All posts by mariadz2010

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.

Plymouth and the Mayflower

When we arrived at Mayflower Marina, we had already had a number of things delivered to the office including a new Engel portable fridge freezer, as recommended by our daughter Amie. To be fair, especially since we weren’t even there, we took up far too much of the space for parcels in the marina office. the staff at the marina have been incredibly welcoming and friendly including meeting us to take lines when we arrived. We have also met one of the team that helped build Mariadz back in 2001. Paul Roach from GRP Services, recognised his work as soon as he got on board, little did we know we would be needing his services ourselves but more of that later.

We had spent some time with my cousin and also caught up with most of my extended family in Devon, I’m sorry Michelle that we didn’t see you this time, when we are back in the UK we will come to see you. We had a lovely time though seeing family I haven’t seen for ages apart from last year on our tour in the Motorhome. This included a family game of cards with eight of us playing dirty girty, or Black Maria as others know it. Apart from a number of new rules, that my side of the family hadn’t played, it was the same vicious game with players who had equally grown up with this. It was all nip and tuck with me on a very low score and my lovely aunt scoring in the hundreds until my cousin Gina, who I previously liked, decided that I needed to be targeted. Fortunately this coincided with my unilateral decision to throw the game and let my uncle win…. We had a great time chatting away and everyone made Maria feel part of the family, which of course she is. It was a late evening though and we were tired after the one hour drive back to Plymouth in our hire car.

One of our tasks in Mayflower was to refuel and having seen the fuel pontoon at low tide, we knew we should do this at high tide, hopefully when the water was slack.

When we had come into the marina, they had asked us to come quite a way down L pontoon for visitors with a number of cats on the other side of the water. We had come in perfectly and had already plotted our exit route, we were going to spring off from the bow, go astern towards the other side and then flick her to come straight out of the exit. Easy and we had done this many times. This plan was destroyed by a large brand-new catamaran, a TS5 racer cruiser, coming adjacent to us.

So our revised plan was to come off sideways from the pontoon using the steering lock and bow thruster and then straight astern to the turning point at the bottom. All great in theory. However, there was a fair wind blowing us off and a strong tide running despite being just after supposed high water.

We started the manoeuvre but with not enough revs on the engine to counter the tide and provide drive astern. This was quickly recovered but then as we came out, we hadn’t taken enough of the steering off and were veering towards the bavaria behind us with a friendly couple who we had chatted to a few times. There was a slight touch but fenders and a light push was enough to avert a problem. We were now back on the pontoon two boats behind where we started with the owner of a beautiful classic 120 year old wooden boat looking very worried and suggesting we should stay where we were or at the very least go nowhere near his boat. We started again in the same vein but trying to make sure we didn’t make the same mistake again. That of course if the kiss of death, as we overcorrected were caught by both tide and wind, sending us straight at two catamarans opposite. We don’t have as many fenders on this side and we land on the smaller one with our bow touching a wider one and my cousin Simon trying to use a fender to protect the boat. Neither owner is on board but this doesn’t seem to stop a number of quite angry people coming out. At this stage, Maria’s confidence is shot and I am instructed to get us out of this predicament. Some have suggested we come back and rest on the smaller catamaran but actually that means more manoeuvring, it seems easier to go forward and rest solely on the large cat which then puts us pretty much on the right track to go straight back. This course of action is discussed with the marina team who can’t advise but don’t suggest that it is a bad plan. Despite understandable protestations from the other bystanders, which to be fair with our recent track record we can understand, we come off the smaller cat clear of both before resting gently, with lots of fenders on the large cat. Stage one of the recovery safely negotiated. When I say protestation, one in particular, was shouting vociferously without actually offering anything useful, in fact most of his “advice” was patently wrong. More of him later too! We are resting against the larger catamaran, when I notice some damage, unfortunately our initial rendering before the move wasn’t adequate and the corner of their swim platform had been resting against Mariadz’s hull. It has rounded off the edge of the swim platform by a couple of millimetres and left a nasty mark on our bow. As I look back I can also see some minor damage on the top sides of the smaller cat where the prop of our rib marked it and a wrecked horseshoe buoy holder. I am somewhat apprehensive as, on instruction from I start the manoeuvre backwards, but not as apprehensive as the owners of the currently unmarked catamaran next in line, who are frantically moving fenders. Anyway, ye of little faith, this time we came off the large catamaran sideways and then straight back using the bow thruster to steer. We successfully get out of the spot without anymore drama.

Maria takes over so I can reset fenders and lines as we go to the fuel berth. She continues as we go in negotiating her passage through some thin alleys and then brings Mariadz beautifully in to the fuel pontoon as if nothing had happened.

As I start to refuel, this has taken its toll on Maria who is upset at the damage to us and the other boats. She is reassured that everything will be taken care of and not to worry but needs a little cry to get over it.

Refuelling takes a while since mariadz is half full and I want to fill our spare cans too. This is over 400L of diesel and I also top up the rib fuel so we are now completely full. Some people are waiting as I finish up paying and so we setup to leave, basically the same way we wanted to originally before the cat arrived. We spring off the bow to get the stern off and then go into a full turn backwards with a burst of bow thruster and she is turned 180 degrees in little more than her length. As we head back to our berth, we agree that we will not go all the way in and also that we will go in astern to ease our exit at the end of May.

That all sounds great in theory but the tide is coming through the marina even faster now and I am approaching a Marina with the wind blowing me away from the pontoon and whenever I slow down I lose all steerage because the tide is moving at the same speed as the boat. In retrospect, I should have gone past the spot and gone in forwards or even waited outside until the tide had changed but we had things to do, our confidence and calmness is shot and we just want this boat back attached to land, now. Fortunately, a couple of people have come along to take our lines which is really nice but one of them was the irate person who was barking ridiculous orders earlier. He continues his form by telling me to slow down in astern which of course loses me all control of the stern which drifts off with the wind. I am now at the third attempt whilst having to avoid a large motoryacht and the pontoon in the centre with lots of hull scratching metal poking out. On this attempt there is a loud bang from the bow thruster which sounds like something solid has been sucked in. This operation will be even more difficult without a bow thruster! I get close but again go too slow as I get close to the pontoon, I don’t want to hit it, and we drift off. The fourth and final attempt allows us to get a stern and a mid line ashore and the boys can sweat Mariadz in with a little help from me behind the helm. We are finally there and I say thank you for the assistance, even the obnoxious guy, who just tuts and walks away – and we didn’t even get near to his boat!

I then go to inspect the damage to the two boats we hit which is remarkably light and limited to what I had seen earlier. Earlier Maria had spoken to Paul who had reassured her that these things can be fixed and he would get it done for us. So we go up to the office, before going out for the evening, and ask the marina to give our contact details to the owners of the two boats so that we can apologise and explain how we intend to fix the problems.

A short time later, one of the owners calls and I make our apologies and explain that Paul will come on board and make it like new. He is relaxed, apparently this happens a lot there because of the whirlpools and eddies at different states of tide. I am reassured especially as it seems our mistakes have not caused too much damage and it is superficial.

Unfortunately, it is not the same conversation when the second owner appears. The obnoxious man from the incident is apparently some kind of ambulance chaser and has persuaded her that her entire hull can be repaired because of the knock we have given them. Maria overheard this and suggested I go over and speak to her. Again I start by apologising vociferously and explaining we will repair the damage we have caused. I ask permission to come aboard to show her the damage. After this, she says that the whole side has been damaged by us. I look over to see what she means and she identifies a patch on the hull which she claimed wasn’t there on Saturday. I peer over the side to see a dark mark no more than a foot over the waterline. I take a look at the profile of Mariadz which clearly comes in quite a lot and explain that it is impossible for us to have caused that since it is too low. She is adamant and now blocking my path from her boat. Clearly my apology has not worked and she is upset and has been wound up by someone else. Maria tries to placate her, we are all upset when our pride and joys are hurt and, as we have said, we will resolve it. As we walk away, obnoxious man shouts, if you need a witness… but he is quickly quietened by his wife since we have already explained what has happened.

Anyway, a few days later and most of the damage including ours is fixed and Paul has had the opportunity to work on one of his Moody 54s again.

A week away from the marina is opportune and a chance for Marina to get her Isabella fix and I miss the little one too. We can also deliver the cats to Lisa, who is going to have them for a time, while we get the boat to Italy.

On our return I am disappointed to be required back in London for work, which means I will have to go on Monday night and arrive back on Tuesday night. This doesn’t leave me much time to do the last preparations for the voyage but at least I will get to see My work colleague Rachel and her wife, who have kindly offered me a bed for the night, meaning I avoid the outrageous prices of London in Half term week coinciding with the Queen’s jubilee celebrations. I am just about to leave on Monday when we decide to reset the lines on the boat. As I am dealing with the bow, Maria calls me to point out that the aft cleat is lifting a quarter of an inch from the deck and wobbling around. That’s not good! Something else that needs to go on the essential list before we leave.

On my return from London the next day, the cleat is the top priority but it means emptying one side of the lazarette. It is the last day before we leave and I have a full work day so Maria and I agree to get up early and deal with this. While Maria gets ready, I address a faulty light in the bunk room, although we don’t think they will be used much, best to have everything working.

Fortunately we only have to empty half of the lazarette but this cleat is the same side as the gas locker and is actually behind the gas locker. That is going to be awkward to get out. A quick inspection confirms that the cleat is held in place by two doubled nutted bolts which are loose to the touch, at fingertips. They are also just a little larger than the largest spanner I have on the boat so the variable will be required.

The princess yard team have arrived to work on the big princess yacht and they ask what we are doing. We laughingly mention that Mariadz was built by them and 20 years later I have a wobbly cleat – call that build quality…. They offer lots of friendly advice including explaining that they would cut through the gas locker if access was a problem and then sort that afterwards. Oh no, let’s hope that isn’t required or Mark will want me to drop it a couple of inches so that she can get larger gas bottles in. They also confirm our approach of sealing the deck and tightening the bolts.

The first thing is to make sure the cleat is sealed to the deck so that we don’t get any water ingress, not a huge problem with the lazarette which has its own, very powerful and recently replaced, bilge pump. However, we are nothing if we are not thorough and so I fill it with CT-1, a great sealant that will help the cleat stay watertight and also hold it in place nicely.

I crawl into the smallest part of the lazarette, it’s lucky I’m not claustrophobic since my head is jammed between the bulkhead and the gas locker, my shoulders can’t move and my arms are locked in. That said I take a minute to get used to this position before starting work. Fortunately I should be able to move my hands and forearms enough to add some loctite and do the bolts up. However, I decide to buy new loctite at the first opportunity since this one has been open for a while.

I am able to tighten the first nuts on the bolts first by hand and then nipping up with the spanner and the then the second, locking, nut is tightened to hopefully prevent any slippage. I can now try new extricate myself. A quick check of the cleat, and a clean of the surplus CT-1 and it is solid although we won’t use it for 24 hours to ensure everything has locked down nicely. We will need these in Italy so we need them to work properly.

The lazarette is refilled and we are sorted and my work day is about to begin. One last day of work and Gerald and Richard, our crew for Biscay, arrive late this afternoon.

Now it is time for Maria to go through the last of our provisions and do a whole load of cooking so we are comfortable for our trip.

It’s getting real now.

Portland to Plymouth

Having met our first Biscay crossing crew member, Richard, on a previous trip, it was now time to meet our second, Gerald, a part time vet in Ireland. Gerald had flown in earlier before staying with one of his many daughters, in Bristol. He had then travelled down to Portland where his cousin, also a keen sailor, dropped him at the marina – oh the advantages of a large family.

Gerald arrived with a suitcase and we were reminded of our honeymoon when we arrived for our yacht charter with several suitcases! We were away for three weeks was our excuse, and they hadn’t sent us the branded bags that would allow us to pack in the way they wanted. Fortunately that was a large boat with several rooms so it all went somewhere. We found a place for Gerald’s too but agreed he should leave his stuff on mariadz and take the empty case away with him. Hopefully he would return with a bag suitable to return his belongings but that can also be stowed.

We decide to leave in the morning which was the best time to pass Portland bill and also give us a favourable tide for most of our journey to Plymouth getting us there much sooner. There promised to be a little more wind than when Richard was with us so hopefully more of an opportunity to do some sailing. It is a glorious day with enough wind to get us going and before long we are under sail and going wonderfully.

Now I may have said this before but we are not racers, however, Maria, sees herself as Gandalf in Lord of the Rings and “you shall not pass!” Is definitely her attitude. So as we round the bill, I am quickly on the AIS, as I say it is all Maria…., and looking for potential victims to be caught and overtaken by a beautiful moody with full new sails flying. It is another glorious sail and like from Southampton, Mariadz is enjoying a nice breeze powering her through the waves and with the tide, we are eating up the miles.

One of the new devices that Maria has acquired is a pinger, which is used by fishermen to keep dolphins away from their nets, and stop them eating all the fish. We have yet to see these in action but clearly Maria doesn’t want to do this for dolphins since this is what she has been looking forward to for the entire trip.

You may also recall that Maria was promised dolphins on this trip – yes you Lynne Fisher! Now in Lynne’s defence, I had seen a dolphin on the approach to Portland Marina but Maria was busy getting us into the marina and missed it. Prior to that, the human pinger that is Richard had also resulted in no dolphins in our trip from Eastbourne (sorry Richard).

However, we now have a vet who is clearly like Dr Doolittle and can call dolphins up at will or have we. Gerald, AKA the Dolphin Whisperer, doesn’t seem to be too confident.

We are half way across the bay chasing down other yachts when we see a pod of six dolphins off our starboard bow. On the right hand side at the front to the uninitiated! They see us and make a beeline to Mariadz like they are hunting us down. At this stage, Maria can only be described as squealing with glee although she has fallen short of making up a song about dolphins, unlike her fishing song from a few years ago which had parental advisory lyrics.

We are all very excited, there is no danger anywhere near us and Mariadz, under autopilot is just bounding along fine, so we all head to the bow to watch the show. I don’t think anyone has ever adequately explained why dolphins love to play in the bow wave of boats but it is surely a wonder to behold. Our only previous experience of dolphins in the wild was on a pleasure boat in Australia a few years ago when we were seeing Amie, but there is something special about it being your own pride and joy they are playing with.

Time stands still as you watch these playful dolphins and I genuinely dont know whether it was five minutes, ten minutes or thirty minutes before they decided to move on and probably catch some fish. It was fantastic and we all stood in awe watching and filming away. However, too soon, they are gone but for next thirty minutes all we can do is watch the videos and talk about the experience. Clearly the dolphin whisperer has some talent!

We have only just stopped talking about it, and Maria stopped crying tears of joy, when there are some more fins and another over-excited pod is on their way to see us. Dolphins playing in this way does not get boring and we are back out there. Clearly the dolphins have got overexcited themselves since, as I look aft, I see a little juvenile dolphin frantically swimming to catch up and join in the fun. They must have forgotten about junior in all the excitement and you can imagine him chasing them saying wait for me as his little body propels him as fast as it can. This has really passed the time and it seems no time at all until we are approaching Salcombe, our stop for the night.

We came to Salcombe by land last year when we met up with my work colleague, Rachel, and her gorgeous wife Louise. At that time we looked longingly at the bay and said one day Mariadz will be out there in all her glory. We thought we would be able to anchor but the area is covered in moorings. Our experience in the east coast is that these can be quite lightweight and close together, not suitable for a boat the size of Mariadz. As we call in hoping for a berth for the night, they politely don’t laugh at us when we ask will the mooring be able to take us! Don’t worry we take much bigger than you. We are told our allocated anchor ball but now are worrying about our ability to pick this up and put our line through it. As we arrive we can see this isn’t going to be possible because they are huge but the harbourmaster has come over to help us by taking a line, threading it through and handing it back. Maria is all over this as she approaches against the tide, stops Mariadz adjacent to the mooring before a little dab of bow thruster allows me to pass the line to the harbourmaster, no uncouth throwing of lines here. He gives it back and I tie us off. I have no idea if he was impressed by the boat handling but I was. His help also probably saved me another boat hook, since I kept dropping these at a mooring ball opposite Levington for years. I always intended to get the dive gear and go and retrieve the four or five that are down there…

We are now tied nicely up and it is clearly time to pop in for a quick drink and explore. We don’t even have to get the rib down since there is an excellent water taxi that will pick us up and drop us back. We really like the staff here who are friendly and helpful. A cracking end to a great day of sailing, dolphin watching and chilling.

The next day is the short hop to Plymouth and after a good nights sleep and breakfast we are ready to rejoin the “race”, identifying a few likely victims early on. We are having fun and making great speed but today there are no dolphins.

However, we are now approaching Plymouth, home of a lot of the British navy and workplace for my cousin Simon who we are looking forward to catching up with. We negotiate the west entrance of the wall that protects Plymouth and start to go around Drake’s Island in the harbour. We won’t go through “the bridge” a shallow area on the inside track past the island, just a bit too tight for us and we would rather take a little longer and be safe. As we approach, the east side of the island, there are quite a few yachts in front of us circling around and a tourist boat with 40 or so people on the top deck watching. A rib, at high speed, approaches us and vigorously waves us to get out of the way as this is clearly some kind of race. At this stage we are on the left hand side of the channel just inside the red buoy and can’t go outside this because of the spectators. I politely wave back and then go about my business, we are nowhere near any of these yachts and the race hasn’t even started yet – I also wonder whether they would have said the same to a Type 23 frigate, that often goes through this channel, I suspect they would have been shot for approaching at high speed!

We approach the mayflower marina and head towards the visitors pontoon having been guided there by the staff. As we approach two members of staff are waiting for us to take lines and help us get settled, how nice is that! The start of another stay at a new marina for us as we prepare to leave England for the last time on Mariadz.

Blog updates

A note to any readers out there. I am trying to catch up on all of the refit and some of the sailing we have done. There will be quite a few blogs going up over the next few weeks including:

Stainless anchor and chain
Safety gear
Teak cockpit seating
Rig and sails, refurb of twin headsail
Toe rail
Fridge freezer control panels
Frameless windows
Tensile awning and cockpit tent
Hull work – copper coat and gold stripe
Engine room refurb
New soleboards
Various saloon wood improvements repairs
Toilet pipes and toilet servicing, in and out pumps
Whale manual pump servicing
Water pump – Marco
Grey waste pump service
LEDs with dimmer problems in forepeak
Extra sockets with usbs in bunk room
New tap and water filter
Water maker
Hinge replacement
Locks on lockers
Lithium batteries
Cockpit tent and tensile awning
Teak decks
Motorhome sold

I will try and put these up in a rough chronological order but it does mean that some news will start to appear down the list a little, especially as the list gets updated regularly.

So, happy reading and I hope it is enjoyable and useful.

To the heart of Southampton via the Isle of Wight

We have had a watershed moment on Mariadz. For the last twelve years, we have played on the East Coast. Generally going back to the same places and our favourite haunts with the occasional diversion to find a new favourite. We know most of the anchorages on the east Coast, have been across the channel to Ramsgate and the north coast of Kent.

As of last Saturday, we left Eastbourne, where we were two years ago, and in future years that is the last time we will return to a marina or anchorage that we know. It’s all new from here. That is exciting and worrying in equal measure.

This was also the second half of our weekend getting to know Richard, who will be part of the crew for the Biscay trip. We had decided, well more precisely Maria had decided, that we would like to do the Biscay crossing with additional crew. One of the reasons for this was to give Maria and I time together. If it was just the two of us and we each slept for six to eight hours then we would only have eight to twelve hours a day when we were both awake since someone needs to be on watch at all times. Having people with us will make that easier, us less tired and make the whole thing more fun. Maria had gone onto crewseekers to find people and had been inundated with offers. It was a hard job to whittle down to two people and we are confident that we will have a crew that will get on and complement each other.

Leaving early means that you are in a lock with a lot of fishing boats, something we prefer to do at the end of the day when they are laden down with a catch where we may be able to negotiate a purchase, however, we meet nice people wherever we go and Simon, who runs one of the fishing boats, was really interesting and friendly. A nice start to the day.

We left Eastbourne after a much shorter stay than last time, not even twelve hours but enough time for us all to get some rest. It has also given time for Clyde to do a runner with me only finding him wandering around a nearby housing estate, clearly lost and happy to see me when he heard the call. He trotted back to the boat with me but Richard, who had also been searching, walked a few metres behind us in case Clyde changed his mind.

In the morning, we come out of the lock and follow the fishing boats through the channel a little while after low tide. We don’t want to be dredging a new channel again even though it is mud and not too damaging. We are all good with no frights and we can then head south to beachy head ready for the turn west towards Selsey Bill and then Southampton.

Unfortunately, there is hardly any wind and the easterly means that it will be right behind us again for our journey and not enough to power the sails. Poor Richard has missed out on Mariadz scything through the water with no noise but there will be other opportunities.

During the entire journey we are able to get the sails up for a short period, when the wind picks up, which helps our speed as we are motorsailing but at least Mariadz has shown herself in all her glory.

I felt I had hogged the autopilot remote the previous day because I was worried something would go wrong on our first long trip since the complete overhaul. So today, I am keen to share the load and Richard takes control of Mariadz for the journey. Our timing after negotiating beachy head is perfect with a tide pushing us along. We also wave at where we think our old anchor is that we had lost a few years ago.

These are familiar waters for Richard and we have only sailed these a few times and local knowledge is really useful. Rather than heading into Southampton, we agree to anchor on the North side of the Isle of Wight since there is no wind and we should be able to expect a pleasant night. We anchor just outside the water ski area at Wootton Rocks away from the ferries. If we are honest, the wash from passing traffic made this slightly uncomfortable but at least we were rocked gently to sleep. The anchor alarm is on and we have enough chain down so there shouldn’t be any problems.

We all sleep well despite the occasional rolling of the boat and the next morning sees us up on a very still day for the few short miles to Southampton Town Quay.

The route into Southampton is well understood which combined with our dislike of shallow water on a falling tide means we take the safe route in. With a number of boats going the same way, it is easy to follow the route anyway but you have to keep your wits about you as they approach from all angles. When there is no wind and smooth seas, this is exacerbated. These are the conditions the fast motorboats love and even when Mariadz is hammering along at eight knots, these guys are approaching at 20 to 30 knots. The boats are one thing to avoid but the wash from these is quite extreme and so we are rolling again! As you proceed up Southampton water, you pass the river hamble where most of these motorboats seem to live and suddenly it is all a lot easier and less stressful. The last few miles up to Southampton are actually quite pleasant and as we pass the ferry terminal where titanic departed, we can see town quay.

We have agreed to come in to the marina and come astern onto the inner part of the outside pontoon. As usual maria is nervous but pulls off the operation perfectly with Richard and I nonchalantly stepping off the boat and strolling down the pontoon as Marina brings her a way back towards the office end.

That is the end of our introductory weekend with Richard which has been very successful. Now for a week in Southampton when we need to get the engine through its first service and also get the watermaker finally working as it should.

The journey south begins in earnest

It has been two weeks at Burnham-on-Crouch rather than the four we had planned originally but it is time to depart and to start to head South so that we can be ready for Biscay in a month’s time. One month, wow, it is getting real now.

Maria has been hard at work on crew seekers and has found two people who can accompany us on the Biscay run and we agree that they should meet us beforehand so that we can be sure we won’t all want to throttle each other in the middle of the Atlantic, well the eastern part of the Atlantic.

First up is Richard, who has lots of sailing experience and is studying for his yachtmaster, for which our trip can act as his qualifying sail. His acclimatisation trip will be burnham to Southampton via Eastbourne over a few days.

Richard is due to arrive on Friday and I am frantically going through the last of the items on the list that we need cleared before we go. It is all looking good and by 4pm on the Friday, with Richard due at 7pm, I only have to lift the rib onto the davits. What could be simpler?

I get a chance to do this in a spare half hour in my busy work schedule, when I should be having lunch. I get the rib over to our new davit wires, as fitted by myself and Richard from evolution rigging amidst much swearing and grazed knuckles a few week’s previously.

I fit the davit wires to the new rib lifting points, which are directly in line with the davits to avoid chaff. I start to lift when the 4mm wire connected to the bow gives way and drops the bow into the water. My disappointment is compounded by the certain knowledge of how difficult it is to replace the wire. This also seems ridiculous since the breaking strain of that wire is over 900kg and the whole rib is 150kg with the bow the lightest bit! Clearly there is another problem and we will need to understand what caused the breakage before fitting another wire and finding that breaks in a short period.

A frantic call to Richard at evolution rigging and we have two new wires being produced … in Ipswich…. over an hour away…. on the day before a bank holiday weekend…. with no car….

An old school friend of Maria’s (no she isn’t old, they have known each other a while!) is visiting and wonderfully offers me the use of her car so that I can collect the wires and have them ready. This is especially helpful since we are leaving at 5am the next morning and it would be even trickier to get these from Eastbourne or Southampton without a car. I hope in the car and three hours later I have driven to Richard, collected the wires and got back to the boat, just to late to be there to greet Richard. It is also a baptism of fire for Richard since we still need to get the rib up and there is no way we can replace the wire quickly. Fortunately, as part of our pasarelle setup we have a 6:1 pulley system which will fit to the davits and allows us to lift the bow while the stern is lifted using the davit motor.

The rib is now stowed and we are ready to go first thing in the morning but it is late and we haven’t eaten yet. Maria has knocked up one of her original curries with a chicken balti, gorgeous mushroom and courgettes, rice and breads so Richard has his first taste of Mariadz cooking which seems to go down well, certainly by the number of times he returned for more – a very polite person!

The next morning and the weather forecast that we had checked proves to be absolutely right with little or no usable wind for our journey. In common with everyone who sleeps in the forepeak, Richard has woken refreshed and raring to go. So it is a quick setup of the boat and we are ready to go.

Originally we had talked about stopping at Ramsgate but we have decided to skip that and do the journey in one hit to Eastbourne. We expect this to take about 14 hours since it is in excess of 100NM but we should just about make it in daylight. I have decided l am keen to make sure that Mariadz is ok since this is her first major trip since all of the work has been done. It means I am on watch for the whole trip which in retrospect was probably not the wisest decision with two very skilled sailors with me.

We have caught the tide early and make reasonable progress across the Thames estuary seeing all the familiar sites. These are happy hunting grounds but it does seem strange to know we will never sail here again.

We reach North Foreland as the tide changes which means it gets quite lumpy. It also means that the journey to the far side of Dover will be fighting a strong tide. we have made good time but it is slow going past ramsgate ( see ya for the last time 🙂 ). We go on the inside of the Godwin sands even though the tide is stronger here because the detour to go on the outside adds even more distance and time.

As we approach Dover, I can see a number of vessels crossing our path as the ferries come in and out. I have a good view of them and we are making good speed under power. Unfortunately I have forgotten to check in with Dover Port Control (channel 74) because I will be crossing the entrance within a mile of shore. A schoolboy error and if by mentioning it here I get someone to radio in to make their intentions clear then I will have paid my penance. A very nice lady calls us by name, having seen our AIS track. To be fair, she was very polite considering I have completely ignored the correct protocol but I explain that we are on passage to Eastbourne, make my apologies and we continue on our way.

We are now starting to pick up speed but it is getting later. Our 14 hour estimate is looking hopelessly optimistic as we pass Dungeness and can finally see our destination, even if it is still three and a half hours away.

It is now starting to get dark and in the bay before Eastbourne we start to see a lot of lobster pots. To be fair these are very well marked but it fast becoming the kind of slalom that would be challenging for a skier never mind a 54 ft yacht! After what seems an eternity and with the light disappearing after sunset, we finally arrive at Eastbourne. Richard and I jump up to do fenders and lines, setting up both sides since we are not sure which side we will be on in the lock – we later remember that both sides are setup so you could have gone with either!

Unfortunately, maria has become slightly disoriented by the darkness and misses an unlit green buoy, easily done, which means Mariadz is outside of the channel. Fortunately it is all corrected quickly with no drama and we are able to proceed. It doesn’t do Maria’s nerves any good though especially as we are tired after a long day. However, normal service is resumed as Maria negotiates the lock perfectly. The discussion with the harbour master isn’t great since despite assurances previously we are told we can’t have a hammerhead and have to take an inside berth. That is a trickier manoeuvre especially as we had set up for the hammerhead but we get in after a little bit of fun and games. We are now tied up and can relax for the evening or so we thought.

Since we will be in Eastbourne for less than twelve hours I go to the office and check in. Having paid for the berth and received some excellent advice on when to leave in the morning, especially as it gave us more sleep, I return to Mariadz. On my return, I am told that Clyde has gone for a walk and has left the marina which is about a 150m walk. We are in no mood for this!

The search for Clyde takes a lot longer than you expect and I have been all of the way to the waterfront before eventually finding him aimlessly wandering around a housing estate, clearly lost. When I call him, he hears, turns and comes strolling over to me before doing his usual of walking on the heel most of the way back to the boat. Richard, who has also been on the search with me, is taking no chances, and walks a little behind Clyde in case he changes his mind and runs off again! As we get on board, Maria has cooked us a home made lasagna to a recipe she gleaned from our Italian neighbours. It is lovely, even if she does admit to a mistake when making it!

It’s late and we have another long journey tomorrow so it is time to get to bed. For another good nights sleep before a hopefully easier day and fingers crossed a chance to show Richard how Mariadz sails.