ship's log

Thursday 16 September to Thursday 30 September - Almeria to Madeira


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Thursday 16 September

Jobs in the morning. Lots of rope whipping, and I made a start at taking the exploded kicker block to pieces. Its badly bent and the cleat is broken, and definitely needs replacing, but I am hoping that the old one can be repaired to the point where it would be useful as a spare. In the end I need a stronger vice than the one we have on board, so I will try and use the workshop at the yard tomorrow when I go and collect the new one, which will finally arrive from Barcelona.

In the afternoon the wind is blowing about twenty knots, so we go out for a couple of hours to give Susannah some time on the helm. The sun is shining and we have an excellent sail with a reef in the main and half the headsail pulled out. Susannah steers the whole way, and after a few minutes getting her bearings, she holds the boat firmly in the groove as we reach at over seven knots. A lovely afternoon out.

John and Marilyn arrive at about 1.30 am, just after the skipper had completed the second successive victory against the girls at Trivial pursuit.

Friday 17 September

Morning spent getting the kicker block repaired, which was a three hour job at the workshop but very satisfying. It is clearly old and tired and and has taken an enormous amount of strain in its time, but we get it working again and it will do for another ten years.

In the afternoon we collect together weather information and consider our options for setting off tomorrow to try and make some headway towards Gibraltar. What becomes clear after consulting various Internet sites and talking to Andy (my brother) is that it is going to blow very hard indeed from the West on Sunday. There is a very deep low pressure heading towards the UK, with isobars tightly packed together, that is strong enough to affect us, even down South on the Iberian peninsula. Doesn't look good. We plan an excursion inland instead.

Saturday 18 September

Susannah leaves us very early in the morning. So sad to see her go and the girls are in tears. She has not had the best of the weather or the sailing, but has been a total pleasure to have on board. A real star, and we shall miss her.

Sure enough its already blowing 20 knots in the morning first thing, and it starts building from there. We hire a large Citroen Jumpy (seats 8) and head inland for Granada, where we want to see the Alhambra, and also take in the Sierra Nevada, which is the highest mountain in Spain, overlooking Granada.

The Alhambra is a tenth century Moorish palace and garden, which was added to over the centuries by the Christians. It is stunning and has a very special atmosphere. Highly recommended for anyone who is in the area. We arrive too late to see all of it, but were able to have a sundowner in the Parador right in the centre of the palace with the Sierra Nevada providing the backdrop. We lift a glass to Trinny Woodall, who is marrying Johnny Toobad today. Good call to have the wedding in London as from the look of the pressure chart the weather is not great in UK.

Sunday 19 September

The storm hits its peak and we spend the day holed up in Almerimar. Very strong winds and waves crashing over the breakwater for most of the day. Glad we are not at sea!

An opportunity to do the many jobs on the maintenance list. Main thing is to get fully familiar with the test procedures on the emergency (DSC) radio set. Jon Dutton is a great help here and he has soon completely mastered the instruction manual and we set about running through checks.

The weather chart is showing gales right the way through Monday, so no plans to move tomorrow.

Monday 20 September - In Almerimar, south east coast of Spain Lat: N 36 deg 41, Long: E 2 deg 47

Another day doing jobs. We finally get the scanner working, and manage to scan in some of Sarah’s Drawings, so you will at last be able to see these in ‘Sarah's Log’ page. There is a brilliant one of her view of last Tuesday, when she felt a bit seasick as we bounced around in the big winds.

The weather prognosis looks better for the rest of the week, so we decide that we will aim to leave tomorrow to make some headway to the West. We have been holed up in Almerimar for nearly six days now, and we are getting itchy to move on down to Marbella and Gibraltar.

We will probably have the wind on the nose, but hopefully it will not be too strong. We will keep you posted on how we got on in the next log, which I will write when we make it to Gibraltar, hopefully by the weekend….

Tuesday 21 September

Up early and slipped our mooring in Almerimar. We are off at last. It has not been a bad place to be holed up for a few days, but we would all rather be on passage. Sod's law is that there is minimal wind, so we are motoring to start with, but soon a sea breeze fills in. We have a good beat all the way to our chosen destination, which is Marina del Este, on Punta de la Mona in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. This is where we were aiming for this time last week! Ah well, better late then never. We stop at a little bay next to the marina to drop anchor, have a swim, and clean the hull line of the debris which accumulates in a week in harbour. Jon Dutton is first in the water, and bounces out in seconds. "It's f-f-f-f-freezing!" he announces. Now Jon is one of the hardier people I know and not one to exaggerate, so I should have known better than to scoff, but I did, and regretted it immediately I hit the water. There followed the fastest hull-line clean up in Mediterranean history, and I was soon also out of the water shivering under a towel. It really was colder than the Solent in March. Very odd. We decided that it was combination of very strong current coming in from the Atlantic, after a significant August heatwave in the Med. The current comes in to replace the evaporation, which must have been extreme in the 44 degree heatwaves that Malta was getting. This was probably exacerbated by the recent strong South Westerlies, and also the cold water stream coming off the Sierra Nevada, apparently right into our anchorage.

We motor into the marina, to find one of the loveliest settings we have seen so far. A small but very pretty harbour backed by the hills, and with a breakwater built round a rock which is covered in palm trees and bougainvillea. We moor up and book into the restaurant that is ten feet from our transom, with a table overlooking the boat for easy baby-sitting. What a pleasure.

Wednesday 22 September

We decide to stay and enjoy the morning in his lovely place, so after a leisurely breakfast at the restaurant we set off around 1130 bound for Marbella. The sea breeze fills in earlier this time, still from the Southwest, and soon we are having a wonderful beat along the coast. Jon demonstrates the ‘no hands’ steering technique demonstrating how well balanced the Duck is on the beat. She really does almost sail herself on some points of sail, even without the aid of Max or the autopilot.

Jon spent some time today bringing me up to speed on how to get the best out of the SSB radio and the DSC safety and distress terminal. He has recently been on a course on the subject, and in typical fashion has not only mastered all the intricacies, but has teased out all the limitations as well. Very valuable for me, as I was only able to fit in a half day familiarisation in the rush to get ready.

We arrived in Marbella at about ten in the evening having sailed past Torremolinos at a safe distance!

Thursday 23 September

We set sail mid morning again with only thirty miles to cover on our final hop to Gibraltar. With the wind on the nose again, it takes all day to beat up the coastline. Our theory on the peculiar strength of the current is borne out when we venture too far towards the North African coast on one tack, and find we can hardly make any headway at all against the tide, despite boatspeed of six knots.

We make our approach to the looming Rock at dusk, and slip into our mooring at Queensway quay marina. The man who takes our lines at the marina turns out to be called Mark Dalli, and is of Maltese extraction. Very typical of Gibraltar apparently, and I see quite a few Maltese names over the next two days.

We have decided not to go to Seville as originally planned, due to the time lost in Almerimar. A shame, but we can always visit Seville some time later.

Friday 24 September

Up early for a very busy day indeed. Main focus for me is to get the engine serviced thoroughly, and for Caroline to do the provisioning for our first trip out into the Ocean, as we plan to head off on the 575 mile passage to Madeira as soon as possible after the Mark and Marie Jeffreys arrive.

All completed successfully with lots of help from Jon and Marilyn. Jon finally fits the radar reflector, for which he has completed a patented chafe-proof design.

Saturday 25 September

It pours with rain all morning, just to get Jon and Marilyn into the swing of things for their impending return to UK. Mark and Marie arrive at lunchtime and we repair to the local paella place to welcome them. Jon and Marilyn take off mid-afternoon to head up to Malaga for their flight home. We will miss them. Apart from being good company, they have done an enormous amount to help get the boat in shape for the next phase of the trip, which will be a somewhat sterner test than island hopping in the Med.

Sunday 26 September

We set off just before first light for Madeira. Gib has been a very convenient stopover, but Andy had called me on Thursday to tell me that we have a good weather window to make the passage over the next week. This is confirmed by our friends at the Bracknell Met office. We have timed our passage through the straits, which are about thirty miles long, to catch the outgoing tide, which for a precious few hours is strong enough to counteract the permanent inflow of current caused by evaporation.

It’s a beautiful morning and the visibility is perfect, which is just as well as the straits are full of traffic. Not just big ships but also lots of little fishing boats presumably after the migrating shoals.

There are dolphin everywhere, just as we had been told, and we are escorted out by a large school. The hills on the Moroccan side look lovely in the morning light. There is lots of excitement in the anticipation of a good long passage.

We settle into watches and bed down for the first night, just off the coast of Morocco.

Monday 27 September

Very quiet day as there is not much wind at all. We are expecting at least 7 knots from the North East, but spend most of the day drifting around in the swell. I eventually start the engine and we motor for four hours to put some distance in. We have to be careful however, to conserve our fuel. We do not in fact carry enough diesel on board to allow us to motor all the way to Madeira, so we are dependent on the wind filling in to take us there. The tactical game we need to play with the weather is to use the engine to move us into the best position to get the wind that is available. What I interpret from the information I have is that we should motor slightly South of the rhumb line course to Madeira, to be sure of finding the North-Easterlies that we want. We set a course of 230 degrees and donk away.

We spend much of the day feeling for the light breeze, everyone straining to trim carefully and trying to decide whether it is worth sailing or motoring. As Mark suggested, it’s a bit like a light airs Cowes week day!

Tuesday 28 September - North Atlantic ocean, on passage between Gibraltar and Madeira. About half way there. Lat : 33 deg 59 North, Long: 10 deg 43 West

At last the wind filled in solidly during the night and we are soon humming away at an average of six knots, occasionally up to eight. This is more like it.

Highlight of the day came at the change of watch, when I was about to take over from Mark and Caroline at dawn. Caroline suddenly looked up, face full of apprehension and awe as she saw something looming towards us in the water at high speed. "It’s a whale, no two of them" she said, "and they are right next to the boat". Sure enough two Minke whales had sped towards us to investigate, and were gently sliding off astern with a flick of the tail. They were quite small in the scheme of things, each about half the length of the boat. Still an awesome sight though, especially as they had come so close. We started the engine just to let them know what we were, as I am not too keen to get that intimate with several tons of whale travelling at twenty knots!

The girls were furious that our first whale encounter happened while they were still asleep, but they still felt inspired enough to spend most of the day drawing whale pictures. Watch this space for more scanned pictures soon.

At about tea-time, appropriately, the fishing line whizzed out and we hauled in a decent sized amberjack, which the girls had sautéed in oil and garlic for supper.

An excellent days sailing, with the North Easterlies blowing all day long. Sadly Marie seems unable to shake off a particularly bad bout of seasickness. Caroline is as usual highly attentive with the medical kit, and Stematin and Dioralyte has helped a bit. Marie is being very brave indeed about it all, but is obviously still feeling pretty wretched. We will keep our fingers crossed that the third day at sea is a turning point.

At this rate we should be in Madeira by around Friday.

Wednesday 29 September

The wind is now well established from the North-east and we are making very good progress towards Madeira. Our average speed is over seven knots, and ‘Lazy Duck’ is really enjoying this. Great sailing.

We have settled into a watch system which works well. We have two watches. Each does six hours on (say, 8am to 2 pm) and six hours off (say 2 pm to 8pm) during the day, and then from 8pm we go to four hours on four hours off until 8 am the next morning. This is quite a good system for long passages, as it means that each night shift you get a different time pattern, and during the day you can catch up on lost sleep. I am still debating what system to use for the Atlantic crossing, when we will have more people, but this one is a good candidate.

Marie is slightly better for a while today, but then has a relapse in the afternoon. She has not been able to hold down any food or drink for any length of time since we left. She continues to be remarkably brave about it all. I am glad we are moving at high speed to Madeira for her sake.

Thursday 30 September - In Madeira

A really fast night-time passage, steered by Max all the way who is behaving impeccably on this passage.

In the early afternoon we have everyone on deck for our daily sea-water wash. We have a seawater pump installed in the bow, which pumps the sea up and straight out onto the foredeck. We have special sea-water soap that lathers up despite the salt. After a short flurry in which the deck is gets covered in the suds, the sweet smelling crew returns to the cockpit. Very important to keep up decorum, especially with a landfall imminent.

Shortly afterwards, we sight Porto Santo, the Easternmost island of the Madeira Archipelago. It is off to starboard as it should be, much to the relief of the navigator. We plough on and soon sight Madeira itself, bang on the nose.

The North Easterly increases in speed, so we take in a reef. For the last few hours we motor sail to put some charge into the batteries, as it is early evening and I am not sure whether we will have shore power when we get in to Funchal. The marina is tiny and at this time of year the pilot warns that we may need to anchor outside.

The last few miles, at about 11 pm are really spectacular. As we swing round to the south of Madeira to approach Funchal, the full majesty of volcanic slope is revealed, rising gently from the sea up to the highest point at 1600 metres. It is carpeted with little points of light on every home. From time to time the pattern is broken by a church spire. As we round the headland, we see Punta do Garajau 3 miles from the entrance, a huge floodlit statue of Christ with outstretched arms. A magnificent sight.

We arrive in Funchal at about midnight. Mark uses the big torch to see us in safely, and we discover that there is a spot for us to raft up on in the harbour. After a celebratory drink we collapse into bed, delighted to have completed our first major passage safely.

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