On the nose


Newsletters 2004

Scotland to Spain

Scotland to Padstow

30th June 2004


This is just to let you know that we are still floating and currently moored up in Padstow harbour where we are entertainng the tourists just by being there. A quick check with our itinerary puts us on the coast of France somewhere - however there’s an old saying that boats have destinations, not timetables. The weather at sea has been conspiring against us with gales, winds in the wrong direction and lumpy seas. We’ve been sneaking out when there’s a let up. Now we have to go round Land’s End and there are more gales forecast. We are moored next to another yacht that had planned to go to France a fortnight ago, and there are similar tales everywhere. Of course we should have gone last month when the weather was perfect……


Fortunately, we are in no hurry, we are having a great time and really enjoying the cruising life. We keep looking at each other and laughing. Is this the first sign of madness?               

                                                                                                      Menai Straits

We moved on board on June 4th in Port Dinorwic but then spent a week unpacking all our possessions, recovering, from this dramatic step, swabbing black gunge (caused by a bug that lives on diesel) out of the fuel tank, splicing the mainbrace etc, by which time the good weather had passed.


We eventually had a fantastic sail round to Aberdaron, where we anchored overnight, and then Pwllheli where we stayed a further week. Although it was sunny and warm on land, there were gale warnings and we waited for a good time to go. 


We sailed overnight to Milford Haven – 20 hours, leave in the light, arrive in the light. We were met in the morning by dolphins who leapt either side of the boat and accompanied us in. Milford Haven is very sheltered and we had idyllic trips up the river, eventually coming into Neyland Marina where we’d ordered a radar to be sent. Spent three days fitting it, then there was a weather window (excuse the jargon but you know), and we sailed again overnight to Padstow.


Culinary notes on Padstow: we now know why people call it Padstein, there’s Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant, Café, Bistro, Fish and Chip Shop, Deli, Seafood School and Patisserie.


If you want to email, please do, we’d like to hear from you; we might take a while to respond though, because we’re relying on nipping into internet cafes every few days.



Hot dogs in Padstow...maybe it's Rick Stein's icecream?

Belle Isle to Gijon

23rd July 2004


I’m writing this half-way across the bay of Biscay which might give a clue to the state of the weather. There is not enough wind to power our sails and we’re motoring. Yesterday we saw groups of dolphins three times; they came and leapt around and under the boat on their way – somewhere? It’s very peaceful. There’s a slight swell making the boat roll but nothing uncomfortable – like being in a giant cradle. The sky and sea are both gun-metal grey though, I’m expecting a destroyer to come over the horizon at any moment, and it’s started to rain.


We set off from Belle Isle, S. Brittany, heading for Gijon, N. Spain. 255 miles, 2 days at boat speed, average 5-6 knots. We knew it was settled and there might not be much wind but we can’t wait for the right wind forever, – it was blowing a force 11 storm here ten days ago. 


Last night was black, black, couldn’t see anything. Away from land there’s no light except the moon and last night was only a sliver which soon set. I had to change course to avoid a large ship. It’s not like you imagine, you can see them for miles by their lights, and identify what they are and which way the’re facing, what you can’t see is their speed and angle - but you can with our new radar. It was heading diagonally so all I had to do was change course and go round the back of it.


We’ve done so much in the last three weeks it’s hard to believe it’s not three months. We stayed in Padstow longer than expected, because of gales. It’s a picture-book harbour with plenty going on and it was hot and sunny most of the time -apart from when you came to visit us Rob and Margo! It’s hard to believe the shipping forecast when you’re on land, and some boats went out to the mouth of the river Camel to take a look/see and came running back. The novelty of walking was beginning to wear off – especially armed with Tesco shopping bags, so we hired bicycles and cycled along the Camel trail to Wadebridge and ended up buying two very decent ex. hire bikes at a bargain price. You can take off the wheels and pedals and they are a decent size for stowing on the boat.


We eventually made a dash round Land’s end, the sea still lumpy from the gales, but we timed it well. Penzance was a disappointment though. The harbour with a lock was littered with rusting hulks of ships and the alternative of ‘drying out’ in the old harbour did not appeal with another gale forecast (the big one as it turned out).


For non-nautical people - we have several options of where to park the boat, a marina is easiest but most expensive and like a big boat park that gets to us after two or three days; a mooring is easy too and if we’re lucky, can be free, but not as safe and you need a dinghy to get ashore; anchoring is the next; or mooring up against a harbour wall; then there’s the legs. The easiest harbours to get in are being turned into marinas and moorings but if we make the effort, accept the risks you can park the boat in some beautiful and more remote locations, far from the madding crowd. Drying out is not related to our alcohol consumption, Yanina has a long keel and two legs that can be attached either side and then she can go places where the tide goes out. There’s lots of lovely places round Penzance you could do that – Marizion, St Michael’s Mount, it’s hard not to linger but we have a plan, and there is a gale coming.


Next day we plotted our escape and left at 6-30am. Round the Lizard and to Falmouth where we went deeply up river to hide from the next gale. We wanted to try drying out but the river bed is mud and not suitable so we decided to go to Truro and dry out against the harbour wall. It’s right next to Tesco’s and the idea of sailing up and parking outside seemed a laugh at the time. We arrived at high water but went aground immediately which spoiled our plan for settling Yanina in the right position. Fortunately the harbour master knew the river bed, being in the habit of gazing at it out of his office window twice a day, and knew there was a bank of mud that would support her hull as the tide went down. We spent a manic couple of hours in which we tied ropes in all sorts of places and dredged up from our memories every mechanical theory we could think of, she leaned, then she settled.


The harbour master was very attentive, probably wondering why the hell we chose his patch to practise on. We’d relied on the Nautical Almanac which said we could come in up to two hours after high water but that’s no help when you’ve gone and done it. We spent a miserable afternoon in Tesco’s caf. as the rain started and the wind rose.We came free at 10pm when the tide came in, and the gale was starting. We roped Yanina round to face in the right direction and shot away as soon as there was a lull in the wind. We eventually picked up a mooring as the gale howled round us and stayed there all the next day, which was actually a good place to be as we swung round with the wind. We spent two nights on that mooring, escaping everything. Then the weather cleared and we went to Falmouth Marina and waited the afternoon out and set off across the channel early evening. Wind, but not enough to power our sails, so we motorsailed over.


Sunrise across the Channel

France, another language, and the sun is shining. As we came into L’Aber Wrac’h we peeled off the layers of thermal underwear and wet weather suits that you need to sail round Britain – even in summer. It turned out that there was a Maritime festival in Brest so the next day we caught a bus and spent the day there. The festival was huge and we looked at displays from many different countries. There were stalls on land with food, traditional crafts, local produce, musicians and on the water there were a huge collection of historic and classic craft from square riggers to Brazilian sailing boats.


We saw cows and piglets from Brittany, a traditional Norwegian house and boat being built, (these had a working craftsperson installed who on closer inspection was making an interesting lunch with a baguette, tomato and ham). We saw Ellen McArthurs new trimaran – ‘a donf’ and we bought the inevitable CD from a fantastic Breton band we stopped to listen to. We rounded up the day at a crab restaurant which provided wooden boards and hammers so we had a smashing time. We enrolled in the Brest festival tent which entitled us to take part in the sailing events. The festival has a traditional stand which displays wooden plaques for every boat that has enrolled. The idea started years ago when they sent each entry a plaque to paint and personalise. It was huge and I couldn’t possibly estimate the number of plaques. What I’m working my way round to saying Jeanette is that you’ll be getting one with our mail – sorry, can you store it for us? 


The next leg of our journey took some planning as we had to clear Le Chenal du Four and pass through Le Raz de Sein. The North Britanny coast is littered with rocks, pretty much like Cornwall but worse, these rocks all have terrible names like the Manacles off Lands end or passages between them like Le Chanel de Helle in Brittany. On the chart they look even worse, like blobs of spilt porage, with deadly black crosses in the middle. The tide races through these rocks at certain times, they can be uncovered at low tide or disappear at high tide, and beware when the wind is in the opposite direction to the tide, Ahh hargh. We sit and pore over these charts, read the Almanac and become convinced it’s hell out there. Well, it can be, but with careful planning and going at the right time and using the channels it needn’t be like that. Hello to Steve who was on Family Fortune next to us. Your Uncle and his mate set off the day before us and left us with these words of wisdom ‘If we waited till we were ready to go, we’d never go anywhere’.

We had a good time in the end. Going through the Raz was like a free bob-sleigh ride (well I’ve never been on one, but, how I imagine one might be). And it was foggy too, most of the way, but thanks to GPS and Radar it wasn’t a problem. We just programme our route in and a little display in the cockpit shows whether we’re on track and if not, which way to go. It takes some of the mystique out of it but also the fear of where the hell are we.

No wind, fog at sea, we stayed in Audierne, Benodet and Concarneau, explored, shopped and mainly it was hot and sunny. We had a panic when the Navtex stopped spewing out weather information and the VHF didn’t receive it either. We felt vunerable sailing across Biscay without any weather reports. Talking to other boat owners, Navtex seemed to pack up in this area anyway, the VHF turned out to have water in the aerial cable, but we bought a world radio and listened to the British shipping forecast and Tony Blair who we haven’t missed. We knew you needed two of everything on a boat, - but three? While Bob puzzled over the Navtex, I spent some time sewing Spanish and Portuguese flags, a wind scoop and made a bag for the bicycles out of an old sail (how salty is that)?

Starting from North Wales, it was great to see Gill who visited us several times, Thanks to Gilly, Fred and Jacky who brought Mother to us so she could see what we’re up to. We were against a harbour wall, and quite low down, so well done for walking the plank to our boat. Hello to Auntie Jean, Joe and Joy, my rediscovered relatives in Bangor who came to see us off. Gilly, Fred, Mike and Sarah who came the next weekend and joined us for a trip down to Caernarfon and waved us off (literally) into the sunset. Thanks to Twm and Jan for the champagne reception on Aberdaron beach and the barbeque after, and Rob and Margo who came to see us in Padstow.

One last little story, we found we had a chart of the French coast missing and realised we had to delay a day and go and buy one. Bob happened to be talking to a sweet French girl in a dinghy and she pootled by five minutes later with a load of CD’s. Turned out she was a software engineer and she installed all the charts for France on our laptop. She wizzed through how to use them and Neil R. – we even had the position of our boat up on the screen. ‘So now you have the chart for tomorrow’ she beamed and left us without a clue how to use it, dinasaurs that we are.

25th July 2004

The sun came out eventually over Biscay and the wind increased and gave us a lovely sail for the rest of the trip. We’re in Gijon and it’s hot hot hot. There’s a traditional festival on and we spent last night touring the town and seafront on our bicycles. I love people watching in Spain in the evenings as whole families turn out for a stroll and last night was Saturday and people were out dressed in their finest and celebrating. The bars had sawdust stewn on the floors and were serving local cider in bottles which I saw people pouring from a great height into the glass, often about three feet, and spattering themselves and everyone else. Of course we had to try it.

  Jobs jobs jobs...

It’s not all plain sailing, living on board – Kay and Pete, Will and Kate, you’ll be wondering, because you know. It’s a small space and everything has to be put away and it’s all in lockers or under cushions, great when we’re sailing, but when we’re trying to do a job we’re constantly lifting cushions and delving into cubbyholes and the thing we want is always at the back. Something breaks at least every other day, quite often it’s us who’ve caused it. I sat on my glasses two days ago, Bob spent most of yesterday trying to fix a leak on the heads. Everything takes twice as long as on land, the launderette is a km away, etc. etc. When bad things happen we get despondent, but it’s a life of great contrasts and the next day’s sail is invigorating and all is forgotten. We’re enjoying it, and that solves everything.

Northern Spain to Southern Spain with Portugal in between

24th August 2004


Blimey it’s hot. We’re in a marina in Ayamonte, part-way up the Guadiana river that divides Portugal and Southern Spain. Yesterday we made a huge canopy for Yanina out of two sheets to provide shade - a slightly more

complicated version of den-making. In the last month we’ve rounded two capes – Finisterre and St Vincent and we’ve now stopped for a few days to work out what we’re doing next.


From Gijon in Northern Spain, we had to get to La Coruna on July 30th to meet Lawrence. He became a flying chandlery as we ordered a heads pump kit to be delivered to his house along with various other things we needed. We haven’t got beyond ordering meals and shopping in Spanish and it was easier ordering from England by phone or internet, than trying to find the one English-speaking Spanish dealer who just happens to be having a siesta.


Lawrence was with us for three weeks and Midge joined us for the last two. They’ve been brilliant helping us sail a long distance and we’ve had a lot of fun. We miss you both. And there’s nobody to do our shopping for us.


We sailed overnight to La Coruna along the North Spanish coast. In the early morning we came into the first of the Spanish Rias and anchored in a deserted bay with a sandy beach. There was a wooded island close by, straight out of the Swallows and Amazons stories. We had a sleep, and woke up surrounded by four or five yachts - ah well. Early the next morning when we weighed our anchor, we found that one yacht had crossed over it. As we hauled, we came closer and closer until we were virtually knocking on his cabin door. That gave him a shock.


We’ve been to La Coruna before -  it is as yet is still unspoilt by tourism and is a traditional old Spanish town. We took Lawrence on a tapas crawl – a glass of wine and a dish of something, and then move on.

We cycled back to the boat – three tipsy people on two bikes – hmmm.


Our next challenge was to travel along the last bit of northern coast and then round Cape Finisterre where the weather is often stormy - another bit of land that dares to stick out into the sea. By contrast, for us, the sea had a glassy swell and we had to motor a lot of the time. We were also plagued by fog and missed seeing the landscape. We saw the Cape though. It looked like a sleeping giant with a big soft cloud sitting over it. We anchored in Finisterre and it was grey and raining. Reminded us of England.


The next day was a total contrast sailing into Ria Muros and into sunshine. The Rias are very wide river estuaries in Galicia on the North West Spanish coast. and Muros was the smallest and prettiest. There is something peaceful and idyllic about spending a few days pootling up a river. We have felt it in Milford Haven and in Falmouth. Someone said you could spend a whole summer in the Rias and I believe them.

 A large part of Ria Mura dries out to a huge sandbank at low tide, so we took the dinghy and sandwiches and made a trip up river. The plan was to check the river bottom at a place where the pilot book said you could dry out, and if it looked firm, come back at high tide with Yanina, bolt on her legs, and settle down upright onto the sand. One leg has steps on it, so you can climb down off the boat. We could then walk into a picturesque old town – reaching the parts that other boats can’t reach! We had a plan of the sandbank and the GPS with us and it was no mean feat to negotiate our way round it. When we finally got to the bay the sand was mixed with mud and our feet sank into holes – we were glad we checked it out, not really looking forward to leaning over in the mud as the tide went out.


We met Midge in the next Ria de Arosa, and from then on, the weather started to behave and we had a favourable winds for sailing. More importantly, with the support of two experienced sailors, we were able to start acting as if we were on a holiday and not a delivery trip. For the next few days we enjoyed sailing in the Ria, anchoring off beaches, swimming, them we headed out to Islas de Cies, spectacular islands that are joined by an isthmus.

They are a nature reserve but the isthmus is a national park with a camping area. The two sides of the islands are a total contrast, the Eastern side with beaches and a turquoise sea and the Atlantic side with jagged rocks and breaking waves. We anchored off a quiet bay, fringed with aromatic eucalyptus and pine trees.

                                                                                        Islas de Cies

The wind rose the next day, but we only had a short trip to Baiona, or so we thought. Great sailing weather, 25 knots of wind at one point and we were screaming along. Baiona has a fringe of rocks – los Serralleiros. As we left the shelter of the islands there was a huge Atlantic swell. The sea was pounding on the rocks which looked like foaming jaws and we were tacking round them, watching them with fascination, until Bob realised we were slipping sideways towards them. Hero that he is, he started the engine and we gradually pulled away, back onto our course. Exciting or what.


In Baiona we were shorebound for three days of wind and rain – but it was warm rain and Baiona is a sweet town. Our  next leg was to be 225 miles to Lisbon which would take us two days and we wanted to be sure of the weather. There were several boats wanting to do the same trip; like the lone sailor who’d been anchored for a fortnight waiting for the perfect wind, he would row over to get the weather forecast every day and walk back along the pontoons shaking his head and lamenting to anybody who’d listen; or the three couples who had parties on their biggest yacht – ‘what’s the hurry?…you’re going too fast… have another glass;’ Or the spouse with the haunted look who doesn’t like lumpy seas; If you stay too long you start to get ‘marina-bound’ and jump every time the wind whistles.


When we set off there was a big swell. We’d all been enjoying cooking meals on board and becoming more ambitious as time went on, cooking an extravaganza in rolling seas was an additional challenge, but no one backed down. Having Midge and Lawrence sharing a 4 hour watch meant we had 8 hours off which was luxury to us. It was a safe trip, we motored, then the swell died down and we sailed. At night the heavens put on their finest display yet with galaxies and shooting stars, a sliver of waning moon with it’s dark side, yet still creating a strong path of light across the sea.

We came into Cascais at 9am, which was 8am in Portugal, and took the train to Lisbon for the day.


View of Lisbon from a rooftop bar


It was noticeably hotter than Spain, and baking hot in the city. We set off the next day to round Cape St Vincent, another overnight trip, and ran into fog which was chilling and wet. So many contrasts. At sunrise we rounded the Cape and sailed to Lagos where we anchored off a beach for a while before going into the marina.

 The Algarve seldom suffers from Atlantic swell and the summer weather is consistently good with fair winds for sailing. The coast is mainly low lying with estuaries and lagoons. There are towns and resorts, but there are also miles and miles of empty yellow sandy beaches. Portuguese seafood is great, and you can get wine for less than 1 Euro per litre. The sailing and the cooking just got better and better. Midge and I drew many parallels with Swallows and Amazons, Enid Blyton and Girl Guiding.


Every stop provided something different, like Alvor where we shared a hidden anchorage with a customs boat that went out at dead of night, it’s searchlights glaring; or the anchorage where someone went aground and we watched their mast lean and lean until it got dark; or the lagoon with the difficult pilotage where a strong wind suddenly came and threatened to blow us aground. When we anchored, a guy appeared on the yacht behind us shouting ‘Hey Yanina, I hef feefty meetres of chain oot’, meaning ‘don’t park near me or I’ll swing round and clout your boat’, but really meaning, ‘don’t park next to my boat’. ‘Good’, we replied. There are several versions of this approach and we’ve heard them a lot now - we’re becoming veterans.


22nd September 2004


It’s late September and we really should be………………in Tunisia? In Ayamonte we wrote an ambitious programme to get us there by September 23rd which involved several overnight passages, and included a trip home to see Mother. We got as far as here and all I can say is it felt right to stay. Almerimar has a reputation as a base for cruisers to overwinter their yachts and there is a community of people who all liveaboad. It’s a peaceful, attractive marina with a backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains, there’s a pool, beaches, a golfing hotel - oh and most important, it’s really cheap. We hummed and haahed and booked for a month, and it still feels right. And it turns out it was also a wise move. The weather is more unpredictable in September and as I write there are gales in the Balearic Islands and strong wind warnings for Sardinia and Tunisia.


We left Ayamonte on August 27th. It’s two miles up the Ria Guadiana which is also the border between Portugal and Southern Spain. There isn’t much tide off the coast but upriver it was necessary to plan the right time to avoid strong currents and sandbanks, so of course we had to leave at 1am. It was a relief to be moving after the still heat of Ayamonte and there was a full moon to guide us through the maze of buoys and sandbanks at the entrance to the river.


We arrived at Cadiz later that afternoon. It’s a huge bay and a busy port which took a couple of hours for us toget across. There are three marinas and we plumped for Santa Maria, the cheapest but more attractive sounding and as a bonus, found it had a swimming pool. The next day we crossed over to Puerto America which is on the edge of the old town and spent the day cycling all round it. It was still really hot. We’d wanted to go to Seville but were warned not to go in August because of the heat. Also to Jerez, which you recommended, Lynn K. I’ll have to look, but maybe we could do a trip from here when the weather is cooler.


Barbate was our next stop and a staging post on the passage to Gibraltar. As we came in we looked back and saw yacht Paprika for the third time. As we were dropping the mainsail outside the harbour wall, they nipped in front of us and got onto the waiting pontoon first. Of course, we weren’t racing anyway (were we, Rob?). Sailors Rob and Brenda invited us on board for a consolation drink once we were moored up and we staggered back to our boat at 2am after a really fun evening. This became a pattern that repeated itself everytime we met up with them, 4am being the latest. We agreed to sail in tandem the next day as the currents in the straits of Gibraltar can be difficult and beware wind against tide – remember that one? We were supposed to have the wind abaft the beam for a nice sail with the current carrying us through, but it turned out to be head to wind but fortunately not strong. So we motorsailed. I have to record here that Paprika found it difficult to keep up with our Mercedes 36HP engine, it would have been a different matter if we had been sailing but it was nice to be the faster boat for a change.


The coast was obscured by mist so we couldn’t see very much and when we came into Gibraltar we couldn’t see anything. Large ships emerged from the fog, their horns blaring mournfully and, panicking, we headed for a cardinal marker that we could at least see, until we realised the ships were all anchored! However, the Transmediterraneo ferry decided to bear down on us at about 20 knots. Imagine trying to push a pram across the M6 and you’ll understand the feeling. It was reassuring to be in contact with Paprika via the VHF radio and be able to discuss all this with them until we were safely into harbour.


Gibraltar has the feel of the last bastion of the British Empire. We saw several men sporting white shirts, shorts and socks complete with tie, and it has many British shops including Marks and Spencer. The town itself offers mainly duty free clothes, jewellery, tobacco and alcohol, but it is a crossroads for boats heading across the Atlantic or into the Mediterranean and dockside life can be very cosmopolitan. It also has the Rock which we took a day to see. Up a cable car, and the views across to North Africa are stunning. Walk along the top and the Barbary apes that live there are cute and entertaining as they travel in little families. They are also quite streetwise and have learned to recognise that bags, hats and sandwiches are eminently snatchable and they can dive onto someone’s head and shoulder without warning. We visited the caves which were full of magnificent stalactites and stalagmites. The biggest chamber has a stage and seating, and is used as an auditorium and concert hall. The whole rock is a huge limestone structure, totally at odds with it’s surroundings.


That evening we started singing to Bob’s guitar and improvised a very creditable rendition of ‘Queensway Blues’ -

that being the name of the Marina. We were moored up next to quite a large motorsailer and were joined by Yvan and friend who were crewing.– I think that was the 4am finish.  Encouraged, Bob and I have been practising duets with guitar and the clarinet that I’ve had since school, have you still got yours Anne - fellow sufferer of clarinet lessons?


Coming out of Gibraltar and round the rock, we encountered some interesting windshifts that kept us busy, then they died away, and the wind died too, and we motored in a rather lumpy sea. The landscape started to change as the majestic mountains of southern Spain came into view. This stretch has very nice beaches and hence, large resorts, but there is very little anchoring overnight as it is quite exposed. We chose Benalmadena marina as our stop as we were meeting Dee, Les and Olivia who were on holiday there. The next day five people came down to Yanina and we had a charter party. The weather up till now had been hot and sunny, but this day it decided to be dull with one or two showers, so forget the anchoring off the beach and getting out the dinghy, but we had a good sail over to Malaga and back with just the right amount of wind on the beam and lunch on board. We then went back to Dee and Les’s place in the hills and spent our first night in a bed since early June. They really spoilt us and we really appreciated the contrast to our spartan way of life.


Along the coast to Motril, which is a working port, but the pilot book said there was a friendly yacht club and you could use the facilities there. Not only were we shooed away and told to anchor out, but when we took our dinghy over we were refused entry to the club. At 1am someone came over in a launch and said there was a big ship due to go out and we were in the way. We ignored them and nothing happened, but we shot away at first light. At least it was free.


On to Almerimar, where we’d planned to stay for a few days and go to Granada to see the Alhambra palaces and the Sacramento caves where the gypsies lived and danced flamenco. This was the third day of little wind, rolly seas and the wind was from behind, which meant motorsailing with constant diesel fumes and we were ready for a break. The Alhambra is beautiful and we had tickets at 8.30am which meant we were through in the cool of the day before the coach tours came. We spent two days in a student hostel with a swimming pool on the roof and walked to the town of Granada in the evenings. At this time we began to discuss staying in Almerimar. We’d both been thinking along the same lines. We had a long way to go to Tunisia and an ideal place to stop was staring us in the face. We could winter here and do the trip to Tunisia in the spring.

                                                      Generalife gardens, Alhambra, Granada


So here we are settling in and hibernating. Yanina is decorated with sun awnings, washing line, hosepipe. We are linked into shore power and can run an electric fan, sewing machine, computer, CD player, fridge. First we did some spreadsheets of our finances and guess what, we’ve been spending too much. Now we have a list of jobs to do and things to fit on Yanina. We start in the morning but it quickly gets hot and we have a siesta. We do our washing on board in a bucket because it’s fun and cools us down. We usually eat on board in the evenings and then practise our music. We are getting to know so many people that walking anywhere takes ages as you’re always meeting someone. There’s a cruiser’s net on the VHF every day which tells of social events, items for sale and who wants a car lift. etc. We’re planning to paint and write. We can still go sailing – just for fun this time.

Overwintering notes

Hello, Bob writing for a change,


Here’s my take on the cruising life in winter, as we lurk in the marina, hiding from the slightest breeze, and gradually turning the boat into a floating des. res. You know people are marina-bound when you see the pot plants appearing on deck. We haven’t reached this stage (yet).


We arrived in Almerimar in early September. We were planning to carry on to Tunisia, but getting here became a natural break. We’d had three days of motoring with the wind behind us, sending diesel fumes into the cockpit, so it was nice when that stopped. Also, the momentum of the trip was broken by a visit to Granada and the Alhambra, and Liz’s trip to see her mother, and the prospect of a series of long overnight passages to the Balearics, Sardinia, and Tunisia made us realise that this wasn’t such a bad place to be for the winter.


The marina is about 30 km west of Almeria, set in a flat coastal plain with a backdrop of hills (the Alpuharras) and mountains beyond (the Sierra Nevada) rising to about 10000 ft. This is the driest part of the Andalucian coast, and the landscape is semi-desert. Most of the plain however is completely covered in plastic greenhouses, growing melons, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc for the supermarkets of Northern Europe. The effect is of a greeny grey sea of plastic spreading as far as the eye can see, although it isn’t visible at all from the marina. Even further up the slopes of the distant hills you can see individual greenhouses punctuating the landscape like giant cobwebs. Having got over the initial shock, I find it fascinating the way the plastic defines the shape of the land. I keep photographing it and may have a go at doing some painting (we have watercolours, acrylic and oil paints on board!).


The greenhouses and the hydroponics/growbags growing system were apparently originally set up by the Dutch (who else?), but the land and the greenhouses are owned by local Spanish whose parents were probably at subsistence level, but who are now becoming increasingly wealthy. Mercedes, Porsches, big 4WD’s are commonplace. The nearest town is El Ejido. 4 or 5 years ago it was a village, but which is growing rapidly, having brand new boulevards, town hall and square (still being finished), commercial centre, hospital and, directly in line of sight of your hospital bed, a crematorium. The El Ejidans come down to the marina every Sunday morning to parade their Sunday cars, take a look at the craft/flea market (of which more later), then have a leisurely family lunch at a restaurant in the afternoon.


The Alpujarras offer a different perspective on the greenhouses. A friend joined us last week and we drove up into the hills, looking back to see the entire ‘sea’ spread out before us, gleaming in the sun. The hills are a different matter; rows of olive trees and terracing punctuate the landscape in a more ancient way, and as you round a bend on the narrow twisty road you come across one of the ‘white villages’ tumbling down across a hillside. From the hills you look down onto a kind of ‘badlands’ area of eroded rock and shale, again semi-desert with just scrub and wild herbs growing. Further east above Almeria is in fact the area where Sergio Leone made Clint Eastwood a star, making them both a fistful of dollars along the way. The sets have been turned into ‘Mini Hollywood’, where for 17 euros you can witness a bank robbery and shootout any day of the week, then have a drink in the bar with the cowboys.


Back down in the marina, there are no shootouts, in fact it’s rather like being in an English village but with a number of other nationalities thrown in for good measure. There are about a thousand boats here in three bays (darsenas) and each darsena is lined with apartments and a few shops, bars and restaurants. There are a lot of Brits on boats and in apartments, but other nationalities living on board include Dutch, French, German, Scandinavian, and even one Czech boat. Social life has been organised by the longer-term residents, so each week there is a pub quiz, a boules contest, a pool evening in one of the bars, Spanish for beginners at another. News of this social activity is broadcast every morning at 10.00 in the Cruisers Net on the VHF radio. One person introduces and co-ordinates it and everybody else chips in. Answers are provided to such questions as: Can anyone with a sewing machine mend a rip in my genoa? (yes, we have Liz’s old sewing machine on board) What time is the bus to El Ejido? Who can give me a lift to the airport? Has anyone got a gasket for a Sur-flo bilge pump? Who wants to buy my spinnaker pole? And so on. And Tuesday’s celebrity Net Co-ordinator is yours truly, so I think we’ve made it to the Establishment.


Apart from Spanish of course, the other nationality most evident is Russian. None on boats but they wander around the darsenas, often in the form of tall blonde girls with too much makeup. And sure enough, we discover that they are available for about 40 euros an hour or 200 for the night. Well, at least they’re not on their feet all day.

We are offering another form of entertainment too, and certainly a lot cheaper. We formed a band from the people who turned up for a jam session in one of the bars. Hard on the ears but great fun.

 I mentioned the Sunday morning market, and this is where we have come into our own, almost by accident.To backtrack, we won the first pub quiz we attended, thus ensuring we had to organise it for the next week. I decided to do a ‘spot the difference’ cartoon based on an over-full marina with boats jammed in at every conceivable angle, and with the names of real boats in it. This went down a storm with the yachties, and someone suggested basing a Christmas card on it. From this beginning we now have four different cartoons in the form of Christmas cards, birthday cards and postcards all printed at the internet café and in any language the customer wants, and we have a stall on the Sunday market, where people buy the cards six at a time. It’s keeping us busy but it’s starting to get a bit too much like work. Peter, our German friend who came to stay, started talking about ‘defining our marketing channels’ and getting quotes from commercial printers, so watch this space.


 Our market stall

 Meanwhile, although the weather has cooled down a lot and become a bit more unpredictable, we still found ourselves sunbathing on the beach yesterday afternoon after a morning manning the market stall in the hot sun. Can’t complain...