Having sailed straight from Greenland with only a one-hour stop in Tarifa to pick up some old friends, we continued East with ten people on board, eventually arriving in a small holiday town near Almeria, called Aguadulce.
It was bizarre to step ashore, as it always is after a long passage. Weeks of rolling around on endless waves, weeks of not enough sleep and a constant background anxiety, and then, suddenly, the reassurance of stable ground and a safely delivered boat…
Lots of emailing and telephone calls to family followed, and of course the mandatory celebratory crew meal. We had to wait for some weather to pass, but a couple of days later we headed off towards Ibiza. The sea was glassy and the skies were clear – we stopped en route for a swim, swinging off halyards and jumping in from the spreaders. Later that day, we overtook a small yacht called Serenity – which is a name that we often get called in error (which annoys the owner deliciously). Being in a playful mood, we chatted on VHF with the two French sailors on board, and finding them pleasant, invited them over for a drink. They came close enough to throw us a bowline and we towed their little boat as they swam over to us and had a glass of wine.
The next afternoon we arrived in Ibiza, dodging some nasty storm-clouds and a waterspout(?!) on the way. We went into San Antoni in the hope of finding more space than in Ibiza town, but it was completely chock-a-block. We were having a long-standing problem with our anchor chain (the problem being that we didn’t have an anchor chain), and it took forever for us to find a spot. We were using a long warp and a fisherman’s anchor, which is an extremely bad combination in crowded sandy anchorages (fisherman’s anchors tend to drag in sand, and you need a large swinging circle when using warp). The marina was full, and there were no mooring buoys available. Eventually we dropped the anchor just outside the breakwater and took a line ashore, which stopped us swinging and enabled us to be in shallow enough water for our ground tackle to be effective.
We had debated coming to Ibiza at all – we all knew that it would be awful and disturbing and full of pissed English twats, but after some discussion we decided that everyone should go there once in their lives. I was determined to just have a look around and have an early night, but needless to say, that idea went out the window pretty quickly.
The night passed with all sorts of debauchery, and I can only say that Ibiza truly lived up to its awful and amazing reputation. When we woke the next day, though, all that we wanted was to get the anchor up and put as many miles between the island and us as possible. Ibiza was great, but one night was more than enough.
We sailed on to Mallorca, a relatively short leg, arriving late. In the morning we filled up with diesel and headed straight out towards Barcelona with a fair weather forecast and high spirits.
Several hours later we found ourselves beating into a hefty 25 knot breeze. The horizon was black and ominous, and the pressure was dropping fast. I decided to turn around and run back to port with our tail between our legs, and at that moment our staysail clew parted in a heavy gust, as a conformation of my thoughts. We put another reef in, tacked, and headed back to Mallorca on a broad reach, averaging 11 knots. As we closed the island again, the wind built and built, and so did the seas. They were short and steep and angry, and as we rounded the headland on the west side of Isla Dragonera, we came close to broaching. Then the wind died suddenly, leaving us bobbing about with sheets flogging. Just as we tightened everything up it came back with a vengeance, bringing with it a bizarre thick fog. This time it was really howling, and the boat became hard to control. I fought the wheel to stop her coming up into wind, which would have taken us onto the rocky coast of the island. As soon as we had enough sea room to maneuver comfortably, we dropped the remaining sails, but we were still screaming along under bare poles. The visibility was nil, the rain was pounding, and the wind – the wind! Now we were in flat water behind Mallorca, but the gusts were still throwing the sea up into the air.
We eventually limped back into Puerto de Andratx, and as we closed the port, everything calmed down as if nothing had happened. Shaken up and happy to be still floating, we took a berth in the marina and had a very quiet, peaceful night.
The next day we saw the many reports of the unforecast storm in the newspapers, and saw the evidence in the port – islands of debris and trash that had been washed down from the hills through the town, and were now floating around in the brown flood-water.
The combination of Ibiza and the storm was too much for a couple of our crew, who escaped from Mallorca on a plane. The remaining eight of us motored uneventfully to Barcelona, where we took part in some compulsory Gaudi admiration and wandered around back streets, finding impossibly small bars tucked into every nook and cranny. One jazz-funk club and one new generator battery later, and we were nearly ready to leave. However, we just needed some more crew. Ozzie Dave, who had sailed with us from Bermuda to Greenland, was nearby, and caught the train over. Then I found out that an old friend was on the other side of Spain, walking the Camino de Santiago. It was the evening before our departure, but I sent her a text – and as it happened, she was fed up with walking and was quite willing to hang out on a yacht for a while. She managed to quickly hobble a few miles to the nearest town, caught the very last bus, grabbed a last minute flight, and appeared on the boat several hours later, blistered but good-spirited as ever.
Off we went eastwards again, with a reasonable forecast, across the gulf de lion. The sun shone. We set up a towline with loops in it, and took turns to bodysurf behind the boat while the conditions were calm, proving conclusively that it is possible (but not easy) to pull yourself up a rope onto a boat that is travelling at five knots, but not necessarily possible to stop your shorts from falling down whilst you are doing it…
250 miles later, we found that the harbour in Cannes was full, and so we headed around the corner to Villefranche, where we squeezed into the minuscule marina, turning several heads as I used the prop-walk to maneuver into a gap that appeared to be considerably smaller than our boat.
Villefranche is an extremely picturesque little town. There must be an extremely well paid paint-weathering team on the local council, ensuring that every house has exactly the right shade of slightly peeling pastel paint on its walls. Every worn flagstone has been placed at just the right angle to be slightly unsymmetrical and yet intentionally unintentionally beautiful. Or something like that.. Every casual grapevine and every terracotta roof oozes money, but it oozes it tastefully, and before you know it you find yourself paying €5 for a coffee with the rest of them, sitting under a pastel awning and sneering at anybody walking past in a pair of trainers.
We had an early night, which was just as well, because at 6am I woke with a bad feeling. I went up on deck to find some serious wind building. I doubled up some mooring lines just in time, because the next minute, all hell broke loose – storm force winds came out of nowhere, blowing the our 80 tonne boat right on top of our pontoon, and an ACTUAL TORNADO formed just 10 metres from our stern, dismasting a couple of small yachts and flinging bit of debris around. I had already called everybody on deck, and now they appeared – all wearing big coats but still in their underwear, running frantically around the deck in heavy hail that stung the hands. Two of our mooring lines completely snapped and for a moment it looked like we would be blown off the pontoon to bounce around the harbour destroying everything in our path, but luckily the extra ropes did the trick and we stayed put.
Again, we saw the newspaper reports the next day – caravans blown into office blocks, and toppled trees. This was our second unforecast storm in just a week or so, and I was beginning to have my doubts about this whole Mediterranean sailing lark.
Eventually we were kicked out of Villefranche to make room for resident boats, and so we went around the corner and anchored close inshore near Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, where we spent a few pleasant days worrying about our anchor dragging.
It was here that I ran into Kelpie again, the 75’ American built Schooner that I helped to rebuild and sail from Cornwall early last year. I have fond memories of the boat, and was most disappointed to find that they have now replaced the grafittied MDF table that had served us so well for so long. The skipper, at least, hadn’t been replaced, and I was happy to catch up with the talented and hardworking Milos, who terrified me (and most of Cornwall) at first, until we learned that beneath his coarse exterior lies a kind-hearted cuddly bear of a man. He and his wife have done wonders with the boat.
Eventually, the fickle wind turned against us and we had to hoist anchor in the middle of the night to avoid the chance of dragging onto a lee shore. Without chain, our procedure for getting the anchor on deck was laborious, but Gino and Jonas had it down to a fine art, and managed even in the sloppy swell that was blowing into the bay. Even so, we were all very much looking forward to finally picking up the 100m of chain that was waiting for us in Cannes, as we headed that way through the night. I relished the freedom of command on this last journey, knowing that in the next port we would welcome the owner back on board, and after months of being in charge, I would be taking orders again. But that has its benefits too, and the next few weeks of racing promised to be exciting, at least.