Friday, October 21, 2011

The Three Out of Four Mornings Exercise Troop

The Three Mornings Out of Four Women's Exercise Troop
save for Maggie who has the camera
Seven a.m.

Connie climbs out of the V berth and quietly dresses in the salon.  In the icy cool of the pitch black morning she makes her way to the bow of our 38 foot sailboat and climbs down to the ground using the cross piece on the anchor for a foothold.

From my redoubt in the bow, under warm soft sheets and down comforter, I hear the troop of women marching in synchronized determination as they exercise their way to the front  of our boat.  As the troop passes Connie falls into her assigned spot usually beside Fumi, the Japanese grandmother from Foxglove, and quickly picking up the rhythm of the her troopmates  she moves off in lockstep with the Three Mornings Out of Four Women's Exercise Group.  Not a word has been spoken.

Two hours later she returns, face showing the physical strain of her morning's exertions.  Quietly she sits, picks up her kindle and without a further word, reads the morning's Toronto Star.  She rarely moves for the ensuing two hours.

Led by Maggie from Waterhobo a group of eight boating wives subject themselves to rigorous physical workout for three mornings in a row.  One day is allowed off and then they do three more days.  It is a little paramilitary group.

Paqui Cooks Her Own Sausage with Excessive Delight
While Mary Belle Uses the Flame for Something Less Symbolic
After hours, which means any time the group is not exercising, they go to the market, get together on one or another boats for drinks and dinners and generally live live to the full.

Fumi, Mary Jesus, Maggie and Terry at Market
Last Wednesday the group went to a local market returning with olives, fruit and fresh everything.  Copious amounts of liquor were consumed that left most of them next morning  burdened with  substantial hangovers.  Not that any hangover would be permitted to interfere with a workout.

Membership in the group is not limited to women, at least not by any stated rule.  One man attended one morning session but never made the second morning.  "It's like childbirth" my wife explains "It Hurts.  Men Aren't Interested".  

For once we agree.

The group is bound by no discernable common thread.  One is English only, another near so, one is near Japanese only, three are Spanish speaking only.  Not all have children.  

As you can see despite the near military degree of organization and commitment at work in the group they enjoy a full measure of fun.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Serendipitous Money Making. Cheap Car Rentals and VPNs.

2011 10 20
Almerimar Artificial Urbanity, 20 km outside Almeria, Spain

Serendipity: The ability to make accidental and beneficial discoveries while searching for something unrelated.

For the first time since leaving North America we are enjoying respectable internet service, courtesy of Sonimar Telecom, a local ISP.

Naturally as soon as you have internet you have issues that need working around.  This time I found a few North American websites would not let me log on because I was in Europe.  Sites like (and I will not identify the sites I was visiting) Hulu only provide service to US Americans.  Europeans and Canadians are not permitted to use the service.

When you log onto the WWW you are assigned a unique address called an IP address.  This address contains enough information that people who know how can trace you back to the country, city, street and building you are sitting in.  By now they can probably figure out what table at Starbucks you are sitting while you sip latte and catch up your emails.

It is possible to mislead these WWW snoopers using a service called a VPN.  If you do not already know what that stands for you don't worry, you don't need to know.  (VIrtual Private Network)

Using a VPN service provider you trick people into thinking you are in a different place than you really are.  When you access the WWW through a VPN service the VPN makes the other users on the WWW think you are in the country where the VPN service provider is.  This is way cool.

Here is how it made me money:

The BC and I want to rent a car to tour Spain from our post in Almerimar.  The best deal we could find on the internet was a two week rental for €320 plus insurance and VAT plus €3 a day if we wanted a second driver plus all sorts of other financial ugliness.  Speaking of ugly you should have seen the car that was on offer.

This was a bit pricey and we were disappointed.

However it turns out that the price was only that high because the car rental company thought we were in Spain.  Friends on Waterhobo, another Toronto boat, had friends who got a much better price with the same company when they booked their car in Canada.

Enter the VPN.  I was already using a VPN to make the WWW think I was in Canada so I could access certain sites backhome.  I logged onto the WWW through my VPN service provider and arranged an address that made everyone on the WWW think I was physically in the USA, land of competition.  Oh My God.

When it was bidding for my business believing me to be in the USA the same car rental that wanted to rent me the tiny ugly but super  car for €350 plus plus plus now would rent me a car for $150 (note dollars not euros) with all insurance included and second driver free.  This was a 60 per cent discount.

Now that my friends was serendipitous.

VPN: give it a good hard look.  It is an easy service to use.  Try out a few service providers before you commit.  I am using OpenVPN and recommend it.  I am not receiving payment from OpenVPN it just works for me.

If I were Spanish I might be less than sanguine about the fact my local car rental company charges me double what it charges an American.

And I am not even American, the WWW just thinks I am.

ps  Using a VPN gives you a host of other special benefits - like greatly enhanced privacy.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Playing Solitaire 'Till Dawn...

2011 10 18
Almerimar, Almeria, Spain

Yesterday afternoon the quiet little german fellow in the boat beside us sat down in his cockpit, about 1:30 pm, and began to trim his toenails.

Last night, 7:00 pm., as we left our boat to go find someone to drink with, he was still at it, filing away.

Not until this morning did it occur to me that this might have been a bit odd.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Other People's Trying Times

Here was the perfect post from Canadian friends on a cat which gives a sense of how cruising changes your attitude towards sailing and type A behaviour.  This livewire couple are headed from Culahtra toSeville:

Hi Bob

Well, we aimed to leave out the east end of Culahtra first thing in the morning on an ebbing tide. We almost made it, but then decided to take a nice coffee break on a private little sandy island. Well, it became an island about half an hour after we beached on it. And then we were joined by a couple of tourist boats who also wanted a day trip to a deserted island.

So by the time we got going again it was a bit later in the day. We headed for Ayamonte. Then we read about the tides in the morning and decided that would be a pain if we were to get going early. So then we headed for Tavira, but came to the same conclusion about that. So then we did a trial anchor just outside Tavira and concluded it was fine. And the wind had picked up with a nice sea breeze, so we decided we would sail another three hours down the coast and anchor off the beach outside of the Guardiana river.

Then tomorrow we will head for Bonanza and see if we make it before dark....

Man do I love anyone, even in a cat, who would try to leave Culahtra via the eastern gap.  And on a falling tide!!!  Fantastic.

And look at all the friends you made.

What Do You Do About a Problem Like Almeria

2011 10 14
Almeriamar Marina just outside Almeria Spain

From our Anchorage Last Night
at Castell del Ferro

After three weeks the Levant winds out of the east have died down.  Finding a five day windless window we took off from Alcaidesa Marina in La Linea.  For reasons given below we do not recommend ever taking your boat to this marina.  Next time, if there is one, we will go to Gibraltar.

The south coast of Spain becomes quite mountainous and provides a fabulous daytime viewing opportunity and equally fabulous anchorages at night.  Leaving La Linea several hours late on the 12th we were hard pressed to make our planned destination in available daylight. Late in the day however we received an unexpected boost from some errant current and all lost time was made up and then some.  We continued past our planned anchorage and dropped hook off the beach at Fuengirola about ten minutes before sundown.

This anchorage was unprotected from all directions but the ocean was flat, winds were calm and the forecast called for more of the same.  It was a marvellous night.

When we get to Almeria we want to rent a car
and drive the road you just see here
Next day we were underway at sunrise,  eight o'clock en punta.  This was another great day with mountains for view and dead calm seas.  Only two hours produced wind worth motor sailing in but we motorsailed them both.  Since leaving the Bay of Cadiz we have travelled with only the fifty gallon tank of water, leaving the one hundred gallon forward tank empty.  Our fuel economy is way up as a result.

The Craggy Face of Our Protector from the Sea
Castell del Ferro as we enter the space
Intending on anchoring at Motril, just outside the marina last night we again were visited with a strange boost of speed as the sun settled low in the sky.  We happily passed by Motril which looked sort of grungy and then gave a pass to Cabo Sacratif, pictured above, and Calahonda which was occupied by another boat.  Just as sun was touching horizon we made it to Castell del Ferro and anchored in a charming cutout from the rocks with no other boats.  We slept like babies just 200 metres off the beach and 200 metres off the rock cliff.

Exploring Along the South Coast of Spain

Almerimar is where we tie up for our return to Canada for Christmas and reunion with family and friends.  There will not be a lot of posts until our return at the end of January.

From here we explore inland Spain with a list of places we want to see that we know we cannot fulfill.  Willing to die trying however.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Last Post

2011 10 10
La Linea, Spain

The Airport at Gibraltar - Note the Intersection
thanks to wikipaedia

Gibraltar is all that is left of the British Empire.  Visiting here has been a priority with Meredith.

Behind the Light is the Runway
The absolute best part of Gib, as the locals call it, is getting in.  From our in La Linea the border between Spain and Gib is a five minute walk.  To get from Spain to Gib walk across the border.  This takes twenty seconds and in that time you are vetted by Spanish Immigration and UK immigration.  Then you get to the fun bit.

I caught this jet taking off
traffic on the intersecting street (at the top) is stopped at a
traffic light
Leaving immigration control you encounter an intersection with traffic signals.  The cool bit is that the street with which you are intersecting is the runway for the international airport.  When a jet is taking off the lights stop all ground traffic from crossing the runway so the jet has a clear path.

These Little Fellows are Protected.  Rumour has it
when the Macaques Leave Gibraltar so will the British

After this things are a bit mundane. You go up the mountain, get the usual cursory introduction to the three year seige of Gib by the Spanish, look at some caves and tunnels, watch some macaques void their bowels on your tour bus and return to walk around the ubiquitous narrow winding streets full of overpriced shops.  Arriving back at the boat you are happy to have been to Gibraltar but are quizzical as to what happened to all your enthusiasm.

Shopping On a Gibraltar Street inside the Fort
The Fortification sheltering the Tourist Shops
from Attack - all real business is done downtown.
Prices here are crippling.  Thirty Seven Dollars for two burgers with a side of fries and a diet coke at a nondescript cafe.  We are not sure what was ground up to make the tasty patties but suspect it was horse.  For sure it did not come from any part of a cow. The electronics stores, reputedly source of great tax free bargains, were charging more in pounds than any American retailer would ever charge in dollars for the same item.

Walking through Morrisons, a big UK grocery chain, we found prices ranging from thirty to four hundred percent higher than their Spanish equivalent.  You wonder why the Gibbers don't just drive to Spain and buy their groceries and wine for half the price.

Which is what we are going to do today. We can't afford to buy British.

Sands of the Kara Korum - All Over My Boat

2011 10 10
Thanksgiving Day

La Linea, Spain 

One of our solar panels pictured at 8 am this morning
was cleaned yesterday at 8 am
and yes I know that the sand did not likely come from the Kara Korum but
it was a good book and I liked the title
Windy, dark and overcast, today is perfect weather for celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving.  Even though we are still wearing shorts we imagine ourselves back home walking in the fallen leaves, the slate sky pregnant with rain and the wind in your face.  A good day for a long walk along the railway right of way preferably with a good dog.  Even a bad dog would be welcome.

For near on three weeks Gibraltar/La Linea have been under the influence of a Levant,a steady strong wind out of the east carrying Mediterranean humidity and Saharan sand to be deposited on the suspecting but helpless citizens of Gib and outlying areas.  Each day begins with us washing from our solar panels the patina of sun blocking corrosive grit which each night knits itself into a continuous cover over each panel.

For the last two months I have grown highly appreciative of the air filter on our diesel for it is clear that every breath of this atmosphere is full of death for mechanical systems.

Maintenance is a critical function here in the Med: Washing out grit and relubricating blocks, winches, slides, anything that rubs on anything else in performing its duty for the boat.  Lots of work, lots of grease.  

It does no good to just add more lubricant to old lubricant which is contaminated with sand.  You have to remove the old and replace it with new.

A constant ritual of inspecting, cleaning, oiling, inspecting...

Friday, October 7, 2011

Africa Off the Starboard Beam

2011 10 07

Algecaidesa Marina, La Linea, Spain

So Hercules, Is That One of Your Pillars or
Are You Just Glad to See Me
The View from Our Cockpit, La Linea
The forecast proved accurate and we woke this morning to no wind.  Eager to get going we left a couple of hours before all the fearmongers told us we should.  Because we were going from West to East this was no big deal and we were not set too badly.  It is only fifteen miles from Tarifa to Gibraltar.

A huge body of old wives tales exists about how difficult it is to sail through Gibraltar and how and when transits should be undertaken.  Prior to departing we had been fully briefed in how bad the winds would be and how strong the currents were and of all the rules we needed to follow to have even a hope of making it through.

We woke up, weighed anchor and set off.  Our departure was completed at low tide, one of the conditions we were told never ever to try.  Sometimes you want to find out for yourself.  I hate being afraid of something I have not experienced first hand.

It was a nonevent.  With the wind absent yesterday's unpleasant choppy seas were gone.  Our transit was glorious and the adverse tidal flow set us about a knot.

It was impossible not to be aware that all firmament off our starboard side was  Africa and we are very energized at the opportunity we have to visit some of those exotic locations: Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel and Turkey.  This excites us.

Picking our way through the hordes of large freighters anchored in the protected waters off Gibraltar we could not help staring in delight at The Rock.  Meredith is  berthed at Alcaidesa Marina, a brand new facility where we are paying €8.50 per night for dock, electric and water.

Our dock is five minutes from the border between Spain and Gibraltar.  You have seen our backyard view above.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


2011 10 06

Tarifa, Cadiz, Spain
Right at the Straits of Gibraltar

The view from Meredith at anchor>
Tarifa in the Foreground
One of Hercules Pillars in the Back

We onboard Meredith are definitely buzzed.

Setting off from Cadiz early this morning we motored into a stiff breeze to Tarifa, about 50 nautical miles.  Tarifa is a tiny point of land just at the western boundary  of the Straits of Gibraltar.

Fifty miles into the wind makes for a long day so we quit when we got here and anchored off the beach just to the west of a breakwater at Tarifa.

To transit the Straits we want to run about three hours ahead of high tide.  Normal flow of water is from Atlantic into the Mediterranean which surprised us.

Tomorrow the forecast wind is nil.  That sounds like a good day to travel.  We are off at dawn's first light (0830 local time) which will see us suffer some set from tide but nothing unbearable.  Luck with us we will be in La Linea by noon ready for a day of sightseeing in Gibraltar.  If the wind is still up then we sit in Tarifa until conditions permit.

Totally in awe but still smug, we remain,

Curmudgeon and the BC

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mistake in Cadiz; A Win in Puerto Sherry; Attending Church in Spain

2011 10 05
Puerto Sherry, Bay of Cadiz, Spain

Once again I find myself stripping the photos from the blog because the only available internet will not support the bandwidth necessary to upload.  This is endemic on the south coast of Europe and is getting to be a real pain.  We are in a marina which advertises internet.  Live every other marina we have been in since and including the Azores the marina at Puerto Sherry simply fails to deliver.  We spent time at the University of Sevilla while in that city and were disturbed to find no wifi on campus and worse no not one student carrying a laptop or using a smartphone or ipad or whatever.  Not one.  This is a society unplugged and thus underinformed.

Yesterday Meredith moved from Bonanza just inside the Rio Guadalquivir to the Bay of Cadiz.  Moved is the term, not sailed, for there was no wind to speak of and even the whispers were on the nose. Still it was uneventful and pleasant except for the incessant circling of our boat by Coast Guard and Aduana boats operating under the aegis of Spain.  A lot of Europe's trade with Morroco in illicit substances is conducted along this shore and authorities were flying the flag and creating huge wake as they did so.

Arriving in the Bay of Cadiz we were faced with multiple anchorages and marina choices: Rota, Puerto Sherry, Puerto de Santa Maria or Cadiz.  Having read bad reviews of anchoring possibilities in Cadiz and Rota we stroked them off the list deciding to visit Cadiz by ferry if at all.  Our fuel was low and no fuel had been available at Gelves or at the marinas we passed on the Guadiana.  Dipping the tank gave me a reading of ten gallons or so with five gallons more on deck.

Not every Spanish marina has fuel and many that do have only gasoline.  Puerto Sherry was reported to have diesel.

The reports were sound but had failed to mention the fuel was priced at €1.35 a litre which is a pretty decent price around here.  On the way into the fuel dock we scoped out the anchorage , a pocket of water lying between the beach and a breakwater.  It seemed decent enough an anchorage but it was open to the south west (the breakwater is intended to protect the river from waves from the southwest and we would be anchoring on the Southwest side of the barrier).  If the wind or sea changed direction there would be an unpleasant swell.

The marina at Puerto Sherry is bounded on its south limit with a seaside condo development which has been abandoned in midconstruction.  Completed units are quite striking and the dozens of skeletons of partially constructed multistory homes are not unattractive except for what they say about the economy.  This is the Spanish housing bust we have heard of.

Done with fueling we walked over to the marina office to check on rates for an overnight stay and found offseason rates kicked in on October 1.  It would costs €14 a night with water and electric.  We are here for three nights.  Cheap fuel,  cheap marina.  Big win for the Meredith.

From Puerto Sherry it is about a 3.5 kilometre walk to the ferry dock where we would catch the ferry to Cadiz.

If you wish to avoid the long walk then you can choose to run up to Puerto Santa Maria where there is a Club Nautico.  Like all things written in French when you see a Club Nautico you know it will be expensive, twice the cost of Puerto Sherry.  It is also closer to the city, has its own pool and snooty guard staff (they asked me to leave the buggers) and seems a good choice for marina if you have the dough.  Anchoring off Puerto de Santa Maria does not look inviting even if it is allowed. A large building with tall fences and razor wire runs along the river and that sort of says military or police.  If so anchoring will not be permitted.

Today we took the ferry to Cadiz.

After eight days in Seville Cadiz was a disappointment.  This really is the ugly sister.  Cadiz has crashed.  It was intent on becoming a seaport of significance but the attempt has failed.  The citizenry are without work.  Planners are desperately trying to create a tourist industry.  And that is the problem.  Planners.

Cadiz downtown is all nice and pretty (if you ignore the soaring container cranes and offshore oil rigs being constructed right there) and ridiculously expensive.  There are a few old buildings and every one has an admission fee.  If you have not seen the Cathedral of Seville you might think the Cathedral in Cadiz to be grand.  The "old city", that collection of narrow windy streets that European cities all strut about having, is so small in Cadiz as to be perambulated in less than a day.

Sevillanos would laugh derisively about Cadiz' claim to its old city without ever wondering if having a bigger collection of tiny disfunctional streets might not necessarily be a good thing.

So desperate is the city for tourist dollars that they have removed almost all the benches from the old city so the only place you can sit is at a cafe.  And there of course you pay.  Twice what we paid even in the most pretentious neighbourhoods of Seville.

Cadiz does have a lot of churches and some of the less ostentious are quite charming.  Since arriving in Spain I have spent more time in church than in my entire life before coming to Spain.  Pictures are not taken because I am a guest in church not a belonger and it would be impolite.  Except at the Cathedral of Spain where I did take photos but only because the church itself was so proud of its "wall of gold" and its "silver goblet thingy" that it would have been impolite not to point and click a few times.

Church in Spain is ever so much simpler and more enjoyable than in Canada.  For one thing they have eliminated the problem of how much to leave in the collection plate.  You  remember sitting in the pew towards the end of the service as little boys or socially awkward men were enlisted to pass around plates on which you were to place your "offering".  I never knew what to offer or what my offer was intended to purchase.  mOstly I was just looking for time off for good behaviour if nothing else from the boring service.  Here it is easy: you pay at the gate.  There is a price list and if you want to get churched you stump up the price asked.  Today for example the Cathedral of Cadiz wanted €15.  I did not need that much church so I just passed.

In Spanish churches you don't have to sit down.  You just walk around looking at things and when you get bored you leave unless the Budget Committee wants to look some more in which case you walk around trying to look interested.  There are no boring sermons and no standing up and sitting down (and you never know when some churches are going to insist that you stand up or sit down).  

If church was run like this back home I probably still wouldn't go but it would make weddings and christenings and other mandatory church appearances more bearable.  Especially the bit about leaving when I got bored.

Walking about Cadiz I occupied myself by taking photos of doors.  The BC likes doors and is forever stopping and pointing to some entranceway or other to comment "Nice door".  Here would have been a few of my shots but as I say there is no  bandwidth.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Baggies Full of Cell Phones

2011 10 02
Bonanza, Spain
 36 48.7N
006 20.8W

Only eight days ago saw us running upstream like spawning salmon.  Today sees us back at the mouth of the Quadalquivir anchored just west of Bonanza (dum diddy dum diddy dum ditty dum ditty dum dum).  Like our last visit here the wind is blowing one way and Meredith the other.

Leaving Gelves an hour before high tide in Seville allowed us to ride the tide for near the entire length of the Guadalquivir but it put us in Bonanza just an hour before the end of low tide.  This meant we had strong wind on the nose out of the south and gentle current out of the north.  Meredith is dancing.

On Meredith we find 1 knot of current  is equal to about 30 knots of wind, ie it takes wind of 30 knots to equal the push power of 1 knot of water current.   In our circumstances  the two forces, wind at 20 and current at just under a knot were near in balance.  This is not a problem long term as the tide will soon be rampaging up the Guadalquivir and the wind will soon be overcome.  Until then we are just sitting about waiting for the boat to settle down so we can set the anchor properly.

While we sit I will get in a quick blog.

The quick post on cell phones drew a lot of replies.  Most people feel similarly aggrieved by cell phone companies although the jury is hung on the issue of which side of the Atlantic the ripping off began.

Regardless it seems most of us have adopted the same solution: a host of baggies, each filled with a cell phone and labelled with the country where that cell phone works: Canada, USA, Bahamas, Portugal, Spain, Ireland (yes even in the midst of a potatoe famine the cell phone companies must eat).

For the benefit of the wonderful young lady who seemed just a bit offended that I did not find European cell phone companies to be vastly more wonderful than those in North American I will confirm that tonight we will call our family and save a bundle.

We will call and say to each child: "Call us back".

You see incoming calls on cell phones are free over here.  So now our kids have to pay for the call and it is free on our end.   Now that is an innovation I am growing used to.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Your Postcards will be Delayed

2011 10 01

Seville, Espana

Our plans are to head back down the Guadalquivir tomorrow and make for Cadiz.

Yesterday we got around to filling out another round of postcards to go to various people we either like or want to impress with the fact we actually made it to Spain.  We ran into a hitch.

The main post office in Seville, the big multistoried downtown head office, has no stamps.    Perhaps "manana" the lineup of a dozen citizens was informed.  The clerk informing us of this most regrettable situation wore the ubiquitous face of the Woman of Constant Sorrow that Spanish women, like their Portuguese counterparts, have so perfected.

You knew from her comportment that there would be no stamps tomorrow.

The crowd, largely English tourist in makeup, was vocal in its outrage and mockery.  Clearly they were newcomers to the Mediterranean lifestyle.  Stepping forward I approached the postal worker and confirmed in a loud voice "Sello acqui manana?"

"SI, yes" was the greatful reply.  "Gracious" I rejoined.  "Muchos Gracious" I ended with a big smile of appreciation.

The woman's face brightened, not a complete piercing of the mask of sorrow but recognition that she had saved Spanish dignity and had met the performance demands of Spanish institutionalism.

You see, in the Mediterranean it is not about actually accomplishing something.  It is more about really really wanting to accomplish something.

Our postal clerk had gone to exceptional lengths to convince us that her post office would actually be selling stamps in short order.  Around here that is just as good as actually selling stamps.

In Canada we do not have good or efficient postal service.  Nor do they here in Spain.

In Spain at least the postal workers wish they did.