Saturday, 23 September 2017

Stintino and Castelsardo

We left Porto Conte with a headwind and motorsailed as best we could to get up and around the Capo Falconne and the Asinara pass to Stintino before a series of strong westerlies set in.  An hour away from the pass, the wind turned enough so that we could stop the motor and sail on a close reach, meaning that the pass would be on a beam then broad reach.  We decided to try to do it all under sail even though the pass is narrow with only 3 meters of water at one point, but the conditions were reasonable and we were sick of the sound of the motor. We were doing 6 - 7 knots in the entry of the pass but as we reached the point where we needed to turn southeasterly, the wind calmed and we sailed wing-on-wing smoothly down the rest of the pass.  I was a bit too preoccupied at the time to take photos but we returned to the pass during the strong westerlies on the following days and wondered how we'd made it through at all !

The Asinara pass is just on the other side of the tower.

Stintino marina and the town were charming and, being now comfortably ahead of schedule, we stayed a few days.  The 20-mile sail across to Castelsardo was supposed to be a very light downwind affair and we sailed using only the genoa to avoid jibing back and forth.  We used the genakker sheets and barber hauler to let the genoa out as far as possible and it worked beautifully.  Unexepctedly, the wind began to pick up from the 10-12 knots forecasted to 18-20 knots, and the swell as we neared Castelsardo was a bit worrisome.  We were very glad not to need to turn into the wind to take down the main as the entrance to Castelsardo was quite chaotic.  We surfed the swell as we tucked in behind the first breakwater and then gunned the motor to push us through before the next wave hit.  Once we were in the channel, all was calm and we tied up nose-to-quay into the wind.

Genoa using Genakker sheet and barber hauler.
We have never been in a marina with such a large supermarket just at the entrance of the dock.  We can see Corsica from here and should make the hop over in the next week or so.  Tomorrow we will begin a slow meander up the coast to Saint Theresa and decide from there our strategy for crossing the Bonifacio straits.  It looks like we will have northerly winds early next week so we will have to enjoy la dolce vita a bit longer while we wait !


Posted on Saturday, September 23, 2017 | Categories:

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The Crossing: Menorca to Sardinia

The weather forecast was right on target and we had an enjoyable crossing from Mahon to Porto Conte. The evening before the crossing, we left the port to anchor in Cala Teulera at the entrance of the bay. When we anchored, we found ourselves between two french boats who were both from Brittany, one from our home port of Arzal. They were headed back to the french coast and were planning to leave that evening. An hour before sunset they pulled out and we wished them well. One hour later, one of them came back and anchored where they had left. The swell from the previous gale that had ended that morning was still too much for them and they decided to try again in the coming days.

Hail storm the day before we left...

We planned our approximately 40-hour passage to leave as the swell from the gale died down and to arrive in Sardinia as the next gale was striking the Balearic islands. It was a narrow window but the predictions were correct and we had a great crossing. We left before sunrise with a bright half-moon and motored for the first 6 hours, which we had expected. By noon, we had the genakker flying on a broad reach with 10-13 knots of wind. 

At night, we rolled up the genakker, rolled out the genoa and put a reef in the main. Even if it’s calm and the predictions seem trustworthy, we always reef for the night. Our speed slowed a bit, but we were able to keep sailing through the night. We crossed a few cargoes during the night but none too close for discomfort. As I was keeping an eye on one cargo passing behind us, I scanned the horizon in front of us and panicked when I saw a huge yellow triangular light coming straight at us. I’d never seen anything like it and it seemed to be very close. I checked the AIS system to see if I could identify a boat but there was nothing there. I looked back at the thing in horror, only to realize as I stared at it a bit longer that I was witnessing a moon-rise over the horizon, beginning with the triangular tip of the half-moon. My shock rapidly turned to wonder and marvel, and I almost woke Patrick up to see it (he later said he was glad I didn’t but I think he was wrong.)

Moonrise on the sea.  The red port-side nav light lights-up the genoa.

We put the genakker back up as soon as it was daylight. We had a calm period later that morning and had to help the sails with the motor to keep our speed up, but we reached the Sardinian coast just as the sun was setting. Flat seas, 8-14 knots winds, 60% pure sailing / 40% motor-sailing, average speed 4.9 knots over about 185 miles.

Sardinia under the Genakker.

We knew we would arrive in the dark so we aimed for the bay of Porto Conte. The bay is large and beautiful and well-protected from almost all winds but has been made a nature reserve, and we had conflicting information about whether we could anchor here or not. We aimed for Cala del Bollo for the first night since it was one of the closest to the entrance and had a large sand and weed area for mooring.

Just as we furled the sails and began motoring into the bay, a patrol boat came speeding towards us, turned their floodlights on us and came up very close behind us. We know the drill...seems to the be same in all countries. It was the Italian customs authorities intercepting foreign vessels arriving in discreet mooring areas at night. They took our papers in a big net and after about 15 minutes gave them back and wished us a pleasant stay. Those 15 minutes meant that it was now very dark for anchoring so we were left to rely on our gps to guide us in the rest of the way. As we neared the beach, a line of unlit swim buoys surprised us and we backed away quickly, scanning the area with our powerful flashlight. We went into the 6 meter zone further off the beach and the crystal-clear water allowed us to see that we had good sandy bottom. We dropped the hook, had a celebratory drink, made a quick dinner, contacted family to let everyone know we had made it, and crashed for a very calm night. I hope all our crossings can be as pleasant !

Cala del Bollo anchorage on the left...nice wide target for night arrival.

The cliffs marking the entrance to Porto Conte.

Cliffs in Porto Conte.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Fiesta Time in Mahon

We have been in Mahon for a week, dropping off friends at the airport, waiting for a weather window for the 40-hour sail to Sardinia, and enjoying the Fiesta de Gracia in the old town of Mahon. The guide books rave over Ciutadella and downplay Mahon, but we have enjoyed it more than Ciutadella, too touristy for our tastes.

We are in the Marina Mahon, one of the first and largest marinas in the bay and close to town. The first night here (September rates) is 51 Euros because they charge a flat fee for water and electricity, but every night after that is only 25 Euros. We are berthed along side (not stern-to) on the hammer head and the pontoon is very large, giving us space enough to leave our bikes out on the pontoon. It’s very quiet although there are many restaurants and a small convenient store nearby. We managed to get our bikes into the elevator that takes you up the cliff to the level of the town, and from there it is an easy 5 minute ride into the charming old town.

And if you arrive during the first week of September, you will discover the Fiesta de Gracia, which probably has lots of meaningful history behind it but on the surface appears to be a festival of horses. We head out tomorrow to anchor in the bay and then plan to head over to Sardinia on Wednesday. The weather will be very calm...possibly too calm… but it was the best opportunity in between tramontana events we could find. The genakker is up and ready to roll out since we expect 10 knot winds on a beam reach for most of the trip (prediction: 6 hours of motoring in the early morning, then 24 hours of 8-12 knot winds, then 4-5 hours of motoring again, then some light winds to take us into the coastal area near Alghero, where we will probably lose the wind in the final approach. Stay tuned !)

Posted on Monday, September 11, 2017 | Categories:

Friday, 1 September 2017

Menorca Notes

We made landfall in Menorca at Cala Degollador, squeezing into the very crowded cala in the late afternoon. The narrow part of the cala is now completely roped off for swimming.  The cala clears out during the day but by nightfall you wonder how another boat could possibly squeeze in.  We first anchored off the south side of Galera which has some good sand patches but limited swing room. The next visit here, we anchored off the north side of Galera, which has very patchy holding. One time the anchor dug in right away and the next time we tried 3 times before giving up. On the northeast side of the cala is an old metal sewage (?) pipe that extends from the shore down into the water. It looks to be about 2 meters below the surface but it would be nasty to get your anchor or chain anywhere near this. On another occassion, we ended up having to anchor near the outside edge in over 10 meters of water but the holding seemed better. The outside of the cala is also marked with lit buoys to keep boats from anchoring too far out where the large ferries need to turn. On the north side there is a good little cove to leave dinghies and it is only a 15 minute walk into Ciudadella.

Ciudadella is a beautiful old town, probably the most interesting thing to visit in Menorca. The entrance to the port is narrow but beautiful and the municiple port now has 3 pontoons with REAL FINGERBERTHS ! These are the first fingerberths we’ve seen since leaving the Spanish coast. We had scoped the port out before arriving but many boats pulled up expecting to have a lazy line and their fenders were too high and they didn’t have lines ready on bow and stern. If you can manage it, get a spot on the 2nd pontoon since the outside of the 1st pontoon is shared with tourist boats that embarque hundreds of passengers each day. At one point the water depth was 1.9 meters in between the two pontoons.

Ports IB moorings on upper right side.
Algayerens has been one of our favorite anchorages on the north coast, with lots of sand for good anchoring. We aren’t the only ones who appreciate the area and it is always crowded. We tucked into Cala Fontanellas just west of Algayerens, which was gorgeous but small, with room for only 2 or 3 boats. You can’t penetrate very far into the cala because of uneven depths and patches of posidonia weed that are protected (?) by submerged floating buoys just waiting to wrap themselves around your keel. Of course we didn’t realize that until we dove down to look around. We were luckily out of the way but had no way of knowing that when we put down the anchor. Better to stay in the larger sand patches just outside the cala.

Fornells has become a second home for us here in Menorca because we have sat out 2 3-day tramontana events here, alternating between anchorages, mooring buoys, and the port. The municiple port only has space for 5 or 6 visitors and you must tie up bow to quay because of rock outcrops extending from the quay. The lazy lines are placed very close together and we got one of our rudders snagged around our neighbors as we came in. He loosened it enough for us to push it around the outside of the rudder but space was very tight. When it came time to leave we had lots of help to keep the boat’s nose straight as we carefully backed out around the lazy lines. The mooring buoys are great and there are lots of places to leave the dinghy to go into town.

Tramontana storm building to the north of Fornells

For the first time in 4 months, we had rain, torrential downpours that lasted about 2 hours.  Patrick decided to take a bracing rain bath.  

As soon as the winds and waves die down we plan to make our way down to Mahon to drop off friends at the airport. After this, we will be studying the weather closely to look for a good weather window for the 40-hour crossing to Sardinia.  
Posted on Friday, September 01, 2017 | Categories:

Sunday, 20 August 2017


Forget what the guide says, there are no summer mooring buoys behind the Punta de la Avanzada. Once you round the oint, the bay opens up before you as one huge anchorage with hundreds of boats scattered everywhere. Almost – there is still a swath left free stretching from the jetty of the military zone for sea planes to take off and land.

As you round the Punta, you may be tempted to plop your anchor down in the turquoise water exposed by sand patches, but you shouldn’t. Those rather small patches are surrounded by posiedonia grass and the patrol boat from the Government of the Iles Baleares will soon come to tell you off. Even if your anchor is in the sand patch, your chain will drag through the grass. Smaller motor boats are tolerated, which makes it a bit frustrating, but that’s the way it is.

Beyond that zone, the bay is about 3 meters deep everywhere and the ground is mud and stubbly seaweed. We found the holding to be hit and miss, even with a chain:depth length of 5 – 7.

The bay itself is beautiful. We tried to visit some of the other calas but this being August they were all more than full. The town is touristy but agreeable. Just one street back parallel to the shore road across from the port is one of the best hardware stores we’ve found this year, and has almost everything you could ever need for a boat. There is a very good farmers market on Wednesday as well.  And of course, if you've read the previous post, you know there is a very good shipyard here, too.

While safely tucked into a berth in the port, we rented a scooter to visit the surrounding areas, particularly the UNESCO World Heritage Sierra Traumontana range and the Cap Formentor. This was not the smartest thing we’ve ever done. Not being expert scooter drivers and being confronted with hair-pin turns, sheer cliffs and tourist buses, we had our eyes riveted on the road in front of us, only occasionally risking a glimpse at the scenery. Pull-offs are few. This is surely one of the most beautiful mountain roads in the world, and I regret that we didn’t organize better to rent a car to visit the full range.

We had hoped to spend our last day in one of the calas but the winds that day left them all exposed. One big cala (Formentor) looks particularly inviting but it is filled with private mooring buoys with anchoring limited to the 15 meter depth outskirts. We met a couple from Palma who said they regularly go to that cala and that the buoys can be rented but are intended only for “locals” (from Majorca). They suggested you find a buoy and circle around until the mariniero arrives and try your luck, but normally it’s not intended for visitors. We were frustrated, but the couple went on to tell us that they have had to abandon their annual summer cruising around their own islands because the visiting tourists take up all the space.

That really put things into perspective, and also supports my own state of mind about the last 2 months in the islands. The stress involved with navigating here in July and August – few ports, few berths, over-crowded calas, bad manners and bad seamanship – have made me want to point Mareda’s nose towards the coast and head straight home. I haven’t lost my enthusiasm for sailing, but cruising in the Baleares in July and August is absolutely foolish. While we have had a few moments of grace and taken in some breath-taking scenery, the accumulated stress of the whole endeavor hasn’t been worth it for me. We are told by friends who have sailed in the area for the last 14 years that the area is unbearable until around 15 August when the summer vacation season winds down. I hope we will see a different side to the Baleares at that time, but I can tell you I am very eager to make our way to Sardinia and Corsica in September, and will definitely rethink cruising in popular areas in July and August for our future cruises.

Posted on Sunday, August 20, 2017 | Categories:

Friday, 18 August 2017

Fresh Water Pump Problems Resolved

One often hears that cruising is "fixing your boat in exotic locations."  Exotic or not, repairs must be made, and making them in a foreign land and foreign language can be frustrating.  Or not !  Here is a feel-good story about a simple and cheap fix to a big problem.

The pump : Jabsco Par-Max 3.5 fresh water pump (frankly, the following information will apply to any pump).

Important clue : installed on new boat (or boat with new tanks)

Symptoms : After 15 months of loyal service, our water pressure began to decrease. For the first few seconds, the pressure was good, then the flow would slow to a trickle. Even after the tap was turned off, the pump laboured to reach it’s cut off pressure.

And yes, we regularly clean our filter.

Diagnosis : We were lucky enough to be in Pollensa, Majorca (reasonably exotic), berthed just across the street from Astilleros Cabanellas, and had a 2nd stroke of luck to have Senior Cabanellas himself (grandson of the founder) take a look at our problem early one morning. He spoke perfect french and, although we didn’t test him, probably speaks pretty good English, too. If you are planning to have problems in Majorca, have them here. 

He had seen the problem before… especially on new boats. The problem is a blockage in the in-line check valve located upstream of the filter (red arrow in photo below). When the tanks were fixed in the boat and holes drilled into the plastic reservoirs to attach fittings and gauges, the technicians failed to vacuum out the little shavings left behind. Over time, these made their way through the system and got stopped here.

Senior Cabanellas knew exactly where to look, and sure enough, we had a big plastic ball of bits there. He shook his head and said that many shipyards will simply tell you that your pump is going bad and that it needs to be changed. In changing the pump, they open up and clean out the surrounding fittings, so it appears that the problem has been resolved with a new pump when in fact the pump was fine all along.

With the blockage removed and the accumulator tank pressure topped off with our bicycle foot pump, we reprimed the system to chase out the air bubbles and the pressure was as good as new. The pump now runs beautifully, only turning on and staying on half the time it did with the blockage, so we are saving on battery energy as well.

We contacted our Jeanneau boatyard in France to let them know that this was a problem somewhere along their assembly line. They thanked us for the information and are reimbursing our costs. (When we bought our boat, we were told that the 2-year guarantee and the Jeanneau service-after-sales were excellent. Now after 2 years we can tell you it is TRUE!)

Problem resolved in 30 minutes, cost 35 Euros. Happy ending.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Anchor Watch in Paradise

For the first time in our sailing careers, Patrick and I sat out in the cockpit on “anchor watch” as the wind began gusting violently at 1 a.m. in Cala Calobra at the mouth of the Torrent de Pareis in northwest Mallorca. As we went out to survey the situation we saw that the other 10-15 boats sharing the cove all had at least 1 person in the cockpit or on the bow, checking the anchor and position relative to their neighbors. Within 15 minutes, 3 large yachts hauled up anchor and left. (To do what? Circle slowly offshore waiting for daybreak?)

To be fair, larger boats are at a disadvantage in these situations. They have a larger surface area above the water line and get pushed around by the wind more strongly than smaller boats. Their weight also means that the strain on the anchor and chain are greater. We didn’t think the situation justified leaving and we seemed to be holding quite well with our anchor in sand at 11 meters depth with 40 meters of chain and 12 meters of rode out (we would have liked to put out more but we were limited by our nearest neighbors.)

As we approached our nearest neighbor, a small 8 meter French boat, Patrick called out to the young skipper inspecting his anchor and asked how things were going. He said he’d had better nights. We asked how much chain he had out and he replied “25 meters + 10 meters of rode” but I was thinking of adding more. Yikes !! We suggested that MORE would be a good idea and informed him that we had 55 meters out. He added more rode and we felt much more comfortable for all concerned.

Comfort is such a relative word, though. At 3 a.m., we reached an all-time record: 34 degrees C / 93 F with only 25% humidity in the air, blowing past us in short-lived gusts up to 30 or 40 knots. The winds were from the southeast, and as we were on the northwest of the island, the wind picked up the heat from the sand and rock along the full length of the island before hitting us. It was like being blasted by a powerful hair-dryer. We could feel ourselves desiccating, turning into raisins. We kept dousing ourselves with water. The boat was dusted with fine red sand blowing off the island. Our eyes stung. Metal objects on the boat were hot to the touch. I tried sleeping in a wet towel.

As the morning progressed, the temperatures dipped down to a more manageable 31 C / 88 F. The weather forecast announced a high of 37 C / 100 F for the day. I enjoy hot temps in the day when I’m near water and can swim to cool off, but eating and sleeping become very problematic in these conditions.

The next day, we moved to Cala San Vicente and had the same phenomenon again: southerly blasts during the night with temperatures climbing and humidity descending. This time, however, we had the cove to ourselves and only 5 meters of water so we had fewer worries than in the deep and crowded Calobra.

We were told that the "torrent" is usually just behind this pool...when there's water.

Patrick let out a little cry of victory when I announced that this situation makes me nostalgic for Brittany!   
Posted on Monday, August 07, 2017 | Categories:

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Soller and Mallorcan Scenery

We left Sa Foradada with a mixture of regret and relief as we headed up the coast for 5 days in the port of Soller.  Port stops are, in general, hot (ports are designed to protect from wind and the water quality is such that you do NOT want to go swimming anywhere near the port) and noisy (close-packed neighbors.)  One such neighbor got a bit too close as he pulled in and his fishing pole support gouged out a thumb-sized chunk of our gelcoat.  As I was mentally preparing a blog post about the steps to take to make an insurance claim for such an event, the skipper of the offending boat asked if we could just arrange things between ourselves without contacting the insurance company.  He gave us 100 Euros in cash and we invited him on board for a beer.  (Turns out he was a fascinating person.)  But now we have another repair to do and it's not easy to reach.  We will probably just do a quick filler job and wait until we pull the boat from the water in Corsica to make it pretty.

We really enjoyed the port of Soller and the town of Soller.  We took the wooden train to Soller town and later took the longer one down to Palma for the day.  We also took a side trip to the Alfabia gardens, once the home of one of the Moorish lords from the 1200s, taken over by the Spanish royals after the Christian conquest. The area gives a good idea of what the interior of Mallorca looks like, away from the main tourist tracks and beach scenes.

Almohad ceiling, 1170.

Posted on Saturday, August 05, 2017 | Categories: