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.

Crossing Biscay

We set off from Trebeurden in northern France on Wednesday morning and managed to sail most of the day under light winds. We rounded Ushant at the most north western tip of France just as the sun was setting that evening, then turned left and aimed the boat towards La Coruna in Spain. From there, the crossing took another two days.

On the first day there was very little wind and we motored all day in the company of dolphins. That evening, as Maarten was lighting the oven to prepare dinner, there was a deafening scream of airplane engines and we were buzzed by a twin engined plane that had dived down to take a (much) closer look at us. I don’t know a lot about planes, but it looked to me like the plane from Raiders of the Lost Ark except that it was grey, not silver, and had ‘Marines’ painted along the side. I don’t know whether it was in active service or if it was an older restored plane, but it was a pretty spectacular sight either way.

We were expecting about 20 knots of wind from WSW on the final day of the crossing so motored out as far west as possible whilst keeping clear of the traffic lanes and the big ships. Positioning ourselves this way would allow us to sail into the wind at a fair enough angle to reach La Coruna.

The next morning when the wind arrived it was stronger and more southerly than forecast. Under heavily reduced sails and battling confused seas in excess of 3 meters, we beat our way on to Spain. Our original destination of La Coruna was no longer an option unless we wanted to motor directly into the wind, so we made course for Ria de Viveiro instead – a wide natural harbour that we could enter safely in the dark. Feeling exhausted, we arrived there and set the anchor for the night just after 0100hrs the following morning.

We’d like to say thanks to Maarten, who joined us for this trip. He has sailed with us many times before with his family. It’s always nice to see him, and having the extra hands on deck proved invaluable given the conditions this week.

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

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 Western Isles – Part II

Well I guess in the inevitable has happened and we’ve finally seen some true Highlands’ weather!

On the night of the 29th we had a quiet evening with good weather at anchor on the Isle of Ornsay. The next morning we had a great sail to Malaig, even Buxton enjoyed it – listen out for him purring in this video clip:

Our friends Brian and Jayne travelled up from Kent to meet up with us in Malaig, and we all set off the following morning, to head back out to the small isles.

While en-route, a quick re-check of the forecast showed that it had changed significantly and that a low pressure system was now headed our way, bringing with it gale force winds and rain. The anchorage we were headed to would have been too exposed so we changed course and headed south to picturesque Tobermory on Mull where we knew we could spend some time ashore. We ended up spending three days there, giving us plenty of time to visit all the attractions and to try (two bottles of) the local distillery’s whiskey.

Here’s a great photo I managed to snap of a double rainbow during a downpour yesterday afternoon:

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In case you’ve never seen it before, check out this YouTube clip of the guy getting very excited over a double rainbow. “What does it mean?”

This afternoon we left the shelter of the anchorage at Tobermory and set course for either Loch Spelve (if the wind did as predicted and dropped) or Oban (if it didn’t). This was our eventual track:

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As you can see from this, we decided not to go to Loch Spelve and headed across to Oban; here’s the reason why:

The video above was shot using my phone after we’d reduced both sails to the size of handkerchiefs, and started to head across the bottom of Loch Linnhe to Oban. This area was more exposed to the wind and swell coming in from the Atlantic and we had a consistent F7 for most of the way. The waves look quite harmless in this video but just after we stopped filming one caught the side of the boat and crashed over into the cockpit drenching me.

Rather than dropping as we reached Oban, the wind peaked to a F9 reaching 45 knots across the decks. Finally, just to add a little more spice to the mix, the local ferry started to follow us in but after a short VHF conversation with Brian, he very graciously agreed to slow down and give us time to get in well ahead of him.

Thankfully both Brian and Jane are very experienced sailors, and they’ve taken this week comfortably in their stride. They are great people and it’s been a pleasure having them on board and listening to their sailing stories from the years of living aboard their boat in the Caribbean.

Navionics Vs SeaNav: Comparing navigation apps for iPad

Although we have some great navigation equipment on board, I wanted to get something that we could use while away from the boat to draw up passage plans. To this end I fired up the iPad and tried out two of the better looking marine navigation applications that claimed to support UK waters: the well established Navionics UK & Holland and the significantly cheaper new kid on the block SeaNav UK.

I’ve used Navionics software before and am not their greatest fan. I’ve had the iPhone version of this app for a while now and find that I continuously need to hunt through the poorly thought out menus to find anything other than its most basic features. On the other hand, the charts they use are excellent. In fact the exact same data is used in our on board Raymarine plotter so the charts in the iPad appear exactly as they do on the boat. As good as these charts are though, I’ve now paid for them three times – once for the on board systems, once for my iPhone, and now once more for the iPad. Navionic’s marketing strategy means that their charts are expensive.

When first using the SeaNav software, it instantly has a much better feel than Navionics. Menus are more easily accessible and the whole user experience just seems to be that little less contrived. Ultimately though, a navigation app is only as good as the chart data it contains, and in this area SeaNav was pretty poor in comparison.

Let me show you an example of how these apps stacked up against each other. One of the places we may stop this summer is Scarborough on the East coast of Yorkshire. Using the SeaNav app I zoomed in to take a closer look at Scarborough harbour and this is what I found (click the images to enlarge):

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As you can see, the location of the cricket club is pretty clear, and I can find my way to Marks & Spencer with no problem, but where’s the harbour?

This is the same area on the Navionics app:

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Now the position of the harbour is obvious, and the colours used for the depth contours have a better contrast and are much easier to see. I don’t play golf so I’m not too bothered by the disappearance of the golf club.

Importantly, SeaNav seems to have a problem where objects of interest become obliterated as it performs its vector rendering – in this case a whole harbour has disappeared!

If we zoom in a bit, then the harbour reappears:

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Great, now we know where to go if we need shelter. But where are the pontoons, and where should we head to if the harbour master gives us instructions to moor agains the North Wharf?

Lets see what Navionics makes of it:

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Much better. Not only does the harbour appear where it should, but theres much more detail inside too.

For me, being a non-golfer and a very occasional visitor to Marks and Spencer, Navionics is the better choice. It renders the charts well and very quickly. As for SeaNav, well I’m not sure if I’d feel comfortable with an app that can hide an entire harbour. What about wrecks or sand banks? Might it hide these too? I’ve not noticed this happening but given what I’ve demonstrated, I’m not confident that it wouldn’t happen. OK, I’m only looking to use this for initial planning, but I still feel more comfortable doing this with the correct data to hand.

Other things that I prefer in Navionics are its ability to cache large areas of charts very quickly on my iPad, SeaNav was not as adept at this and seemed to take much longer to download small areas of data. Navionics also provide better tide data by default; with SeaNav a separate app download is required if you want to see anything more than the next 24hrs of tides.

SeaNav is priced very attractively: £9.99 for an app that will run on both your iPhone and iPad. Navionics will charge you £57.48 for the privilege of using their software on both your devices (£37.99 for the iPad and £19.49 for the iPhone).

The SeaNav application is still only on version 1.11 so hopefully, with time, they’ll address the problems highlighted above. If they can provide better detailed charts and still undercut Navionic’s expensive pricing model, then I’m sure this app with its fresher user interface could be a real contender.