ship's log

Monday 16 August to Tuesday 31 August - Isolotto Mal di ventre to Palma


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Monday 16 August

I woke at 3 am and came up on deck. It is a new moon, so not much light, but immediately it is clear that things are not as they should be. Blinking in the darkness, I noticed that the lighthouse which was off to starboard when we went to bed is now off to port. The wind has swung through 180 degrees in the middle of the night, and we have swung with it. This means that our previously sheltered anchorage is now a dangerous lee shore. We will be blown onto it if our anchor drags, and risk the fate of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht club boat, whose upturned wreck of a hull lies on the beach only 800 yards away . Time to bug out fast. I woke John, we upped anchor together and set off on a safe compass bearing to clear the lee of the island and head North to Alghero. We have a good sail up the rest of the West coast of Sardinia, and arrive in Alghero in time for tea. It is very pretty bastioned old city. Its architecture is heavily influenced by both the Moorish and Catalan style, and the narrow cobbled streets give it lots of character.

Tuesday 17 August

We set off for Menorca after a leisurely breakfast, stopping for a look at the stunning blue grotto and stalagmites at the foot of the cliffs at Capo Caccia. John had last been there with his family about thirty years before. We can scarcely believe our luck as the wind fills in from the SW at 15 knots, and we romp towards Menorca at 7 knots. As the evening closed in, the wind eased slightly, and we were lolloping along at about 5 knots. John John was preparing a pasta dinner, the children were playing various games down below, and I was catching up on e-mail. Suddenly there was a cry from Emma in the cockpit " A FISH, A FISH, AND IT’S A BIG ONE!" We had put a rod and line out speculatively as our speed came down. Julia, (aged 5) danced around shouting "I caught it, I caught it" convinced that, as she had been standing nearest to the rod at the time, she was responsible. The line was fizzing out at high speed, as the fish tried to escape. John-John took up station on the rod, and started to bring the fish in, alternately letting it run for a while, and then reeling in gradually. I stood by with the gaff my dad had prepared for us, specifically for the event. The children watched, eyes out on stalks, as the fight went on for about ten minutes. When it closed on the boat, it was clear we had caught a substantial tuna. We gaffed it, pulled it on board, and I, realising the full benefit of my seven years of military training, bashed it hard on the head with a winch handle. The team were ecstatic and, after the obligatory team photo, the children rushed below to record it in the log. John could not stop grinning as he swiftly gutted the fish, cut some sashimi, and created enough steaks for the two meals for the whole crew. Shame we do not have any scales, but we reckon it must weigh about 14 pounds at least.

Wednesday 18 August - At anchor in Menorca.

A quiet night on watch after the excitement of the fish. Inky black sea, with no wind and a big swell, a legacy of the strong winds that have accompanied the low pressure that passed over the Northern Med, now thankfully dissipating in Greece. We are getting good weather information from Andrew, my brother, who has kindly provided some good maps from the Internet (it's too expensive for us to surf) and also occasionally from the UK Met office in Bracknell. I have a contract with the International forecasting unit there, and can request three day forecasts by e-mail. The two forecasts we have requested have been very accurate indeed. For lunch John cooks the tuna steaks in a Caponata sauce. Quite delicious, and all the better for being caught on our own rod and line. We get a call on the satphone from Nigel Gambier, Caroline brother. He has arrived in Menorca with his wife Bumble and daughter Zara, and has booked a table for 8pm, so that we can celebrate Bumbles birthday in Spanish style.

Thursday 19 August

Arrived in Mahon at 6pm yesterday evening, and docked at the main public quay. Mahon is the second largest natural harbour in the world, after Pearl Harbour. It is a very impressive sight to enter from seaward, and seems to go on for ever, deeper and deeper inland. It seems like a sailors paradise; yachts and dinghies of all shapes and sizes are criss-crossing the harbour. Seems like a very promising place. We wake up to a strong breeze in the harbour. The Big Red Battle flag is up, just because it made us easy to identify for Nigel and Bumble last night among the line of yachts on the pontoon. We spend the day doing lots of work on the boat. An electrical problem with the 240V system is sorted out with a bit of help from Dave, the cockney electrician. There are lots of Brits everywhere we turn. Dinner at Marivent, overlooking the harbour.

Friday 20 August

A further morning of work. Then the team split up for the day. Emma, Caroline and Bumble went off for some serious retail therapy – the shops were very inviting, and Nigel joined us for a sail round to Es Grau, a small anchorage on the North coast. Before this, we had a planned photo-shoot of the Duck sailing up the harbour, with Caroline and Emma taking shots from way up on the bastions. We co-ordinated this with the VHF radio, and had some good results. We had a hell of a bouncy ride to Es Grau. Huge waves, at least half the height of Lazy Ducks mast. There were a few boats around, and the smaller ones literally disappeared from view for a couple of seconds into the troughs. Luckily there was not too much wind. This must be the residual swell still from the Mistral. Must have been one hell of a blow. Another evening at anchor in a pretty little cala. Unbelievably, we are still eating the last of the tuna on the barbecue. Sarah has been practising some of my favourite songs which I taught her on the way over from Sardinia and she made her debut tonight singing "The Speed of the sound of loneliness" and "Killing me softly with his song" for everyone after dinner. I accompanied her on the guitar my brother Andy gave me as a farewell gift. She loves singing and is blessed with the voice of an angel. The crowd approves. We went to see Nancy Griffiths with the Crickets at the Albert hall with Tress and Philippa last year. A real treat, but the highlight for me was when Nancy sang "Speed of the sound..". Makes my hair stand on end every time.

Saturday 21 August

Bit of a disturbed night, as the wind changed and blew straight into the bay. We decided, rightly as it turned out, that it was not too much of a worry. Woke up to find that all is well. Gave the boat a good clean and wash down, then set off for Puerto Fornelles, a 2 mile long bay on the North side. We stopped at a small cala for lunch at anchor on the way, but swimming was minimal – lots of rather threatening looking jellyfish around.

Sunday 22 August

Puerto Fornelles is an enormous bay. Its narrow at the mouth, and then opens out into a two mile paradise, filled with brightly coloured dinghies whizzing about. There is an imposing deserted house high on the hill, overlooking the entrance. We set off to climb it and when we got to the top turned to find a superb view of the bay and the North coast from one of the highest points of the island. There were two deserted gun emplacements, complete with shell and cartridge case racks right on the edge of the cliff. On closer inspection from off to one side, it is clear that the gun emplacements are in fact sitting on an overhang, with a straight 1000 metre drop into the sea underneath. There was a fissure just underneath them. I have to say that I would be a particularly nervous Menorcan Artilleryman if I was posted there; the reverberations and recoil of the guns would shake the fissure loose with every shot fired. The building turns out to be the deserted barracks complete with shower block. JJ and I wonder if we could persuade someone to sell it to us. It could be converted into an amazing home, and we are both so impressed with this island. Afternoon is spent tinkering with the generator, which provides us with our 240 volt electricity, and battery charging. It is constantly overheating, and we have not yet got to the bottom of the problem. Our first attempt at diagnosis and repair was to disconnect the inlet hose for the salt water intake, which brings in seawater as coolant. I blew through it hard, and some debris did come out. We reconnected everything and started up. It ran for 20 minutes then conked out again, the temperature light flashing. Back to the drawing board. The barbecue is fired up again for dinner – it's Nigel and Bumble's last night, as sadly they have to fly back to UK tomorrow. Its been great having them with us – the boat is now faster and lighter having shed 8 bottles of wine, 2 bottles of rum and a couple of cases of beer.

Monday 23 August - Ciudadela, West coast of Menorca. Lat : 40deg N, Lon 3 deg, 50’ W

Woke up to a light breeze. Perfect for a run along the North coast. The bay is still full of dinghies. JJ and Sebastian had been to inquire about hiring one, to be told that all 250 dinghies were fully booked into the foreseeable future. Good business. Wonder what it is like here in February. Most of the morning is given over to fixing the generator. I have decided what the problem is. The salt water intake pump is leaking, and probably too old and tired to face a trip to Australia. Caroline whips out her stowage diagram, pulls out the relevant waterproof bag from the depths of the bilges, digs out the spare pump we have brought with us, and I set to work, head torch on, manual in hand, pretending I know what I am doing. Three hours later, after much struggling and sweating away with inaccessible screws and jubilee clips and bashing at a seized connection to the drive belt, the new pump is fitted. The crew wait on tenterhooks for me to fire it up. It runs first time, and the temperature is maintained at the right operating level. Hurray. The maintenance of these bits of kit is the part of the trip I am most apprehensive about, not being particularly mechanical, so it is good to get the first problem out of the way. We set off for along the North coast, bound for Ciudadela, the second city on Menorca, were we will spend the night before heading down island to Mallorca.

Tuesday 24 August

Day relaxing in Ciudadela, the second major town in Menorca.

Wednesday 25 August

We set off from Ciudadela after breakfast, and found a light breeze to push us along. This gradually strengthened to become a steady 16 knots aft of the beam, so we had a lovely sail all day to Cap Formentor, the Northern tip of Mallorca. The highlight of the trip was about half way across, when we were joined by a school of particularly playful dolphins. They were sighted off the port beam, came over to investigate us, and stayed for about fifteen minutes. They duck and dive in the bow wave, matching our speed perfectly. They seem to take it in turns to hold station at the bow, moving over to let their mates have a go with a flick of the tail and a twist of the torso. I have often seen dolphins at sea and they never fail to lift the spirit. The children of course were thrilled at the display, especially Hannah, who would not stop jabbering about it for ages after she had watched them ease off into the distance. There were lots of dolphin pictures in their logs that night. We arrived at Cap Formentor in time for lunch. We had an ugly incident at the cape when the wind became very unpredictable and suddenly gusted hard from dead ahead, having been behind. The boom preventer snapped and the residual rope dented the bimini frame. We will have to get it straightened out in Palma. We arrived in Soller, having had an easy trip after lunch along the spectacular North coast of Mallorca. This is virtually all sheer cliff, with the odd cala tucked in from time to time. It is the antithesis of what we expect on the South coast, which has apparently suffered from the worst excesses of tourist development. Soller is a fishing town, and not really set up for visiting yachts, which is partly why we want to be here – to avoid the August crowds. The more important reason is that it is the home of Nico Goulet, a friend and colleague from Monitor, who is on holiday here with his girlfriend, Marta. I call Nico and we agree to meet the next day for lunch and a sail.

Thursday 26 August

We are woken up at 4 am by a German boat who are messing about with their anchor, too close to us for comfort. Luckily Emma was sleeping on deck as it was hot and had been woken by the commotion. We pointed out to them that they had wrapped our tripping line around their rudder, and suggested (politely) that they dive and sort it out. Luckily they were sensible about it and borrowed an underwater torch from us and unwrapped the spaghetti. Back to sleep, relieved that it was good weather for dealing with anchoring screw ups. Its my brother Andrew's birthday, so we fire off an E-mail birthday card with the colourful fonts and funky typeface that Sarah discovered. Nico and Marta came on board and we sailed to Deja, home of the poet Robert Graves who died there in 1985. We swim ashore for lunch at the beach restaurant. Nico leads an expedition up to the village. I stay behind to watch the boat as the weather is a little unsettled. Back to Puerto Soller for a barbecue dinner on board.

Friday 27 August

Today we spend the day with Nico in Fornalutx, the village he lives in above Soller town. There is a slow Victorian open train that takes us to Soller town about two miles from the Port. After rattling up the hill in the train, we arrive in Soller to meet Nico at the main square. Nico bravely agrees to take the two five year old girls in the car, and Marta leads a walking trip for the one and a half miles (uphill) through the orange groves. It is hot and the cicadas are buzzing. Not much else is moving apart from our walking party, and we arrive at Nico’s father's house in the centre of Fornalutx ready for a drink. Fornalutx is a beautiful old village. It's set on a steep slope, with narrow cobbled streets, terracotta roofs, and very old stone construction. The Goulet house, ‘Posada’ is the finest in the town, and has been painstakingly created over nearly forty years by Robert Goulet, the writer. It is dark and cool inside, and after a hosepipe shower in the courtyard, Nico shows us round one of the most beautiful old houses any of us have seen. The crowning glory is the writing studio at the top, with a view down the valley and up to the highest point on Mallorca. Nico also shows us the bed in which he was born in the house. What a place. We have a memorable lunch at a local restaurant which also enjoys spectacular views and we are treated to superb paella. John-John is in heaven. After lunch we head back to Puerto Soller, sad to say goodbye to Robert. A lovely day in Fornalutx. Nico and Marta come on board for a farewell drink, and we make tentative plans for them to come and see us when we are in the Caribbean and wave goodbye. It has been fun seeing them, and I hope we do so again along the way.

Saturday 28 August

We sailed down the rest of the North coast to the island on the tip, called Dragonera, and anchored there for lunch. The kids set up for halyard jumping, which involves leaping like Tarzan from the forepeak suspended from the halyard, swinging in an arc down the side of the boat, and dropping into the water with the biggest splash you can make as close to the stern as you dare. After lunch we set off the further three miles along the coast to Puerto Andraitx, where we have booked into the marina for the night. After a wash down of the boat and filling up with water, the barbecue is set up and Checky Dougall, a close friend and cousin arrives for dinner. It is wonderful to see her again. She looks fantastic and is obviously in her element running her own business in Mallorca. Before long we are all laughing so hard I feel sure the neighbours are going to put in a complaint. A friend called Dede arrived with Checky. Dede was on board the Lene Marie, a lovely old Baltic trader with John-John and Emma nearly fifteen years ago. It’s an evening of reminiscing over several bottles of wine. Dede is now co-skipper of Mari-Cha III, which is a 146 foot yacht that recently broke the transatlantic record for a mono-hull, crossing in eight days.

Sunday 29 August

A day doing jobs in Andraitx. We are going to be based here for a couple of days doing excursions to local Calas, before moving round to Bahia de Palma, to start work on some of the jobs we need to do to get the boat in shape for the next phase of the trip. In the afternoon, we are privileged to be shown around the Mari-Cha III by Dede. She is a quite unique speed machine, and JJ and I spent some time with Dede looking in detail at all the hydraulic and electronic systems needed to manage her. Everything is constructed to be as light as possible, and she uses 6.5 tonnes of water ballast to keep her going flat and fast upwind. A real treat to see a yacht like this. She is currently on the market for $25million…..

Monday 30 August

After a day doing jobs in Andratx, we sail round to Puerto Portals right next door to Palma City itself. We decided to come here as it was convenient for the Yacht servicing company, DanBrit, that we plan to use for some of the jobs to be done, eg fix the bimini, re-program the SSB radio etc etc. It is one of the most expensive marinas in Spain, and it shows. We quickly decide that, though it is very clean, secure, has good water (unlike Andratx) etc. it is not our sort of place at all. It is absolutely full of Very Expensive Motoryachts all gleaming with polish and bristling with uniformed crew. YUK. Definitely time to make our excuses and leave asap. Joy of joys, Liverpool beat Arsenal 2-1, and look to be recovering from a dreadful start to the season. Must make sure I call Nicole (colleague at Monitor in London and strong Arsenal supporter) and give her a hard time about this….

Tuesday 31 August

Get the jobs done by DanBrit in the morning. They are an excellent company. In the afternoon, Em and Caroline take the kids to marineland to see the dolphins and sharks etc., and JJ and I motor round to Palma to the mooring that Check has somehow wangled for us in the middle of high season.

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