East Meets West, Ep. 162

With our last overnight crossing of the summer behind us, we just had one lengthy daytime crossing in front of us. I was elated! I’m sure when we cross the Atlantic, overnights will be as natural as the Greeks making yogurt, but for now, I was placing great value on a good night’s sleep. We kissed the hedonists, the naturalists – whatever you want to call the naked men and women of Ibiza and Formentara that seemed to outnumber the clothed variety – goodbye, executing our exit as soon as there was enough light to see in the morning. We aimed to knock off the 95nm distance to the mainland of Spain in one long day, trying our best to not arrive after dark, but to pick an anchorage free of obstacles if we did need to drop the anchor after sundown.

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Night Moves, Ep. 161

There may be no place more iconic in the Mediterranean than the island of Ibiza. A bit like a stylish Rio de Janerio, with a good dose of Key West thrown in, Ibiza is the place you go to let go. In our previous visit to the Balearic Islands, we ran out of time, after several weeks in Mallorca and Menorca, to try out Ibiza. This time, Ibiza, on the rhumb line to the Spanish mainland, was unavoidable. Like Rio, there’s a party at every turn, and despite Covid, there were people shoulder to shoulder in stores, restaurants, bars and beaches. And in our region, there were loads of 20 somethings piled onboard sailboats, tour boats, and luxury chartered yachts. Our cruising guide described a world of nightclubs trying to out do each other, with, as an example, one version being a bring-your-skimpiest-bathing-suit foam party. It also described nudism as an accepted practice, choosing the interesting phrase that it was a ‘feature’ of the island. 

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Far and Away, Ep. 160

260 nautical miles. That’s what stood before us as we raised our anchor from the island of San Pietro in southern Sardinia. This would be our longest crossing for the summer, as we proceeded with our mixed plan of sightseeing and boat movement out of the Med. It was slightly longer than our leg from Greece to Sicily, and for that one, we had woken up at 2am to try to squeeze the crossing into one and one-half overnights instead of a full two. We learned two important lessons from that approach. First, when you start out tired on a crossing, it doesn’t get any better. Second, when you are trying to arrive before nightfall on the second evening, to avoid a third night at sea, it makes you stressed about every little slow down in speed. We quickly realized we had to average six knots in order to make it to Sicily before dark, which made it hard to experiment with the sails in moderate winds. On this crossing to Mallorca, we had a good, solid night’s sleep, leaving in the early morning once the sun was up and visibility was clear. We were fully prepared to spend two nights at sea before our arrival. And it was evident right away how much better it felt. 

As we put San Pietro to our stern, the wind freshened out of the north, and we unfurled sails for a pleasant beam reach directly west to the Balearic Islands. Six knots would have been a great average, but we didn’t feel like we had to hit that for our arrival time, knowing we had a full third day’s worth of daylight if we needed it. Our speed of 5-5.5 knots was perfectly satisfactory, and it was blissful to turn off the engine. The solar panels were happily putting out lots of amps with the full sun rising above us, given our little off-grid home all the juice it needed, between the electronics, the autopilot, and the fridges. Life was good.

Like any crossing, we had spent most of the prior evening hunched over the weather forecasts, closely examining the similarities and differences of each model over the next two and a half days. We had chosen our departure to coincide with a lull in the normally active mistral winds that blow down with great force from the Gulf of Lyon off the French coast. These winds had been giving much joy to the Open Skiff racing contingent, but were more than we were looking for with their wind-whipped seas. Instead, we had a forecast of moderate northerly winds for the first day, and virtually no wind on the second day.

Weather forecast model for Day 1 and Day 2

The winds on our first day continued to freshen, our speeds improved and the first real potential for us to arrive early became clear. As nightfall approached, and we got closer to the second day’s forecast of non-existent winds, I expected that we would have to furl sails and start motoring, but the glorious wind held overnight, with the added bonus of a waxing moon to guide us along the way. 

Sunrise on Day 2 of the crossing

By the morning, with our good speeds since we departed, it became evident that we could arrive before nightfall and not have a second night at sea as long as we kept up the pace. So, as the wind eased off as forecasted, we kept the sails up but added a little boost from the engine to keep us moving. Normally, I’m not a big motor sailor. If there is wind to sail, then sail. If not, then don’t try to fake it by putting sails up and run the engine, tricking your fellow boaters out by your impressive speeds! However, impressions were of little importance on this quiet sea, and with the prospect of arrival before nightfall in our grasp, we were strongly motivated.

As planned on our second day, with a little help from the iron sail, we inched closer and finally by late afternoon we could make out the outline of Mallorca’s strikingly tall interior mountains on the horizon. We were aiming for the southeast tip of Mallorca, with a plan to round the point and tuck into a little anchorage on the inside, to avoid the building southerly winds coming in the evening. 

Approaching the tip of Mallorca at the end of the crossing

One of the benefits of sailing west and staying in the same timezone is that the sunset occurs later in the day. As we rounded the point at 9pm, we still had good visibility, enough to pick out a good place to drop the anchor on sand in the anchorage at El Caragol. 

All smiles as we finish our crossing from Sardinia

There wasn’t much at this little carve out of the rocky coastline except a beach, a few straggler beachgoers, and three other boats. That was fine by us, as all we wanted was something easy and low-frills, as we anchored up, had a quick bite, and headed to bed. We had put the longest crossing in the bank and could now rest assured that in terms of overnights we had only one more left, as we crossed to the Spanish mainland in a week or so. 

As we were maneuvering to drop the anchor, Karen had turned the bow thruster on briefly, only to find out that it spurted momentarily to life and then all the power went off, as if we had tripped a breaker. It was too late to troubleshoot it at the time, but in the morning, I jumped in the water on a hunch that maybe we snagged something in it’s little propellor. This had happened once before, as we were med mooring, and a dock line got pulled in and jammed the unit. Sure enough, as I swam towards the bow, I could see a small line floating in the water, probably leftover from a fish buoy. We could have snagged it somewhere along our route from Sardinia, or possibly right in the anchorage, but regardless, it was tightly wrapped numerous times around the propellor shaft. I kept thinking of the warnings about sticking your fingers into a jammed snowblower, and how our hand surgeon friend Bob gets a lot of calls early in the winter season back home in New England. But with a combination of delicate finger movements and brute force pulling, a wrap of line came unwound, and then more, and finally it was completely free of the bow thruster. Horrah!

Bowthruster jammed with stray line
The culprit, a bunch of loose fish buoy line

The next step in restoring the bowthruster involved opening up the control box and checking the fuse. As I suspected, the big 100a fuse was blown, and after the last occurrence, I had stocked up on a bag full of new fuses. Once a new one was in place, Karen turned on the joystick control and we were back in business with our bowthruster! It’s nice when a repair goes as straight forward as this.

Bowthruster fuse replacement

As we pulled away from the anchorage and pointed the bow across the expansive Bay of Palma, we were shocked by how many boats were underway all around us. Furthermore, nearly all of them were on AIS, so our chart plotter screen was a pick-up-stick pattern of vectors pointing every which way. Even fishing boats were transmitting their AIS position. This was a marked change from other Med countries, and especially for fisherman who seem to want to hide their secret fishing spots. The AIS dealers must have cut a deal for the boat owners of Mallorca! All of the new data on the screen kept us busy navigating.

On this excursion to Mallorca, we really wanted to see some different sites from our previous visit three years ago, where we skipped the southern and western shores. As we sailed offshore of Palma, and zig zagged around the many AIS targets on the screen, we rounded up the south coast to a harbor with the appealing name of Camp del Mar. I had grown up on the beaches of Del Mar, near San Diego, so I find myself with a certain affinity to any place with a similar name. Childhood memories are pretty persistent that way. While my Del Mar was a sleepy, hippy California beach town, this Del Mar was quite full of multi-story hotels and throngs of beachgoers. Californians love a beach, but I think it is fair to say that Spaniards are enthralled with the beach, and no more so than in the Balearics. They want their accommodations to be located just a step or two off the sand, and if that’s not possible, clinging to an adjacent cliff edge. We nosed in to an open area amongst 20 or more boats laying just out to sea from a yellow buoyed swim area. Spain is very intent on marking off areas from the beach that are for swimmers only, and hat’s off to them. There are too many crazies driving inflatables or jet skis at full throttle close to shore. It’s amazing there are not more accidents.

As soon as we were settled on anchor, we jumped in the water for a cool down from the intense heat of the day. We were so singularly focused on this wonderful replacement for an air-conditioned cabin, that we didn’t notice at first the appalling amount of trash in the water, mostly bits and pieces of plastic, but also jerry jugs, used covid masks, and other unmentionables. This detritus was slowly flowing out of the harbor, and we timed our swim for the in between time before the floating debris came back into the harbor in the late evening. Every country has their priorities and their personalities, but I will just say that this experience was in stark contrast to our witness of local Sardinians, at the windy Open Skiff championships, chasing after the ubiquitous empty plastic water bottle rolling into the water from the dock, clearly passionate about not populating their local waters. A young sailor even lost a short length of thin line off the dock next to our boat, and was fretting until we offered our boat hook for her to retrieve it. 

Chill time at Camp del Mar, Mallorca

We had ultimately come to this southwestern corner of Mallorca to visit the isolated and enticingly named island of Dragonera. However, a strong southerly wind made the few anchorages on the island, most with only room for one or two boats, impractical. We opted instead for the big town experience of Andratx. And speaking of interesting names, I couldn’t break my mind out of wanting to say ‘Anthrax’, but Karen was quick to point out the correct pronunciation of ‘Ann-DRAW-chh’. We were in need of some provisioning, which made this sizable town an attractive last stop before we departed Mallorca for Ibiza. Boats of all sizes and speeds were zooming by us as we got closer to the mooring field, once again reminding us that boating has not gone out of fashion here in Spanish waters. It wasn’t clear how all of these boats kept their fuel tanks re-provisioned either, as we approached the tiny fuel dock at Club de Vela and took our place in line. But their staff was very professional and directed us to an empty buoy in their mooring field, after some fiddling about whether we had a reservation. Reservations. That was a concept we were going to have to get more used to, as we moved west in the Med, closer to the metropolises and vacation meccas of the jet-setting Europeans. I can’t remember ever being asked in Greece if we had a reservation – at a marina, restaurant or elsewhere.

Steep cliffs and lighthouse as we turn into Andratx
Homes cascading down the cliffs as we enter Andratx

Equally out of context for us was the upscale nature of the village and patrons. We got away from the grocery store with still a few euros, but my interest in buying a new swim suit were soured by the first store’s price tag of 95 euros, and the second stores 119 euros. It made a lot more sense to separate myself from that amount of euros at a pleasing outdoor cafe than to put a high fashion bathing suit on a 50+ man. Best to leave that for the well-heeled 20-something Spanish male, too many of which seemed to catch the eye of my wife!

The Andratx harbor and dinghy dock

In a town like Andratx where there seemed to be more restaurant seating than tourists, it’s always a shot in the dark to find a venerable dinner experience. Everything looks and smells good. With our life on the water all of the time, we try to divert to a street or two off the waterfront, where generally the prices are better, but for sure the quality is a step up. And on this evening, we lucked out, as we indoctrinated ourselves into the local dining culture by ordering a seafood paella for two. To say it was a sensation is an understatement. It might have even rivaled the fine paella handiwork of our Spaniard friend Lisa, the master of anything involving the kitchen, but I may have been caught up in the moment. She was eager to hear the details and we shared what we could, despite the delirious effects of the day’s heat, and the evening’s libations!

After a stroll along the waterfront, it was time to hit the berth and get ready for a morning departure to Ibiza. With the forecast calling for a brisk southeast breeze, the potential existed for a lively sail across the 50nm expanse. It was certainly a good excuse to go down early and rest up. Although we were only in Mallorca for a few days, not nearly the three weeks we spent during our first year in the Med, it brought us great pleasure to be criss-crossing the azure waters of the Balearic Islands, in the comfort of the familiar, while marveling in the joy of the new. 

Lost in Translation, Ep. 159

As a group, sailors complain a lot about the wind. Either it is not enough, or it’s too much, or it’s come from the wrong direction. Karen and I are likely further jaded by the tempestuous weather of the Med, and the often repeated refrain, “There’s either no wind or too much of it!” But in reality I don’t think it’s a Med-specific phenomenon. When we sailed throughout New England with our young kids, there would be many summer days where we’d be searching for a breathe of wind. As a kid, with my Hobie cat off the beaches of San Diego, it wouldn’t take much to accelerate through the water, yet I spent many weekend days floating on a glassy sea. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this. Sometimes the gift the water can give to us is merely the peace and separation from our troubles ashore. But sometimes you have a destination in mind. And having a suitable wind speed and direction is a highly preferred companion to your solitude.

We knew our stay in the Egadi Islands of western Sicily was going to be cut short. The forecast would only allow us to stay one night. If we didn’t leave right after that, we’d have at least 2-3 days of headwinds to wait out before the crossing to Sardinia. The weather window was now and we had to strike while the iron was hot. The only wrinkle was the wind direction. While the forecast called for about 15 knots of wind, ideal in most situations, it was going to be coming from our stern. The adage, “Fair winds and following seas” is more of a carryover from the old square-rigger days, when the only winds these old ships were designed to handle was from nearly behind you. The modern rigged sailboat can take winds from astern, but is best suited for winds from the side (beam reaching) or close-hauled (at about 45 degrees to the wind). In truth, not many sailors like to go directly down wind. The boat moves slower, the inevitable waves generated by the winds easily push the boat off course, and the motion onboard is a double axis gyroscope of sorts, with the boat rocking from side to side, while also pitching forward and back. 

A farewell to the Egadi Islands as we head west to Sardinia
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On the Run, Ep. 158

The surprise gift that was Malta had come to a close and it was time for us to head back to the big island of Sicily and continue our march westbound. Normally we sleep very well at a marina like Mgarr, on account of the few sources of worry, like dragging anchors and lumpy swells. But there had been a ‘technical problem’ with the ferry we had booked back from Valetta the night before. In the past, companies would just come out and say, hey, the engine won’t start, or the gangway won’t retract, but nowadays, with everyone appropriating the lingo of a high-tech world, it’s always just a ‘technical problem’. I think it makes it sound more like a complex NASA rocket launch being delayed because of a misbehaving sensor rather than the unglamorous nature of a recalcitrant carbon spewing diesel engine. In the end, we got back to Sea Rose and in our berth by about 1 am. I really liked Malta, but she wouldn’t let go of her grasp. Some might call her clingy!

We had about 70nm to cross to Sicily, to the harbor of Licata, which gave us a slight progress to the west as well. 

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Anything Worth Having Is Worth Fighting For, Ep. 157

This quote is loosely attributed to Oscar Wilde, and I believe to a few citizens over the centuries living on the island nation of Malta. The spirit of the phrase would mark our amazing visit to this geographically strategic spot in the middle of the Mediterranean. The price of admission was a long day of motoring south from Sicily, about 70nm, with occasional course changes to avoid the heavy east/west shipping traffic. Sometimes it felt like we were pedestrians trying to cross a busy Los Angeles freeway. At least the seas were flat and the engineers at Yanmar apparently well paid, on account of the reliable performance of our engine.

Sunrise departure from Sicily
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Crossing into Summer, Ep. 156

Karen and I knew when we planned this summer out that we would have several long crossings to do. With a goal of ending up in Northwest Spain by the end of the season, we would have to keep moving at a good clip and not spend as much time as prior summers ambling along the coastlines. That’s not to say that we wouldn’t stop to smell the roses. It is just that when the weather gods were in our favor, we’d have to pick up and go. Such was the case early in the morning at Argostoli, Kefalonia. We had set a departure of 0300, which would mean only one full overnight before arriving in Siracusa, Sicily the following evening, some 270nm away. As is usually the case, Karen drives us out of the harbor, and then I take over for the first watch while she goes down to catch up on sleep. I’m more of a morning person and actually enjoy these pre-dawn watches. And getting sleep whenever you can is really important on these long passages. If we are sleep-deprived at the helm, it puts both us and others in our path at risk.

The crossing from Greece, about 270nm
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Test, Test, Can You Hear Me OK?! Ep. 155

If I learned one thing from working in the software industry, it was the value gained from methodical, systematic processes. It’s relatively easy to picture in your head how a web page or predictive algorithm might work, but when writing the code and then communicating across a team diverse by location and language, any matter of alchemy could arise. It was easier when I was younger, writing my own code. But still, unexpected results or functionality came up, and it was no fun when a customer discovered it first. Any good developer has to have a healthy amount of humility. Mistakes happen, it’s a reality of software development, and, after all the fancy visioning sessions are complete and fingers start hitting the keyboard, it’s crucial to hunt down the gremlins and fix them promptly. In larger organizations, a full-fledged testing team, divorced from the developers, is called in to look at the product – people with no emotional attachment or pride of ownership. Clearly we are all heavily dependent on software in our daily lives. And it can be frustrating when a bug arises or functionality is missing. But a reality check is necessary. These products can contain literally millions of lines of code, and so to, at least that many points of failure. What seems small and benign when we stow our smartphone in our pocket, is in fact a vast array of complex algorithms that would blow the mind of an IBM researcher just a few decades ago with a campus full of state of the art mainframe computers. It’s not sexy, but following a strict regiment of review and testing has provided us with some of the sexiest of software tools, and I don’t just mean Tinder!

And so it was that we started our first week onboard Sea Rose – our shakedown week – checking all of the systems and fixing any issues. The list of systems included Karen and I, as any sailor will tell you that if you’ve been away from it for awhile, it takes some work to get your head back into the game. Our strategy for the week was to not go too far from our comfort zone and from access to chandleries for spare parts. That meant the safety of the Greek Ionian islands, where we had spent the last six weeks of previous season island hopping with our good friend Theo. Once we were confident everything was working OK, we would make our first big crossing of the summer, to Sicily. 

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In Search of Water, Ep. 154

When our kids were younger, and as our family pulled out of the depths of winter, I couldn’t wait to get back on the water and start sailing again. To feel the warm air on one’s face and hear the gurgling of water down the hull as you slipped by under gentle afternoon sail was magical. Launching the boat in New England was a tricky affair of timing. Too early and you’d need to bundle up like the Michelin man to fight off the cold, too late and you risk missing out on a few gems of unannounced warm weather. But once we had the boat in the water, it was all about finding time to fit our sailing in between the kids commitments and other obligations. If we sailed every other weekend, I was satiated. On the other hand, if we skipped more than one weekend, I would notice an uneasiness come over me, an increased frustration with normally trivial life events and a general lack of groundedness. Sailing, and water in general, has always been an elixir for me. It gives me peace and comfort, like the fit of a favorite shoe or the melody of an acoustic guitar. I feel drawn to the water by some extraordinary otherworldly force. Knowing its healing power to my psyche, I don’t resist its powerful draw.

So it is not lost on me how fortunate I am to have a partner that enjoys sailing too, along with a gaggle of friends that seem to want to climb onboard at a moments notice. And after a long stretch of pandemic woes, there was a lot of psyche to be healed this Spring.

Karen and I boarded our flights from Boston on British Airways, making sure to follow all of the travel restrictions to the tee. Last year, we had slipped into Greece under a loop-hole, using our French visas as a means to blend in with the rest of the EU citizenry, before Greece closed that option a few weeks later. This time, we made sure to be 14 days past our last vaccine shot, and we visited the local clinic for a fast turnaround of PCR tests the day before we departed. I had tested the travel restriction waters a month prior, flying into Athens as soon as Greece opened to Americans to knock off a long list of spring commissioning projects; I was nearly alone in a quiet boatyard calling out for more owners to visit. But this time, with Karen and all of our gear in tow, we felt like the odds were in our favor, and excitement was in the air.

Arrival in Preveza, Greece. Yippee!
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