Monday 3rd April 2006 - Malta
Well we are still here in Malta - we've been really busy with our winter jobs and sheltering from the frequent gales and heavy rain!
It has taken quite some time to get around to updating the website because we have been doing all sorts of stuff on the boat - and there is the hectic social life aswell! Following is a brief overview of the various jobs that we have done:
- Replaced the calorifier (hot water tank).
- Designed an arch for the stern of the boat and had it made and fitted.
- Installed Radar.
- Installed two solar panels.
- Installed a wind generator.
- Replaced three domestic batteries.
- Fixed Leaking water pump on engine.
- Serviced Engine.
- Fitted Hydrovane wind vane steering (still in progress at the moment).
- Stripped and varnished cockpit table
- Stripped and varnished washboard
- Stripped and varnished cabin floor.
- Cooking, cleaning and clothes washing (by hand) and all other domestic duties. (Al added this line when I was not looking).
As you can see, Nige has been really busy and Al has been taking it a bit easy (You can probably guess who is writing this!). We still have a few more things to sort out before we leave Malta - the boat is coming out of the water and into the boatyard on 6th April. While we are out of the water we will be cleaning and anti-fouling the hull, checking the sea cocks and the cutlass bearing (propeller shaft) replacing the propeller and having some GRP work done so that we can complete the fitting of the wind vane steering.
Anyway, that is enough of the working stuff - Malta is quite a small and fairly barren island - quite rocky with few trees and little agriculture or vegetation. The Maltese people are really friendly and they all speak English aswell as Maltese. This has been really usefull and has helped us a lot in sorting all our jobs on the boat out. There is a lot of interesting architecture particularly in Valletta and Mdina but is is quite scruffy and neglected in many places. The roads and the Maltese driving style are interesting to say the least. To drive in Malta you really need a vehicle with strong suspension and a good horn - you also need to be able to drive while holding your mobile phone between your shoulder and your ear and looking for something in the passenger footwell. You must also be able to pull out of side roads without looking and treat minor accidents as an occupational hazard! They do have some great old buses though - cheap, frequent and a great way to get around.
We have had a couple of visitors while we have been here - our friends Fran and Rich from Harrogate came out for a few days in October. They hired a car while they were here so we had a couple of days out and about around the Island and a few drunken evenings in Sliema and Paceville. Al's sister Fiona came out for a few days aswell - this was a more relaxing visit with a couple of trips out to Valletta and Mdina on the bus. Fiona and Simon are coming out again later this month so we are trying to get most of our jobs finished before they arrive.
There are a number of boats here that were also in Almerimar last winter (Yanina, Pulsar II, Kiah) and various other liveaboard boats that are spending the winter here aswell so we haven't been short of friends or social activities. In addition to various meals/drinks on different boats, we have a number of favourite nights out:
- Friday night at The Black Gold (live band) and then sometimes on to Chequers bar (Dodgy crowd and loud music)
- Wednesday night at The Slipway Lounge (Quiz night) - not as grand as it sounds!
- Wednesday night at The Black Pearl - free wine until midnight!!! and music until really late - 200m from our boat!
- Sunday night in The Jubilee - a few quiet beers - usually Cisk, the local lager.
- Pub Crawl to Spinola bay - The Jubilee, Simon's Pub, Rawhide, Snoopy's and The Plough and Anchor.
- Pub Crawl to Paceville (pronounced Patchyville) - Simon's Pub, The Scotsman (dodgy karaoke), JB's (live bands) and various others.
Paceville is the hub of Maltese nightlife - loads of pubs and clubs and is really busy at weekends with both locals and tourists.
So that is a summary of our activities over the winter - we are now looking forward to moving on again - hopefully at the end of April if the weather is OK. Our plan is to head up to Croatia for one or two months and then head back south to Tunisia for a few weeks. After that we'll be heading west back to southern Spain, Gibraltar and then down the coast of Morocco to The Canary Islands - ideally we'd like to be there in late September.
Wednesday 24th May 2006 - Slano, Croatia
We finally left Malta two weeks ago on 10th May after a hectic few weeks completing all the jobs we wanted to do. We spent two weeks with the boat ashore in Manoel Island boatyard while we did the anti-fouling and completed the fitting of the windvane steering. Quite a few people check into a hotel or an apartment while their boat is out of the water, but we decided to save some cash and stay on the boat. One of the good things about doing this is that the boatyard is closer to the bars - so after a hard days work on the boat it was easy to nip out for a few beers. There are however some negative aspects to this - one is that the boatyard is very dusty so that we and the boat were continually filthy - the other is that the toilets are a long way from the boat, so at night we had to resort to the "bucket and chuck it" method (a particular problem when Al was struck down with food poisoning!).
Once back in the water we returned to the marina for a couple of weeks and had a few late nights partying with friends that would be staying behind in Malta or heading off to other destinations - mainly Greece and Turkey. In early May the weather started to improve and a few boats started to leave - Bob and Liz on Yanina along with Alan and Doreen on Kiah decided to head off to Gozo (next island) for a couple of nights. We waited until the following day and then set off for Syracuse in Sicily - an 80 mile passage which we did overnight. We had fairly good winds and sailed all the way to the south coast of Sicily before the wind died and we motored the last 20 miles into the anchorage. We arrived about 0730 and were surprised to see Yanina and Kiah there already - they had left Gozo early to make the most of the good weather and had arrived the previous afternoon. We spent the next three nights in Syracuse - did some provisioning for our planned trip up to Croatia, revisited some of our favourite bars and, as we were back in Italy, we went out for a Pizza.
The weather forecast was looking good so we set off around lunchtime on Sunday 14th along with Yanina and Kiah. They were both heading for Ithaca in Greece, and so were in sight for the first few hours before disappearing from view - we had a final chat on the radio later that night before they were out of range. During that first afternoon we had a really good wind on the beam and decided to try out the windvane steering for the first time - some of them can be difficult to get used to, but the Hydrovane we fitted worked perfectly from the minute we turned it on. The trip up to Croatia was the first really long passage we have attempted and we were not really sure how we would get on. As it turned out it went extremely well - we spent five nights at sea and quickly got into the routine of watch keeping, cooking, eating and sleeping. The windvane steered effortlessly all the time allowing us to relax and get plenty of rest. Most of the trip we were beating into headwinds between force 3 and force 5 so it was a bit bumpy and wet at times. We also had to tack to make progress towards our destination which meant that we had to cover a lot more ground - we sailed just over 500 miles when the straight line route was 405 miles. We had one interesting diversion during the passage when we spotted the conning tower of a submarine about 300 metres behind us - it seemed to follow us for a while and the disappeared - scary! We actually had to slow down towards the end to avoid arriving in Dubrovnik in the dark and we finally arrived in Gruz (Dubrovnik's nearest port) at 0700 on Friday 19th May.
After clearing customs and completing the entrance formalities we then motored two miles up the Rijeka Dubrovacka to Dubrovnik marina. This is a really nice place - surrounded by pine covered mountains with great views across the river (see photos) - probably the best marina we have been in so far. We spent four nights in the marina - cleaned the boat inside and out - Al spent a whole day repairing the Genoa (big sail that goes at the front) which needed quite a lot of stitching replacing. And, of course we went into Dubrovnik to do some sightseeing and have a meal out to celebrate our successful arrival in Croatia.
On Tuesday 23rd May we left Dubrovnik and headed a few miles up the coast to Slano - a sheltered bay with a small village and a couple of bars - where we are now anchored. The sun is shining and it's really warm - there are loads of small bays on the Croation coast and islands and we plan to spend the next 5 or 6 weeks hopping from anchorage to anchorage. After all the work we did over the winter and the long trip to get here, this is just like being on holiday. We are not really sure what we are going to do with ourselves - I guess we'll just have to get used to sunbathing, swimming and popping ashore for a cold beer every so often!
Saturday 3rd June 2006 - Korkula, Croatia
Today it is raining - a lot, and it is cold (relatively - it is 19°C but it feels cold). It is not supposed to be like this in June - it should be warm and sunny. Anyway, enough moaning, it means that I can spend some time writing a few words here.
We stayed in Slano for three nights before motoring up to a small town called Ston that lies at the end of the Stonski Kanal - a narrow channel between the hills. Ston is on a narrow part of the Peljesac peninsula and is joined to Mali Ston on the other side by a defensive wall - a bit like the Great wall of China, but not as long and not as great. It was however quite a nice walk across the peninsula and back - only about 3/4 of a mile. In Ston we moored alongside a stone quay and were charged 100 Kuna (about £10) which we thought was a bit steep considering there are no facilities. Consequently we stayed just one night and the following day went back down the Kanal and anchored in Uvala Lupeska - a large deserted bay surrounded by steep sided mountains covered in forest. A very peaceful night.
Next day we had a great sail further North to Luka Polace on the Island of Mljet. This is a large sheltered bay with steep sided mountains covered in forest and very picturesque (I think this is going to become a bit of a theme in Croatia). The entire western end of this island is a national park - we spent three nights here lazing around - except for one day when we walked across the island throught the forest to see some inland lakes. They wanted to charge us 90 Kuna each to walk down to the lakes - we thought that was rather expensive to look at a lake, so we walked along the road from where we could see them for free (We are trying so save money as we do not have a tenant in the flat at the moment). They looked just like the enclosed bay we were anchored in anyway.
Next destination was Korkula town on the Island of Korkula - had another good sail and we are now anchored in Uvala Luka (another sheltered bay ......) which is about half a mile walk from the town. We've been here three nights now and will be moving on again as soon as the rain stops. Korkula itself is a small walled town on a headland that is surrounded by sea on three sides. There are lots of small alleyways with numerous restaurants that cater for the numerous tourists and cruise ships that call here. We managed to find a couple of lively bars and proceeded to get quite drunk one night when the barman insisted on giving us free shots of Kahlua mixed with a couple of other things.
So far everything is going quite well this year although we have had a couple of problems - the 8, i, k, and , keys on our laptop seem to stop working occasionally - if it gets worse I'll have to take it apart to try to fix it (this could be the last update for a while!). Also, the outboard would not start when we first tried to start it to go ashore here in Korkula. I stripped the carburetor and changed the spark plug and eventually got it going again - still not really sure what was wrong. Anyway, it now runs much better than ever and I have discovered that I can get the dinghy to plane (skimming across the top of the water means you can go MUCH faster rather than phut-phutting along really slowly). To get it to plane I have to increase the revs on the outboard and then move to the front of the dinghy to stop it lifting and then we really get moving! It's great - the only problem is my arms are not long enough to reach the outboard when I'm at the front of the dinghy so I can't steer. I'm now going to make a tiller extension to overcome this problem. Al is not so keen as she thinks it is dangerous and prefers phut-phutting along. (I'm going to continue with the tiller extension anyway).
That is about it for now - will do another update next time we have some crap weather.
Sunday 23rd July 2006 - El Kantaoui, Tunisia
Well, we have not had any bad weather for ages (Sunny and 35°C) - that is why it has taken so long to get around to writing this latest update. Now it is so hot that we are sheltering from the sun and not doing much. We also have a solution to our laptop keyboard problem - the keyboard is beyond repair - they are sealed units on a laptop, so we've plugged in an external keyboard to keep this old machine working a bit longer.
Anyway, following our last update in May, we continued working our way north through the Croatian Islands. From Korcula we went to Luka Lovisce on Otok Scedro - a peaceful anchorage but not much there apart from other yachts - anchored with a line ashore for the first time. The line ashore stops the boat swinging around the anchor and seems to be the thing to do in Croatia when the anchorage is busy. Next stop was in the Pakleni Islands which are just off Hvar - this is a very popular area with charter yachts and was busy even this early in the season - anchored the first night in Uvala Zdrilca on Otok Marinkovak - nice anchorage with a bar where we had a few sundowners before dinner. The next day we motored a couple of miles to the next island (Otok Sveti Klement) and anchored in Uvala Vinogradisce - a large bay with a sandy beach and a couple of restaurants. Next day a short sail to the town of Stari Grad on Otok Hvar where we anchored with a line ashore again. Stari Grad is a small town with a few bars, restaurants and shops so we were able to stock up with a few provisions and have a few beers in the evening. Next day, the wind picked up and the anchorage did not seem too secure so we moved a few miles along the coast to Luka Zavala - a small deserted bay. We were the only boat anchored here all night but we did have a bit of excitement when a police launch with two large Croatian police officers wearing dark glasses and carrying guns came alongside and asked to see our papers. Fortunately all was in order and they apologised for disturbing us and went away.
By now we felt we had had enought of small quiet towns and bays so the next day we set off for Split. Here we anchored in the harbour which is a busy ferry terminal - the main port for ferries to all the islands. This meant that the anchorage was a bit rolly with the wash from the ferries coming and going - fortunately it did die down a bit at night. Split is a great place - probably our favourite place in Croatia despite the anchorage. We could dinghy ashore in a couple of minutes and were right in the centre of the old town. Plenty of interesting buildings, small streets and squares, a great market every day and plenty of bars and restaurants, so we stayed there for four nights.
While in Split we had a text message from our friends in Harrogate - Fran and Rich - saying that they were coming to Croatia on Holiday on 1st July and asking if we would be around. We had planned to leave for Malta a week before this but after reviewing our schedule and a bit of discussion, we decided to stay in Croatia longer so that we could meet up. All our visitors to date have stayed with us in marinas. This time we decided it would be better to stay at anchor and sail to a couple of different places. Having warned Fran and Rich that there would be no showers, it might get windy and rough and they would have to go ashore in the dinghy, it was decided that they would give it a go - with the proviso that they could always check into an hotel if they didn't like it.
We still had a couple of weeks left in June, so we continued north stopping at Uvala Razentinovak - quiet anchorage, nothing there, and then Uvala Rozac on Otok Ciovo - this was a small bay which was not in the pilot book but was a great anchorage and handy for the popular tourist town of Trogir. Another reason for stopping here was to watch the second England World Cup match against Trinidad and Tobago - we'd already seen the Paraguay match in Split and with a second win, things were looking good.
Next stop was Rogoznica - a nice anchorage with a small village - here we had drinks with Nick and Dawn on Telemara - a large 24 metre motor boat (a small ship really) who we'd met previously over the winter in Malta and seen briefly in Split. We spent a couple of nights here before moving on to Jadrtovak - another quiet anchorage in a channel leading to a lake. The next day we continued north and into the Kanal Sv. Ante and past the town of Sibenik to Rasline - a small village which seems to be rarely visited by yachts. This was reflected in the price of beer - 10 Kuna for a large beer whereas we had paid 25 Kuna in Trogir!
The following day we continued up the Krka river and anchored mid morning opposite the town of Skradin. This is as far up river as we could take the boat as it now enters the Krka National Park. In the afternoon we took a boat trip into the National Park and walked up to the waterfalls - this was a really great place with a series of waterfalls and lots of wild life including frogs, butterflies and dragonflies. We walked up one side of the falls, across the river on a series of wooden walkways and back down the other side before taking the trip boat back to Skradin. Went swimming in the river - much nicer than the sea as it is fresh water - before eating aboard and then went ashore for a few beers and watched the rather disappointing England v Sweden game.
We now decided to start heading south and to check out a few places near Split that we could visit with Fran and Rich. On the way we stopped off in Rogoznica for a night and then planned to anchor for a night in Uvala Vinisce - this is a well sheltered bay but otherwise is not too nice - we had been there a couple of hours when a small boat came alongside and asked us to pay 30 Kuna to anchor there. This is only about £3, but as we had never before been asked to pay to anchor in many far nicer places and as a matter of principle, we left and went back to Uvala Rozac near Trogir. We arrived just before dark, had something to eat and walked into Trogir for a couple of beers. We arrived in time to see the second half of the Croatia v Australia game. Croatia needed to win. When they scored and went into the lead, the whole place errupted with flares and fireworks being set off outside the bars - in the end it was a draw and they were out of the world cup. A shame because it looked like the celebrations would have gone on all night.
Next day we sailed across to Milna on Otok Brac and had a look at the marina there and a couple of nearby anchorages - everywhere was really busy with tourists and charter yachts, so we headed up to Luka Stobrec on the mainland and about 4 miles east of Split. The anchorage here was OK but it is really just a suburb of Split and not too interesting. The following day we headed along the north coast of Brac which we thought might be a bit quieter and anchored in a small bay next to the town of Pucisca - this turned out to be a nice little town with just a few visiting yachts where we could anchor or go alongside the town quay and of course there were a few bars and restaurants which we would definitely be needing with Fran and Rich on board! After a couple of nights in Pucisca we went to Uvala Luka (Lots of Uvala Luka's in Croatia) just a few miles along the coast. This is a great bay with just one restaurant on the beach and the only way to get here is by boat. In the bay there was a quay and mooring balls that belonged to the restaurant and space to anchor aswell. We spent the night at anchor before heading back to Pucisca the next morning. This time in Pucisca we went alongside the quay - 100 Kuna for the night and the first time we had paid for a mooring since Ston on 23rd May. As there was water on the quay we filled the tanks and then showered on the bathing platform with the hosepipe (I did keep my trunks on!).
Fran and Rich visit
We now headed back to Split where we anchored in the harbour again and waited a couple of days for our visitors. On Saturday 1st July at around lunchtime, Fran and Rich arrived, found a parking spot for their hire car and we managed to get them and their rather large un-nautical suitcase into the dinghy and safely aboard Strummer. After lunch and a short rest we went ashore, had a beer in the "Cafe Bar Ars" before moving on to another bar to watch the England Portugal match. The world cup was threatening to delay our plans to return to Malta - if England beat Portugal we would not have time to get back to Malta to watch the following game - what a dilemma! As it turned out, England solved this problem by losing to Portugal (We woz robbed!). After a disappointing game and a lot of beer, we went for some more beer and some food. Managed to get everyone back aboard safely.
Next morning we set off for some gentle sailing mixed with a bit of motoring to Uvala Luka whilst nursing some mild hangovers. Fran and Rich seemed to be coping well with life on the boat but moaned about the lack of space in the heads! We anchored in the bay in front of the restaurant and had a swim and were planning to dinghy ashore later for dinner. Before we could do that, the restaurant boat came out to us and said that there was a strong wind forecast for that night and it was dangerous to stay at anchor. I did not believe this, but decided the sensible course of action was to moor up on the restaurant quay where surprisingly there was a small charge and there was space for us. I do not think we were ripped off as the charge was reasonable and we could have showers, but as the evening produced only a stiff breeze I think we were conned! I'm sure if their quay was full they would have been happy for us to anchor. Anyway, we had a great meal in the restaurant and a few beers (and I had something to moan about!).
In the morning we set off for Pucisca - only about 3 miles along the coast. Normally Al and I would motor such a short distance, but Rich was getting into sailing so we hoisted the sails and did a couple of tacks across the Bracki Kanal before mooring alongside the quay in Pucisca.
After lunch and spending the afternoon lazing around and strolling about the town we went out, predictably, for a few beers and some food. We were rudely awoken rather early the next morning by a Croatian with an angle grinder doing some work on the building right next to the boat - it is always a lot quieter at anchor. So we had an early start back to Split.
On the way out of Pucisca we could see quite a few white horses in the Bracki Kanal so we raised the mainsail with one reef. Out in the channel Al said we should have a few rolls in the Genoa aswell - I decided full Genoa would be OK. After about a minute the wind increased and we were flying along at 7.5 knots - proper sailing! Anyway, I then rolled in the Genoa a bit with Al saying "I told you so!". The stiff breeze did not last long and we sailed gently about half way back to Split before motoring the last few miles and anchoring again back in the harbour. It was Fran and Rich's last night with us, so we went out round a few bars (we never seem to get bored doing this!) and finished the evening with a Pizza whilst watching Italy beating someone in the World Cup - as England were out I had lost interest by this stage.
We managed to get Fran and Rich and their large suitcase into the dinghy and safely ashore the next morning and they set off for their luxury apartment, showers and clean sheets in Trogir. Al and I did a bit of shopping before clearing customs and heading off that afternoon for Malta - about 600 miles away.
The trip back to Malta took us six nights - initially progress was slow as we were beating into a headwind, It seemed as though we would never get out of the Adriatic and into the Ionian. Neither tack seemed to take us in the direction we wanted. Eventually we got better winds and started to make more progress - as usual in the mediterranean there were periods without any wind where we had to motor, but overall we managed to sail a fair amount of the time. The best period was from the toe of Italy until we were half way across the Sicily Strait - we sailed downwind for hours with the Genoa poled out to port and the mainsail to starboard. I thought we might make it all the way but about 30 miles from Valletta the wind died away leaving us rolling about in a lumpy sea with the sails flapping aroung uselessly - bugger! So we motored into Msida marina early on 12th July.
We spent a week back in Malta met up with friends we had made over the winter and re-visited some of our favourite bars and restaurants. Had a Pizza at Mamma Mia's, a curry at The Krishna and Fish and Chips at the Scotsman in St Julians - not as good as Yorkshire, but OK,
Went to The Jubilee, The Lucky Bar, Simon's Pub plus quite a few others and saw Sigo (with band) at the Black Gold. Also did a bit of maintenance - had a new zip fitted to the mainsail cover - the original was falling to pieces after exposure to so much sun. We also had the sacrificial strip on the genoa re-stitched - Al had done some repairs in Croatia, but it looked like she would be doing more every week or so as the original stitching had been affected by the sun. I changed the engine oil and replaced the raw water pump with a new one. The old pump seemed to be destroying impellers every couple of hundred hours and it seemed the bearings were very worn - it has now been overhauled and we'll keep it as a spare. Also bought a keyboard to use with the laptop - it is a lot better now that we have 8, i, and k!
On 18th July we set off for a two night passage to El Kantaoui in Tunisia - a fairly uneventful trip - we had to motor the first half of the way with no wind at all but managed to sailed the last half. We arrived early on Thursday 20th July and were met in the marina by the friendly marina staff and the port police. They helped us to moor up and then I had to go with the policeman to complete the entry formalities. These are a bit more complicated here than in Europe and even Croatia involving various forms being filled in by the police and then a visit to the customs office to fill in more forms followed by a visit to the boat with the customs officer to complete a ships manifest - a list of all the removeable equipment on the boat such as radio's, GPS units, liferafts etc. Once all that was complete they left us alone and we were able to get some sleep.
Tunisia is a little bit different to all the places we have been before. It is a Muslim country although a very liberal one. Most Muslims do not drink alcohol but it is available in tourist areas in supermarkets and in some bars. We have however not let this stop us and we have managed to have a few decent beers - and a few of dubious quality in a couple of restaurants which tasted like non-alcoholic lager. One of the strangest things we saw in the local supermarket was a stack of Non Alcoholic Stella Artois - unbelievable!
Anyway, enough talk about booze. El Kantaoui is a modern tourist development around the marina on the outskirts of Sousse. There are loads of tourists of all nationalities - plenty of Brits, Germans, Dutch, French etc all staying in large resort hotels and apartments. All around the marina are restaurants and a couple of bars along with shops selling souvenirs such as Hookahs (for smoking hashish - or tobacco mixed with herbs) and cuddly camels. Obviously, having only a little room on the boat we have had to resist the temptation to buy such items.
After lazing around the marina on our first day here we took the tourist train (Happy Noddy train) into Sousse and had a stroll round the Souk, We had discovered that the local supermarkets sold only basic stuff and it was impossible to buy any meat - so we either ate out every night or became vegetarian. So apart from sight seeing we wanted to see if we could buy some chicken or minced beef - bacon, pork sausages and any pork products we figured would be very difficult to find. The souk turned out to be quite touristy - lots of leather bags and belts, slippers and carpets and cuddly camels along with pushy salesmen wanting you to visit their shop, We did find the area of the market with meat stalls and one or two did look reasonably hygenic. Some had live chickens and ducks - so those would be fresh. Others had rather strange looking cuts of meat and lots of bowls containing intestines and other stuff that we were not sure about. It probably would be fairly easy to buy a few pieces of chicken or lamb or beef, but then there is the problem of keeping it fresh and hygenic on the train back to the marina when it is 38 C in the shade. We decided to eat out!
So far Tunisia is interesting but we are not sure we will stay that long . Check out our next update - which we will try to do in the next couple of weeks - to read all about Nige and Al's adventures in the Sahara!
Sunday 30th July 2006 - Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia
The day after our visit to the souk in Sousse we got up early and headed off by bus some 500 kilometers south into the desert area of Tunisia stopping off on the way to visit a Roman amphitheatre in the small town of El Djem. Later in the day we stopped in Matmata - a town on the fringes of the sahara where the local Berber people live in undergroung caves that have been dug deep into the earth to protect them from the extremes of climate in the desert. It does seem to work - outside it was probably 45°C and we did not want to stand around for too long - inside the houses it was surprisingly cool. This area is called the mountain desert and is rocky dusty and barren - not really sure why people choose to live out here as it seems like a hard life. Towards the end of the afternoon as the sun was getting lower in the sky we reached the desert town of Douz on the edge of the sand Sahara. This is the Sahara as we imagined it to be although we were only just on the edge. With a guide we set off into the desert on two camels and rode into the sand dunes for about an hour - quite an uncomfortable form of transport and still really hot even though it was late in the day. We spent the night in Douz and even managed to find a couple of cold beers - great!
Next day we were up early at 05:30 and off on the bus again stopping to watch the sun rise over the salt lake at Chott El Jerid. This is one of the largest salt lakes in the Sahara and covers over 5000 square kilometers and has strange areas of red, blue and green salt crystals. Later in the day we visited the Chbika and Tamaghza oases - in the middle of a mountainaous area of the desert - two waterfalls surrounded by a small cluster of date palms. Next stop was in the oasis town of Tozeur - this is a much larger oasis with 200 natural springs supporting large areas of date palms, bananas, peaches etc. After all this activity there was then the long bus ride back to El Kantoui stopping briefly in Kairouan to see the Grande Mosque - as it was Friday afternoon it was closed but the street vendors were still there trying to entice us with their colourful pottery and more cuddly camels. Then it was back to the boat for a brief rest before going out for a couple of beers and some dinner.
Our trip might sound very intrepid, but we did do it the easy way - we booked a guided tour on an air conditioned coach and stayed in a 4 star hotel! It was a great way to see a lot in a short time and as with most things in Tunisia it was very reasonaby priced so did not damage our finances too much.
After a day of rest we then sailed overnight to Sidi Bou Said about 6 kilometers outside the capital - Tunis. On the way we were checked out twice by the Garde National - once by two policemen just after leaving El Kantaoui which did seem strange as we had to check out with the police before leaving the marina anyway. Later in the night we were circled by a large Police launch - they just looked us over and then sped away.
We arrived safely in Sidi Bou Said early the next morning and moored up in the marina. The village itself is picturesque and very touristy and to get there from the marina we had to walk up a very steep hill. As it was still about 30°C even at night this was not a pleasant stroll. When we did get there we could not find a single bar that sold alcohol so we ended up eating in a rather nice restaurant where we could a least have a bottle of wine.
The next day we took the train a couple of miles along the coast to La Marsa where there was a reasonable supermarket (quite rare in Tunisia) so that we could stock up with provisions for our planned passage back to Spain. Then, the following day we took the train in the opposite direction into Tunis where we wandered around the souk fighting off the locals who all wanted us to visit their shops. By now we felt that we had been in Tunisia for long enough and were keen to move on again so the next morning we completed the formalities - visited the police and the customs yet again and then set off for a six or seven day passage to Cartagena in southern Spain.
Saturday 5th August 2006 - Carloforte, Sardinia
Our passage back to Spain did not go entirely to plan - as you can see, we are now in Sardinia! After leaving Tunisia with what appeared to be a reasonable weather forecast, we had nothing but strong westerly and northwesterly winds. Consequently we spent three days tacking into the wind and not making a great deal of progress towards the west. Eventually we decide it would be better to stop in Sardinia and wait for more favourable conditions. So here we are in Carloforte - a nice little town on a small island off the southwest corner of Sardinia. It is quite a bit cooler here than in Tunisia - which is nice, and there are numerous bars that sell real beer and a Supermarket that sells thing like ham and sausages - great!
We've been here for a couple of days now and the wind is still against us. We will definitely be here tomorrow night as it is Al's birthday and she wants to go for a pizza. After that, as soon as the wind looks OK we'll be off again heading for Cartagena.
Wednesday 16th August 2006 - Almerimar, Spain
Again we have not ended up where we planned! We set off from Carloforte on 8th of August and had a mixed bag of wind but generally we made quite good progress until we approached Cabo de Palos in the south east corner of Spain. Here we were only about fifteen miles from Cartagena when we encountered some quite strong headwinds as we neared the headland. The forecast was for the wind to change during the night which would make the passage around Cabo de Palos a lot easier, so we decided to anchor in the lee of the headland and wait for the wind to change. We had dinner and were just about to get some sleep when the wind did change - now the anchorage was no longer sheltered and we had to raise the anchor rather quickly and get out. We now rounded Cabo de Palos quite easily with the wind climbing quite quickly to force six. We now had a bit of a dilemma - we would be off Cartagena in a couple of hours but did not want to enter the port in the dark. It was now about midnight and so would not be light for about six hours. We decided to heave to (basically this means we bob around in the sea and don't go very far) until daybreak. At about 0700 we approached the marina in Cartagena only to be turned away because it was full. As you can imagine we were not too thrilled about this.
After considering our options for a few minutes we decided that we would continue west as the wind was still favourable and head to Almerimar where, we were fairly certain, there would be plenty of space. So that is where we are now - we've been here a couple of nights and have already re-visited most the bars that we frequented during our stay here during winter 2004/5. We'll probably stay here about a week and then continue on to Gibraltar - more about that in our next update.
Thursday 31st August 2006 - Porto Santo, Madeira Island Group
We spent about eight days in Almerimar and met a few of the old faces that we knew from our stay over winter two years ago. Having stocked the boat up with Spanish brandy, wine and beer (it is cheaper here than most other places) we set off for Gibraltar with a forecast for reasonable easterly winds. Unfortunately the wind never showed up - not where we were anyway - so we spent a miserable couple of days and one night motoring slowly westward. For some reason we could not seem to get much more than about 4.5 knots and on occasions we were down to just over 3 knots. We thought that this was due to the east going current that flows from the Atlantic into the Mediterranean through the Gibraltar Strait.
Eventually we reached Gibraltar and berthed alongside in Marina Bay. We stayed in Gibraltar two nights and managed to fit in a curry and a shopping trip to Marks and Spencers and Morrisons to replenish the ships stores with good old English stuff - Tea Bags, Corned Beef, Tins of Curry and Steak. We also bought a couple of pork pies - really great but we had forgotten just how greasy they are.
On 25th August we checked out of the marina and motored across the bay of Gibraltar where we anchored to wait for a favourable tide to get through the Strait. Whilst at anchor, wash from a passing ship rocked the boat and our anchor float fell overboard and started to drift away - only one thing for it - I had to dive in and retrieve it. With the anchor float safely aboard again I dived under the boat for a quick check and discovered a large plastic bag wrapped around the propeller - no wonder we had been motoring so slowly! I then went under again with a divers knife and managed to free the bag quite easily.
At about eight o'clock that evening we raised the anchor and set off through the Strait. The wind was light so we motored - more quickly now, particularly when we managed to find the west going current that flows along the Spanish coast even when the main stream is going east.
After passing Tarifa we were out of the Mediterranean and into the Atllantic and a couple of hours later we turned the engine off and started to sail west with a freshening northerly breeze. Very soon the wind was blowing at F5-6 - Al thought it was a bit bumpy, but we were flying along. This continued for the rest of the passage and we arrived in Porto Santo - a small island 20 miles north of Madeira - at 1800 on the 28th. Just over 570 miles in 3 days and 22 hours makes it our fastest passage ever with much more consistant winds than we ever found in the Med.
Porto Santo is a really nice little place - only about 11km by 6km with a population of about 4500. They do not get huge numbers of visitors - mainly yachties like us and visitors from Madeira. We have stopped here because the marina in Madeira is usually full and the anchorage there is not great. Tomorrow we are leaving the boat in the marina and taking the ferry across to Madeira to spend a couple of days in Funchal. That is it for now - hope to have some new pictures posted soon aswell.
Friday 15th September 2006 - Santa Cruz, Tenerife
Since our last update we have spent a couple of days in Funchal on the island of Madiera. We took the ferry across and spent two nights in an hotel in the centre of the town. Funchal is a really lovely town - very refined with loads of parks and gardens and flowers everywhere (and no lager louts!). On the first day we wandered around the town getting our bearings and had a walk around the gardens of the governors residence. That evening we ate parrot fish washed down with a jug of local wine. The next day we got up late and went up in the cable car to the tropical gardens of Monte palace which were beautiful with ponds containing hundreds of Koi Carp. Another evening sampling the local night life and then it was back on the ferry to Porto Santo.
On Wednesday 5th September we set off on our final sail of the season to Tenerife. We sailed downwind for 36 hours until the wind died away. After a few hours of sailing very slowly we decided that there would be plently of time to be 'purists' later and so we started the engine. There was not time to reach the marina in Santa Cruz in daylight so we made for an anchorage 15 miles closer and spent a peaceful night there, the only company being a man living in a tent inside a cave overlooking the bay. The next morning we motored along the coast to The Marina Del Atlantico in Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz is a large cosmopolitan city and port city and not as touristy as other parts of the island - our spanish lessons in Almerimar will be very useful here. Unfortunately there is a lot of work being carried out installing a tram system and revamping the main square, but that aside there are numerous bars, restaurants and shops so we will have a good time here. We have booked in for three months, during which time we will return to the UK for Al's sisters wedding in November, and then get the boat (and ourselves) ready to set off across the Atlantic sometime in December.
Friday 1st December 2006 - Santa Cruz, Tenerife
We are almost ready to set off for Antigua - just a few last minute jobs and a few provisions to buy. We hope to get away on Tuesday 5th but we may delay a day or two - all depends on the weather as usual.
We have had a great time in the three months that we have been here. We now know our way around Santa Cruz pretty well and have become regulars in a few of the bars! We have also explored the Island using the local buses which are cheap and efficient. The difference between Santa Cruz and the touristy places in the south such as Playa de Las Americas and Los Christianos is amazing. Santa Cruz is a pleasant Spanish town with few tourists except for the regular cruise ships that dock here. In the south you can get English breakfasts, British beer, Curry, play bingo and watch Elvis impersonators every night! We only went down there twice - once for a curry and once to stay with Al's sister Fiona and her new husband Simon who were staying there on their honeymoon.
We have done a fair bit of work on the boat during our stay aswell - the main job being to fit a new electric windlass (used for hauling the anchor up). For the last two and a half years I have been pulling the anchor up by hand and my back is starting to feel the strain - must be getting old! The electric windlass means that job should be easier in the future and also that Al can do it if necessary. We have also had some sail repairs done and recently been working out where to stow all the provisions that we need for the crossing. Al has been in charge of organising all our provisions and she has assured me that we are not going to starve. We will almost certainly be at sea on Christmas day this year but we have found some vacuum packed turkey steaks and sausages that will last until the end of December, so our Christmas dinner this year is going to be turkey, sausage and stuffing sandwiches! We might allow ourselves a glass of wine or a beer on Christmas day if the weather is OK. Normally we do not drink at all when at sea so this will be our longest period without alcohol for about 30 years!
Monday 4th December 2006 - Santa Cruz, Tenerife
Checked the weather forecast last night and it is looking OK for us to set off tomorrow!!! Just got to buy our fresh fruit and veg supplies and do a bit of stowing and we should be ready. If all goes well our next update will be from Antigua.
Happy Christmas to all our readers.
Friday 29th December 2006 - English Harbour, Antigua
We made it! We arrived in Antigua yesterday morning just after sunrise and we are now anchored in English Harbour - 22 days and 20 hours after leaving Santa Cruz. The passage went really well with very few problems and we both quite enjoyed it. We did have a couple of days of force 7 and occasionally 8 during the first week - we just set a small amount of jib and stayed in the cabin leaving the wind vane to steer the boat. It was actually more comfortable than in some of the lighter winds we experienced later when the boat was rolling in the heavy cross swell. We both managed to get plenty of sleep and we ate really well (thanks to Al's careful provisioning we still have enough food for another ten days!).
We have started to find our way around the locality and went out last night for steak and chips and numerous bottles of Red Stripe. We plan on staying here for at least a week and have a list of jobs to do - the first of these is to unblock the aft head (toilet) outlet pipe which Al managed to block on the second day out of Santa Cruz. Fortunately we have a forward head aswell otherwise it would have been the "bucket and chuck it" method! This will not be a pleasant job, but I guess unblocking toilets in the Caribbean is still better than working in the UK!
Happy New Year.