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.

A good start to 2015

We’ve spent most of our first week back on Amalia socialising with friends and family. We met up with Martin, Olga, Ricardo and Sofia, who are in Portimao visiting Olga’s parents, and sailed with them to Alvor for lunch. Alvor is a lovely anchorage if you’re careful to mind the sandbanks, and a favourite spot for kite-surfers along this coast:

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We ate sandwiches there as we watched an Italian yacht struggle to free itself from a grounding (see our Facebook page for more pics and discussion).

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Helena’s brother drove down from Coimbra with their parents, and we ate out at a great little restaurant we found in Ferragudo when we were last out here at Easter.

The Portuguese certainly know how to cook meat, and I could barely walk straight when we left.

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We also had a visit from the UK Parasailor agent on Thursday, to commission our new sail. So far we’re very impressed with it and how easy it was to use. We’re looking forward to trying it out in a slightly stronger breeze, but even in 5kts of wind, we managed to get the boat moving at over 3kts – not bad at all for a heavy boat like ours. Here’s a photo taken by Martin as we sailed back into Portimao harbour:

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I’ve finally got the WiFi setup on the boat working as I’d like, which must be a relief for Helena as I’ve had the boat apart running power cables around:

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There’s been a fair amount of trial and error involved in getting this to work properly, so I’ll write a more technical blog later this week explaining how it all ties together as I’m sure it’ll be useful for anyone trying to set up a 12v WiFi network in a boat or camper van.

Apart from our friendly neighbours, there’s nothing left in Portimao for us now so it’s time to start moving again. 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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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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Summer fog banks

It’s been a tricky few weeks working our way along the Portuguese west coast. There have been a few days with good sailing conditions and some wonderful destinations, but on the whole we’ve been motoring a lot more than we’d have liked, dodging gazillions of poorly marked lobster pots along the way.

We’ve grown to love our radar, and have relied on it to get us through the dense summer fog banks, made all the more interesting by the crazy fishing boats who don’t bother with automatic identification systems (AIS), and just motor around without a care in the world, not even sounding a horn to announce their presence.

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To help, we’ve made good use of MARPA (Mini Automatic Radar Plotting Aid) to monitor their whereabouts:

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The red triangles are dangerous targets which, once they’ve been manually identified, are automatically tracked by the radar which sounds an alarm if they get too close.

Here’s Helena adding targets while we both keep an eye out for anything we may have missed with the radar, like the lobster pot on our port side:

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Even when we get close, and know that there’s a boat out there, it’s a relief when it is finally spotted and we know we’ve passed it safely. Can you see the fishing boat in this photo?

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Well that’s my whinging done – in my next post I’ll be a bit more upbeat I promise and will describe some of the lovely places we’ve found along this stretch of coast.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

Out for a sail on a windless weekend

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Helena and I went out for a sail with the cat this weekend. We really need to get him feeling at home on the boat. If you look closely you can see him in this photo.

There was very little wind but this gave us a change to fly our low-wind “Code-Zero” sail for the first time.

For such a big sail, it was surprisingly easy to handle. It runs on a continual furling line and is hoisted off the bowsprit on the spinnaker halyard. The material is very light-weight and this meant that I could easily furl and deploy it from the foredeck on my own. Looks pretty too right?