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A Lazy Two Weeks in Ibiza

Ibiza is the only island we’ve ever visited that has its own soundtrack. A mile or more out and it’s still possible to hear dance music beats eminating from the shore. Thankfully (for us at least) the club scene spots are very isolated from the rest of the island which remains wonderfully tranquil.

In summary, we’ve not done a lot over the past couple of weeks. We’ve not had any long journeys to complete, or tricky customs officers to deal with, or excursions inland. It’s been a fortnight of superb day sailing between some of the nicest anchorages we’ve ever visited.

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Cala Raco d’es Mares (1) was a good option for us to make landfall after our crossing as it would provide us with shelter from the westerlies that had given us a great overnight downwind sail. It was a large open bay, and fairly featureless apart from a small beach in the corner. As it turned out though, the shelter was excellent and we caught up with the sleep we’d missed the night before.

The next day we sailed up the coast and through the buoyed channel at the north of Formantera before crossing to the south coast of Ibiza.

Here we spent our first few lazy days in the anchorages of Yondal (2) and Cala Port da Roig (3). These were both lovely small bays surrounded by low cliffs into which were cut fisherman’s huts; ramshackle doors in the cliffs behind which they would haul up and keep their traditional fishing boats. It also gave me a chance to set up our hammock for the first time in ages:

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From here we headed round to Cala Vadella (4), a small Spanish resort where we picked up a free mooring buoy and spent a couple of days swimming from the back of the boat, keeping a close eye out for the jellyfish that also seemed to enjoy swimming there – yes we both got stung and it really hurt. Apart from the jellyfish, we really loved it there. To get ashore we rowed a few meters in the dinghy, clambered over the fisherman’s huts (left on the photo) and across the beach (via the bars) to the restaurants and shops. The waters were crystal clear and filled with fish that would devour the leftovers from our plates in the evening.

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We’d read about a small and very remote anchorage, Cala Portixol (5), that could be used in fair weather. We decided we would take a look and, if the conditions were ok, then we’d spend a night there.

When we arrived the sea was very settled and the place was deserted apart from a few people that had made a cross country walk to use the beach. There was just enough room for us, so we reversed in carefully dropping our anchor as we went and then taking a line ashore to a large rock to prevent us from swinging. For additional peace of mind I assembled our Fortress anchor and rowed that out in the dingy to give us extra holding from the bow.

The Spanish are very relaxed about nudity, and we’ve got quite used to seeing people perfecting their all-over tans (it’s not as glamorous as you might first imagine). As used to this as we’d become, it still came a something of a surprise when I looked round in this solitary spot to see a couple of naked men sitting on the rock we’d tied our line to, quietly watching us getting settled in. I guess they’d taken a break from the beach to swim over and see what we were doing. After they got bored watching (and after having a little cuddle with one another) they made their way back to the beach and we were alone again.

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That night the moon was out and the phosphorescent creatures in the sea twinkled around the boat giving us our own little light show before we went to bed. It was magical.

The next morning, after breakfast, we made a short trip around the next headland and dropped our anchor in the bay of San Miguel (6). Tucked inside the bay there were beaches in either direction and we climbed through the pine trees in the hills to get a better view.

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You may recall that we made a sun awning a few weeks ago. You can see it here in action – its the most valuable piece of kit we have on board at the moment as the midday sun is punishingly hot.

We were enjoying a peaceful afternoon in San Miguel until a big motor yacht decided to drop anchor among the sailing yachts. Motor boats and sailing yachts react very differently to wind shifts and before long he was using his £25K Williams Jet Tender as a fender when he swung into our neighbour. Boating is a great spectator sport!

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Cala Portinatx (7) was a small town where we spent a couple of days with lots of good restaurants. The paella here was second to none:

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And the sunsets were quite special too – here’s our view from the paella restaurant:

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Cala Llonga (8) seemed to have the highest concentration of male nudes which may have been fun for Helena but didn’t hold much interest for me. So after a night there and a quick game of name-the-nudie (my favourite name was Mr Brownsack), we moved on again to Cala Sahona (9) which was stunningly beautiful with its white sand bottom bay and bright turquoise waters but, as it was the weekend and close to Ibiza town, it was also very busy so we didn’t stick around for long.

Our last stop in Ibiza was back on Formentera, close to where we’d started. More specifically, in an anchorage on Espalmador (10) which is famous for its sulphur mud baths.

After nearly boiling my foot testing the temperature of the dark mud that had been warming in the sun all day, I got stuck in and found it was a very effective sun block.

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The next morning we got up early to catch the sunrise and we set our course for Mallorca.

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If you’d like to see more photos and videos from our trip, and keep up to date with our whereabouts, then take a look at our Facebook page.

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Beautiful Morocco

After reaching Gibraltar, we decided that rather than following the Spanish coast into the Med, as initially planned, we’d cross over to Africa and take a look around. This blog tells of the very different places and experiences we’ve had there in the last week.

Ceuta – Spain

On the north coast of Africa and only a sixteen mile trip from Gibraltar, Ceuta is one of two Spanish enclaves in northern Morocco. Dispensing with the political similarities between Ceuta and Gibraltar, we were curious to see what it was like so under light winds we set off from Gibraltar and crossed the straits using our new Parasailor sail for the first time since its commissioning.

Amalia is a big old girl, and generally requires a little over 10 knots to get going properly; on the day we had around 10 knots of wind and, rather then dragging her heels, she raced us across the straits; we were rarely under 6 knots the whole way:

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From a distance we spotted pilot whales and after a few hours arrived at our first ever African port.

Acting as Spain’s gateway to Africa, Ceuta is a bustling commercial town with some great colonial architecture. We spent a couple of days exploring the city and the highlight for us was the historic fortifications which, along with the rest of the seafront buildings, were at their most impressive when illuminated at night:

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In much the same way that Gibraltar is very British with some Spanish influences, Ceuta is very Spanish with some distinctly Moroccan flavours thrown in. There can’t be many places in the world where bikinis and burkas coexist so comfortably for example.

The market near the harbour had an amazing selection of fresh foods and fish. We ended up trying a dorado (fish) sausage that tasted so good we bought two – they’re still untouched in the galley as we’re not too sure what to eat them with. Any suggestions in the comments section below please!

Smir – Morocco

From Cueta we headed south and east into Morocco’s first port of entry. This is our first time arriving in a non-European port and we weren’t too sure what to expect in terms of Moroccan paperwork. As it turned out the paperwork took a while to complete but it was all done under the shade of a big tree with good humour and a friendly smile as they worked to fix their printer using a syringe to inject fresh ink in to a depleted ink cartridge.

Smir houses a large marina built as part of a holiday resort, and along with the local camel we soon became something of an attraction, having to keep the gate closed on the guard rail to prevent people climbing on board to take photos.

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The people here were incredibly friendly and helpful. One afternoon we decided to walk to town to get some supplies from the market. Someone at the marina told us it was just a couple of miles away, but they clearly didn’t understand what a mile was as an hour later we were still walking along the main road. We asked a group of men for directions, and they told us we should get a taxi the rest of the way. One of them tried to help us hail a taxi and, after a few minutes with no luck, his brother drove past in the local school bus. Helena had never been in a school bus before and was clearly both grateful and delighted when we accepted the offer of a free ride to town.

Chefchaouen – Morocco

Chefchaouen is the Rough Guide’s #1 attraction in Morocco. It’s a stunningly beautiful ancient walled city:

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The thing that makes it truly unique though is that nearly every building (and a lot of the streets and pavements) are painted bright blue.

In Judaism, blue represents the sky and the heavens so when Hitler’s growing power drove Jews from their homes in the 1930s, many refugees returned to safety in Chefchaouen and painted the town the vivid shade of blue it is known for today. Now most of the Jewish families have left, but the local government sponsors the painting each spring to keep the history alive.

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North east Morocco is an area known for producing vast quantities of hashish. An alternative theory for the painting is that the stoners all had a little too much to smoke one day and decided to paint the town blue.

Either way, there’s no denying that you sometimes get an overwhelming sense that you’re swimming when you turn a corner and find yourself immersed in blue – a very odd sensation.

El Jabah – Morocco

From the pilot guide, the next place to visit was a day’s sail along the coast to a small fishing town. Reportedly one of the most friendly places to go and see, it comprises of a small fishing harbour and a nearby bay suitable for anchoring.

We suspect that since the pilot guide was written, that something untoward has happened here as we were not welcomed with open arms but rather yelled at by a couple of fishermen and someone in an official uniform to get out of the harbour the moment we arrived. They instructed us to go to the next port along the coast – some 7 hours away. Rather than doing this and arriving in the dark at an unknown port, we decided to drop the anchor in the bay just around the corner and settle ourselves there instead.

It’s hard to get a sense from the sketches in the pilot book of the size of the bay and whether there are any dangers to be aware of when entering it. From what we could tell, there was good depth (over 7 meters) wherever we went and no dangerous rocks were apparent. We used a trip line when anchoring, but it lifted without no problems and was covered in lovely gooey mud.

A force 7 wind was forecast for the night so we decided to stay put an extra day. The bay offered good shelter from the fierce winds that night and we slept comfortably.

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The only problem we had was when a fisherman arrived to retrieve nets that he’d laid without marker buoys across the bay. As we’d had no idea it was there, we’d laid our anchor chain right over it and it took us quite a while to untangle everything.

The fisherman was a nice guy but he was visibly worried about the police who had started blowing whistles at us from their lookout station (you can just make out the white building on the clifftop).

The police never contacted us directly, but we suspect that there have been problems with drug smuggling here recently that may have involved visiting yachts. Did I forget to mention that the Tuesday market in El Jabah is a hashish market?

As ever, If you’d like to see more photos and movies from our journey, then take a look at our Facebook page.

The Portuguese west coast

We’re now sitting (with a decent internet connection) in the marina at Sines, the southern most port on the Portuguese west coast. So it’s time to catch up with the blog and to report on the interesting places we’ve visited in the past couple of weeks.

The journey south along this stretch of coastline has been quite different to the sailing we’re used to. The distances between ports has generally been quite far, and the scenery all very samey with lots of flat featureless coastline with long sandy beaches dotted along it. On the plus side though, the tides are small, and currents negligible – meaning that we can set off at any time without being too concerned about being caught out by foul tides and currents.

We’ve seen all sorts of conditions, from flat calm seas with little wind, to very high ocean swells being swept in from the Atlantic by blasting winds. There have also been many days when we’ve been caught up in thick summer fog banks. Regardless of this, we have discoverd many fantastic places along the way:

Viana do Castello

This was the first port of call when we arrived in Portugal and it exceeded our expectations by a mile.

We moored stern to with a lazy line in the marina (a practice usually reserved for Mediterranean harbours) and took a short walk ashore to explore the beautiful old city.

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Porto (Leixoes)

Both Helena and I have visited Porto before, so we decided to stop in Leixoes (just a few kilometers north) instead and see what it had to offer.

The pilot book didn’t have great things to say about Leixoes, but we were pleasantly surprised. It was the most reasonably priced marina we found in Portugal and adjacent to a small street with some excellent restaurants – again, very reasonably priced; a delicious dinner for two came to less than €20, this included a €8 bottle of very agreeable alvarinho wine.

Just outside the harbour wall, there is a beach where it is possible to kitesurf a nice left hand break when the afternoon winds pick up:

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It was here that I unpacked my kites for the first time, eager to get out there, only to discover that my bar and lines are not on in the bag. Very frustrating, but I settled for a cold beer at the beach cafe instead.

Figueira da Foz

This is the closest harbour to Coimbra, where Helena’s family are based. We stopped here for a week to spend some time with them and were spoiled rotten with big meals and great hospitality. In spite of her mobility problems, we even managed to get Helena’s parents on to the boat.

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Being stationary for a few days also meant that I could get a couple of nagging jobs out of the way – like getting the new name lettering fixed on the sides of the boat:

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São Martinho do Porto

A beautiful natural bay that has been eroded out of the land after the sea breached a layer of tougher rock along the coast line. Here’s an aerial shot I found using Google:

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We entered this bay with some caution as the charted depths in all but a few areas were too shallow for Amalia. On a rising tide we motored in and watched our depth gauge closely to find a good spot to drop the anchor. We had about a meter under our keel at low water (neap tides). If there had been waves washing into the bay we would have needed to move on – luckily for us the weather was very settled.

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We stayed here for a couple of days over my birthday and were the only yacht in the bay. Lovely!

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Peniche

We tried to call the marina on the VHF radio but didn’t get a response so headed for the bay and anchored just outside the harbour instead. The holding was excellent in a sand and clay bottom, which was a good thing as there were very strong offshore gusts in the afternoon and into the night.

The beach was busy with tourists and it looked like a nice place to visit. We decided to eat on the boat that evening though and headed off early the following morning towards Lisbon.

Lisbon (Oeiras & Cascais)

There are many harbours and marinas in Lisbon, we decided (for no particular reason) to bypass the marina at Cascais and stop at Oeiras.

Helena’s sister is based in Lisbon, and once again we were treated to some good old fashioned Portuguese hospitality. She took us on a tour of Sintra, a beautiful and historic area just outside of Lisbon, that we’d recommend to anyone visiting this part of the world.

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After a couple of days in Oeiras, we backtracked to Cascais to meet up with friends from England who had managed to catch up with us from the Channel Islands in just five days! Quite a journey for them. We anchored there for the night and joined up with them and Helena’s sister for some great seafood in a restaurant that shall remain a closely guarded secret (it’s that good!).

Sines

Well what can I say about Sines that won’t get me killed by the locals? In fact what can I say about Sines that hasn’t already been said by the world’s leading geneticists on the effects of inbreeding?

It’s a bit of an odd place. For example, we attended the dullest candlelight procession in history yesterday. From what we can gather, it was intended to celebrate the saint that watches over the local fishing fleet. Sadly though it was more reminiscent of the final scene from The Wicker Man only this time enacted by the cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Oh, look at their gloomy faces:

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OK, I’m begin a bit too harsh, it’s not all that bad.

Sines is ideally situated as a stop over before rounding Cape St Vincent and heading on to the Algarve. We’ve found good places to eat: the coffee shop by the fort serves great cakes, and O Castello just across the street is the place to go for an evening meal (the black pig pork chops are amazing). And although the marina is a short hike into town, it overlooks a nice clean beach. Did I mention it has a decent internet connection too?

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Leaving England

We’re finally under way on our summer cruise to Portugal!

We set off at 7am from Ramsgate to catch the ebb tide in the English Channel, expecting strong wind and currents to take us south past Dover and Calais to our first destination: Boulogne Sur Mer.

And what a great day’s sailing we enjoyed. A solid F5 the whole way with wind speeds of around 20 kts and a current of almost 3 kts helping us along as we dodged the ferries outside of Dover harbour.

Our guests clearly enjoyed the trip. Patrice and his son, Ariel, were on board and at one point I though I might need a crow bar to get them off the helm. The autopilot didn’t get used at all but I expect this will change now that it’s just me and Helena on board again.

Patrice treated us all to some fabulous French cuisine at La Matelote which overlooks the beach in the evening. This morning he and Ariel left to catch a train back to Calais, and from there on to home in London.

Today, Helena and I have explored Boulogne. The heart of the town is a pretty medieval walled city with tight cobbled streets:

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Some of the shops were of particular interest for Helena:

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Tomorrow we will set off towards Dieppe where we hope to meet up with friends who are travelling towards the Channel Islands in their boat.

The final leg home

There are grey skies outside today and it would appear that our luck with the weather has held out just long enough to get us back home safely. This morning, the BBC weatherman said that the first autumn storm will strike on Sunday bringing with it 60 miles per hour winds. So as much as we’d love to still be out there on our journey, the elements seem to have decided that its about time to leave Amalia in the harbour and to return to our land based lives for a while.

This last week has really been a long slow wind-down for us. We spent a couple of days in the Solent getting jobs done on the boat and then headed back fairly quickly along the south coast to Ramsgate where we’ll keep Amalia for the winter.

We passed the needles under threatening skies and arrived in Cowes last Saturday, the 7th September, meeting up with my son Ed and his girlfriend Jenny who are both studying at the university there.

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We were in early and moored up in Shepards Quay marina. There were three end of season regattas in the Solent that weekend so after a few hours we were well and truly pinned in by the other boats that had rafted alongside us:

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The next day we crossed the Solent and moored up in Hamble, an overpriced marina in the arse-end of nowhere but with excellent facilities and workshops that we could employ to get the boat back into tip-top shape. Two days later, all jobs completed, we set off again with Ed on board, passing the old Solent fortresses on our way:

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We spent that night at anchor in Chichester harbour and set off the following morning, passing Beachy Head and planning to stop for the night in Eastbourne marina.

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There are a number of different tides in play along the south coast and the timing of their currents changes as you round each major headland. When travelling from west to east, as we were, it is possible to catch one favourable tide after another if you get your timing right.

Eastbourne was in sight as we rounded Beachy Head, but it was also clear that we’d timed it just about right to catch a good tide from there to Dungeness if we wanted to. Taking this option meant that we’d be able to pass Dungeness and arrive in Dover some seven hours later, at about 9pm. Arriving anywhere (let alone Dover) in the dark can be tricky and was something that we’d avoided doing anywhere on this trip, but it would put us a day ahead of schedule with deteriorating weather forecasts.

So, with Eastbourne in our wake and a new route to Dover plotted, we pressed on. Avoiding the busy traffic lanes and the ferries, we arrived dead on 9pm and crept into the marina for the night. Here we are passing the huge nuclear power station at the tip of Dungeness along the way:

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The next day was a short hop on to Ramsgate where we completed our circumnavigation, and were greeted home by Alan and Vanessa with their son Alfie. Once tied up on the visitors pontoon, we celebrated in the local cafe with bacon rolls and champagne, a combination I can highly recommend:

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Completing the circumnavigation has given us a big confidence boost in regard to our seamanship. It’s a huge achievement for us and I suspect spells the start of a more permanent lifestyle for us a little further down the line.

As ever, if you’d like to see more photos of our journey, then take a look at the albums on our Facebook page.

The Cornish Coast

We arrived in Penzance from the Scilly Isles on the 29th August and from there we sailed the next day around Lizard Point to meet my Dad in Falmouth. We spent a lovely evening there sampling yet more fish and chips and later, the delicious local beers.

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The next day turned out to be a day for reacquainting with old friends from Uni. We shared tea and biscuits on board with John Salter and his parter Claire before setting sail for Fowey.  After a windy sail, we arrived in Fowey, and I received a FB message from Ian Utting and Sally Fincher who spotted us arriving in the harbour from the flat they rent there each summer. We joined them for drinks later in the evening, and they showed us around. It was a pretty impressive place, and even had its own landing jetty for us to moor the dinghy on.

We then set off for Cawsand Bay, in the entrance to Plymouth harbour, a major naval base. Along the way we tried our luck at fishing and once again, caught a couple of great looking pollock for the pot.

We spent the evening on anchor in the bay watching the warships coming and going, before settling in for the night.

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My Dad had seemed to bring the wind with him, as we enjoyed a third successive day sailing on to Salcombe. Helena and I came here when we first chartered a yacht years ago. It was lovely to return to somewhere that we had great memories of only to have them reinforced the second time around. The mooring fees were reasonable, the harbour staff friendly, and as we were nearer the end of the season than on our last visit, the place was just a little less crowded and all the better for it too.

Our second guest for the week, Rob, joined us in Salcombe and we continued on to Dartmouth the next day. Rob, spurred on by my dad’s success with fishing, spent a fruitless day trying to catch us something for dinner – luckily we had meatballs on board so we didn’t go hungry. I guess he could have tried blaming it on the sunstroke that had caused him to collapse exhausted on the sofa that evening but I have proof that this was all faked:

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After being teased endlessly by my dad for being a crap fisherman, Rob gave it another go the next day as we headed for Lyme Regis. This time, with a change of lures, he managed to hook in nine small mackerel that we fried and ate with a fresh salad for dinner that night. Even Buxton seemed impressed:

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The last day’s sailing for this week was around Portland Bill and The Portland Race, a notorious stretch of water – this comment is straight out of the Shell Channel Pilot book and had what I expect is the intended effect on this reader:

Portland Race is the most dangerous extended area of broken water in the English Channel. Quite substantial vessels drawn in to it have been known to disappear without a trace.

After a lengthy study of the area’s tidal charts, some very careful planning, a full crew briefing, and a dose of seasickness tablets for all on board we set off to round Portland Bill. It would take us around four hours to get there, which should coincide with slack water. Our plan was to head further offshore if the conditions looked too rough. As it turned out, we needn’t have worried as the waters were benign enough for us to head much closer inshore than we had initially expected and we had a great view of Portland Bill as we rounded its southernmost point:

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I’m currently sat in what seems like a much bigger, and a significantly quieter boat writing this blog. I ferried Rob and my dad ashore in the dinghy earlier this morning, and they’ll make their respective ways home from there.

Helena and I are now planning the remaining week or so of our journey. We will be in the Solent area getting a few maintenance jobs completed on the boat for the next few days. We will then head on along the south coast to our home port of Ramsgate to complete our circumnavigation some time towards the end of next week.

I think we both have quite mixed emotions right now. It’s a great feeling to be on the home straight, but its equally sad to think that this fantastic journey must soon come to an end.

Republic of Ireland

Last weekend we left Amalia in Dun Laoghaire marina and stayed at an old friend from university's place in Dublin. We packed a light bag for the weekend and a box with a cat in it too.

Nicola was, as ever, a great host and took us on a tour of the city, starting at the Guinness brewery where we took a walk around the exhibitions before enjoying the best ever pint of the black stuff in their sky bar with great views of the city:

We then walked around the Temple Bar area, eating in a food market and enjoying public art installations before retiring to a bar for another round of refreshments.

On Sunday the wind was up so we took Nicola out for a day sail around Dublin bay. She proved to be a natural at the helm. Check out her look of concentration:

Even Buxton seemed relaxed with her sailing skills:

We have now moved south again to Arklow and are assessing the weather for the next leg of our journey.

Finally, these caught my eye in the supermarket this morning – proof if you needed it that we are actually in Ireland:

 

The Western Isles – Part I

We’ve returned briefly to the mainland to pick up Brian and Jane, our guests for the next week, which also means internet access and a chance to write a quick blog of the places we’ve been to over the past few days.

After leaving the Caledonian canal we headed down through Loch Linne stopping off at Oban, Loch Aline and Tobermory, where the popular kids show Balemory is filmed:

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Here’s Buxton, now safely back with us, taking in the sights:

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From there we headed out to what are collectively called the small islands, anchoring overnight at Muck and then Canna. These places have tiny populations; to give you an idea, here is the post office (and telecommunications hub) on Canna:

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From there we headed over to the south side of Skye and found this delightful spot to stop at and to sample the local beverages:

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We had originally planned to head around the top of Skye, but given that we had just two days to meet up with our friends, we decided to take the shorter route back along the south side instead. As it turned out, this was a great decision as the next anchorage we stayed at was absolutely stunning.

Loch Scavaig is surrounded by jagged mountains on all sides and has a small waterfall leading into a bay, all of which can only be accessed from the sea, the yacht on the far right of this photo is Amalia:

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Climbing the waterfall, in the photo above, led us to the freshwater loch:

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We’re now heading back out to the small isles before we turn south and start making our way to the Firth of Clyde.

As ever, there are more photos from this part of our trip on our Facebook page.