine.

Sunset is spectacular and at 10:30pm so we would have been fine for Vigo but ho hum.

Our anchoring on Mariadz has gone well in the past and this is no exception. We are nowhere near the rock as Mariadz hangs off her shiny chain glistening in the sand below.

It’s a lovely evening and we all enjoy it but tomorrow we will definitely go to Vigo and get some repairs done.

The next morning, we are aware of what time dawn is so we don’t get up too early but we are keen to arrive in good time so we set off at first light. Now of course there is no wind so it looks like we will motor all the way.

However there are problems as we start to lift our anchor. The windlass is definitely straining more than usual and the cause is obvious as the anchor comes to the suffice. The large rafts are moored with long lines that go into the anchorage and unfortunately we have hooked one. Here is where our mooring ball comes into its own. Since it is on the roll bar of the anchor it can also be used as a trip for exactly these circumstances. I gather the buoy and tie off the line to a cleat. Then lowering the anchor the buoy line holds the head of the anchor in place while the shaft drops and the thick mooring line slides off the blade of the anchor. I am maybe a little smug that one of our ideas has worked so well in practice 🙂

We are back to our standard watch system with no autohelm, with everyone taking an hour on the wheel. I have timed it so that Maria is there for when we approach the marina.

As we approach, the marina we are told to wait and they will direct us to our berth. Having checked the plans we are sure we know where they will put us but of course we are wrong! We are waiting in the entrance drifting around for five to ten minutes before someone comes to us in a rib and we follow up into the depths of the marina. Maria’s confidence is still low after the problems in Plymouth but I persuade her to keep going and of course she brings her in astern perfectly. We hand the lines to the guy assisting us and we are now settled in. Let’s hope we can be here for just 24 hours and not delay further!

The adventure begins – Biscay

It’s the start of the queens jubilee celebrations and our opportunity to take the extra couple of days on top of our two week holiday to get Mariadz out of Plymouth across Biscay and into the south of Spain ready for a final shot at getting her to Brindisi.

A lot of people who cross Biscay decide to hug the French Atlantic coast which gives them options around safe havens if the weather turns. However, it is shallow here and the Atlantic swell can be much worse here than in the deeper water beyond the continental shelf. Also when the weather is bad a number of these ports are forced to close since the entrances become dangerous. We have decided to take the outside route by heading south west to start with and then heading south to start to go down the western coast of Spain and Portugal. We have also decided that we ideally want to get a lot of the travel done early so we can take it easy as we get further round. To this end, we intend to skip past the Spanish Rias and head to Lisbon as our first stop. This route has the advantage of avoiding the “motorway” or ant trail of cargo ships that follow the same line from the north west tip of Spain to the north west tip of France. However, since we have no idea how well we will all handle the overnight watches, we have discussed bolt holes if we need to get to land and safety sooner. To sail through Biscay you ideally need wind from the north, even is it is has some east or west in it but we don’t want a forecast with any south in it. We are really lucky that the weather window has coincided perfectly with our preferred departure date – clearly someone is smiling on us.

We have decided to get a good nights rest beforehand and leave at about 10:30am which also means we will have a fair tide at the beginning of the journey. This is purely for morale purposes so that you see a large chunk of miles disappear at the beginning of the journey. In the grand scheme of things it will make little difference.

There is little wind so we start by putting the sails up to see how we will do. We are going so slowly, it would take ten days to just get across Biscay, so clearly that won’t be happening! The engine is on and we motorsail to keep our speed up.

Maria has spent a lot of time researching and perfecting the watch system for our trip. We have four people who can stand watch but Maria is keen to make sure that no one is ever on their own especially as we don’t know the real competence of the people who are with us. I will talk about the nigh watch later but by day, we had a watch that lasted two hours with Adam, as skipper, being allocated a single day time watch, 1-3, and the other three covering 9am until 9pm in rotation which nicely rotated the time slots. The thinking here was that the skipper could be called at any time and so a slightly easier watch schedule provided the opportunity to catch up on rest when there were extraordinary circumstances. Which there were! On that first day, we weren’t taking our rest as we should though. We soon discover that le is less of a skipper and more as the maintenance team for Mariadz and I seem to spend most of my down time fixing one thing or another. However, plans never survive first contact with the enemy!

We are all settling into this journey well when we suddenly notice there are spots of blood everywhere, Gerald is bleeding from cutting his foot on something around the deck. So Adam, the skipper, maintenance, medic, is there with some plasters and cleaning the upholstery and deck. A short time later, he does it again, so we need a shoes on deck but not down below rule we think.

As we head into Biscay the water starts to get deeper. We recall when sailing the med years ago, the raymarine depth only registered to about 100M. Will the new equipment be any better? It certainly won’t register the 4000M depth that we will experience.

We have a good day of sailing heading south but realistically still not very far from England since the start of the journey. Nightfall means the start of the night watch. Since we have two crew on board, we have options around the watches but Maria is keen to make sure that we always have two people on watch especially since we know very little about the experience of the two crew. To this end, Maria has put me on for three hours at the beginning and the end. Again the other three alternate between 9-3, 12-6 and 3-9. Everyone gets six hours rest to hopefully make sure they get a good rest. Basically it is six hours on and six hours off although in practice it is three hours on watch, three hours on standby and six hours rest. Maria has given me the best times since it is possible that I could be woken at any time if there are problems.

This also fits in well with feeding the crew. Maria has spent ages preparing meals for the trip and making sure that we had easy, wholesome and great tasting food for our trip. She has planned a menu that means that no meal will be repeated throughout the two weeks we intend to be away. The freezer is organised with military precision and none would dare to interfere.

Gerald and I are on the first watch and as it starts to become twilight, I look to turn down the brightness of our instruments so that we can protect our night vision. Most of these are quite easy and I am merrily pressing buttons when I notice, after doing the autopilot, that the wind instruments are going crazy. There is a fair bit of wind but it is constantly changing direction. I can’t understand this, have I changed the calibration settings. It is a minute or so before I realise that I have inadvertently stopped the autopilot when I was adjusting it and we have done three 360 degree turns. Fortunately it isn’t a bad sea and mariadz hasn’t been noticeable different as it has done it’s turns! We will keep that between ourselves…. Except the track showing our path has three neat little circles in the middle of it!

The watch system seems to work really well although the rolling motion of the ocean means that in order to sleep in our normal bed comfortably you need to sleep across the bed. You are then rocked like a baby in a cradle as opposed to rolled from one side to another.

Apart from my gaff, the night is quiet and after 24 hours we are now 75 miles west of Brest and as Gerald points out 300 miles south of Dublin! Our first day is 168 miles or an average of seven knots which is exactly what we have always planned upon when working out times and distances. To be fair, we are mostly at eight knots during the day but I cut the sail plan and therefore speed during the night for safety and because we have limited people on watch.

The new day starts and we are all still feeling fresh, we are making sure that we are getting our rest during the day although my extensive medical knowledge of plasters is called upon as Gerald once again cuts himself and leaves blood across all of the boat.

Our depth instruments are reading approximately 150m but then as it gets deeper they get confused and start reading 6m. I suspect that this is because we have two different sets of depth instruments, not including the forward facing sonar, so maybe there is some confusion between the two units. Fortunately we can independently switch off the main depth sounder before it starts warning us of shallow water when we are in hundreds of metres. Interestingly the sensor for our navigation works to a much deeper depth and we can see 400m on that one. At some stage we will look into the settings to see if there is something better we can do.

The wind is behind us and blowing a healthy 15 to 20 knots, the sea is also mostly following us with the occasional rogue wave that causes us to roll. It is time for our downwind sailing plan to be deployed. There are a number of options when you want to attempt long distance downwind sailing. We had a cruising chute on our old Dufour that got used twice as I recall. Others use a spinnaker or a parasailor but Mariadz has a Twin headsail setup, this means that our standard head sail is set and then a second headsail is rigged and poled out. The rolling seas mean that even the standard head sail needs to be held in place and this is achieved using the boom as an additional “pole” on Mariadz. We start to get the pole ready and it is seized and won’t disconnect from the stainless bar used to store it. I remember years ago in Ipswich we had suffered with similar corrosion problems locking various bits of our rig and our lovely neighbours Pete and Linda had introduced me to Corrosion X. This is a god send which eats the corrosion and fresh up the movement. I do this on the pole and it is working fine so thank you Pete once again!

After four attempts we have the two sails how we want them with our clever new block on the boom redirecting the sheet for the head sail and the pole doing the same for the second sail. Mariadz looks lovely with these twin wings pulling her forward and we are making great progress hammering along at eight knots. Today is going to be better.

We finally reach the continental shelf where the depth drops from a few hundred metres to many thousand of metres in the space of thirty miles. We are interested to see whether the sea state will change. Most of our experience has been in the English Channel and North Sea which are shallow and result in high waves being very close together. In deeper water the wave period should increase and the motion should be gentler. If we are honest we didn’t notice a huge difference across those few miles but did think that most of the crossing, once we got into deeper waters, was quite a pleasant motion from the sea.

On our trip along the south coast we had eventually been blessed with visits from dolphins. This coincided with the arrival of our Irish vet, Gerald, aka the dolphin whisperer. We were interested to see if his powers would still work when Richard was on board since. On day 2 we discovered that Gerald’s talents were indeed still working although we did find that the Dolphins in the atlantic were shy compared to the playful pods we had experienced in lyme bay. Still it breaks the monotony and is a little bit of excitement for us all. At least until Richard comes on deck and scares them away!

After five hours, the wind is changing and we are looking at our setup for the night. I decide we will change our plan and have something that is easier to manage during the night. As we take down the second head sail, we notice a major problem of chafe on the halyard that has been used to lift the sail. All of the outer cover of our brand new line has been cut and has peeled back revealing a metre of the core. That isn’t good and we will need to understand what causes that so we can fix it. The situation is worse when we pack away the main headsail where we also have a little chafe on the sheet that goes to the boom. The cause of this is obvious when we bring the boom back to the centre of the boat. My new gorgeous and very clever block is a mangled piece of metal. It is clear that whilst the plan to put the block as far back on the mast is standard, it is blocked by another part of our main sheet which means the block can’t deploy properly and is caught on an angle. Over five hours this had worn a groove on the wheel part of the block and mangled the frame. Until we solve these problems, there will be no more twin headsail sailing.

We are now ready for our second set of night watches and are getting into our rhythm. It should also be noted that despite quite a rolly journey, none of us have had any symptoms of seasickness although that may be because of the lack of alcohol or hangovers!

The start of another day, and we are clearly adding a lot to the repair list. It seems pretty standard that, after a long voyage, there are days spent fixing everything that is broken and I fully expect that the definition of cruising as fixing your boat in exotic places will be equally true of Mariadz despite the great start we have of a clear to-do list.

At the start of our third day, we are deep into biscay, the depth is now four and a half kilometres which is mind numbing. It is daylight so let’s get some more sail up and we are soon cruising along at a great pace, tuning the sails as best we can as the wind changes. At the end of our second twenty fours of sailing, we have coincidentally travelled exactly another 168 miles!

As we reach the half way point of our 750 mile initial journey, we are all happy especially as we have seen two whale spouts a long way off. One is quite a bit bigger and higher than the other so we assume it is a mother and calf? I guess one could have been asthmatic though.

It is the back end of the day and I am resting prior to my evening watch when I am suddenly woken by Gerald, it appears the steering is broken. We haven’t even got close to the orca that attack the rudder and we are already disabled! The boat can turn right but like Zoolander can’t turn left. As you get to the mid point and the wheel is straight, it locks.

The steering quadrant is at the bottom of the lazarette so we have to empty the lazarette and investigate. It seems to be working some times but stops at the mid way point in one direction sometimes. We check the steering console to see if there is something catching there but the chain is moving freely. Gerald in the lazarette thinks it is the driving arm of the autopilot. I think he means the sensor arm, which was a problem previously causing the autopilot not to work and poo poo the idea but he means the mechanical arm that drives the steering for the autopilot and to be fair he is right. There seems to be something wrong with the internal mechanics of the Whitlock drive. It isn’t easy to get out and I suspect not something I can fix on the move so we decide to find somewhere closer than Lisbon and hand steer having safely stowed the arm of the Whitlock.

The decision is taken to head into the Spanish Rias to Vigo or bayona to try and get everything fixed.

We will need to change the watch system since the workload is much greater when hand steering rather than letting the boat do the work and just keeping an eye out. We decide that the two people on watch will do alternate hours on the wheel. It is also time for the skipper to step up and not take it easy. I decide to do the first few hours on my own, giving my partner on the first night watch a couple of hours off. That person has an extra hour at the end as they do three hours driving shared with the other person on watch which gains the second person on watch an hour of extra rest before the third person comes on who I relieve early and they get an extra hours rest at the end of their watch.

During the night we pass through the motorway since our new destination is on the other side. Although this looks like playing frogger, there are reasonably sized gaps between the ships and I am able to negotiate a way through without inconveniencing anybody. It must have been difficult for the big ships though seeing a somewhat erratic hand stirred course from us when they are used to a consistent course from everyone they meet. At least we didn’t get called up by name to explain what we were up to! For most of our trip we haven’t been remotely near another vessel with even fishing boats being at least a mile away from us so it is nice to know they are still out there.

Over the night the crew all get some extra rest and now we are getting closer to Spain. It isn’t long before “Land ahoy” and Gerald armed with our hand held compass has found a lighthouse on the horizon. Gerald and lighthouses would become a feature of the trip!

Gerald is again on watch when we are joined by literally a hundred dolphins off our starboard side. The whole sea is churning with jumping dolphins for as far as the eye can see. It is a great site but when Richard appears from down below they all start to disappear. It is certainly a talent!

We are making reasonable progress but will arrive at Vigo too late and in darkness so decide to find an anchorage in the rias protected from the expected south westerly winds. We find one and are the only boat in the little cove but it isn’t a particularly pretty anchorage and certainly not the area of outstanding natural beauty we were expecting,

Anyway, we have negotiated Biscay with only a few wounds to lick and the repairs can soon begin.