24 Oct 2012
Trying Times in Gibraltar
Having our lives ruled by the weather makes for challenging times when we are stormbound. We arrived in Gibraltar on Thu 11 Oct and 13 days later we are still here with little discernible change or even the expectation of a change in the near future. Gibraltar is interesting but not enchanting; you can exhaust its delights in little over a couple of days.
That said we have had the chance to erode the list of outstanding jobs on the boat even to the point that I might be able to clean and polish the hull! On the flip side the slime that forms on the copper coat is building up and whereas I would not hesitate to jump in the water and swim the hull in a pleasant anchorage, Marina Bay does not fit that criteria and only when practising man overboard drills or when Samuel slipped off the pontoon unintentionally has anyone got into the water. We need to get to sea!
The above opinions are not shared by the kids. They are meeting similar aged children on boats in the marina and loving it. They
maraud the pontoons spending time on each other’s boats and are having the time of their lives. The incentive to play with the other kids once they have done their school work is a strong persuader too. Each boat has a pair of children that have to do some formal or informal correspondence/schoolwork and I am pleased to say that each set of parents has as much of a challenge to cajole their unwilling offspring to do it. We dress up quizzes and other activities to educate, with varying degrees of success. A latest initiative is to ask Doug and Don (our American neighbours) to give Cameron and Samuel a geological understanding of the Mediterranean and hopefully fill in the gaps of our knowledge on tectonic plates and the volcanic islands that they have seen so far and after that get the download on the American Civil War and War of Independence. What is amazing is other yachties’ patience with our kids and the time, so often missing in our normal lives, to speak with them. I hope that they will learn more through this than they might otherwise do at school.
With us we have Asia (10) and
Christiana Pirates, Moxie and Fabiola gouls, witches and skeletons
Aranya (9), 2 Kiwi girls, aboard Moxie. They have been liveaboards for 2½ years and are about to jump ship from their current boat to a catamaran. Despite my earlier prejudices cats make sense for liveaboards; they have space and stability and divide well to give each kid their end / corner of the boat. Next to them is Sirius with two more ARC kids, Sophia (8) and Cameron (6). They have lived in Hong Kong and England but are en route to Australia to start a new life. The mix is really nice and each of the children has a combination of others to play with. It is amazing how quickly the relationships develop, each child bored of his / her sibling and keen to do anything with someone else. Our old liferaft, which is incredibly (and heartening to write) still buoyant is a den which gets played in daily – tied to the end of the pontoon, there is also ferocious Nintendo DS play (although ours are not faring well in that Samuel’s was left on Day 1 on the plane to Turkey and Cameron’s has lost one of its screens – clearly from overuse by both children)
and plenty of board-games – Cameron admitting during Monopoly that he was not the banker so he couldn’t cheat but he won anyway – too bad Bob Diamond was and could!
Tim and Freddie left with their girls, on Open Blue, for the Canaries last week and they are now nearing their destination at last. They have endured some pretty poor weather with no wind and then headwinds and, I suspect, some quite large swells to get there – but a week at sea for 600 miles is hard graft. They had to meet friends in Lanzarote and so felt enormous pressure to head out in imperfect conditions. They are a strong team so it was probably not too unpleasant but perhaps memorable for the wrong reasons. We’ll hear their story when we next catch up.
I tested the Single Sideband Radio (SSB) today with one of the other boats here today. The SSB is HF (high frequency) which should be able, given the right tuning and atmospheric conditions, be able to bounce around the world. In the past sailors used to call up Portishead Radio, in Bristol, and have a “collect call” made
Preparing the "Dark & Stormies"
Gold rum, squeezed lime & ginger beer...mmm
into the domestic phone network. It was an excellent system, now unfortunately defunct with the advent of the satellite phone that can be hooked up to send emails and direct voice communications. Nevertheless the SSB has its place in being able to “all-inform” listeners and act as an excellent forum to pass information. The ARC runs a daily schedule which we will try to plug into and try to develop a “kids network” after the daily roundup by the ARC radio controllers.
Later on... The first Kids Club ARC network was run on Sunday. The listenership is not massive but growing. Cameron took to the airwaves and broadcast some terrible jokes to the captive audience. There were few returns but some feedback. The concept is brilliant to pull people together – the content needs work! We have therefore been wracking our brains as to what to broadcast and how to interest others and make it interactive. We have stumbled upon a couple of fabulous (we think) ideas. We will run the “Sundowners Pub Quiz” where one boat acts as the question setter and then sends out to an assembled audience. The audience must say what sundowners they are enjoying
too to broaden the list of tipples that we enjoy. We are also looking at radio bingo, the “Children’s Masterchef” where kids exchange recipes of things they can make. Samuel has been testing out a recipe for guacamole and salsa on us and will offer that up this Sunday. Another option is the children’s book review which can lead to a book swap once we all get together. In short infinite ideas and it should be fun to pull together the programme.
When stuck with nowhere to go it becomes an opportunity to meet others and have parties. Having recovered from the alcohol intake with the Open Blues we felt safe to return to the demon drink. We decided to host a sundowners or “Dark and Stormies” (gold rum, lime juice and ginger beer) between 6 and 8 pm. We have met a number of ARC boats and Atlantic-crossers who are stuck in Gib awaiting a change in the weather. 12 adults duly turned up at 6 with 2 kids, as the weather took a turn for the worse. So we sheltered down below and pretended it was warm and sunny. Fabiola’s saloon was full,
the aft cabin became a cinema for the kids as the spirits began to flow and lift simultaneously. We pulled together the “Double Ds” (Don and Doug) from Koinonia, Mike and Denise from Moxie, Karline and Mark from Maloo, Mike from Zimbabwe, Jurgen and Antiya from Germany, Josh (our new crewmember) crowded round the table and the volume began to rise further and further, lots of fun. By 1030 it was apparent that no one was leaving and we could not deposit this unruly crowd back onto the pontoon so a leftovers supper was thrown in front of them to act as a “beer-sponge” and off they all waddled at midnight. A great night. The following morning Mrs D was not feeling too fabulous. Nurofen to the rescue and plaster on her “ow-ie” head and she was soon back in the game.
October, Samuel, Asia, Aranya, Cameron, and two new Norwegian girls went around trying to find clues that Mum had hidden on the boats. We first started on Fabiola and I found the first clue with some help from the adults. We were lead to Solo, and then to other boats in
the marina. When we went to each boat we asked for the next clue and got sweeties. When we got to the end it led us to Moxie, which is Asia and Aranya’s boat, the Norwegian girls left and we had lasagne. We watched “Wild”, Samuel fell asleep and I was quite sleepy myself. Mum then said that we needed to go. In the morning I sorted out my sweets, Samuel and I had a lovely time.
The marina is rapidly filling with a growing number of boats that are stuck in Gibraltar awaiting fair winds to the Canaries. Conversations abound about the best time of the tide to transit the Straits and what weather to expect. There is little doubt that the Straits can be quite daunting for those who have languished in the non-tidal Mediterranean. From our perspective it is a challenge but, by comparison to working out arrival times to coincide with a favourable transit through the Alderney Race, the Straits are small fry. The general consensus is that the tides are predominantly eastbound to continue to fill the void that evaporation creates in the Med and that westbound tide is
limited, even when it is supposed to be favourable. 3 hours after highwater seems the best moment to leave. This makes it 0930 on Monday morning.
The last night before our departure is spent on a very blustery quay. The lines catch and surge as the wind and rains lashes Fabiola. It is lucky that the wind is blowing us off the quay and not onto it but even that is insufficient consolation to grant me a decent night’s sleep prior to a 600+ mile passage. To put this into some form of comparison the Fastnet Race, where fully manned yachts race from Cowes to Fastnet Rock lighthouse and then head back to Plymouth is only 630 miles. Generally the crew consists of hardened yachties, and no children!
Departure at last
Checked out finally from Gib after over 3 weeks of being stuck, and a £600 bill, we unceremoniously leave Marina Bay and head out. The small flotilla consists several ARC boats and other we have met who are all bound for the Canaries. Sirius will leave from Rabat (part-way down the Moroccan coast) and Koinonia with the “Double-Ds” (Don and Doug) will leave on
For Sale Child's Oilskins
Never been worn outside! Buy oilskins - child comes free!
Wednesday morning once their remaining crew arrives. Maloo, Trinity, Hanto Yo and ourselves ghost out of a still Gib and past Tarifa on the Spanish coast then once 5 hours into our journey the tidal influences of the Straits are lessened and we head south west.
The first night sees us rolling down the waves with strong following winds. The poled out genoa and main. The reefs go in and out as the wind increases and decreases. The waves are the biggest we have seen on our trip so far, predominantly behind us but there is also a slight north-east bound set to it with the history of the past weeks of strong south westerlies. Fabiola is fast and overtakes the other boats by virtue of her size and sportier lines. The following morning at about 0530 we need to reef the mainsail again. The poled out genoa already has a number of turns on it the roller to reduce it but we are unable to reef it down further as it is stuck (it later transpires that the spinnaker halyard that was holding up the pole end has wrapped around the top of the furler and prevents any
in / out movement). As we try to reduce sail on the main it flaps and thrashes for a few brief moments then tears itself apart. This is a major setback. It is beyond repair – we have nursed it through the last 2000 miles with a number of strengthening patches but unfortunately this is terminal. Additionally we then fight for two or three hours to get it down so we can put on our spare – all to no avail – it won’t budge. We wrap it up as best possible and roll out the staysail but we are well down on power and speed but too exhausted to care. It is so soul-destroying to see the sail in tatters – gutted.
We spend a day recovering from the episode and that night dodging the most terrifying electrical storms with forked lightning all around us. We turn off all our electrics and place emergency gps, the satphone and a laptop in the oven to protect it from a strike which has to be a possibility with a 72 foot tall mast. These electrical storms were not foreseen in the weather forecasts and a Scottish boat 15 miles ahead
encounters 65 knot winds and a knockdown (capsize). We aren’t that enamoured with that idea. The next hour is spent stowing absolutely everything which can be in cupboards, below floor boards, lines secured on deck and all the sail rolled away. We motor around the massing cumulonimbus storms, the rain belting down. The adults, on deck to respond to the savage weather and the kids hunkered down in the cabin behind lee-cloths. It is not a pleasant few hours as we sprint between storms.
Eventually the very low cloud-base lifts and we feel comfortable enough to hoist the main and roll out the staysail again. The rain continues but the immediate danger is passed. We even put the fishing line out and “bingo” our first haul of a bonito tuna followed by a dorado. Both are humanely despatched with a measure of “High Commissioner” – the cheapest grog that we could find in Gib for the fishes and wobbly hot-chocolates! The booze immediately knocks them unconscious and their head is cut off. Josh and I fillet both fish – they are just shy of a kilo each. The bonito is turned into fillet steaks – dusted with corn-flour and
seared in a hot pan. It is just like fillet steak – except with a tiny squeeze of lemon. There is also enough to make sushi with ginger, lemon, soy and teriyaki sauce – amazing! The dorado is a white fish so that is filleted and skinned and marinated in Thai green curry sauce for tea tonight!
Finally the wind drops sufficiently and the sea-state allows us to throw Josh / Jonah up the mast as an offering to the lightning gods and to sort out the twisted furler. Success we can get the remnants of it down and into the hatch. We decide to wait until daybreak to get the old genoa up and spend a more restful night plodding at 6 knots or so. It is cold at night here (not so cold as the Solent in November but nonetheless it is bitter after having been rained on all day) which requires thermals, woolly hat, fleece and full oilskins and boots. Josh and I have split the night-watches and Lisa is working her magic with kids and knocking up delicious meals.
At the end of day 4 we are tired, very tired. We are getting close.
We got a lull in the wind to pull on the old genoa, even flew the gennaker for about 30 minutes before deciding that we would not be able to rest while it was in marginal conditions so we are making good progress towards Graciosa (next door to Lanzarote). Other boats are beginning to appear on the horizon, converging towards the Canary Islands. We should arrive on Friday at about lunchtime – it has been our longest open water trip and an eye-opener on what to expect for the ARC and return crossing of the Atlantic. Taking on an extra pair of hands has been really useful. Whilst Josh has taken his fast-track yachtmaster exams he is still very much a novice having never been more than 24 hours at sea. He has played with the kids and is a cheery soul who has mucked in well with us. Mildred, the self-steering gear has worked well too. She does most of the autopilot’s job, leaving it only to make minor corrections and with a reduced response level it uses far less battery power and can easily last the night.
Yesterday Lisa and the boys were visited by about 30
dolphins again. These were jumping through the fronts of the following seas and then charging round the boat and jumping again. That said dolphins are one of the only reasons that Samuel finds to come out on deck. He is not a keen sailor – although this afternoon he helmed the boat for about 30 minutes. For the rest of the day he has done colouring, read books, watched a film and annoyed his older brother! He has spent the entire week in his pyjamas! He is a little caged aboard a boat but even so he has settled into a routine. Cameron finds this easier. He is older and leads a more sedentary lifestyle so reading for a couple of hours and then coming on deck to chat with Josh (who has been excellent with the kids). Both boys initially took Josh to the cleaners on the never-ending car, plane and Dr Who Top Trumps that are played. It doesn’t take long to realise you are being fleeced by kids half your age and he has unlocked the ability the boys have in abundance – cheating to the max whenever you can!
Finally we arrive off Graciosa, so
looking forward to dropping the hook but Mark and Karline on Maloo have just arrived there and the anchorage is untenable so we decide to head for Marina Rubicon on the southern tip of Lanzarote – another 50 miles in high winds. To avoid the building seas we head around the longer side of the island and eventually pull in at 2200 on Friday night. We can hardly speak we are so tired. After a bite to eat we drop like zombies into our pits and sleep until late this morning. Even now we feel like we have gone the distance in the ring – everything aches – it has been our toughest and longest leg.
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