Saturday, 26 September 2015

The Maiden Voyage of Island Spirit

In July 2015 I gave up trying to settle down to a sedentary life ashore, and went in search of a boat. A boat to live on and to sail the globe, giving way at long last to my persistent wanderlust and irresistible urge to be at sea.
After looking at several vessels in UK I trotted off to Greece, and the third one I went to see ticked all the boxes, a French built, owned, and registered Jeanneau sloop with the uninspiring name of Fidji.

Fidji - before I bought her

Haul Out

Keel - from forward

Nav station - as was


Within a month she was mine, out of the water having her bottom seen to, while I fussed around getting her topsides and electronics the way I wanted them.

After refit, with new name & Part II Registration

Finally back into the water

New Helm Console Chartplotter

New Equipment at Nav Station

And so it was, on 3rd September 2015, I proudly sailed my UK registered, 38ft sloop, Island Spirit, out of Lefkas Marina, towards its winter home in La Linea, under the benign shadow of the Rock of Gibraltar. In order to keep friends and family informed of my whereabouts and progress, I began posting extracts from my log on Facebook. Before long I had accumulated a significant band of followers who expressed their avid interest in my continued updates.
By the time I reached Cartagena on 25 September I realised I should be publishing these posts on my Blog, and directing my lovely fans there instead. So that is what I've done, along with pictures and related writings as I begin my last leg of this single-handed trial of stamina and determination - a personal trial to prove to myself I can do it, and to prepare for the Trans-global voyage next year.
And off we go...

(Apologies to Pink Floyd for the following parody)

So, so you think you can sail,
Too scared to fail,
Blue skies or rain.
Would you get a sharp thrill,
Swept along in a gale,
Water over the rail,
Do you think you can sail?

Can I get you to trade,
Your safety for bold,
Cool parties for warm seas,
Stale air for a sea breeze,
Home comforts for range.

Can you exchange,
A walk in the park with your peers,
For an ocean cruise with a friend.

How I wish, how I wish you were here.

You're just a landlocked soul in search of a goal, year after year,
Trying always to break out, but fooled by the doubt, the old fraud fear.

Wish you were here.

Single-handed Passage Lefkas, Greece to La Linea, Southern Spain
Sailing Sloop Island Spirit - SSR 162116
Skipper: Mike Rothery

2nd September 2015.
Last three jobs completed: new port water tank installed and working, engine fuel injectors replaced with new ones, jackstays fitted along side-decks. I can now sail tomorrow.

3rd September
1110 – Lefkas Marina, Greece.
Left marina berth and went alongside fuel jetty. Filled 3 x 20l diesel cans then filled up my 80l tank. Have 230l water in two main tanks and 100l in deck shower tank, plus 24l drinking water in bottles. Have food provisions for more than two weeks.
Departed Lefkas canal via Swing Bridge at 1200 local time. Once in open sea, hoisted dingy up on stern gantry, secured anchor, and stowed fenders and mooring lines. Once settled on westerly heading, hoisted Mains'l - noted apparent wind now 30 degrees to port, so unfurled genoa as well. Once underway on sail, killed engine. Settled down at 3-4 kts heading 260. Not really fast enough but wanted to see how she sailed and get used to the rig. Practiced heaving to and tacking. Found the new genny sheets didn't work properly in the self-trailers, making single-handed operation awkward. However, she sails beautifully, stiff and weatherly - 30deg on stbd tack, a shade over on port - don't ask me why. Rides close hauled with virtually no weather helm, hardly ever had to touch the wheel. Even the autopilot likes it and is never overworked, which is a good sign for my batteries.
Set course for waypoint SE of toe of Italy, headed for Messina. New speed log not working, despite having been fixed once already. Chart plotter also keeps losing contact with AIS, a problem I was assured had been fixed. Oh well.

Day One went quite well. Sailed without engine most of the day and averaged about 4kts. At sunset I started engine as wind had dropped and anyway, was dead ahead on my intended track. So furled genny away. Motor sailed overnight at around 4.5 kts. Made up a bed in the cockpit, then had supper. Quite choppy seas so preparing first meal at sea, linguini bolognaise, was a little challenging. Problem with nav lights, despite being checked in Lefkas. Eventually the bow lights came on by themselves 10 mins after switching them on, and the stern light and steaming light followed ten minutes later - weird. Turned in on the cockpit around 10. Set my timer to wake me up every 20 mins. Crossed a shipping route at midnight till one so stayed awake until clear. Closest CPA was a bloody great cruise ship, lit up like fairyland so hard to miss - came within a mile but looked a few feet away. Mind you, the cruise ship's sartorial splendour was put to shame by the show overhead-the night sky at sea never ceases to astound: a black sheet of velvet, encrusted with billions of bright diamonds, and the silver swathe of the Milky Way running through it like a dazzling waterfall. Of course, then the moon had to rise and spoil the show - there's always one, isn't there?
The 20 minute wake ups were nauseating in the extreme and made me very irritated - nearly threw the timer overboard on several occasions.

4th September
1800 38 24N 18 17E
Woke up at sunrise still exhausted, so had another couple of 20 min naps after breakfast. A light breeze eventually materialised, so unfurled genny and killed engine. But it didn't last and I had to furl away again by noon. Used my deck shower for the first time - wonderful device. Showered in the cockpit due to the dingy taking up all the sugar scoop, but it all drained away nicely.
Now motor sailing close reached in a light northwesterly. About halfway to The Toe - should reach there this time tomorrow. Morale high - Island Spirit feels like home.
Captain's Cabin



Nav Station

6th September
Sunday morning finds me in Riposte Marina under the volcanic haze of Mt Etna. I plan to stay here three days, for reasons I'll come to presently.
On Friday night I thought the evening sky to the west looked decidedly ominous - the wind had dropped to a whisper and the sea had an oily look to it. So I decided to dowse the sails and motor overnight, not wanting to risk it in darkness with a fierce blow brewing up.
Well, the blow didn't materialise, and in the pre-dawn gloom I set sails once more to a light sou'westerly. By now I was crossing the bottom of Taranto Bay and sailing well. Unfortunately, throughout the morning the light wind gradually picked up fiercer proportions, and I decided a couple of reefs would be prudent. That's when disaster struck: my autopilot decided to choose this moment to go on strike, and refused stubbornly to hold a course, just ticked randomly around the card. So, there being no way to hold her into wind for reefing the main, I was in a real pickle. By now the wind was gusting 25 and looking intent on increasing. Fighting down my rising concern, I thought through the problem and realised I would need to dowse everything and continue bare-pole motoring until I could fix the Autopilot. Easier said than done - how to hold her to windward while I scrambled around the coach roof stowing the sail away? I chose to get rid of the Genoa first and that's when the real trouble started. I started the engine and gave her a few revs ahead, then lashed the wheel, hoping that would give me time to furl the genny. But as soon as I started hauling in she tacked, backing the genny hard against the mast and half-stay. Before I could do anything she wore completely round, the sail billowing out ahead with both sheets snagged under a cleat on the bow. I tried releasing the boom to stop her sailing round in mad circles, but by now the genny was flogging away like cannon fire in a near-gale and I feared it was going to carry away. Throwing caution to the wind (pun intended) I ran forward along the bucking side deck (no time for a lifeline), and unsnagged the offending sheets, dodging the maniacal antics of the sail that seemed determined to consign me to a watery end.
Regaining the relative safety of the cockpit I managed to haul in the tortured genoa. Now the main. I tried once more to head into wind and lash the wheel, but I couldn't just let the boom swing - that certainly would have been fatal - so I hauled the main sheet hard in first, then leaving the wheel, made a frenzied dash for the halyard, released it, then jumped up to the boom and started dragging it down. Of course, I wasn't quick enough, and immediately the sail drew and turned the boat to leeward. So I waited for her to ware round and back to windward, giving me a narrow window of time to haul it down.
In theory I shouldn't have been able to drag it down in that short a time, but must have acquired the extra strength from the adrenalin pumping through me. Down it came, and slowly but surely, while hanging onto the lazy bag for dear life with one hand, managed to get it more or less safely stowed.
Thinking back to that terrifying half hour when I thought I'd lost it all, I've absolutely no idea where all the strength and agility came from, but it fills me with a great sense of personal achievement and pride that I coped.
However, more reserves were yet to be called upon. I was now stuck at the helm in a moderate gale with no chance to go below even for a few seconds - I'd steadfastly ignored all the unsecured stuff crashing and clattering in the saloon and galley. They were not my main concern. The frantic activity and adrenalin rush had left me feeling weak and shaky - I suspected I needed some sugar in me, and pronto.
With no sails to balance the steering, and of course, no autopilot, I started to feel real concern for my ability to cope physically with the next twelve hours to Reggio Calabria, my intended first stop. Furthermore, the wind had veered northwesterly and I was now faced with a massive headwind, reducing my speed to a meagre 1.6 knots. I decided therefore to run for shelter at a marina marked on the chart at Bavolino, on the eastern coast of the toe, six hours motoring.
Alas, arriving there, having eaten only a yoghurt and drunk an emergency bottle of coke, I found the wind there northerly, and the name 'marina' was just that, a name. No shelter to be found there.
So for another five hours I followed the coast south to the base of the toe, where thankfully the wind dropped, and I was able to grab a bite and a couple of hours sleep while letting the boat drift in the darkness towards shore - too deep to anchor but the current was pushing me at a mere 0.3 knots, and laying three miles off, it have me the break I so badly needed.
My fuel was down to a quarter so I put another 20 litres in from my reserve stock. Then, leaving my nav lights on, killed the engine, lashed the wheel hard over, and let the heavy swell rock me to sleep. Two hours later I awoke, and with still 30m of water beneath, had time to make myself a cup of tea and a sandwich before setting off once more for Reggio, now a mere five hours at five knots. I will just point out at this point, if it was not clear from my previous comments, that without autopilot, sailing single handed was out of the question. So getting it fixed was now my highest priority. I knew Reggio had the Raymarine services I needed, so I had to get there.
Rounding the headland into the approaches to the Strait of Messina, I quickly discovered that my travails were not yet over - not by a long chalk. The wind here, funnelled by the two mountainous land masses of Italy and Sicily, was even worse, exacerbated by heavy seas charging down from the strait, making progress painfully slow and uncomfortable, water breaking over the bow as she crashed and shuddered her way through the tempest. I soon realised that at less than 2 knots, it would take twice as long to get to Reggio, with no guarantee of a safe shelter from this filthy weather when I got there.
So I turned around and headed downwind, clocking up 6.5 knots with mountainous seas charging up behind, making Island Spirit plane and rock and corkscrew madly in her dash southward. She took it all in her stride of course, my plucky little boat, but for me, steering her in this was a real chore as she bounced around at random, giant waves sweeping underneath and constantly slewing us off course. I now had two choices of suitable marinas. Seventy miles to the south lay Syracuse, which I could make on my present heading. But the prospect of another 14 hours in these conditions was just too daunting, and I doubted my ability to stay awake at the wheel. And if I nodded off she would almost certainly slew round and broach fatally.
Over to the east southeast was Riposte, a mere 30 miles, but it would mean turning across this monstrous sea with 30+ knots of wind on the beam. I had already tried it once and feared she was going to go over into a trough. I was between a rock and a hard place. Then I had the idea to just continue south, either to see if the weather abated further south, or if not, make my approach from the southeast with the weather on the bow - uncomfortable, but survivable.
As it happened, the weather didn't abate - it just got worse, so in the end, worried about my growing fatigue, I just bit the bullet and crossed that awful sea. It was scary, and I found myself fighting panic for the first half of that 5-hour nightmare. But then I kind of adapted to it, after all, we had survived the worst so far, so why not the rest? And even though it did get worse, I grew quite sanguine, probably due to extreme tiredness, and became an automaton at the wheel, not thinking, just doing what was needed and staying more or less on course. Towards the end I nodded off several times, but only for a second or so. More worryingly I started hallucinating: the compass became a misty crystal ball and instead of numbers on the compass card I found myself blinking away goblins and pixies cavorting within it. Also, the creaking of the rigging, the gurgling of the engine exhaust as it ducked in and out of the water, and the strange noises from the dingy hanging on the gantry, combined to sound like human voices talking to me, giving both encouraging advice and scorn of my folly in attempting such a foolhardy adventure. I even spoke back to these voices.
But there is an even more interesting phenomenon I want to share with you. Throughout all these incidents and near-disasters I have felt a real presence here with me on the boat - the feeling that someone is watching over me, someone I keep having a mental conversation with. Now, I have no doubt that this is a mere illusion, something within me that I've invented to act as guide and mentor, but a less atheistic mind might well attribute religious experience to this phenomenon. Food for thought.
Anyway, here I am in Riposte, feeling a little shell shocked after a meal and a short sleep. Evening approaches and I've a mind to have a few beers tonight - after all, I've got plenty to celebrate and be thankful for. Tomorrow I'll get the Raymarine engineer onboard, then get to work cleaning my beautiful and faithful Island Spirit.

8th Sept.
Still laid up in Riposto Marina awaiting two things, delivery of a new drive belt for my Autopilot, and a break in the weather. The latter is about getting up to Messina as the Northward stream begins for the ten mile transit of the Strait. Timing is critical: if I miss the tide I've got to hole up somewhere for 12 hours until the next one. It's an 8 hour passage from here at 5 knots but if the wind's against me I'll have to wait here until it's not. So I've calculated 4 departure slots starting at 4am tomorrow. From Messina I plan to sail between the Aeolian Islands then turn west for Cagliari in Southern Sardinia, total passage time 70 hours.
Meanwhile I’ve been cleaning and repairing, re-stowing sails, and generally pottering about finding little jobs to do - there's always something to do on a boat, never a dull moment.
Riposto is a bleak little town, continually overcast, raining, sometimes heavily in thunderstorms, and the permanent dust haze from Mt Etna. I saw its jagged peak for the first time last night just before sunset, a great plume of smoke rising up from it, looking broody and malevolent, and a halo of thin cloud in a perfect ring around the cone. Now it's hidden once more by a blanket of thick grey clouds.
The place has its strong points though. There's a nice little fish restaurant nearby where you can choose your victim and say how you want it prepared. Surprisingly inexpensive as well. I also found an unprepossessing taverna where they keep bringing out free food with your beer - lovely little plates of cheeses, hams and bread nonchalantly but tastefully prepared as only the Italians can.
No apologies for such a mundane log entry after the excitement of the previous one, I'm enjoying the quietude. Next entry will be posted from Cagliari, (hopefully).

9th Sept
This morning finds me berthed in Marsamemi, a delightful little marina, cheap and informal, and with all the facilities inclusive - a rarity in Italy by all past accounts.
Once again I've been plagued by awful, unseasonable weather. Departed Riposto noon yesterday into a brisk northerly, and headed south, having decided that Messina was definitely a no go, and wanting to get out of the infernal rain that seems endemic to that place. So headed merrily for Malta with a nice following breeze that sent me rattling along on a ballooning genny. Then, two hours out, the Weather Gods spoke. Thunder and lighting, the works; winds gusting 40+ from the east (I'd hoped for a bit of easterly but hell fire, not like that! Be careful what you wish for, eh?) seas piling up and tipping my little boat sideways into gaping troughs, cold rain and whipping spray driving horizontally under the Bimini. Pretty soon I was dithering in my shorts and t-shirt, but unwilling in these conditions to risk diving below for my foulies.
Nothing like that was in any of the forecasts. So, hoping it was but a localised storm, I motored into it at low revs to drive through and out the other side.
After two hours ploughing into ferocious seas I realised this was no mere passing squall. So I made the dreadful turn across the sea (by now quite trustful of Island Spirit's seaworthiness) and ran downwind, heading almost due west - toward land some 15 miles ahead. I was hoping for a timely change in wind direction. Monstrous walls of water piling up behind can look and feel scary in a small boat - I'm sure most of you – those who were matelots - remember how impressive it can seem from the quarterdeck of a frigate - but quite safe if you stay on course.
Thankfully, after another two hours, the wind backed southerly and although it now put the heavy rollers on my port quarter, at least I was headed in the right direction.
Because the storm looked to be prolonged, I decided it prudent to run for shelter and slipped (illegally) into the great naval harbour of Augusta. By now it was almost dark and I glided quietly past the moored warships and tankers to a little ship graveyard at the top end. I dropped anchor in 4 metres. It was calm here and 20 metres of chain was enough to hold her. Thankful to change out of wet clothes and cook a hot meal, I then threw myself into my bunk and slept until midnight.
Refreshed and feeling buoyant I crept unchallenged back out between the destroyers (and an aircraft carrier by god!) and headed south once more. The wind had dropped but the storm had left the sea heavy, confused, and sickeningly uncomfortable.
Eventually I made the passage here, on the south-easterly corner of Sicily, in a shade under ten hours.
Having accumulated numerous problems with my electronics systems (including my AIS, for those who've been following my progress) I've got the Raymarine engineer coming this afternoon. I may hole up in this pleasant spot for a few days until there's a real break in the weather.

Engiineer fixed my nav gear (damn fool in Greece had protected a heavily loaded switch with a 3A instead of a 16A fuze), and weather looking good for a Saturday morning departure for Malta - a ten hour passage all being well.

A strange sound illusion in Marsamemi marina: I remember shortly after tying up here, becoming aware of the background noise, mainly of children at play: laughing and calling out, the occasional intrusion of an adult voice, and the odd dark bark. It sounded a truly lively and vibrant place. However when walking along the tethered pontoons to shore I saw hardly anyone about, and certainly no children. The only dog I saw was a tired and mangy old collie at the yacht club that looked like a good bark might finish him.
At the time I gave this anomaly little thought, only really becoming aware of the disembodied human sounds down in the saloon. When they persisted unabated into the night however, I remarked vaguely to myself how late the children stayed up here. On waking up at 3 am to find the voices still going at the same level I knew something was wrong with my mind's interpretation of these noises. In a flash, realised I had been subconsciously fooled by the creaking, squealing, groaning and grouching of rubber shockers between the pontoons. Once this connection was established, of course, the illusion disappeared

Approaching Valetta

Sunday 13th Sept: Malta.
Sitting in a shady park in Central Valetta, having walked up from Msida Creek, were I berthed last night.
Left Marsamemi at 6am yesterday for what turned out to be a pleasantly uneventful passage, the first half under full sail running before a lively breeze that pulled us along at a clipping 6 knots. As predicted by PocketGrib, the wind veered to the east by lunchtime and slipped back to a mere breath, but with engine to assist, managed to keep up speed to make evening ETA. By teatime it had backed again and we positively creamed along for the last four hours, berthing stern to at the marina at 8pm, having had some difficulty finding a berth and nobody answering my radio calls.
Had a fine dinner of fresh sea bass at the yacht club, washed down with a couple of beers, then hit the sack.
The old town of Valetta is cleaner and more developed than I remember it, but still retains its uniquely eclectic culture. Nostalgic to hear once again the babble of that odd mixture of Italian and Arabic, and meet people of innate friendliness and charm.
Off now to circumnavigate the walls and take a look down a Grand Harbour, to complete my trip down memory lane.
Will sail early evening, after calling at the fuel barge, and head for Pantelleria. Weather forecast looks good for a few days, and if I don't need to stop I'll carry on directly to Cagliari (Southern Sardinia). Haven't done my nav plan yet but it should take 3-4 days.

Fort St Angelo, Grand Harbour. Where I passed for Leading Seaman '73

13th September, Sunday evening.
915 35 58.9N 14 26.1E
After taking on diesel at the fuel barge, finally passed out of Marsamxett Harbour. Now motor-sailing along north coast against a stampede of yachts, motor cruisers and miscellaneous pleasure craft returning to harbour after their joyful day frolicking on the water.

2100 36 01.3N 14 22.8E
Calm and peaceful once more now the day trippers are safely curled round their g&t's. Making 5.6 kts as we rumble self-righteously past the festivities and fireworks in St Julian's Bay.

2350 36 11.2N 14 03.1E
With 10 kts of SE wind, at last I can kill the engine. Now, as Gozo's bright lights and star bursts fade into the distance, I haul my bed out into the cockpit and get comfy for the night. My phone wakes me up every 20 minutes to look for ships that might be passing too close. The ones with AIS will trigger an alarm if they enter my half mile safety zone, but some of the fishing vessels out here don't even show lights, let alone AIS.

14th September
0743 36 25.2N 13 24.3E
Started engine to charge batteries and keep up my desired average of 5 kts.

0910 36 27.4N 13 15.3E
Engine off, silent sailing once again. I seem to have developed gremlins in my electrics: Chartplotter keeps powering down - very annoying. Tried switching off everything else, but makes no difference. Think I've got a loose connection or a stray earth in the jumble of wiring behind my control panel. A job for harbour methinks.

1057 36 30.9N 13 05.0E
Decided to head directly to Sardinia while the winds are favourable, giving Pantelleria a miss - looked pretty uninspiring from the Pilot anyway. I'm estimating arrival at Cagliari noon on Wednesday.

1445 36 43.1N 12 46.7E.
Sailing a boat like this involves long periods of inactivity, staring out at the sea and sky or reading a book, punctuated by episodes of frenetic activity and seriously hard work. One such episode just occurred and readers might be interest in a detailed account it.
All morning I've be under full sail clipping along nicely before a fine breeze. However, and as expected, as we approach the narrows between Tunisia and Sicily the wind is squeezed through the gap, causing it to increase significantly. Also, the sea, which has been relatively calm up to now, has started to pile up ahead of these winds, making it quite lumpy. So before it got any worse I needed to douse my main and carry on running before the wind on genoa only. This is necessary in any strong following wind to ease the strain on the steering system.
First I prepare myself: boat shoes, life jacket, harness and gloves. Next I throw my bed and anything not needed down below and tidy up the cockpit. I then start the engine, give it some forward revs, and furl in the genoa. This latter is extremely hard work for one person, heaving in on one rope while keeping some weight on the other to stop it running away and snarling up. I now have to drop the spray hood and pull to the companionway hatch to give me a free run up and down the coach roof.
Next, I set the autopilot to turn into wind, and while this is happening, haul in the mainsail. Once into wind I release the main halyard: this tends drop the sail into a snotty heap, so before this happens I run up the side deck and onto the coach roof to gather the sail into the lazy bag, remembering to clip my harness onto a shroud. Stowing the sail in these choppy conditions is the most strenuous of activities, and after it was done I set the Autopilot to turn back downwind, then sat in the cockpit blowing and panting and drinking great draughts of water.
Once recovered I ran out the genoa once more and killed the engine.
And that's how we are now, making a leisurely 4 kts which I'm hoping will improve over the next few hours. I can almost hear the autopilot thanking me for not having to work so hard.
Finally, a note on personal safety. When I used to cruise with other people I would run nonchalantly around the deck in all but the worst conditions with never a thought, barefoot, no harness, no life jacket. As long as there someone to see you fall overboard. On these long passages I've had plenty of time to wonder what it would be like to get knocked overboard by that unexpected goffer. Even with a life jacket my chances of survival would be slim indeed - how would anybody ever know that the yacht sailing away into the blue had lost its only occupant? It would be bad enough dangling over the side at the end of a harness, trying to pull myself aboard as the boat creams along at five knots. So now, whatever the urgency, I always think of myself first.

September 15th
1155 37 50.8N 11 07.7E
As the afternoon wore on, and as notified by a gale warning on VHF, the wind continued to strengthen, occasioning another reef on the genny. Before long I was planing and lunging along at a gut-wrenching 9 knots with great white-topped walls heaving up behind and flooding the dingy - hauled it up a bit more and sat on the transom baling it out for 20 minutes. Every so often the boat gave a might slew to windward, then lurched far over to leeward as she recovered downwind. But even though it felt quite alarming at times, my trust in her proved well-founded and she dealt with it handsomely enough.

1700 38 14.4N 10 43.5E
After 3 hours the gale started to moderate, and although the sea had fetched up dramatically, the sailing became a little less sporty, and I gave her more sail for better headway in the relentless barrage of following seas.

2005 38 19.0N 10 38.5E
By 7 the worst was over and, having unreefed the genny, went below to cook my dinner (Spag-Bol) and ate it in the cockpit watching the sun go down behind gathering dark clouds. After dinner I hauled up my bed and got in a couple of hours, interrupted of course every 20 minutes to look for dangerous shipping, trimming the genny from time to time and checking my battery usage. This latter is a constant problem when sailing engine off, especially at night with nada from the solar panel. The fridge stays off, as that is by far the biggest consumer, but the Autopilot works extra hard in a following sea and is also a major drain. When the voltage drops to 12 I need to run the engine for a couple of hours, using precious fuel.

16th September
0500 38 47.3N 09 44.4E
Awoke to a stiffening wind that had veered to the south. Lightning flashes ahead portended another patch of lively weather. Too much power now on the genny to reef in, so turned to windward to ease it enough to haul in.
Now it shames me to say, that here I committed a stupid oversight that almost got me into serious trouble. I can only put it down to a tired brain, but I neglected to first start the engine and give the autopilot some headway to steer by. So of course, as soon as she pointed sufficiently to windward for the sail to lose power and start flogging, the way fell off instantly while I was fully occupied with the inhaul. Alerted to my error by the insistent beeping of the autopilot, I fired up the engine, but in my haste, forgot I'd left it in astern gear to stop the screw spinning. For a mad five minutes I scrambled around the cockpit trying to do everything at once while the poor genoa performed a magnificent attempt at beating itself to death.
I eventually recovered her downwind, now shortened to two reefs, then sat down heaving and panting, and cursing my unforgivable stupidity. Another lesson learned the hard way. No more sleep now as I nursed us through yet another bout of insane Mediterranean weather.

0715 38 52.8N 09 33.5E
Wind moderated once more, 22 knots from the south. During the next two hours it dropped away to a whimper and boxed the compass, giving me plenty to do adjusting my sail plan.
I had an explosion of flies in the saloon this morning, millions of the damn things swarming in great black clouds and invading the cockpit. Traced it down to a chicken breast that had festered in the thawed out freezer compartment of the fridge. With the chicken, to the fishes went a pile of moldering cheese slices and some slimy green salad. Bon Appetites.
New rule: no more fresh meat or perishables to be carried. Need to revise my provisions list.

0930 39 00.35N 09 23.4E
Motor sailing with genny only. Hungry as hell after my morning labours, so had a double helping if Weetabix and a yoghurt while watching the mountains of Southern Sardinia looming out of the morning haze. Just 18 miles to go.

1315 berthed stern to at Marina Sant Elmo, Cagliari.
Leaving belowdecks to the flies I set to giving the decks a good scrub down with detergent and fresh water (the marinas' bow berthing hawsers, which spend their lives sitting on the bottom in the shitty silt, make an awful mess, and I hadn't even cleaned it from Malta.).
I then got started in the marina's laundrette, seeing to three weeks of accumulated dhobying. While that was in progress I cleaned out the galley, washed out and disinfected the fridge, then walked 3 km to the local supermarket where I spent an hour trying to find Italian stuff that I would like to eat, but wouldn't cause another infestation in my part-time fridge.
And bought a can of insecticide.
Also found a tobacconist, so looked forward to my first roll up in three days.
Later at the marina restaurant, having completed all my immediate tasks, I treated myself to marinated raw tuna and pears and a couple of deliciously cold beers, then turned in in my cabin for an uninterrupted seven hours.

17th September.
Had a quiet morning pottering around, airing bedding and foulies, and checking sails and equipment for the next leg. I plan to sail for the Balearics tomorrow morning, not sure yet which island/port - I'll do my nav plan this afternoon. With winds forecast north and north-easterly 5-20 knots for the next few days it should be a nice passage with plenty of good sailing.

September 18th.
1450 38 51.7N 08 50.1E
Crossing the bottom of Sardinia for the last headland before setting course for Palma.
Got away much later than intended due to a long detour to get fuel. Problem subsequently compounded by crap wind - currently motor sailing, battling into 10 knots, heavy swell, with a shortened main, and unable to use genny because I'm too high to windward. Only making 4.5 knots.
Now I'm not generally in a hurry, but on this occasion I'm exercised by the need to get under the Lee of Minorca before the main Mistral gales sweep down from the north on Sunday. However, I'm expecting the wind to veer northwest this afternoon and should be able to get close hauled in a lively 15-20 knots, and finally kill the engine.

1725 38 49.5N 08 35.5E
Did I say it was going to get lively? Well it certainly has. Close reach in 25 knots with the port toe rail in the water most of the time. So much for my sausages for tea - hard enough hanging on, let alone going below to cook. Making about 5-6 knots with engine off - REALLY exciting sailing for the first time since Greece. Just hoping everything holds together. Seas moderate to rough, overcast with sunny patches. Adrenalin levels off the scale!

2000 38 49.9N 08 21.6E
Wind northerly, gusting 30 knots, sea bouncy and boisterous; suddenly went from lively to survival conditions.
It's going to be a long night.

2210 38 50.6N 08 04.8E
Large merchant ship on starboard bow started to give me concern - half mile away and closing on a steady bearing. Got her name from AIS and called #16. After a shocked silence he agreed to turn to starboard and pass ahead of me. I thanked him for his courtesy and wished him a goodnight. Twat!
Continued on a bouncy beam reach battered by determined knock-downers. By 0300, with nothing threatening on AIS and no chance of catching a wink in the exposed cockpit, I turned in below - in the saloon where I can cast the occasional sleepy eye at the nav station chart plotter.

19th September
0720 38 58.1N 06 54.6E.
This morning seems a little less chaotic, but maybe that's just me growing inured to it. Iron grey battalions marching down from the north still knocking me sideways and drenching me from time to time. Scattered cirrostratus against a pale blue sky and the sun rising astern with an impudent glare.
Need a dump but on a starboard tack in this much wind my heads seacock is above the waterline, so no way to flush. Just have to store up. I'd rather have it in me than festering in my sea toilet and possibly blocking it. Sorry to mention this but it's all part of the story.

1552 39 02.0N 05 50.2E
After a day of heavy beam seas and strong wind, the boat often reaching speeds in excess of 8 knots, the gale's ferocity has now moderated, and I'm sailing along nicely, though still through a cantankerous, white-capped swell. Kept nipping below to catch a few winks throughout the day and now feeling quite refreshed and cheerful. Not much else to report on what has been a restful and uneventful day.

2105 39 05.0N 05 17.1E
Still coasting along, lovely sailing, making 7 knots. Had some cold frankfurters, tomatoes and bread for dinner, then retired below to sleep in saloon, fully dressed ready for an expected wind shift.

20th September
0041 39 04.9N 04 51.1E
Still on a beam reach and making 7 knots - wind has remained surprisingly steady. I can now detect a faint glow above the horizon on my starboard bow - the bright lights of holiday Minorca some 50 miles away.

0745 39 05.1N 04 08.2E
By 0630 the wind had dropped away, and as expected, gradually backed to the west - end of sailing this passage methinks. Engine on, genny furled; motoring the final 90 miles. Sea now calm with a long but comfortable residual swell.
Replaced the Italian courtesy flag with the Spanish - feels like home already. Lost my piss bucket - what an idiot! Apart from the inconvenience (excuse the pun) I feel a mite sorrowful at its loss - I'd become quite attached to my little blue bucket.
Had a dump though - hurrah!

1420 39 11.7N 03 31.2E
Back in the lively stuff. There was I, motoring along in near flat calm, having got out my cockpit bed and sat reading quietly in the sunshine, next minute ploughing into choppy seas with 18 knots against me. Best the motor could do was 1.5 knots. So, rolled out genny to 1 reef and bore away, killing the engine. Now doing 5 - 6 knots close hauled. Remember those mountains on my starboard bow? Well they're dead ahead now. If it stays like this I'll need to get close to shore then tack to port.

1738 39 18.9N 03 18.2E
Well, I tacked alright, but not through choice, nor where I wanted to. The wind just dropped to nothing then started up again from the northwest. Suddenly the genny was backed and the autopilot gave up the ghost. Tried to reset genny to port but the lazy sheet snagged on a cleat - had to nip forward sharpish to clear it - crazy couple of minutes till we settled back on a fine starboard tack... Then the wind dropped to nothing again - becalmed. Swore, laughed, and started the engine.

1950 29 16.9N 03 09.1E
Wind's now picked up again from the west - not much good for sailing but getting an extra knot or two from the shortened main Now, as darkness falls, I'm following the Majorcan cliffs south to the next headland before turning west into wind again - I'll be fortunate to make 2.5 knots. No hurry though. I should be in Palma in time for breakfast.
Lots of shipping about so don't expect much sleep tonight.

23 September.(Passage Palma to Almeria.)
Left marina at 1100, after delaying departure waiting for gale to abate. Sailed into a calm sunny day with barely enough breeze to keep the genoa filled. Tranquility reigns. The only disturbance is the AIS alarm constantly beeping as big ferries and cruise ships overtake. Expecting more wind as I clear the shadow of the bay to the east.
Had a SECURETAY Broadcast on #72 to be on the lookout for terrorist activity in the area, to report any suspicious sighting to NATO, who apparently have "operations" in progress. Gave a UK phone number). They weren't specific about what "suspicious" might look like. I guess a boat full of armed hooligans might do it.

1325 39 25.1N 02 31.1E
Woohoo! Wind suddenly picked up from NNW 15-20. Turned into it and got main up pretty damn sharpish, shorted to one reef. Now on close reach, stbd tack, and whipping along nicely. Now making 8 knots with full genoa (wanted to stop at first reef but she insisted on going all the way). Now a bit overpowered if I'm honest, but she seems to like it, and it's very exhilarating flying along like this. Probably the last posting for a while - its a bit wet for the phone.

1807 39 01.6N 02 09.3E
Heavy northerly swell all afternoon accompanied stiff breeze knocking me around like a bag of coat hangers. Good exciting sailing though, so can't complain. Had to reef in the genny a bit to accommodate 20 knot gusts that were slewing us violently to leeward. Altered course ten to starboard to adjust for my considerable leeway.
Ibiza now in sight to starboard. No terrorist activity so far - all very peaceful.
In fact there's not much at all in sight, which brings me to a worrying observation. Since leaving Greece I've seen surprisingly little wildlife. No lolloping sunfish, no leaping bonitos, no flurries of flying fish; in fact very little flying at all, just the odd solitary petrel. And where the f*** are the dolphins?

1900 38 58.1N 02 05.4E
Wind just veered astern and dropped to 10, leaving me saggy-sailed and wallowing in the persistent swell. Rigged my new preventer (my own rig that I put together in Palma-works well) to stop the boom swinging in light winds, and rolled out the genny to full fat. Managing 4 knots now, but started engine (out of gear) to charge batteries after an afternoon of heavy work for the autopilot.
Sunset approaches: no shipping about, sky slightly overcast with alto cirrus above and fluffy pink cumulus to the east. Dinner tonight will be a modest affair of beans and sausages - too much violent movement for anything more elaborate.

2315 38 45.1N 01 50.0E
Struck all sails just after dinner due to lack of any discernible wind. Found stowing the main particularly irksome in the swell, clinging onto the boom as she rocked and heaved like a demented stallion.
All got a bit silly after that, with gusts of wind going every which way. Tried the genny a couple of times, but after a half-hearted attempt to fill, just hung there like a pair of wet underpants.
Now at last, as I settle down to some rest, we're silent once more, running before a healthy 10 knots and making 5 on genny alone. The lighthouse of Pta de Codolar casts it's bright loom fine on the starboard bow, and once past it, and I turn onto the new course, I can look forward to a proper sleep.

24th September
1008 38 17.7N 01 00.9E
Algerian basin, and not enough wind to tickle a gnats arse. Motoring at 4 kts with the genny furled and the main lolloping listlessly. The sea's almost flat calm with a gentle swell, and the sun's shining among a scattering of assorted clouds.
Had a minor accident earlier this morning while hoisting the mains'l; knocked my full cup of tea over the cockpit bed. Removed and dhobied the cover, which is now pegged on the guardrail glowering at me in disgust.

1230 38 12.1N 00 49.7E
An empty, windless sea, just me and my boat, the creaking and slapping of the mains'l, and the gurgling of the engine exhaust.
I'll soon be passing the Greenwich Meridian - wonder if I'll notice the bump?
A ship has appeared on AIS 8 miles ahead with a close CPA. Might have to slip a pair of shorts on. Meanwhile, back to my book: Telling Tales by Ann Cleeves - a Vera Stanhope tale, you know, from the TV series, Vera? A frumpy 50-something detective with a sharp mind and oodles of empathy. A bit different from my usual choice, but a good read, nonetheless.

1527 38 03.0N 00 35.2E
Dolphins! Just a fleeting visit but a small pod leapt and cavorted around the boat for a few minutes before scooting on their way. I feel it was a sort of validation, an acceptance into their realm, and an event I've been anticipating since Greece.

1900 37 53.0N 00 20.1E
Switched engine off, for the silence, but also to conserve fuel. Managing 3 kts with a slight following breeze. Cooked Linguini Ragu and ate peacefully in the cockpit watching the sun descend towards a crisp horizon.

Friday 25 September
0226 37 35.1N 00 12.8W
Just furled away the genny. Sea a gently oozing swell with that oily quality of a truly windless night. Sat a while watching a gibbous moon play peekaboo behind the forestay, and caught a movement to starboard. I have mammalian company once more, gliding gracefully in and out of the water with barely a ripple, their sleek shapes gleaming tungsten in the silver light.

0528 37 28.5N 00 25.3W
Venus has just risen astern with spectacular brilliance, her glitter path illuminating my wake. And Orion, above my port quarter, is unusually prominent in his morning glory.
Having given myself a good talking to I've now decided on Cartegena after all. With no prospect of a suitable wind in next 24 hours Almeria would just be a waste of fuel. Besides, despite strict rationing, I've run out of chockie biscuits. ETA around noon today. I'll wait there for more favourable sailing weather - I'm a sailboat, dammit, not a stinkpot.

Cartagena Marina - Island Spirit is nearest boat on the right

0817 37 29.9N 00 43.0W
Passing the long rocky outcrop east of Cartagena with a somewhat chilly morning onshore filling the main, pressing me briskly towards the port. It's been a mere two days passage but feels like longer because of the uneventful and unchallenging last 36 hours. Never thought I'd say it, but blow me a gale anytime.

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  1. Great reading mate stay safe. From a jealous land locked Bootie.

  2. Thoroughly enjoying your account. Thank you.

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