Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Changing Your Mind: Never an Easy Process

2013 12 25
London, ON Canada

Here I sit before a nice gas fireplace, my tummy filled adequately with the best of all possible Christmas meals.  The comfort and sense of well being is enhanced by the collateral sounds of a successful family get together; my wife finishing up the cleaning of the house after dinner and the children and in laws all typing madly away at their laptops.

How easy it was to put ourselves here.  Once we understood.

On November 20, 2013 Connie and I left Santa Cruz de Tenerife headed for North America on our beloved sailboat Meredith.  Plan was to land in the Caribbean in time to be home for Christmas.  That plan did not succeed.

Our weather forecast was best described as indifferent and unfortunately it played out badly.  For the first eight days we had wind for only 36 hours.  Virtual calm held the remaining 156 hours in a narcotic pall.  After 8 days our progress was but 500 miles; on one of those days our distance made good was a mere seven nautical miles. 

Our eighth day began, as every day began, with the download of a new 8 day GRIB weather  forecast.  Reviewing the forecast  brought no warm comfy feeling.   Wind was indeed to come but from the wrong direction.  A lot of wind and no way to avoid the consequences.

Consequences we knew were not life threatening but did involve our struggling to make adequate headway and the struggle was maintained only with a tremendous outlay of physical exertion both from handling the boat in high wind and seas and in handling the rough motion created by that wind and those seas.   Checking our calendar it was clear that we would not be anywhere near the Caribbean in time to arrange a flight to Canada for Christmas.

While the implications of the weather forecast were clear it still took the remainder of a daylight day, granted only seven or eight hours at this time of year, to understand that not making it home for Christmas was unacceptable to us.  The thought process was fettered by native stubbornness.  We do not quit.

This time however it was vastly more important to us to be home for Christmas than to get across the Atlantic so we turned about.  It seems odd to us now that it took almost eight hours for us to see what was completely obvious.  In fairness we both did see it at different times during the day but we just never held the same view at the same time.  

During the day of dithering we did not make much forward way.  Day eight produced the same light winds we had enjoyed for much of the previous seven.

Once we both admitted to ourselves that we must abandon our plan it did not take long to act.  We swung the boat around and headed for the island of Tenerife.

As so often happens nature weighed in and commented on the correctness of what we were doing.  Concomitant with our turning about the wind picked up.  In minutes the daylong calm picked up to blow 15 then 20 then 25 and finally 30 on our stern.  This wind was on our stern but had we not turned about that wind would have been on our nose.  So too would the wind driven waves that quickly rose to accompany the wind.

It was bizarre.  After eight days sitting motionless on a dead ocean we were now furling our headsail, dropping our main and finally putting a reef in the staysail.  Once again we were a sailboat and a pretty lively one at that.

in the end we needed only four days to retrace the five hundred miles back to Tenerife.  We arrived in rain and fog with the wind still blowing twenty plus on our stern.  We were met on the docks by friends Stephen and Nancy Carlman from the Canadian yacht Fairwyn.  Life was good again.

In one day we had arranged long term stay at the marina and our flight home was booked.  We enjoyed a few days of cafe life and exploring the island of Tenerife.   Nancy and Stephen were stalwarts and a mainstay of our short sojourn in the Canaries.

 Later, we were party to a Ham Radio conversation in which our decision to return was discussed.  No one knew we were the people who had turned back.  The group agreed that what had befallen us was "tragic".  This determination was a bit shocking to us.  It seemed more comedy than tragedy to us and really the whole thing fell under the category of good decision making in our books.  

Good decisions are not without costs; they are good in spite of them.  We may be slow but we have few regrets.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

It's About Time

2013 10 11
Marina Bouregreg, Sale, Morocco

Every French Designed Capital City has a Champs Elysee Clone:
a beautiful wide boulevard, palm lined flanked with
shops and cafes

For our first five days in Morocco our clocks and watches were an hour out of sync with the rest of Morocco.  This was not our fault. I blame it on the arrogance of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.  Here is how it came upon us:

Ramadan, a period of special religious observance in the Mohammedan religion, loosely akin to Christians' Lent, requires that the faithful fast during daylight hours.  No food, no water.  This year Ramadan, which is a moveable observance, fell in the dead heat of summer.  

King of Morocco, King Mohammed VI, and his advisors knew the heavy toll that would be exacted from the population during Ramadan.  The King, Mohammed V, did what he could to alleviate suffering.
He suspended Daylight Savings Time in the Kingdom for the duration of Ramadan.  All during Ramadan the people could maintain strict observance during a working day that held one hour less daylight than would otherwise be the case.  It shortened the time his subjects need endure the privation of Ramadan.

A pretty decent act.  
One of the Loyal Subjects.  Child of the Sale Souk
She saw me taking pictures with my tablet and was curious.
I took one of her and she squealed with delight when she saw it.

However Morocco is an economy that needs the benefits normally attributed to Daylight Savings Time.  Ramadan being over, King Mohammed then extended DST to include the month of October.  Seems reasonable enough but...

The Loyal Subject lives with her parents, sister and brother
in these quarters, third door on the left.
We cruisers all rely on our computers and their automatic time and date functions to keep track of where we are and what time it is.  Well our computer programs, apple and microsoft and google all got. and still get, the time wrong in Morocco.  Every computer on board every boat is an hour out.  And will be until the end of October.

At first there were comical coincidences that masked our error and lulled us into the belief that there was no problem.  We caught the train to Casa at the time the schedule said.  Or so we thought.  Trains to Casa run every hour so we were actually catching the 0700 train when we thought we were catching the 0800.  

This explains the somewhat exasperated look on the conductor's face when he checked our tickets.  Tickets are issues for a specific train, denominated by time of departure and we were unwittingly on the wrong train.  Polite to a fault the Moroccan officials realized there was room enough on the train and said nothing to the idiot tourists who got on the wrong train.  

We missed trains, showed up early for doctor's appointments and were generally irresponsible until we figured it out.  Than we all had a good laugh.  

You Know You are Morocco 'Cause of All the
Big Golden Ms.
McDonalds ad on the new tram the M bracketing
a Moroccan woman in traditional dress 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sailing to Rabat; A Tale of Non Existent Hazards

2013 10 02
Bouregreg Marina, Sale, Morocco

It only looks scary.  Easy entry if you follow the simple rules.
Depths are in Feet.  Look Just above and Below the word Puerto in
Puerto de Rabat
Prior to setting sail for Rabat in Morocco we were regaled with concerns of other sailors who had been or who had friends who had been to this much maligned port.  It gave us pause.  Luckily for us we decided to visit anyway.  Our experience suggests that the concerns are misfounded.  There is no conceivable reason not to visit Morocco at Rabat and many reasons you should.

The Breakwater Extending
Southward at Rio Bouregreg
A summary:

1.  We found no fishing net hazard along the coast,

2.  The river you must negotiate to get to the marina has been dredged and the dredging seems to be continuous.  Entry is controlled by the marina and the marina makes a pilot boat available to ensure sailboats do not run afou.

Most boaters think, and we agree, it is a good idea to time your arrival for a rising tide.  Great planning but I rarely arrive at a destination on the day I plan let alone the exact hour.  Boats have been brought up the river in all conditions, depending on their keel depth and motoring capacity.   The marina gives good advice to everyone.  If entry is impossible they will tell you so and direct you to Mohammedia, about thirty miles south, where the entry is protected.

In the end result entry is as easy as that of any marina you enter for the very first time,

3.  The officials here are efficient, friendly and even humorous.  No corruption, no baksheesh, no arbitrary barking of orders, just a friendly welcome.  Reports to the contrary are just not fact based and raise concerns about the veracity of people making the reports.

Here are the details of our trip:

The sail from La Linea in Spain to Rabat, Morocco was boisterous and the first twelve hours was undertaken in winds of 35 G 40.  A fast twelve hours.

We had been warned of vast networks of fishing nets rendering the coast nearly impassible.  Those nets did not exist, not where we sailed anyway.

No Fishing Net Hazard Found

We travelled two miles offshore the entire journey to Rabat.  In that distance we encountered one fishing net, well marked and easily avoided.  There were many fishing boats sailing late into the night but grouped mainly around the main fishing ports, again marked and easily avoided.

Our travelling companions travelled about five miles off the Moroccan coast and both caught nets in their keels or, worse for one, his saildrive.

It might have just been luck that kept us out of harms way but it also be that travelling two miles off the land avoids most fishing nets.  We assume the latter.

Once in the River You will find a few weirs like this one
which act to protect riverine areas and beaches
full of swimmers

One of the Colourful Fishing Boats
you will pass.

One of the River Hazards:
Traditional Ferry piloted by a standing man with two oars.
This guy got between us and the Pilot Boat.
You sit and wait politely: guy's making a living after all

Contact Was Immediate on FIrst Call to the Marina

Although we planned arrival at Rabat for an hour or two before high tide we arrived an hour and a bit after low.  We also arrived a day late but who is counting.

 About a mile from the entrance to the river, achieved through 

OK Maybe There Were a Few Hairy Bits
Or Maybe I just worry too much.
two big breakwaters, we called Marina Bouregreg on VHF channel 10 and requested a pilot boat.  It was dispensed immediately and it appeared within fifteen minutes.  Verifying our keel depth the pilot lead us to customs.

Some boats have reported that marina did not answer their calls.  This has not been the experience of any boat we have spoken to while here at the marina and it is not our experience.

No Bar at Rabat

Although the marina Bouregreg had assured us the river leading to their berths had been dredged
dredged we were cautious.  There was no need.  Arriving at the mouth of the Rio Bouregreg about an hour and a half after low tide we never saw less than eleven feet of water - while following the pilot boat.  We strongly recommend following the pilot boat.

Pleasant Efficient Officials

Here is the Dredging Machine Moored
on the Rabat Sideof the River
We had read some older unflattering reports about officials in Rabat.  Not true.  The police and customs guys were helpful, friendly and in good humour.  No hint of corruption of any kind.  The experience was so pleasant as to call into question the veracity of the reporters.

And on this I do not accept that times have changed.  We have entered Morocco before and it has always been friendly and corruption free although not always so efficient as it was at Rabat.

The Avoidable Possibility of a Pooping in Easterly Swell

Our charts show the depth of the water inside the breakwater to be 0.5 feet.  There are two problems here: First, half a foot of water is not much when your boat draws 5 feet and secondly the water immediately oceanside of the shall entrance is very deep.  One skipper entered the breakwater to wait for the pilot boat.  He dropped his sails and then he dropped his guard and went below.  An errant wave struck the sharply shallowing river entrance, rose to breaking wave and pooped the man's  boat causing serious damage.  Bad luck to be sure but no black mark on Rabat.

Oh, for those who wrote to ask how you avoid the hazard I suggest when you arrive at Rabat you wait well outside the breakwater in deep water.  That way you need not fear the occasional errant wave.  This is no criticism of the poor guy who suffered damage.  He had no reason to expect there would be any unusual wave pattern  and he knew the harbour well. Sometimes bad things happen.

Once you are at the marina you tie up at the fuel dock and clear customs and immigration.  This is effortless but there are a lot of forms.  The officials help with this.

Once tied up you find yourself in a modern bustling political capital city of a thriving country.  Everyone is working, building, studying, learning, building, moving materials,  After some time spent in the south of Europe it is just so refreshing.

Because you are in a capital city you have access to unparalleled communications and transportation resources.  You can see all of Morocco from here.  More on this later.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Out of the Crashing First World Into the Emerging Second: Great to be in Morocco

2013 10 05
Marina Bouregreg, Sale, Morocco

What is the first thing you do when you pull into the marina in Morocco after 34 hours of nonstop sailing?  Well if you travel with the Budget Committee you haggle for swordfish at the market.

First you Haggle.  This is one of my wife's purposes in life.  The poor vendor is making his final appeal to Burger who remains impassive knowing full well Connie has him in a pair of visegrips.

Then the fish is cut.  Catch the cigarette in the corner of the mouth.  A classic, you gotta admit.

And Weighed.  Not a single spark lost from the cigarette.

Finally and only after the weighing is the swordfish trimmed and portioned.  Burger in the foreground bought two filets from the BC.  I think our fish was free.

And fresh.  It has to be.  No one has refrigeration.

Knowing What Constitutes a Win

2013 10 05
Marina Bouregreg, Sale, Morocco

For years now it has been obvious aboard Meredith that what seems like a loss or a failure at first instance is so often a win if you have the right perspective.  Now this is not a counsel of always looking on the bright side of life, that is just pathetic, although quite humorous when done by Monty Python. 

It is just that a little perspective rapidly changes a loss to a win.  Our recent experience stands as an example.

Thirteen days ago I lost the sight in my left eye.  Connie and I were walking around Casablanca with friends when large dark circles first appeared and then totally obscured my vision.  It turned out that I had a detached retina in that eye, a correctable problem but one which needed immediate expert attention if sight were to be preserved.

Knowing not what was wrong, only that it was something serious, we went in search of an ophthalmologist.  Luckily our boat was docked in Rabat, the capital city of Morocco.  Services were available that may not have been at Wahim's Saharan Tent Park.  

Knowing no one in the city we went first to the toniest pharmacy we could find and asked for a recommendation for an ophthalmologist.  That in hand, and willingly given by the pharmacist, we headed for the most expensive looking optician shop we could find and repeated our request.  We had a match on the recommendation and an appointment was made for the following day.  How lucky for us there was an opening that soon.

After being examined by the ophthalmologist the man gave the diagnosis: detached retina. He did not practice retinal surgery but referred us with urgency to a colleague who did.  This colleague saw us at once.  She scheduled surgery at once.    Seeing her on Thursday she arranged surgery for the following Wednesday, the soonest she could arrange delivery of the materials she needed to repair the detachment.  This woman Dr. Nadia Essakalli, had experience, skills and clout.  How lucky for us.

Dr. Essakallialso prescribed a strict and very uncomfortable position in which I had to lie continuously for the entire time I was out of her office.  This position actually helped correct the displacement of the retina and prevented worsening of the condition. More than unpleasant it was near hell in the heat of Morocco to lie still with my head blocked by two pillows and the rest of me immobile, but it was a lot better than going blind.  Prescribed early enough further damage to the eye was prevented and the "position" actually restored some vision.  Once again, luck was on my side.  

The clinique where the surgery was peformed was only one block from the marina.  

Dr. Essakalli's office where all examinations were performed was a hundred feet from her tram stop, our marina was a hundred meters from ours. No change in trams required.  Lucky?  You have no idea when your overtaxed wife is dragging her one eyed dopey husband around a foreign city.

A small hitch arose when the necessary materials were not delivered in time and surgery was delayed one day.  This was used by Dr. Essakali to take more extensive maps of the retina and macula and better plan the re attachment.

With that delay surgery was on schedule, fast and efficient.  A three hour operation followed by a day in the private clinique and I am now home.  

The surgeon was first rate and personable.  And boy was she competent.  She is Paris trained, a full professor of Opthalmology at the King Muhammed V/VI University at Rabat and has performed retinal surgery since 1996.  I think she may have introduced the procedures to Morocco.

The clinic where surgery was conducted was staffed with pleasant efficient helpful individuals who smiled every time they entered my private room.

The initial results of the surgery are extremely optimistic and it looks as though the reconstruction will be as close to perfect as any reconstruction can be.   

The cost was one twentieth what it would have been in Canada and one hundredth of what it would have been in the Excited States.  

Had the detachment had happened while we were at sea there was nothing could be done.  I would be blind in one eye without recourse.

I tally this one under the BIG WIN category.

My thanks to Dr. Nadia Essakalli and the staff at Clinique Beausejour.  I am in your debt.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Last Sausage B4 Africa...or beyond

2013 09 19
La Linea, Spain (beside Gibraltar)

Meredith at Dockside in La Linea, Spain
Gibraltar in the background
We have been lying low in La Linea at €15 a night waiting for the past week of ferocious west wind to quit blowing through the Straits of Gibraltar.  Today is calm and the gribs promise lukewarm wind tomorrow, ten knots or so, but out of the east.  Looks like  we will depart on Saturday.  

The week at La Linea has been put to good use and six hours a day are devoted by both Connie and me to inspecting the boat, replacing and refitting parts on the boat and provisioning the boat.  With an ocean crossing in the immediate future checking systems never grows tiresome.

Gibraltar being duty free
the Cigars, Five Cohiba Siglo IIs
cost a mere
$50.  Score.
Here is one reason you check systems.  Thinking our fresh water pump sounded a bit different in tone I checked it out.  Luck was with us because the pump seals had failed and the pump had filled its little cupboard with water.  The pump would have failed completely in a matter of hours or minutes.  

Connie dried and labelled all the wet cans while I installed our spare pump.  As soon as we fired up the system with the new pump we had problems.  New pump meant different pressures on all the connections.  This little beggar let go, just let go.  The hose clamp fell off the cold water faucet in our head allowing the hose it secured to disengage.  Water flowed at full pump pressure for five minutes before we isolated the leak and got it stopped.  

Poke it, twist it, prod it.  If it is going to fail you want to fail in controlled circumstances. 

Trip Planning

Four elements govern our departure plans: a change in the strong west winds which have been blowing through the Straits of Gibraltar for the past week, timing of High Water at Gibraltar, timing of Low Water at Rabat, our destination, and lastly hazards underway.

Wind: Not leaving in strong (thirty plus knots at times) winds on the nose is obvious.  Today is calm and tomorrow should be mildly in our favour.  Looks like a motor job.

Tide Gibraltar: Tides are in our favour for departure.  High Water Gibraltar on Saturday is about 0500 am so an 0800 departure exposes us to as favourable current through the Straits as one could expect.  

Tide Rabat: This element in the puzzle is a bit more worrisome.  High water at Rabat is about 1600.  We must arrive Rabat on a rising tide.  The marina there will send a guide boat out to guide us over the bar that blocks the river entrance to the marina.  They will only do so, however, on a rising tide.  

It is 155 miles or so from La Linea to Rabat which is a 31 hour trip if we can hie to a 5 knot planned speed.  An 0800 departure Saturday puts us at Rabat at about 1400.  Not much room for error so we will have to be very careful.  On the upside the marina informs us the river has been dredged so we may not have to worry about the bar.  Until we verify it is gone we worry about the bar.

Hazards Underway: Sailing the west coast of Morocco is best done well offshore, at least 15 nm.  Local fishermen string endless miles of net closer to shore than this and such things are well avoided.

Pirates.  Spanish pirates.  Actually irrationally angry Spanish fishermen make life miserable for sailors all around Gibraltar.  The fishermen believe that sailboats disturb the fish.  They take their anger out in unconstrained acts of violence committed against innocent sailors.

IInbound to Gibraltar with a companion boat we were attacked by a Spanish fishing boat.  The Spanish skipper crossed our bow a boatlength in front of us with his massive nets in the water.  Just clearing our bowsprit the moron cut all power to his diesel and left us, with all of forty feet of water clearance.  We were at speed.  While we managed not to become ensnared in his nets it was bone rattling and disconcerting.

Done with us, and he having not created a collision at sea, the Spanish idiot repeated the action against Fabuloso, the catamaran travelling with us.  

Welcome to Spain.  In this country anything is possible. 

La Linea is a nice Spanish town and much maligned by many cruisers.  We find the cafe life of a Spanish city vastly preferred to that of the tourism of Gibraltar.  Gibraltar's claim to fame is her tax free status.  Our experience however is that merchant greed and British pricing have  eaten up any potential cost reductions for most goods.

Connie and I feel ready to cross the Atlantic back to North America.  By now we are anxious to get underway but of course we must wait until midNovember when the trade winds begin to blow.  Until then we will tour Morocco and the Canaries and then spend more time that we originally planned in what is rapidly growing in our minds into a great cruising ground: the Cape Verdes.

So, like the sign at the Wurst House says

Time to stock up.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

For Those of You Who Might Think I Am Inclined to Exaggerate

2013 09 17
La Linea, Spanish port beside Gibraltar

Friends wrote to see if we had ever received our solar panels ordered in Almerimar and the answer is a resounding no.  The panels were to be in Almerimar ten days ago, on a Friday.  I agreed to pay €15 for express delivery which meant three days delivery time from a warehouse twenty kilometers away.

The promised panels never came.  I attended at the chandler twice on the Friday and both times was completely ignored by the staff.  This is the Spanish way of telling you they have bad news.  They really hate to disappoint you so they just ignore you and hope you go away.  That way they do not have to feel bad.  As for you...well no one in Spain really gives a damn.

Monday following the Friday delivery date Connie again went to the Chandler and again was completely ignored.  We left town without paying the special delivery fee.

Now, for those of you who might believe we are just reaping the rewards of our own ill treatment of Spanish retailers I enclose this: a note received this morning from fellow cruisers two docks over from us in La Linea.  They have been trying for two weeks to buy a part for their movable keel.  First the wrong part was sent by a UK retailer.  It took a week to arrive and had to be returned.  The cruisers then ordered from a French dealer who promised he had the correct part.  That was a week ago and they paid for overnight delivery.  This morning I asked (intending for it to be a friendly inquiry) whether they were now in possession of the correct part.  Here was the response...

No no, we still don't have the part. Why are we not surprised? Do you have the stomach for the story?

Nothing new, we've all been thru this before:

We agreed to paying 95 EUR !! last Thursday for what was supposed to be overnight delivery with something called France Express. We tried to contact France Express yesterday only to learn they sent it *courier* instead. It would have arrived yesterday except, according to the Tracker info, *courier* didn't have the full, correct address !!! 

The package went from their office to Nice, somewhere else in France, then Koeln Germany, then Madrid, then Seville. It's still stuck in Seville, and the address UPS has is Cadiz. The UPS tracker note says they were trying to determine the correct address yesterday, and they sent a postcard !!!! to the Recipient. Now what address would that recipient be, since we are the recipient and they don't have our address to deliver the package?!!!!! Why wouldn't *courier* try to contact the Sender instead?!!!!!!!

I was able to Skype the French gal Sylvie I've been corresponding with this morning, and she sounded rather helpless (hapless?). Told her she had to contact *courier* and give them the correct address. Said she'd have her colleague "look into it" and get back to us. Sigh.

In meantime I sent a message to *courier* and am now trying to call their French headquarters, the only phone listed. Wish us luck.

ps added Tuesday: The story ended today when the part was finally delivered.  The part had in fact been shipped using the French Courier.  For €95, the express delivery fee, the French Courier picked up the parcel and drove it two blocks to a different courier where they left it to be delivered.  They gave the second courier the wrong delivery address.

Today the email writer received a self congratulatory email from the French Courier touting its ONTIME DELIVERY of their package.  ?????  

Friday, September 6, 2013

Trees As They Relate to Spanish Economics

2013 09 06
FRIDAY (this is important as you will see if you keep reading)
Almerimar, Andalucia, Spain

An actual discussion leading to a contract entered into between myself, as buyer, and a local chandler:

Me: I want to order that solar panel we talked about this morning.  When can you get it in?

Seller: It will be here Friday.  I have four other panels coming from the same supplier and they will all be here Friday.  I can add your panel to the order if we act right now.

Me: Guaranteed by Friday?

Seller: Guaranteed.  

Me: Good.  Order the panel for me.  I will pick it up on Friday.  We leave on Saturday.

Seller: That will be a problem!

Me: What kind of problem?

Seller: The order might not get here by Friday. 

Seller: If you want it here for sure by Friday you will have to pay a €15 fast delivery fee. 

Me: Sighhhhhhhh.  Good enough.  Place the order, I will pay the €15 fee.

Seller picks up the phone in my presence and orders the panel with courier delivery.

It is now Friday at 2000.  No solar panels.  This is how business is done in Spain.  

So where do the trees come in? 

Spain is the only country in the world where "I was Sleeping Under a Tree" constitutes a valid legal defence to any criminal or civil action.  Fail to show up for jury duty?  Just tell the judge you were sleeping under a tree.  Automatic get out of jail free card.  

Just not doing something is not considered objectionable here.  Not doing something for a foreigner is, I think, a plus one.

This country is pretty much screwed. It should be.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Stumblin' - Late Night Cafe Life Stumble Inn Style

2013 08 31
Almerimar, Spain

No, really.  We do not like this place, this this English pub in the middle of what is clearly not England.

Our waitress is the Teutonic stereotype: six foot something, blonde, English as a second language, humourless drill sergeant.  She does not take your order rather she orders you to order and then stands at near attention glaring until you comply.  She has the evil eye of every Disney villainess ever drawn on cellophane.  All she is missing is the wart.

She comes armed with a Wagnerian bosom, resembling the business end of a battleship rather than anything alluring, and she ships the full German sense of humour.  The electron microscope was developed as part of the search for the German sense of humour.  So far as I know the search continues.  A couple of the Higgs Bosun researchers are getting involved in an effort to accelerate the effort (no German would find humour in that).

So why do we find ourselves drinking overpriced alcohol and eating forgettable food at the Stumble Inn?  After all we have suggested our friends avoid this cafe.  Backtracking to the food for a second it should be stated not that the food is forgettable but that we wish it were.  Rumour has it that last year two people were hospitalized by the food here. Loss of memory might stand as an aid to digestion and allow slumber undisturbed 

So what brings us to this gem of an outpost of British hooliganism set in the middle of Andalucian Almerimar?  

Well, it is close to the boat.  Only steps away actually.

And the staff are a hoot: a German speaking teutonic dominatrix waiting tables in a British pub set in Andalucia aided by two Spaniard whirlwinds who are so busy they can never get anything done, at least not done right, and a kitchen staffed with what Anthony Burgess could only term a Vellochek intent on a little of the old ultra violence.    

But the real draw of the Stumble Inn is the live music.  Every Friday and Saturday two wandering minstrels, never the same two, set up a small amplifier and speaker and play their guitars and belt out some hoary old cover songs.

Not to overstate the ability of the unkempt, ragged vagabonds, men and women, who grace the three by three foot stage at the Stumble I would note that a week ago there was not actually any playing or singing going on.  It was all lip sync and air guitar.  But the players were really into it and played their parts to the max.

The magic of lip sync almost worked on our table until the guitarist took a solo set and launched into Pink Floyd's "We Don't Need No Education".  He  then purported to sing the chorus - all fifty young english voices heavily accented.  This stretched the suspension of disbelief beyond the breaking point.  As a comedy set it was a big hit.

Last night we had two unilingual German minstrels who played a full panoply of 1970s American Rock music.  "Playing" is perhaps the wrong word.  What took place on the stage more resembled the scene in Hud where the ranchers all gather round the pit full of infected cattle and start shooting.

In fairness perhaps you like the ukelele.  However perhaps the ukelele is not exactly suitable for BB King's Thrill is Gone.  Or maybe it would be if the artist could have fingered more than a single chord.

Another comedy night and more fun that we could ever have contrived on our own.  

Paying our cheque we strolled arm in arm into the gentle night only to find good friends, firends we had warned about the charms of the Stumble Inn, seated at a table on the other side of the playing stage.  We sat with them for the third set.

Which was when the fun really began.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Family as it Affects Cruising; Cruising as it Affects Family

Almerimar, Spain
2013 08 25

As the drunken crow flies we have just covered 1,700 nautical miles since leaving Venice.  This drunken crow had to fly to the south of Italy and then back to Messina, the north of Sicily and then to Bizerte, Mahon and finally Almerimar.  

We are recovering in the welcoming environment of Almerimar, a favourite place of ours. As we do this the world develops around us.

Our son leaves for college next week.  This is a major event for him.  We will not be there to see him off.

Our elder daughter and son in law hope to join us for the crossing from the Canaries to Caribbean.  Now that we access to internet we hope to be able to work out a plan to facilitate this.  A normal life puts all manner of obstacle in the way of young people taking time off work "for a month or two, I am not sure".  Work, career development, family, need for money all get in the way of the simple life available to senior citizens.  As much as we would enjoy their company on the return crossing we do not want to put any more pressure on these fine young people than is absolutely necessary.  

Yesterday we we informed by email that our younger daughter is getting married.  This is cause for celebration.  Our family, the people with whom we would celebrate, are all in North America.  After a wonderful skype call with the newly intended, no video because Spanish wifi sucks, Connie and I shared a couple bottles of Cava.  As we drank we also shared the gamut of bittersweet memories that come to mind in every parent as of their precious children announces they are stepping out of the nest on their own.  Last night we were keenly aware of where we were.  

And where we weren't.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Thin Red Line - Why We Did Not Spend Longer In Vulcano

2013 08 10
lovely protected Cephalu, Sicily

Here is the anchorage at Vulcano:

 Looks pretty tasty.  In this anchorage you can anchor only in the red line. 

This thin strip of sand will support 4 boats in modest anchoring conditions.  We were anchored with twenty seven, most of the skippers being credit card captains.  It lead to an entire afternoon of this

 With a gale forecast for next day we vamoosed for what we thought would be calmer waters.
 It was a good plan

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Stupid People Awards

2013 08 08
Vulcano, Aeolian Islands, Italy

Today I tried a new "app" for my android tablet.  "App" is what the mass market now calls a program.  An app is not really a program of course.  It is merely a tiny little insignificant piece of a program.  Yet people pay silly prices to get their "apps".  Today I met a really stupid app.  It cost €4.99.

Here is what it did:

The operator of the computer logs on and selects an area of the planet earth from a google map.  Then with the press of a button the app creates an email message to Saildocs requesting a grib file for the geographic area outlined in the google map.

When saildocs replies to the email with the grib file attached the same program will, if you reload it and if you are in wifi range, display the grib weather data on the same google map.

This program was given "Product of the Year Award" by some mass market sailing magazine.  


Here is the thing:  Saildocs is a really useful system created free by Jim Corenman and some of his fellow sailor/programmers which allows sailors to obtain grib weather files with a minimum of hassle.  It is already automatic.  

In fact Jim Corenman wrote and gives away Sailmail, a program which not only gets and displays grib files but also handles all the protocols for Sailmail and for ham radio operators to send and receive email over short wave radio.  HE DID THIS FOR FREE AND SOME OF THE MONEY PAID BY SAILMAIL USERS GOES TO PAY FOR KEEPING UP THE SAILDOCS SYSTEM.

Now some dough head charges simpletons with boats for what has already been done and what costs nothing.  Having created nothing the doughhead uses Corenman's work to feed his system.  AND SOME IDIOT MAGAZINE GIVES THE DOUGHHEAD AN AWARD.

Oh yes.  One other thing.  You cannot use doughhead's program unless you are in wifi range.  Of course sailors are always in wifi range.

Based on the magazine's "award" several thousand people have paid doughhead for his "app".  What was it Barnum said?  

What gripes me most is that the intelligent and generous Jim Corenman, mentioned before in my blogs, is given no credit.  Greed and stupidity trump accomplishment and good deeds every day.

I suppose if Corenman shut down his free system the doughhead would sue him.

Toe to Toe to Toe with Scilla and Charybdis: Transiting the Straits of Messina

2013 08 07
Vulcano, Aeolian Islands, Italy

All that Remains of Fierce Charybdis -
A Smallish Standing Wave
From The Odyssey, Volume 12 describing the transit of Messina Straits:

Next came Charybdis,.
who swallows the sea in a whirlpool
then spits it up again.
Avoiding this we skirted the cliff 
whereScylla exacts her toll
Each of her six slavering maws

grabbed a sailor and wolfed him down

Charybdis and Scylla guarded the Northern Extent of the passage through the Straits of Messina, a mile wide stretch of water separating Sicily from Italy and thus defining Sicily as an Island apart.

Charybdis was a giant whirlpool on the Eastern gate that sucked your boat down to the bottom and spit it back out again.  Avoiding the whirlpool a sailor had to face Scylla, a six headed monster of rock that grabbed the hapless vessel and ate it whole, spitting out only splinters.

Fortunately for all an earthquake has rearranged the topography of the bottom of the Straits and removed the threat of both whirlpool and rock.  Not at all disappointingly our passage of the Straits of Messina was straightforward.

Ignoring the calculations based on high tide at Gibraltar we approached the straits five hours early and had a wonderful lift from current for the entire passage.  Only the final two miles, the home of Scylla and Charybdis, saw adverse current, at one point reducing our forward speed to two knots.  Wishing to steer a course of 020 magnetic I was forced to point the boat to 070 to make the proper way.  

Had I just pointed my boat at the spot I wanted to go then I too would have been introduced to Scylla and likely she would have enjoyed us as an afternoon snack.

In the result transiting the Straits was a non event although it was fun to be apprehensive about doing it.  All in all the real danger in the Messina Straits are the numerous ferries running across the short gap without regard to small boat traffic.  

Entering Vulcano Anchorage we Were Passed By This
Impudent but Interesting Hydrofoil
If yopu click on the photo it should enlarge
Exiting the Straits we made the thirty odd miles to Vulcano, one of the Aeolian islands.
Another famous island in this group is Stromboli.  

Our Anchorage at Vulcano
Vulcano is home to an active volcano and Stromboli, twenty miles off, is very active, emitting fumes and spitting rocks almost continuously.  The air quality here is very bad but the terrain is very cool.  

Stromboli (right not left) Distant in the Far Mist

More Vulcano Anchorage and One Dead Volcano -
Note the emissions on the right hand side indicating
Somewhere back there hides the real thing
Today we explore.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

On the Run: But NOT to Saline Jonische

2013 08 06
Five Miles from Saline Jonische, Catabria, Italy

Here was our beach for the night - Not Saline Jonische

Staging to transit the Straits of Messina is made somewhat more difficult than it needs to be due to a paucity of anchorages.  This is problematic as one must plan the transit to coincide with a north running current and often you want to anchor and wait for the right tide.

The situation is made more difficult by the absolute ban on anchoring in the Straits of Messina.  

Then there is the Italian rule that no one may anchor within 500 metres of any unmarked beach.  I say Italian rule because the EU rule is 150 metres but around here at least the Coast Guard enforces 500 metres.  The fine is €350 and there are many many reports of people fined for "only rowing ashore for bread".  Sure, I believe that.  Nice though to know what excuse does not work.

Anyway we were too late in the day to make the Straits so we needed a layover.

Charmingly reminiscent of the days of Glory of the Empire the Imray guides all instruct you that the north flowing tide through Messina commences 1 hour and 45 minutes before the high tide at Gibraltar.  Gibraltar?  There is a tidal station at Messina, right in the middle of the straits, but the Brits must time their passages with reference to a reliable tide chart: that of the nearest British possession, that being Gibraltar.  Were I Italian I might chafe at this unnecessary dismissal of my mathematical and celestial computational abilities.  Forgive me but I do not recall Michaelangelo or Galileo carrying a British passport.

The charts disclosed a small harbour on the south west coast of Italy, name of Saline Jonische, that seemed ideal for our purposes.  We could anchor in the harbour overnight and get a good lead on our transit of the Straits.


About two hours out of our intended anchorage Connie saw this brief blurb in the Imray Guide: "There have been several incidents of aggravated burglary from yachts anchored in this harbour.  It is strongly recommended that yachts do not stop here except in an emergency"

It took us twenty seconds to parse the comment after which we pulled over to the beach right where we were, taking care to remain more than 500 metres off, and dropped our hook.

We discovered later with internet searching that yachts in Saline Jonische are robbed at gunpoint.  Nothing is ever done about it.  But then this is Italy and more specifically Catabria.  Fans of Mafia novels will get the connection and the likely reason for inactivity.

Saline Jonische seems like it may be a training camp for tiny mafiosa.  It is not a good place to anchor.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

On the Run: Roccelle Ionica

Roccelle Ionica is No. 4
You Do Get that Gulfo di Squillace means
Gulf of Squalls Right?
2013 08 04
Roccelle Ionicia, Calabria, Italy

The weather was settled as we pulled out of Capo Rizzuto and headed into the Gulf of Squalls.  It stayed that way and we had a super run under sail for six hours across the pretty tame gulf.  
Thank God.  

There being a shortage of anchorages as one comes up on Messina and the Straits we pulled off early, about 1500, and set anchor on the beach just off a little tourist town called Roccelle Ionica.  Holding was good and the music did not keep us awake.

On the Run: Capo Rizzuto

Capo Rizzuto is No. 3
2013 08 04
Capo Rizzuto, Calabria, Italy

Off we were again, at 0630 this time, to make as much ground up as possible.  Again the weather gods favoured our passage and we had fair wind for better than six hours.  The wind died in early afternoon and then about 1500 turned to south.  South?  No south in anyone's forecast our hackles were up.  Unforecast wind was nothing ever but bad news, sometimes bad bad news.  

As the afternoon wore to a close the wind picked up.  This too was counter intuitive as a land breeze should, if anything, ameliorate as the heat of the sun is lessened.  Things remained at Defcon Two on board.  Not high enough to take action but all parties were watching.  

Finally by 1800 we had full on south west wind at twenty knots.  This was right on the nose and waves were being thrown up.  Our forward motion declined.  Things grew wet on board.

As we came up on Capo Rizzuto we decided to take refuge.  There was no way we would remain on the water bashing into the bloody fresh wind and water now hurtling towards us.  As we approached the Cape we found a small niche where we would fit and made for it.

Our niche was just deep enough that the waves, curving as they rounded the main point, were still about fifty metres off.  Water was calm where we set the hook and wind was cut by the cape to ten knots.  Sleep came easily.

Next Morning things Looked Pretty Inviting

No worries as we drifted off except that tomorrow we had to cross the Gulf of Squalls.  Who would not worry about a large open body of water named the Gulf of Squalls.

Not us that's who.  We slept.  Squalls were tomorrow's worries.