Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Leaving Valencia Finally - Formentara On the Horizon

2012 05 22
Valencia soon to be no more

Farewell to the Brainbug Building
We Head to the Best Nude Beach in the World
FInally the wind and hopefully the waves have subsided enough to permit us to cross comfortably from Valencia to Ibiza/Formentara, first stop in the Balearic chain of islands of which Ibiza, Mallorca and Menorca are  best known.

Mainly it has been the waves that kept us in Valencia a full five days longer than anticipated.  Yesterday waves were predicted to be in the 4 metre range, on average, so we stayed ashore.  Bored but comfy.  Odd how often those two emotions cohabit.

The trick to this passage, not there really is one, is timing.  Arriving at the gap between Ibiza and Formentara we must negotiate a 0.35 nm pass between two long largely subaqueous but very rocky points.  Doing this in the dark on the first visit is doable of course but why add the stress.  We will leave late morning from Valencia to arrive at the pass  in good morning light tomorrow.

Here we sit, old and cautious.  Odd how often those two traits cohabit.

For those of you who are wondering Valencia is a marvellous city.

It has the best urban park idea ever: suffering major damage from flooding one year they diverted the entire offending river and turned the floodplain, no longer needed for flood control, into a park.  Planted and developed exclusively for the enjoyment of the residents this riverine wonderland is probably the single best thing about Valencia.  Majorly impressed.

That said this is also the city where bigoted department store (Cortes Ingles) staff refused to sell me shoes because I was foreign.  And had no trouble yelling that fact at me.  Imagine their surprise when they found out they had just pissed off Bob.  Two hours with management later Bob left with two pairs of shoes fitted by the store manager.  The staff left differentlly configured.  Even though the BC assures me this happens elsewhere I believe there is a deep seated problem with narrow minded bigotry in Spain.

All you have to do to really enjoy Valencia is to un notice the results of their not treating their sewage: a city in which you cannot walk if the wind is not blowing 10 knots or better.  This force of wind is needed to clear the reeking miasma of human excretion, decaying rat carcasses and toxic bio sludge which oozes continously from their storm sewers (yes storm sewers!!).  Just remember you only smell IT if a bit of IT is deposited on your olfactory sensors.  Which means that what you are smelling you are breathing in and swallowing.

In the case of Valencia you are continually eating ... IT.

Enjoyed Valencia.  Stayed too long. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Why Does Boat Insurance Cost So Much in North America: European Competitiveness

2012 05 21
in Valencia Spain until tomorrow

Valencia Downtown - Not Your Average Toronto
Yesterday I suggested travellers to Europe should buy their cell phone needs once they got here.  In the eleven months since we have arrived in Europe this is a complete turnabout.  Cellphone wifi was horrendously expensive last August.

We bought a brand new but granted older model Blackberry phone for €129 and we get unlimited data use for €5 a week which includes €1.50 taxes.  This is the pay as you go rate.

The Blackberry can be unlocked for $10 so the phone is portable amongst countries and service providers.  We can also tie our Blackberry Playbook to the phone's wifi service and get full blown tablet wifi on the same unlimited plan.

Not that I intended to write about phone services.  Today is reserved for insurance, marina fees and prescription drugs.

Boat insurance in Europe is very well priced.   Our premium for next year placed with Pantaenius Insurance a major marine insurer with a great reputation for customer service is about 35% of the price we were quoted by our North American broker.  No kidding our premium is down from $2,400 to $900 for better coverage and 6 million third party liability instead of the old one million in North America.

If you are coming to Europe from North America plan on re insuring when you get here.  You will save a bundle.

When you get to Europe you will also be pleasantly surprised at the cost of marinas.  Granted we have been docking in low season but in Valencia, where we are now, the rate is €19 per day including dockage, electric and acceptable wifi internet.  The marina, King Juan Carlos Marina (the Americas Cup marina) charges €25 In high season.

We have all heard the horror stories about the Balearic Island marinas chargine €400 a night but there are good anchorages in Ibiza, Mallorca and Menorca so we will plan on just staying away.

Prescription Drugs Wishing to ensure my regular medicines would not run out while cruising I took the label from my old Ontario drug boxes into the Farmacia here in Valencia.  Ten minutes later I walked out with all three prescriptions filled.  Price was less than half of that in Canada and far less than half than it would be in the USA, world renowned home of drug thuggery.

Do not worry about refilling your prescriptions once you get here.  It is no big deal.

Europe loses the battle on boat equipment and shipping costs.  A German online chandler (www.svb.de) sorts this out a bit.  Stuff is still dear but you can get it all, in brands you know and trust and with delivery that you can rely on.  All the guys on the dock in Valencia are using this service.  Mostly they can get delivery of stuff before the chandler which is 100 metres away.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

2G and 3G Cell and WiFi in Europe

2012 05 17

If you are coming to Europe, regardless of country, and think you might want a cell phone while you are here or if you want to tie into a 3G mobil internet network I recommend the following:

1. Coverage Map: http://www.sensorly.com

2. Buying Strategy: Buy your cell phone or usb wifi dongle in Europe.  Buy your usage or data plan when you get here as well.   It will be much cheaper.  Cell phones with limited function are about €10.  USB wifi dongles are the same.  I am finding advertised internet prices to be higher than the price in the store for both pay as you go cell phone service and 3G mobil usb.

3.  WiFi is pronounced wee fee in most of Europe.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Arabian Nights - A Stay in Fes

Posted 2012 05 16 from Valencia

Budget Committee at the Bab Boujloud
"Pearl Gate" entrance to the Medina, Fes
We woke to find ourselves in an environment more foreign that we could ever have imagined.  Not that the waking was in way unpleasant.  So much the contrary.  Our hotel, the Dar Ahl Tadla, booked online was a gem, located only a ten minute walk through the Bab Boujloud or "Pearl Gate" and deep into the Medina, Fes' unique and UN heritage site and urban area.

Our night before had been total chaos, we arriving at the Gare Fez, via first class train from Oujda some 350 km to the North East.  Cleverly I had accepted the hotel manager's offer to arrange taxi to meet us at the train.  It was pretty classy let me tell you to walk into the train station to find our driver waiting with hand drawn sign calling us to him.  The manager joined the driver and together the six of us, driver, manager, BC, me and two friends travelling with us, climbed into the small Mercedes taxi and found our way to the Bab Boujloud.  

Connie seems OK with the Medina.
Ten more minutes found us at the hotel
Debarking the taxi we then had a ten or fifteen minute walk through the gates, into the medina and to our hotel.

Thank god we had the manager with us.  To get to the hotel we had to step lively through the endless winding streets of the medina filled with wall to wall shops and street vendors haranguing each and every passerby to examine their wares "best price mister, not bad quality like the tannery goods".

The Alleyway to our Maison d'Acceul

After ten minutes progress we were at the turn to the street that held our hotel.  You found the alley by brushing aside the carpet hanging down over the alleyway put there by the carpet shop on the corner.  If the hotel manager had not been there to guide us  we would never have found the hidden secret entrance.

Our rooms were fabulous, decorated in ceramic tiles and moorish leather.  Each room, in what was a converted home of the formely wealthy had louvers that opened to a central courtyard in which was located the dining room.  
Our Shower
Connie was So Taken with the Dining Room
I stole Her Cream Cheese Every Morning and
She Never Noticed
Classic Moroccan Tea Service -
Presented Every Morning
  Breakfast was included with the room and consisted of Moroccan specialty mint tea, a heavily sweetened very hot beverage, three kinds of bread, a hard boiled egg, great preserves and a tiny bit of cream cheese.  

Connie had done a lot of research on Fez and warned that the nstreets in the medina were winding and treacherous.  "You will get lost" she warned me and our friends as we walked the narrow alley to our hotel.  

That first night after stowing our bags we just had to take a walk about our new neighbourhood.  We ordered dinner for 2100 and went for an hour's stroll.

Our friends considered themselves excellent navigators and led the way.  At one point we said to them that we were going to return to the hotel..The sun was going down and I was at the limit of my ability to remember the labyrinth of streets we had traversed to arrive where we then were.  Walking the medina that night was like playing the old Simon game where you had to memorize an increasingly complex pattern of lights and sound.  

Our friends continued on their way.  

An hour and a half later they were just getting back to the hotel.  Visibly shaken they had had a real adventure getting totally lost as dark fell and then being accosted by some of the night creatures, some more human than others that feed only after dark.  Finally they had paid a kid a lot of money to guide them home and midway they decided they did not trust their guide.  All in all they had been badly frightened.

Centuries Old Water Clock that No One Can Make Work
Built by a Moorish magician
Dinner was a somber affair although the food was excellent and the prices low.  Next day everyone's mood was leavened and we attacked the medina in earnest.   

There are no words and most of the pix are video.  

A couple more pictures will have to do.  We have amazing videos of the medina, a maze of 9,000 streets and 80,000 shops.  No street is more than 2 metres wide and no corner is square.  Shops are supplied by donkey and they have the right of way.  
You are guaranteed to get lost and we did.  Gloriously.

The medina dates to 250 BC. "New Fez" is so called because it is only 700 years old.
Tannery worker at his waterwheel


The "new" Section of Fez so called
because it is "only" 700 years old

Lesson Not Learned

2012 05 16
written in Valencia, waiting out potential not extant, bad weather to cross to Ibiza and Formentara

Most of my sailing education seems to stem from mistakes.  Too often my education is advanced through my own lack of foresight and anticipation, or worse, my own laziness.  This particular case, was not one of those situations.

Having topped up our diesel tanks before leaving Saidia in Morocco we moved carefully away from the dock to make room for our friends who were waiting in their boat to do the same.  As we moved away we watched our friends reverse their way into a concrete wall across from the fuel dock.  Moving to the stricken boat we were told by the skipper the transmission had jammed in reverse leaving them unable to stop their backward progress.  Like our Meredith their boat had no little to no steerage in reverse.

The skipper, whom tore up his thigh muscles fairly severely trying to push his boat off the wall had the boat tied up to the wall by the time we got to him so we carried on to the customs and immigration clearing dock where a raft of border police and officials in fancy outfit were standing in wait for us.

Explaining our friends' difficulty to the officials we obtained permission to remain on the dock after clearing out until the issues with the other boat's transmission were dealt with.

By radio, we not being allowed to leave the customs dock, we discussed the mechanical issues with our friends.  About an hour had elapsed before they informed us that it was not a transmission problem at all.  It seems their shifter, the lever that moves a cable to shift the transmission into forward or reverse had jammed.

"It was bad maintenance" announced the skipper.  "The shifter was plugged solid with dirt and corrosion.  I have it apart now and all is in hand.  We will be underway in less than an hour."

Happy the mechanical failure was so easily remedied (thoughts of waiting for transmission parts in Morocco had our blood run cold) we departed Saidia for Cartagena.  True to his word the other captain left about an hour and a half after us and arrived in Cartagena about two hours after us which also meant, unfortunately for him, about two hours after dark.

Next day I visited our friends' boat to check on their well being.  The skipper reviewed what had happened and placed the blame squarely on the very bad maintenance habits of the previous owner of his boat.

Now here is the lesson.  The fault was placed on the previous owner.  The previous owner had, according to the skipper, not maintained his boat.  Our friend had owned the boat for several months and had been known to brag about all the work he had done on the boat.

In a moment of disbelief I asked the skipper if he had not taken the shifter apart before leaving Almerimar thinking but not saying that if he had done so he would have discovered the problem.

"No" was the curt response.  "I was a commercial fisherman before I bought this boat and in ten years I never once took apart a shifter mechanism.  They never fail."

Friday, May 11, 2012

2012 05 11
Valencia Spain

Since the last post here is where we have been.  Hopefully, now that we have internet for a while, we can elaborate with appropriately acerbic observations.

Almerimar to Melilla easy crossing for us.  A boat that tagged along with us out of Almerimar discovered its prop was fouled and it could make no headway.  We slowed to maintain radio contact but still made the 80 nm trip in under 24 hours.  The other boat arrived 19 hours aafter we did.  The  new owners had not seen the boat out of the water and had not checked his prop before leaving.

Melilla to Saidia uneventful 40 mile sail.  Marvellous destination including trip to Fez and Visibulis about which more in a future blog.  This was a major stop.

Saidia to Cartagena: what wind there was was on the nose.  A motor job.  The tagalong boat  suffered a problem with their transmission linkage which held them and us up for nearly three hours

Cartagena to Mar Menor: nifty 25 mile sail to this little inland sea just north of Cartagena. Loved it here.

We left Cartagena after four days without the tagalong boat.  Like many new owners of a used boat the crew of the boat had been surprised by the burden of maintenance on an older boat.  They were learning the hard way the importance of preventative maintenance on a sailboat: everything needs to be torn down, cleaned, inspected closely and rebuilt.  Often.  Before the parts fail.  They will make it but for now they have some fixing to do.

Three glorious days were spent in Mar Menor.  Met Monique and Dorian aboard Domini, a German boat we knew, and they joined us at anchor for a couple of days.

Alone again we took time to enjoy a protected secluded island beach which we had all to ourselves for an entire day.

Mar Menor to Benidorm  Sailed and motorsailed away from Mar Menor very relaxed.  Reached Benidorm without effort.  Unhappy with anchorages along Spanish coast.  All are wide open to most elements.

Benidorm offered some protection but it was an illusion.  Town filled up with lower class Brits.  So many UK residents here they call the place Little Britain.  In fact there is a comedy show on British TV about it.  Some morbidly obese homosexual wears stupidly small gay coloured clothing and walks around for 30 minutes talking about holding a man's penis in his hand.  The lower classes love it and the homosexual is wealthy.  Forced to watch half an hour of this twaddle one night on a friend's boat we were ready for Benidorm and it proved to be all it could hope to be.  Think of Benny Hill without the subtlety or charm.

The whole beach has been marked off limits for boats.  No anchoring wanted there.   Brits love to exclude people.  God knows why.  No one wants in.

Benidorm to Cullera motor sail in 6 knots of wind.  Nice beach.  No Brits around so the beach was not marked off limits.  Very minor swell out of the South East pummelled the anchorage all night.  Uncomfortable.  Almost enough for me to put out a side anchor if all that wasn't just so much work.

Cullera to Valencia  We wait to see what is up.  Looks very promising.

Observation on Better Places to Overwinter than Almerimar

One thing we have determined: both Cartagena and Valencia were better places to winter our boat that was Almerimar.

Cost is the same at Cartagena as at Almerimar (if you factor in electric) and the marina was full of young international sailors who shared an enormously good winter together.  Boats were well maintained and clean unlike most of Almerimar's derelict boat population.    There was no half dead resentful expat population dragging the mood down for everyone.  Internet sucks big time at Cartagena but the street festivals are enormous fun.

Valencia is even cheaper than Almerimar if you take into account electric and internet and the internet works here.  So far this is the only place the internet has worked.  This marina was built to host the America's Cup and now hosts one of Spain's two Formula 1 races, this year held in June.  We may book a month around the race because they run it only a couple hundred metres from our mooring.