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July 3, 2005

San Juan's Day

Carita and I caught a taxi to La Mola in Formentera and met up with Jorge, Jean-Pierre, and Claire, in a restaurant for San Juan's Day celebrations, the Spanish equivalent of midsummer. After a couple of bottles of wine, however, nothing seemed to be happening. We asked around, and sure enough, we were one day too early - the celebrations were the following night. Rather than put the party off, however, we all piled into a rental car and went off to Casa Paco to continue the drinking and festivities with some lovely mojitos before Jean-Pierre invited us back to their boat, Buenaventura for some more drinks.

I'd noticed their distinctive, big, pink catamaran earlier when we'd gone past it in the dinghy and it was truly impressive inside. Custom built in France to their own design, it was more like a floating apartment than a boat. It's best feature, however, was a 5:1 hi-fi system that outranked most bars and clubs. Jean-Pierre works in the music industry and had set it up with a true professional's ear - adding a 4ms delay between speakers to create the kind of sound system that most people can only dream of. Carita and I were stunned by it.

After lots of whisky and listening to music, we said our good-byes about 05:00 and got into the dinghy for our long trip back to the boat in Espalmador, full of good intentions to go to bed. Instead, when we got back to Zamindar, we sat around drinking beer in the cockpit, watched the sunrise, and finally fell into bed around 08:00.

July 5, 2005

Flower Power

On our last weekend in Formentera, a big party called Flower Power was taking place at La Mola so we just had to go. Jorge's girlfriend, Elizabeth, had just arrived from Barcelona so the four of us took a taxi to the other side of the island and arrived just as things were getting into full swing. Flower Power's a hippie style party where everyone's supposed to wear something flowery or 70's. Carita refused to go with me if I wore my cool, black, shiny Terylene shirt (which is apparently now called Dacron so they can sell it to post 80's people) so I had to opt for a flowery design instead.

The pine forests of La Mola were one of the birthplaces of the hippie movement and it took some time to realise that many of the people at the party with long hair and afros were not, in fact, wearing wigs, but had just stumbled out of the trees with their last tab of LSD from the 70's. Now that we've spent so much time in Formentera we know quite a lot of people there - finally making us feel a bit like locals, just, as always, the time comes to leave. The atmosphere was friendly and buzzing as they played music too old to be spun at any of Ibiza's clubs, but this was a real Formentera celebration; outside, under the stars, in a small square, with people smoking joints in the church doorway and dancing across the main street in town.

July 6, 2005

Leaving Formentera

After putting it off a couple of times, convinced either by other people to stay a bit longer, or that the weather forecast would be better in another day or two, the time finally came to leave Formentera. Carita had less than a week left before her flight back to Finland from Andalucia, so we couldn't leave it much longer.

The boat had been in Ibiza and Formentera for two years, Carita & I had met there, and we both knew how magical and special a place it is. As often happens, the last weeks you spend in a place you have to leave are often the best. In Sabina, getting refused fresh bread for one last time, we bumped into Jean-Pierre and Claire, sat down and had a coffee with them, and they chatted about their time sailing in West Africa, giving lifts to locals with pigs on their boat.

Carita and I headed back to Espalmador and lifted and stowed the dinghy and outboard on deck - a mammoth task which took hours. Jorge and Elizabeth came over and we all said our farewells - Jorge joking that my anchor may not come out as it had been buried there so long. It was evening as we left, and it felt sad as Espalmador began to fade into the mist. Soon, however, the sadness was replaced with a slight feeling of excitement as we busied ourselves getting everything ready for our first night at sea.

July 8, 2005

Night Watch

On longer sails we normally do three hour watches onboard. This was Carita's first proper passage and she was quite excited about it. I did the first watch as Formentera disappeared, then woke Carita at 01:30 to take over, with instructions to get me up if anything happens that she's not sure about, then I went to bed. It always takes a bit of time to adapt to the watch system and as you know that you have to get up in three short hours, the pressure's on to get to sleep as soon as you get into bed.

It was a fairly peaceful night, however, without any big ship action, the wind had dropped, and we were having to motor. Shortly after I took over the watch again a pod of dolphins appeared, porpoising out of the water in the near darkness. I quickly woke Carita but by the time she got onto deck they'd gone, and I'm sure she assumed it was some sort of cruel joke I was playing to spice my night up.

After dawn the wind picked up from behind, as did the waves, giving the boat an uncomfortable corkscrewing motion as we surfed down the waves, and trying to sleep meant clinging onto the bed to avoid being thrown around it. This continued for the whole day, but at least we could sail, and just before sunset we caught sight of land; the lighthouse at Cabo de Palos. We weren't stopping, however, but at least it meant we could get an internet connection over the phone to download the next day's weather forecasts and synoptic charts.

Another night of watches, but at least by now we were beginning to settle into it. At one point I'd only been asleep for an hour when Carita woke me up saying that the wind was picking up like a squall was coming. It's strange to be in the middle of a happy dream one moment, and the next you're on deck on a black, windy night at sea, trying desperately to waken up enough to decide what the weather is doing and make the right decision for the sails. Then I was back asleep again. Thirty minutes later Carita came to tell me that the boat was surrounded by dolphins! I got up, but unfortunately I just didn't have the energy to stay and watch them, and decided to go back to bed. Apparently, I missed a fantastic display though as they swam through wheels of bioluminescence and jumped out of the water. Maybe Carita had taken too many seasickness tablets by this time though...

July 10, 2005

Becalmed Without an Engine

I sat in the cockpit watching dawn break and the sun gradually rising as the heat increased. Staying awake was becoming very difficult as my head continually nodded down, wakening myself up every time. Just before I woke Carita and went to bed, I had to stop the engine, and top up the oil. The boat was rolling heavily from side to side as I opened the engine compartment and leaned into it's fierce heat, trying to catch the boat when it was upright to do a proper check of the oil level. After what seemed like forever, I'd checked it, topped it up, and was back in the cockpit. I could hear my bed calling.

I turned the ignition key. Rather than being met with the sound of the engine starting, however, the only sound was a loud click. I tried again. Clack. Fuck. The starter motor seemed to have jammed. I turned all our battery power on, hit it with a hammer in the hope of unsticking it - but nothing worked. Clack. Clack. Clack.

We were out of sight of land and there was virtually no wind, but our only hope was to sail into a harbour. I pulled out the pilot book and all the information I had about the coastline and began looking for a safe harbour to head for. We needed somewhere that was reasonably close, but more importantly was large enough to sail into, anchor nearby, and big enough to have a marine mechanic. Garrucha appeared to be our best bet. We put up all the sail, the wind began to pick up, our speed increased, and we headed for the coast.

The entire east coast of Almeria is high and mountainous, and about five miles offshore we sailed into the wind shadow of the mountains and the breeze dropped off. Some large fishing boats were trawling nearby and one of them was heading our way. I held the genoa out by hand, trying to get the sail to fill with wind, but there was no hope as it flapped endlessly. The fishing boat was still heading for us, and, totally becalmed and unable to move, I began to worry. Normally, if a fishing boat is on a collision course with you, you get out of it's way fast. They're working hard and many of them don't see why they should detour around some arsehole in their way on a sailing boat, playing with his flapping sails. It's bows were cutting through the water, pointing straight at us as I grabbed the radio, about to call him on the vhf. By now they were so close I could clearly see the guy steering so I waved to him to get his attention. He returned the wave, and, twenty metres away from impact, thankfully changed his course to avoid us.

We were still alive but still becalmed as the boat rolled in the short Mediterranean swell. Every so often we would see a small gust of wind move across the water towards us and we'd try to catch it to move a little closer to the harbour. Getting close to the shore in conditions like these without an engine could well be dangerous, however. As long as we were in deep waters we were safe, but if the wind went calm when we were close to land, the swell and current could easily take us onto the rocks. By now we had a phone signal again and Carita called Garrucha marina to explain our situation and ask them for assistance when we were close. All we needed was for someone from the marina to be ready in a small boat to tow us into a berth. It wasn't yet an emergency, and there was no need to call the coastguard. They answered the phone and told her that they couldn't help, didn't have any space, and that we should try another marina about twenty miles up the coast.

There was no way that I was going to spend the rest of the day trying to coax the boat further up the coast and maybe be met with the same kind of reply. The swell was still too big to attempt to launch our own dinghy which would have been able to tow us, but if we couldn't get assistance from the marina then we could still attempt to sail close to Garrucha and anchor. First, though, I called Jorge in Ibiza. After a bit of chatting about how the sailing had been going, I mentioned that we had a small problem. Jorge is probably one of the most persuasive people I know, and, being Spanish as well, he told me he'd call Garrucha marina and talk to them. Five minutes later he called me back - they weren't answering the phone, but they'd probably just gone out for a coffee so he'd keep trying.

Time dragged on. The sun was hot, the boat was rolling and there was virtually no wind. We were now only two miles offshore and had begun heading back out to deeper water to avoid getting too close to the shore. Every so often a slight breeze would appear then it would be calm again. Then another one would appear from a totally different direction, meaning that we had to change the sail angles every time to take advantage of them. Carita had remained very calm, perhaps too calm, during all of this, but now I sensed that she realised just how risky things could become.

Finally, Jorge called. He'd been phoning the marina every five minutes for two hours until finally they'd answered the phone. After some persuasion they'd agreed to send someone out in a small boat to meet us when we got to the harbour entrance, and if anything went wrong we had permission to drop anchor there in an emergency. We turned around and headed for harbour, trying to catch every breeze we could.

After an hour or so we were closing in at a crawling 1.5 knots. After putting lots of fenders out around the boat we called the marina on the radio, as arranged, to tell them that we were close. Then we realised that it was now siesta time. Remarkably, however, we got an answer and the marina replied that they would be there to meet us at the entrance. Hoping there wouldn't be a strong current running past the harbour, we rounded the breakwater and, thankfully, were met by the harbourmaster in a dory, or small boat. He took our towline, asked what the problem was with the engine, and called a mechanic there and then to come down to look at it. Then he towed us onto the fuel pontoon and we tied up safely.

Three hours later the mechanic turned up. With quite a bit of trouble, he removed the started motor and took it away to work on it. A couple of hours after that, Carita and I were walking through the town when he called to say that he was inside the boat refitting the starter motor after getting it working again. Delighted, but also slightly worried that a stranger was wandering around inside the boat on his own, we hurried back just in time to start the engine and hear it running.

We spent a very appreciative night tied up to the fuel pontoon, had a good bottle of wine to celebrate being alive, and had a full night's sleep without getting up every three hours to go on watch.

July 13, 2005

Into the Wind

We set off the next day, heading south, with the wind on our nose. This time there was lots of it as well and it gradually picked up until we were crashing headfirst into the waves. It was following the coast as well, which meant that even when we rounded a headland and changed direction, it was still in front of us. The whole coastline seemed to be a wind acceleration zone, which I hadn't come across since sailing in the Canaries; wind from certain directions gets funnelled around and over the mountains and can easily double in force as it comes down to sea.

The wind picked up further until it was about force 6, and rounding headlands was becoming very difficult as the bigger waves would slam into our bows and bring our speed down to almost zero. We sat there, staring at the rocks and cliffs about half a mile off our starboard side as if we weren't moving, wondering if we were ever going to get past them and trying to keep track of any cross-current that might be pulling us onshore.

We were motoring hard, trying to punch through four metre waves and every so often we'd get hit by a bigger one which would break over the deck and soak us in the cockpit. It was turning into another tough day, and, as the wind and waves were slowing us so much, what should have been a six hour trip was now dragging on. I took a look at the charts and decided to make for Ensenada de Rodalquilar, a closer anchorage than the one we'd been heading towards. The pilot book didn't make it sound very attractive and warned there was poor holding; our anchor might drag, which didn't sound too promising in this wind, but we decided to take a look anyway.

As we approached the bay the wind picked up to about force 7, howling around us. We had everything ready for a prompt anchoring operation in case we were quickly blown back out of the bay, but as we got close we suddenly motored through the wind line and, unbelievably, it dropped off completely. It didn't seem real - we looked behind us at a line of waves where it was about 35 knots, and here the wind was calm. It felt like coming out of hell. The bottom of the bay was all soft, white sand. As the anchor hit, it dug in instantly - so much for the pilot book.

Carita and I swam ashore and walked along the beach. The rock was almost white, carved into amazing patterns and curves by the waves, and full of fossils. We sat and looked down into the clear water and out at Zamindar, anchored in the bay; it was really a lovely place.

July 14, 2005

Arrival in Almerimar

We'd noticed that some of the local boats stayed very close to the cliffs as they were following the coast, tucked in just out of the strong winds that were coming off the mountains, so we thought we'd give it a try. In the Mediterranean the wind often tends to pick up as the heat of the day builds and drop off again in the evening, so we left at 06:00 and were out of the bay before the sun rose.

We managed to stay just out of the strong winds, watching the white breakers just off to our port side until we were close to Cabo de Gato. We'd reckoned this part might be tough and the wind was forecast to be in front of us again all day. Soon, we were once more crashing through big waves, working hard to make headway. To make matters more complicated the pilot book warned of a rock "about one mile off the cape which rough seas break over", rather than give it's exact location - and there were breaking waves everywhere. We continued to hammer into the wind, and just to be sure, made a long detour out into deep waters to avoid the mysteriously located rock.

As we began to pass Cabo de Gato, slipping out of the acceleration zone, the wind eased. It was still in front of us but it wasn't so strong. To starboard we could see the city of Almeria in the distant mist, and we knew that Almerimar, our destination for this trip, was now, not so far away.

Carita was getting some rest and I sat in the cockpit looking at the flat, featureless coastline. The strong feeling of sadness I often get at the end of a trip began to take over. When I'm heading to a destination and I know I'll be leaving the boat there, not sailing any further, and then when it turns out to be a place that I'd rather go past, part of me just wants to keep on going. Not finish the trip. Keep sailing, keep travelling. Sail on past Almerimar, past Gibraltar, out into the Atlantic, then head south. But I knew Carita had to be back at work in a few days and I wanted to be with her, not sailing back to South America on my own. So I punched the autopilot onto the heading for Almerimar.

We motored in and berthed. It was an ageing tourist resort with a big marina and fat British people without shirts on. It was disappointing and we wanted to be back on the beach in Formentera. Then I remembered an old, favourite poem I had onboard called Ithaka and handed it to Carita. It tells of how your destination isn't what travelling is about. Travelling is about the journey.

July 15, 2005


Ithaka, by Constantine P. Cavafy

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - don't be afraid of them:
you'll never find things like that one on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon - you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbours you're seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfumes of every kind -
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvellous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

July 20, 2005

The Fly

If there's one thing that strikes you about Almeria, it's the flies. They're everywhere. And they want inside of you. They continually fly into your ears, land on your face, keep you awake at night, and are too fast to swat. Maybe there's so many of them because of all the fruit and vegetables grown in the region - the landscape is a patchwork of plastic greenhouses. They seem to have grown genetically resistant to poison; I pumped half a can of fly killer into one before it even began to slow down, and even that was probably just because it was getting too heavy to fly. As soon as you sit down outside with a drink they're in it, and you spend your social time picking them out and studying your glass of red wine for insects swimming across it.

So you spend your days brushing the flies away that are trying to land on your face until you don't have the energy to do it anymore. They land in your eyes, lay their eggs, the eggs hatch, and you go blind.

July 22, 2005

Granada and the Sierra Nevada

Carita had a flight back to Finland booked from Granada so we rented a car for a couple of days to spend the weekend there. Almeria's arid landscape has been used in many Wild West films over the years including The Magnificent Seven, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and we drove past Mini Hollywood, an old film set which has now been turned into a tourist attraction - though we decided to give it a miss until sometime when we're truly bored.

Instead, we chose to detour from the main autovia and instead cross the Sierra Nevada mountain range, at 3481m, the highest peaks on the Iberian Peninsula. The narrow mountain roads twisted and swung into hairpins as we climbed higher and higher, often with a sheer drop down the mountainside right next to them, making it really exciting when onward coming trucks appeared on the wrong side of the road. We stopped off at the lovely village of Trevelez, which clings to the mountainside and is well known for it's Serrano ham, and continued on through Lanjaron, famed for it's medicinal water springs.

Finally, we arrived in Granada, which, with it's mighty Alhambra sitting high above the city, far exceeded our expectations and proved to be a lovely destination for the weekend. However, we didn't manage to enjoy the splendour of the Alhambra as Carita was intent on visiting all of the shoe shops in Granada instead. Nevertheless, the city finally made us feel like we were in the cultural heart of mainland Spain as we wandered the narrow streets, enjoying it's interesting mix of Moorish and Catholic architecture and baking in the 41˚c heat.

July 24, 2005

Escape from Almerimar

I stayed down in Almeria after Carita left, checked out some of the other marinas, and got the boat ready to haul out as I planned to head up to Finland. Almerimar turned out to be somewhat disappointing and had less facilities for getting work done on the boat than we'd been led to believe, but after checking out the other options on the coast it still seemed like the best place to keep the boat for the moment.

The one thing that Almerimar is notable for is as an impromptu drinking place. All the youth for miles around head down to the harbour on Saturday nights in their souped up hatchbacks, open the doors, crank their stereos up, and spend the night drinking next to the marina. The quay was packed with people, with probably about 100 cars, and rows of bottles set up on the wall as makeshift bars. I was pleased to see some life in the area but I'm sure most of the yachties being kept awake didn't share my view.

After the boat was hauled out I sorted up a few last things, packed my bag, and caught three buses to Almeria airport. Construction cranes towered along the whole coastline, building apartment complexes to sell to British tourists convinced that property prices will continue to soar.

I boarded my Ryanair flight, earphones sealing out the screams and howls of the other passengers and children onboard, and kept my iPod on until we landed in Stansted. There, I camped out on the floor, ate some sushi from Boots, and tried to get a few hours sleep before checking in for my early morning flight to Newquay.

July 26, 2005

Back on the Path

I was dazed from a lack of sleep as I wandered out of Newquay Airport to be met by Simon, on his knees, bearing a Cornish pastie, the traditional welcome. We'd planned to continue walking more of the South West Coast Footpath, and so, after a day or two of rest, we set off in the van for Par. It was a hot, sunny day as we parked at Par Sands and set off determinedly across the beach, which was busy with people sunbathing, towards Polkerris. The path then climbed up into the hills until we reached Gribbin Head, and decided that we deserved a lunch break next the massive daymark tower. The view was beautiful, and just downhill from us was where Daphne Du Marier once lived, and the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock's film, The Birds when one day she watched a flock of seagulls swooping around a tractor.

The path hugged the grass-topped cliffs until it brought us into the pretty town of Fowey. Here, we had to catch a passenger ferry across the estuary, which, needless to say, we'd just missed, so, with time to spare, we wandered through the town, which, as it was summer, was busy with tourists sitting around eating ice cream. Eventually, the ferry came and, although we were getting low on food and drinking water, we walked past the shop on the other side of the river where we were dropped off. This would turn out to be the last shop we would pass that day.

After Fowey River we climbed almost vertically up the steep hill of Polruan, the houses sitting almost on top of each other on the slope. This turned out to be the beginning of the toughest part of the day's walk; from here the path climbed up cliffs then dropped down to sea level over and over again. The scenery was stunning, with rugged cliffs, and isolated sandy coves, but it was tough going in the heat, especially with our water running low.

Simon and I were both very glad when, as day turned to evening, we rounded the final point and saw Polperro ahead of us. We went straight into a pub which bore the wonderful signs; Dog Friendly, and, No Prams or Pushchairs, on the door, and relaxed our aching limbs over a nice, cold pint.

of Fowey section
Map of Polkerris to Fowey section
Photo guide to this section

July 29, 2005

Torcross to Dartmouth

We made an early start and drove out to the village of Torcross for the next section of our walk. After paying a ridiculous £5.50 to park at the beach and getting some worried looks from passers-by as I was wearing my shemagh to keep the sun off my neck, we set off across the terrifically named Slapton Sands. 3500 civilians were moved out of their homes and farms during the Second World War so the area could be used to practice the D-Day landings. Unfortunately, the training went very wrong, hundreds died, and it was all covered up by the US military.

It was already quite hot, and fishing boats were motoring close to the shore, checking out the talent on the nudist part of the beach. The path climbed up the cliffs, and soon we found ourselves on the newest section of the footpath; rather than follow the main road, it takes a long, new, wooden footbridge across a stream then continues through fields, with a fantastic view along the coast. The association seems very proud of this new stretch they've managed to acquire, and impressive as it is, it was a bit overdeveloped for me, looking more like a disabled-friendly forest walk than a rural footpath - but then I think trekking should be about wading through shoulder deep water with your pack above your head!

This was one of the few sections where we passed other people walking - even though it was a weekend in July, it seemed as though hardly anyone was using the longest footpath in Britain. We continued on past Blackpool Beach - not the famous Blackpool, but still as busy, then we were back on our own, walking through the fields. As we began to approach Dartmouth, the waters were getting busier and busier with sailing boats, but most of the lovely anchorages we were passing were empty as most people were so busy sailing. We rounded Blackstone Point, passing some overprotective parents who were forcing their children to wear lifejackets for playing on the rocks, and Dartmouth Castle came into view.

From there the scenery became more built up, and we passed stunning homes with private jetties and boathouses next to the River Dart. Everything about Dartmouth screams of yachties, and the town is dominated by Dartmouth Naval College, overlooking the estuary. It's a pretty town, but smaller than I'd expected it to be, and soon we'd walked around the centre and decided to head back to the van at our starting point.

Our plan was to spend the night stealth camping in the van (which is fully fitted out for living in, but appears to be a normal Mercedes van to the untrained eye), then continue walking the next day. We drove down some lanes that were more hedge than road and, eventually, found the lovely village of Beesands, where we parked at the beach, had a pint in the pub, and spent a lovely night right next to the sea.

Satellite view of walk (nearly)