2003 – DARTMOUTH TO TURKEY
Chapter 1 – Towards GibraltarThe ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
Merrily did we drop.
Following retirement Margaret and I decided that “if it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well it were done quickly” so we bought JJ Moon, a ten year old Contest 43, in Ireland and sailed her back to Dartmouth during the summer of 2002. She had been berthed in southern Spain for the previous three years and sailed very little so was due for a good deal of minor maintenance as well as a moderate re-fit to make her a suitable home for live-aboards in the Mediterranean. We over-wintered at Baltic Wharf in Totnes, Devon spending more money than we could afford on holding tanks, a second fridge/freezer, 100 metres of chain, MaxProp, isolation transformer for shore power and, more controversially, a generator. Half of informed opinion advised us not to touch generators with a barge pole and our own previous experience with a shared boat gave weight to that point of view. On the other hand JJ Moon has a 100 hp turbocharged Volvo burning 7 litres of diesel an hour and the thought of that engine on tick-over for several hours a day just to charge the batteries did not appeal. Bill Starey from Salcombe did a marvellous job shoe-horning the new unit into the engine compartment.
We left our mooring off Kingswear on the Dart a day later than planned on 5th May. My excuse for delay was a bad weather forecast for Biscay but in truth we were not really ready. Over the weekend we tackled many useful tasks including having a man up the mast repairing the tricolour, fitting lee cloths in the saloon, making a fender board and doing numerous other things that seemed vital for "the big trip". The extra day's preparation and crew shakedown probably did us no harm.
The Royal Dart Yacht Club
After lunch on Monday we took on diesel at the fuel barge and water at the Royal Dart pontoon. This took an age and I spent the time taking last pictures of the Club and of picturesque England. When the moment comes I am often loath to let go of land but finally I had no further excuse and we motored off towards the ocean. We switched on the autopilot in the river mouth and – nothing. This was sorted out fairly quickly. The link from the steering arm to the rudder response thingummy had been dislodged during the fitting of a replacement Webasto space heater.
Twenty-four hours later in the western approaches and heading for our waypoint in about 10 degrees west we started the beautiful new generator, which promptly died. We tried to recharge the batteries with the main engine alternators but were met with a flashing red light and alarm signal. We had water in the fuel. Our scuppers had been awash and someone had not properly screwed down the cap to the filler pipe. Mercifully we had renewed the bowl and cocks to the pre-filter as a last minute job so I could see through the glass, knew what to do and was able to open the drain cock. The Volvo started fine although we had to repeat the clearing and priming process twice more before it would keep going. The generator was another matter and would not run however much we tried. Eventually, the weather being fair, we turned sharp left across the shipping and sailed close west of Ushant so that we could get mobile phone reception and speak to Bill. He gave me a couple of tips for clearing the air from the fuel lines and away we went.
Ushant, where we never expected to be
In the end the crossing was a doddle. We were very fortunate with the weather, it had been really blowing the week before, but we had brisk north-westerlies most of the way and reached Bayona on the NW coast of Spain in 4 days 8¼ hours; 646 miles at about 6 knots and 150 miles a day. We felt fairly pleased with ourselves, and relieved.
The crew for crossing Biscay. Uli, Petra, Mags and Barry
Our friends Petra and Uli were excellent – we could not have wished for better shipmates. Uli is German and takes his food very seriously. He is an experienced and knowledgeable sailor but sees his major contribution as taking good care of the crew’s gastronomic needs, including those of his English partner Petra, who is a vegetarian. Uli arrived on board in Dartmouth with a load of special ingredients and the two of them spent serious time in the supermarket before we left. Under way there could be a problem because despite his experience Uli suffers from mal de mer. Fortunately Petra is blessed with a cast iron stomach. The most vivid memory of the Biscay leg was of Petra in full foulies steadying the pans on the cooker with one hand while handing out tasters to a rather pale Uli in the cockpit for comment and directions. “A little more seasoning in this one, I think". "Perhaps ten minutes more for this pot please.” Wonderful food from a great team. They flew home from Lisbon but we would sail with them anywhere.
Petra slaving over a hot stove preparing another memorable meal despite the rolling of the boat
After Bayona we called at Viana do Castello and Leixoes before heading for Cascais, a large, modern marina near the mouth of the Tagus, not far from Lisbon.
The Portuguese trades can be a bit fierce at times. It was blowing 35 knots for a period just before we got to Cascais and we were followed in by a sea-going tug towing Alain Gaultier and Ellen MacArthur’s trimaran Foncia, upside down. The shore crew spent the following morning with a big crane attached to the bow pulling her up on to her sterns and tipping her over right way up. Interesting. We had lunch at the table next to the tough looking French crew and they seemed in remarkably good spirits and free from embarrassment. We don’t know what happened but it is pretty clear that nobody was hurt so.....c'est la vie.
Foncia being towed into Cascais
Over she goes
Portugal is charming but Cascais costs an arm and a leg; very smart and of course very comfortable. It was a bit difficult to unstick ourselves when the time came, particularly as we were now on our own.
From Cascais we sailed to the little marina at Sines, an industrial centre with a docks and a petro-chemical works just round the corner. The marina is well written up in the pilot, and with justification. There was plenty of room, only one other visiting yacht, and the cost was 12 euros a night for everything including water, electricity, toilets, showers and laundrette. We were welcomed at 7 pm by an armed customs officer and three harbour officials on the pontoon all ready to take our lines and be genuinely helpful. Mags spent a happy morning in the laundrette although the marina captain had to pop in every now and again to feed the machine because he had only four jettons and he could not let them out of his sight. In the evening, by lucky chance, Mags hit upon the restaurant's speciality - spare ribs. She was bowled over and can still remember the dish with pleasure.
Sines as dusk falls
From Sines we sailed round Cape St Vincent to Lagos; an excellent marina, end destination of Rally Portugal and jumping off point for the Canaries and the ARC. It is full of Brits and lovely boats. During our travels we saw lots of wonderful boats including Rassys, Najads, Malos and all the other usual suspects. However, we were delighted with JJ Moon and the only ones I have really coveted have been larger and later versions of the Contest. There are lots in Spain and Portugal although they appear to be not so widely known in the UK.
The entrance to Lagos
Thence to Vilamoura, a sort of Portuguese St Tropez, or so they seem to think. Very expensive but pleasant enough and with some good points. The forward shower tray sump pump had failed and I took the defective unit to the chandlery with the faint hope that I could find a suitable replacement. Bingo! They had the precise make and model. The freshwater pump had also failed but I managed to get that going. It is really very pleasing to find how one develops new skills when necessity drives.
The marina offices in that part of the world all work short hours so I went off to pay the night before we were due to leave. How could we get through the security gates for an evening meal if we had already handed in our swipe card in exchange for the 40 euro deposit? No problem. Visit their man on the fuel pontoon at 7 am and exchange the card for an envelope of cash marked with the boat's name. Up betimes and spot on 7 we draw alongside the pontoon. No man. Mags goes off and finds "security" on the gate. "The man should be in his little hut". He was, but fast asleep with his feet on the table. After much banging on the window he was woken up to explain shamefacedly in a mixture of hand signals and bad French that "his colleague" had handed over our money earlier to another boat with a similar name. He had no money left. We motored off moderately miffed. To be fair the office staff tracked us down at our next port of call (in Spain), were full of apologies and arranged to send us a euro cheque.
Ayamonte, Chipiona, Puerto Sherry and Barbate all had their points, particularly Ayamonte which has a small and unimpressive looking marina but is a delightful town on the Spanish bank of the Rio Guadiano, which forms the border with Portugal. We should like to return one day and spend some time cruising up the river, anchoring off pretty little villages in wooded surroundings. Or so they were described by various new found passing friends.
In Puerto Sherry Margaret met a German who had crossed Biscay with his son soon after us and had a most uncomfortable time. The younger man was now returning home. Mags’ new friend asked where we were headed. She explained, modestly, that we hoped to get to Turkey by the end of September. “Hmm, a very good trip” he replied. “I have to get to the Philippines by the end of September, before the monsoon breaks”. We are constantly being impressed and humbled by our fellow mariners.
Our arrival in Gibraltar was a highlight. In bright sunshine on sparkling seas with a 30 to 35 knot breeze over the quarter we were creaming along with at least 25 dolphins playing around and leaping high out of the water. In the middle distance was a long stream of commercial shipping heading out into the Atlantic, and beyond that the mountains of Africa. It seemed a significant rite of passage to be sailing our own boat into the historic port.
The mountains of Africa
We spent five days in Gibraltar, partly because we needed a repair to a small tear near the clew of the genoa. It’s a funny place although we felt very comfortable there. On arrival one must clear customs at the Water Port. This is an impressive row of Victorian timber framed buildings on its own quay just to the north of the commercial docks. It is easy to imagine large steamers and milling crowds of well dressed folk with porters, steamer trunks, portmanteaux and Gladstone travelling bags. These buildings are disused. Beyond them, alongside a pole flying a faded yellow flag is a beaten up portacabin and a pontoon with broken planks. Her Majesty’s customs officers are a team of three dressed in the recognisable uniform of white shirts, epaulettes and white topped peaked caps; all fully equipped with the necessary ledgers and rubber stamps. The senior man looked English, but sounded Spanish; his No.2 looked Swedish and sounded Spanish and No. 3 was a ravishing raven haired Spanish looking lady. Each had an important part to play and a form to fill in. On completion I was issued with a Clearance Certificate into and out of Gibraltar. From it I noted the seriousness with which the authorities viewed the landing of stowaways; each one landed without the permission of the Commissioner of Police would attract a fine of £100. Additionally, I was assigned a berth, in Marina Bay marina, but along with all other masters was instructed to put in place effective rat guards. I thought this was very funny at the time but had the smile wiped off my face weeks later when we had to put up with a visiting mouse in Greece. The narrow and shady Main Street is full of shops selling good quality stuff, mainly to tourists I think, and the central Post Office is the best I have seen anywhere. The town is full of Spanish looking and sounding people who are vehement in declaring their Britishness. The place seems to be prospering but it is difficult to foresee the future. The people are deeply suspicious of Tony.
Gibraltar, looking towards Spain
A famous character from Gibraltar
One of the guns in the tunnel on Gibraltar